Birds and Blooms Blog

Get the latest birding and gardening tips from our expert bloggers.

Garden Bugs: Ladybugs for Aphid Control

Jill Staake

I came across a welcome sight in the garden the other day: this no-spotted ladybug (Cycloneda sanguinea) preparing to dine on the aphids infesting my milkweed vine.

Ladybugs

Ladybugs (or ladybird beetles, as scientists prefer) are familiar sights to gardeners, though most of us first think of ladybugs as having black spots. However, there are many kinds of ladybugs, some without spots (learn more here), and most of them feast on smaller insects (like aphids or scale bugs), making them welcome in most gardens as a biological control of pest species. You can even purchase ladybugs at many garden centers or by mail order to add to your own garden, although there is some debate as to whether the ladybugs will actually stay around long enough to make this worth your while.

Want to attract ladybugs? Avoid broad use of chemical pesticides, even natural ones, as this will kill off ladybugs and other beneficial bugs too. Ladybugs also consume pollen, especially from plants with flat clusters of flowers – think dill, Queen Anne’s lace, and yarrow. Adding flower like these (click here for more) to your garden will invite ladybugs to visit, and once they’re there, they should be happy to dine on other insects. (An important note for butterfly gardeners: ladybugs will eat butterfly eggs and small caterpillars, so keep that in mind.)

Need more info on beneficial garden bugs? Click here!

Searching for Shorebirds in Northwest Ohio

Rob Ripma

While I was traveling in northwest Ohio this weekend, I was able to escape from meetings for a morning to do some birding with a friend. Since the shorebird habitat near my home hasn’t been very productive, we decided to focus on seeing if we could find some quality habitat and shorebirds up there.

I always enjoy watching Ospreys!

I always enjoy watching Ospreys! (Photo not taken this weekend)

We’d had gotten a tip from some  locals about an area where water had been drawn down and there were mudflats that were exposed. We weren’t really sure what to expect but as we drove up, we knew that we had found an awesome spot! Before we were even out of the car, we could tell that there were a couple hundred shorebirds feeding on the mudflats.

Our first bird wasn’t a shorebird but a beautiful Osprey perched up in a dead tree over the mudflats. As we got our spotting scopes set up and started to scan the mudflats, we quickly called out many species of shorebirds. I almost immediately found several Stilt Sandpipers mixed in with a group of Short-billed Dowitchers. Over the next 45 minutes, we found a total of 12 species including, 2 Wilson’s Phalaropes and about 275 Semipalmated Sandpipers!

There were several Lesser Yellowlegs mixed in with many more Great Yellowlegs.

There were several Lesser Yellowlegs mixed in with many more Great Yellowlegs. (Photo not taken this weekend)

We had expected to find Semipalmated Plovers but we were starting to think we might not find any after being at the location for about 20 minutes. I finally found about 6 individuals way out on the mudflat.

We had expected to find Semipalmated Plovers but we were starting to think we might not find any after being at the location for about 20 minutes. I finally found about 6 individuals way out on the mudflat. (Photo not take this weekend)

As we were getting in the car to leave, I noticed a couple of small birds moving through the marsh on the other side of the road. It turned out to be two Sedge Wrens, which is the species that I wrote about in my last blog post!

Have you been out looking for shorebirds recently?

Backyard Vegetable Garden: Time to Plant Fall Veggies

cauliflower-vegetable-garden

While you may be enjoying the warm temperatures of summer, it is hard to think of fall, changing leaves and cool temperatures.  But, fall isn’t far away, which means it is time to get ready to plant cool-season veggies in your backyard vegetable garden.  Those of you who live in cold climates need to start planting right away while gardeners in warmer climates have a broader planting window.

Before planting, you may want to add some compost and aged steer, horse or chicken manure to your garden soil to improve texture and add nutrients before planting.  Click here, for more information on different types of amendments.

I have broken down vegetable planting dates by zone along with the types of vegetables that can be planted – so let’s get started.

harvested carrots

Zones 3 & 4: 

August – kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, radish and spinach.

October – garlic

young-spinach-vegetable-garden

Zones 5 – 6:

August – beets, radish, spinach and turnips

September – beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce (plant the beginning of the month), onion sets, spinach and turnips

October – garlic

broccoli in vegetable garden

Zones 7 – 8:

August – bush beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards and kale

September – beets, cabbage, carrots (plant by the 15th), collards, leaf lettuce, onion sets, radish, spinach and turnips (plant by the 15th)

October – garlic, onion sets, radish and spinach (plant by the 15th)

November – asparagus and onion sets

December – asparagus

harvested garlic

Zones 9 – 10: (some warm season vegetables can be planted in these zones in fall)

August – broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes and turnips

September – beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions (seed & sets), radish, summer squash and turnips

October – beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion (seed & sets), radish, spinach, strawberry and turnips

November – beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, onions (seed & sets), radish, spinach and strawberry

December – beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, onions (seed & sets) and radish

All of these recommended planting dates are approximate.  For more detailed information, check with your local cooperative extension office, which should be able to provide you with a vegetable planting calendar specific to your area.

So, what are you waiting for?  Fall will be here before you know it, so get your favorite cool season vegetables in the ground before time runs out :-)  For more information on cool-season vegetable gardening, click here.

 

Join the Conversation on Community!

Jill Staake

CommunityThe Birds & Blooms website is full of resources for birders and gardeners in addition to our daily blog posts. We have dozens of bird species profiles, articles about birding and gardening, and project ideas for every skill and taste. The site also hosts the Birds & Blooms Community, a place for readers and fans to chat about a variety of topics and share their experiences and photos. It’s free to join, so check out some of the topics our members have been chatting about recently, and then create an account to join in the fun!

  • Rabbit-Resistant Plants: One member could’t find a good comprehensive list of plants that rabbits won’t attack, so she started her own and invited others to add to it. See the list and add your own suggestions here.
  • Wildflower Identification:  Community member Stella recently posted photos of the wildflowers in her local woods, and asked for other members to help her ID them. See her photos and help her out here.
  • Mystery Monday: Test your skills by checking out our Mystery Monday posts, where each week the members try to identify the plant or other wildlife posted. Answers are provided by the end of the day. See all the Mystery Monday posts here.
  • Peach Farm Trip: One member’s photos of her trip to a peach farm to stock up for winter led others to share their own experiences with peaches and other summer garden harvests. See the discussion here.
  • “Volunteer Flowers”: Sometimes the best flowers are the ones you’re pretty sure you never even planted in your garden! Our members chatted about some of the “volunteer” flowers that appeared in their gardens this year here.
  • Hydrangea Colors: Community member Gayle knew she could change the colors of her hydrangea flowers to pink or blue depending on how she fertilized, but couldn’t remember just how to do it. Other members offered tips and tricks here.
  • Milkweed and Monarchs: The decline of monarchs is well-known to many, so our Community members have been trading information about where they’ve been spotted this year here.
  • Ask an Expert About Butterflies: Got a question about butterflies or butterfly gardening? I’m happy to answer! Drop by this forum to see what others have been asking, and ask a question of your own.

Planning to join our Community? Read our Community Guidelines and check out Frequently Asked Questions here. Then click “Join Us” in the top right corner of your screen to create an account, and head over to the Community Forums to start chatting. We can’t wait to hear from you!

DIY Vegetable Garden: Making Herb Salts

DIY Herb Salt

Rosemary, garlic, lavender, kosher salt, thyme and sage

Do you like to cook or do you know someone who does?  Fresh herbs add wonderful flavor to any dish and when you pair them with salt – it is a match made in heaven.  When added to dishes with chicken, pork and beef or added to soups or roasted vegetables – herb salts take your favorite dish to another level.

Herb salts or gourmet salts have become very popular in the culinary community and are created from different combinations of herbs blended together with kosher salt, which helps to preserve the vibrant flavors of the herbs.  The resulting herb salt can be added to your favorite recipes.  What is even better is that herb salts are easy to make yourself and can be very inexpensive if you have herbs growing in your garden.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how to make basil salt and as promised, today I will show you how to make a couple of other types of herb or gourmet salts.

For this post, I decided to make an herb salt using some of my favorite herbs – rosemary, sage and thyme, which I harvested from my garden.  I grabbed a head of garlic (also from my garden) and a box of kosher salt.

The equipment needed to make your own herb salts are a cutting board, sharp knifefood processorbaking sheet and a glass jar with a lid.

DIY Herb Salts 2

Rosemary, sage and thyme / kosher salt with garlic

1. You will need a total of 2 cups of herbs, 5 cloves of peeled garlic and 1/2 cup of kosher salt.

2.  Tear the leaves of your herbs, getting rid of the stems and then give them a rough chop and set aside.   The herbs can be in any ratio you like, but I used a 2/3 cup rosemary, 2/3 cup sage and 2/3 cup thyme – this is where you can increase or decrease your favorite herb to your taste.  For example, if you aren’t crazy about rosemary, then use less, etc.

3.  Add 5 peeled garlic cloves to the kosher salt and chop finely with a knife.  

DIY Herb Salts 3

4. Combine the chopped herbs with the garlic salt and finely chop.  When you reach this step, your entire kitchen will smell just wonderful!  You can use the herb salt right away at this stage to flavor a roast, vegetables, etc., if desired.

**Some people enjoy using a knife and chopping the herbs, garlic and salt together in steps 3 & 4, but you can use a food processor and add the herbs, salt and garlic all at once and puree them together for 30 seconds, if desired.

DIY Herb Salts 4

5. Place your herb salt mixture on a baking sheet and put in a 200 degree oven for a total of 30 minutes.  This will help to dry out the herbs.  You can always allow them to air dry over a few days instead of putting them into the oven.

DIY Herb Salts 5

6. Put your dried herb salt mixture into a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Alternatively, you can put the mixture into a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush it into smaller pieces.

DIY Herb Salts 6

7. Put your gourmet herb salt into a glass container with a tightly closed lid.  Keep it where you keep your other spices in a dark, dry place.  The flavor of your herb salt will begin to fade after 6 months and should be used up within a year for best flavor.

Your herb salt is now ready for you to use to flavor your favorite dish either during the cooking process or afterward in place of salt.  I like to use it for beef or pork roasts and it makes roasted vegetables taste wonderful!  The flavor of your herb salt will begin to fade after 6 months and should be used up within a year for best flavor.

There are countless herb salt blends that you can make, which can be tailored to your individual taste and what you have growing in your vegetable garden.  Here are a few other combinations that you may want to try, following the steps outlined above.

Rosemary Sage Herb Salt – add 1 cup each of rosemary and sage, 1/2 cup of kosher salt and 4 cloves peeled garlic cloves.  (This type of herb salt is very popular in Northern Italy in the Tuscan region.)

Garlic Herb Salt – 1/4 cup each of parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme with 1/2 cup kosher salt an 6 cloves peeled garlic.

Lemon Herb Salt – 1/4 cup each of rosemary and thyme, 1/8 cup kosher salt and zest from 1 lemon.

Creating herbs salts is easy to do and relatively inexpensive if you have herbs growing in your garden – you can also buy herbs straight from the grocery store or your local farmers market.  Herb salt makes a great diy vegetable garden gift.  I hope you are inspired to try creating an herb salt and enjoy the process of experimenting with different herbs to make your own, unique herb salt combination.

For growing guidelines for herbs in your own garden, check out the “Top 10 Herbs To Grow”.

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