- Toronto Backyard Chickens Petition – Long-term readers of the site will know I have a fixation with chickens. Keeping chickens is pretty high up on my life to-do list but there are several key issues currently blocking this life goal. 1. I don’t have a backyard nor do I have a warm place to house chickens throughout the long, cold, winter. 2. Keeping chickens is illegal in Toronto. By signing this petition at least one of these impediments might be eliminated.
- “Boss of You“ – No, it’s not about gardening but this new book about the ins and outs of women running their own businesses, co-written by You Grow Girl contributor Emira Mears is certainly one I can relate to and something I could likely use.
- 2008 Cherry Blossom Timelapse at Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Being there in person to see the blooming cherry trees is an item on my life to-do lists.
- Lynda Barry’s “What It Is“ – It must be book release week because I’ve been eyeing several new books on Amazon and have already pre-ordered this one about writing, creativity, and self-expression. Nope, this book’s not about gardening either but it is the newest creation by my favourite artist and writer Lynda Barry, who also happens to be a gardener with a keen interest in the mysteries of the plant world. This excerpt from the book had me in tears.
About a week or two ago all of the baby starlings that live in our eavesdrop fell out of the nest — the nest that was built on the severed and torn parts of many of my tomato plants including the ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ and the ‘Patio Orange’, two plants that are forever malformed by the trauma — landing in a succession of hard thumps onto the potting table and turning our lives into a minor farcical comedy staring John Lithgow or Chevy Chase as a bumbling family guy forced to take on the ill-prepared responsibility of caring for a tiny, demanding creature (or creatures). Wacky hijinks ensue. Except that we’re pretty much mostly prepared since around here a baby starling or three seem to fall out of the nest every single year. We’ve been through this routine before.
We immediately made a makeshift nest using a cardboard box and dried plant matter. Lucky for us the parent starlings figured out the situation quickly and have been feeding the babies regularly. Despite their attentiveness two babies have since died. The first was probably injured in the fall and died soon after. The second was smaller than the third and less active. The surviving bird seems healthy and has grown from a nestling that looked like this to one that looks like this. We’ve had to bring the box indoors on a few nights that were too cold, have had to keep the cat inside (she hates us for it), and have found it necessary to stay off the deck ourselves to allow the parents freedom to feed. If we are out there when they come by with food they screech and yell at us to get lost. I like the baby bird but I look forward to the day when it is ready to fly the nest and we can have our deck back.
If you find a starling nestling this site has good instructions on how to care for the baby. Starlings actually leave the nest at the fledgling stage and live on the ground for a couple of days learning to catch food and fly. If you find a baby on the ground it might not be orphaned but in its fledgling stage so it’s important to understand the difference.
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.
The ongoing battle of roof garden versus the possom continues. I think I’m making some headway.
Oh what, you can’t get past my genius chair barrier* to those delicious plants? Boo hoo.
Gives me the stink eye.
Changes tactics and goes for the cute and cuddly mammal routine. But I am strong and not easily fooled.
Yeah, that’s right take your plant eating ways elsewhere! I will not be defeated!
Possom – 1
Me – 1
Unfortunately, we think he/she lives in the rubble underneath the fire escape. He/she may be slow and a little bit dumb but he/she doesn’t have a far commute.
*Chair Barrier: It was Davin’s suggestion to employ a child safety gate as an extra layer of protection. It’s a good, if not somewhat ever-so-slightly risky idea, but since there is no way I’m going to fork over $30-100 to keep critters out of my garden I’ve put this chair in place while I wait for a used baby gate to pop up on Freecycle or the oppossum to give up already.
Sure I lost an eggplant last year but I don’t even like eggplants and you left the rest of the plants untouched unlike the raccoons that just plow through like tanks and tear everything to shreds so it was like, Okay, no problem, we can live together. I’m sure we can hug this one out, maybe employ a little group therapy and some committed rounds of roll reversal. You can have an eggplant or two if you REALLY need one and sure I don’t care for your, “I’ll just take a bite and see if I like it” attitude but you live here and I live here and we’re all creatures of the earth so I can dig it, man.
But then…. I wake up to this morning’s damage:
Who knew opossums eat tomato plants? Who knew anything short of insects and slugs eat tomato plants?
He was kind enough to simply nibble the bottom leaves off of this one. Thanks!
It’s safe to say that this tomato ain’t coming back.
I call this strategy, “The Eff You Method”, except when I say it I am much less polite.