Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Month: July 2012

Finally, the garden grows – badly.

After expecting to blog every week about how my garden grows according to my ambitious plans, I’ve met with embarrassing failure.

The peppers, garlic, dill, mint, pole beans, carrots, chard, beets, and other stuff didn’t grow.

My above-ground planter box, 12″ deep, has been good for nothing except the two plantain weeds I put there for my rabbits. Even when I transplanted lettuce there – capped with a glass shelf to deter the birds – it failed. All my lettuce sprouts die or get stolen wherever I transplant them, and it’s getting really frustrating that this happens.

Many tomato seedlings sprung up. After the section intended for chard, beets, and spinach failed, I put the tomatoes in. At least they liked it. I feel like tomatoes can survive anything.

Consider me discouraged, but not down or out. Summer’s not over yet. I do have some lovely photos to share of the plants that grew decently this summer in the backyard.

After boxing up and adding new soil to the section intended for salad – all stolen by small birds and animals – the perimeter wasn’t good enough. The sparrows were coming in from the top.
I replanted cucumbers around the perimeter and Swiss chard near the edges. The lettuce is still failing!
No cavolo to see, but just enough rocket, endive, and volunteer tomato plants.
Some bean seedlings near the wall, but they do not grow (esp. since a rabbit attack)
All that really remains of my many, many bean seedlings
The skunk attacked this lily
Lilies, at least, can be counted upon whatever the weather.

If you want to follow along with my garden adventure, each of these blog posts has “Previous post – Next post” navigation buttons at the bottom. They take you through my writings in chronological order, but the previous post was about my ambitious plans for a SPIN Urban Farm, and the next post is:
A Few Garden Photos – The Harvest Slowly Begins

A sad discovery under my deck

Now that I’ve posted a happy outcome for animals living under my deck, I now have to post a sad outcome: wildlife poisoned. A rat, but he wasn’t hurting anybody. I had seen him a couple of times before, and thought him rather handsome. A lot like a big boy I had a long time ago:

Harry the First!

A couple of weeks ago, I lifted up the most difficult boards of my deck, which I’d previously been unable to unscrew because of limited time and patience. I was having a party, and I wanted to get the deck and garden in spiffy shape. It was time. In the weeks before that, I noticed from the smell that something had died under the deck. And yes, it had. Here is the first view:

A closer inspection revealed that the handsome boy rat I’d seen in my garden earlier this spring – and he was handsome! – had made his home under the boards.

To the left, you can see a collection of paper and plastic scraps he’d used to line his nest. I find this a charming habit. When I lifted the boards above where the skunk lived, there was no such collection of “blankets.” Only rats do this, as far as I know – birds make nests only when they’re fixing to have young. Squirrels, when preparing for winter. (Updated to add: opossums also collect leaves and make nests.)

But in the upper corner, you can see he’s not lying in state on his bed. No. And I was sad to see the decomposing body, which I buried respectfully. (I’m grateful that creatures have chosen my property as the best place to die at.)

The rat’s remains

Instead, you see that he went to the other corner of his cabin under the deck for his last agonies. And agonies they were, because the turquoise staining you see at the tail end of his skeleton is not mouldy fur, as one might assume. It is the stain of a block of poison. And the little fellow ate a lot of it.

I only made the connection when my resident squirrels, unwittingly helpful creatures they are, positioned a block on top of the fence leading to my patio balcony. I wondered where that thing that looks like a rock came from until I picked it up: it was poison. I’m glad the squirrels only played with or consumed just a little of it, and left it out in the open from wherever they found it.

I’ve put it in a container inside, I don’t know what for. As if I need evidence that someone has decided to “solve” a problem, as that’s how it’s been presented to us as.

A single rat in the backyard is not a problem. Nature itself takes care of “problems.”

I used exclusion (a chicken wire fence) to keep the birds out of my lettuce garden when I feared losing my seedlings. I put hardware cloth under my composter, which otherwise might encourage the rodents to proliferate.

I’m not the only one doing this – feeding the birds, composting, gardening, fencing. There’s a lot more life and enjoyment here than in some barren place that’s all patio stone and grass.

Maybe more people should try doing this and get a sense of perspective than assume that the presence of a rat is the fault of bird seed and composting and a problem worth the suffering that poison causes.

Ever since I moved in here six years ago, I’ve had a skunk living under my deck. I’m quite fond of the beast, despite that it eats my day lilies when they bloom (but it also eats slugs!).

And by “it,” I’ll now refer to it as “she.” I accommodate her passage to my back garden by leaving a gap under the fence with a pile of brush as a welcome mat. She has to pass through two other properties before she can get home; thankfully my immediate neighbours seem to feel the same way about her, and don’t freak out when their dog starts barking about the silent black-and-white intruder.

I took the above photo early in the morning, around 7:30, when I saw her from my vantage chair by the patio door. She came in from her night of foraging and took a long, long, looooong drink at the dish. She then trundled under the deck – yippee! – and then, a minute later, waddled back out – uh oh. Was the space already occupied? She was looking rather hour-glass shaped. She was going to need a place soon.

Aside from a slight whiff of skunk spray, I’d had no other sign my deck’s den was occupied. I had a house party in early July, for which I had to get the decks thoroughly cleaned. I hosed them down, applied deck cleaning solution, scrubbed, rinsed, scraped, sanded, and painted. It must have been a terrible ruckus, but I figured there wasn’t a skunk around, because my activity would have roused the dead at any time of day.

Also, the pond had lilies in it. Relevance? The skunks had always taken them before – as soon as a lily blooms, it’s gone by the next day. Guaranteed.

But then, three evenings ago, I heard a rustling in the garden and wondered if I had some late-arriving birds, like grackles or starlings, who sometimes descend for a good party bath in my pond. But no. Instead, I met with this adorable sight:

Baby skunks playing in the garden

My garden has a family of four skunk kits, plus Mom! And I would never know it if I hadn’t seen them. That’s how good they are as neighbours. No tearing down my garden wire fencing; just coming and going as silently as thieves to their den under the deck.

Now that I’ve seen the little ones’ bouncing and scraping, I see more evidence in the garden now.

In my view, a garden without a resident creature is impoverished. So to make up for the meagreness of my vegetable plot, I am rich in hospitality to wildlife.

Rewilding is about converting your lawn to groundcover (bit by bit!) to native species. This fosters biodiversity. It also creates habitat for urban wildlife. Finally, you'll only trim it 2-3 times per season rather than every 7-10 days!

The green driveway gallery shows you how you can DIY a driveway conversation using my first model as an example. There are other ways to do it, and things I learned in the process and afterward. Please call me at 514-815-5163 for my landscaping service, or to discuss upgrading your driveway.

The work season is April 1st through June 30th, but I install bird strike prevention (to stop birds from crashing into windows and glass balconies) whenever the temperature is above 5ºC. Call the number above or email. It's important to do this earlier rather than later,  in time for bird migrations in late April to end of May, and late August to mid-October.


Sign up to the monthly newsletter. It'll have even more goodies than the blog (DIY, Q&A, and more!). Bonus: milkweed seeds. This perennial plant will attract bees and butterflies to your yard. 

%d bloggers like this: