So…. ummm… how’s it going? [Hides metaphorical tail between legs.] Right. So turns out it most likely, for sure, probably, maybe wasn’t you doing all that horrible damage to the tomato plants, basil, nasturtiums, pansies, tansy, succulents, etc a few weeks back. Turns out I maybe, sort-of, possibly, most likely made a little tiny mistake and accused the wrong critter visitor. This is not to say you’re all 100% innocent of plant theft or anything just that you probably aren’t responsible for 95% of the damage incurred and that if our dispute were to have gone to court and Matlock was your lawyer there would be that part at the end where he turns off the bumbling southern gent in a grey suit act and turns on the cut-throat killer lawyer in a grey suit realness and manages to smart-talk the REAL culprit to confess his crime in the court room and I’d look like a fool for publicly blaming you for all that damage. Which I did. Which was wrong of me.
Which is not to say that I didn’t make a reasonable mistake and that any other ‘possum might not be responsible for such acts of wanton plant destruction but that you specifically are not the culprit. You are a mostly innocent ‘possum who took a public stoning of which I am responsible for acts you mostly, probably, sort-of didn’t commit.
Please accept my humble apology.
So just who was responsible for the carnage and mayhem we experienced on the rooftop garden over those few weeks? Turns out it was most probably a male starling. Yes. That’s right. A bird! A smallish bird took the tops off of nice-sized tomato plants. A smallish bird vanished entire plants from their pots. A smallish bird had me tearing my hair out searching out ways to protect my helpless seedlings. A smallish bird is responsible for all of that destruction!
We should have been thinking about the bird way back in early spring when Davin first caught a male starling snipping flowers from some of the planter boxes. Of course, a small flower is not in the same league as an entire tomato plant ripped right out of the pot. It did not occur to either of us that a smallish bird could have the strength to achieve such a feat let alone the interest to do so. We started to hit onto the bird possibility when I found that plants inside my crazy chicken-wire cage contraption were still disappearing, yet the cage remained untouched. No ‘possum is nimble enough to get inside that thing without causing any damage but an agile bird could fly in and out through the top without leaving a trace.
At about the same time Davin caught this same starling attempting to fly up to the nest with a large artemisia root ball that I had dug out and tossed away earlier that week. The bird was able to get a mangled, dried-up root well over double its size up onto the top roof of our building! That’s kind of amazing when you think about it. I don’t know whether to applaud the starling or stay really pissed at it over my dead plants. In doing some research Davin discovered that starlings put all kinds of plant matter, both dry and fresh, into their nests for a few possible reasons. The thought is that they are either choosing very specific plants that are resistant to the mites that plague them, or as a way to cool down the nest. This makes a lot of sense when I think about it because many of the plants that were stolen were very strong-smelling plants or powerful herbs. No other critter visitor had ever been interested in eating these plants! And at the same time delicious, ripe strawberry bounty (a typical bird delight) remained intact and untouched.
The gutters lining our roof were replaced a few weeks toward the end of winter. We’ve had starlings nesting up there for years with no trouble at all so we’ve hypothesized that perhaps their nest was damaged in the replacement creating a need for lots of new and old plant material to bring the nest back up to code so-to-speak.
Thankfully things seem to be settled down now. I replaced my crappy-yet-effective chair contraption with a wooden kiddie safety gate garbage picked from a “fancy” neighborhood. We have not seen the ‘possum in weeks. The birds seem to be settled into their nests and plant theft seems to have hit a complete standstill. Many of the plants that were not entirely removed from their pots are starting to come back to life and have mostly surpassed their original size save some basil that was picked clean pretty late in the game and an indeterminate tomato that lost its main stem. This plant will be a whole new and unexpected experiment to add to my list of experiments for the 2007 growing season. How does a tomato grow when the main stem is completely severed from the plant? The parts that are now forming the top portion of the plant are essentially “suckers” that are usually removed. If my tomato doesn’t produce a good bounty this fall I’ll be looking at you male starling. Looking at you very sternly. And with some possible aggressive finger wagging.