Birds and Blooms Blog

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

Q&A with Vegetabowls

Cantaloupe-shaped bowl molded from a real cantaloupe.  (Find out how you can get your own here.)

Cantaloupe-shaped bowl molded from a real cantaloupe. (Find out how you can get your own here.)

Ever wanted to make the vegetable garden a more permanent fixture in your dining room? The team behind Vegetabowls has been doing exactly that with their cute veggie-shaped bowls and mugs. We fell in love with their quirky take on dishware and recently featured Vegetabowls in the May issue of Birds & Blooms Extra.

One half of the Vegetabowls duo, Melanie Mckenney, agreed to share the story and process behind these fun, veggie-inspired creations. Read to the end to find out how you can get a 15% discount on your next Vegetabowls order!

Birds & Blooms: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Melanie: Justin, a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and I, a true Buffalonian, met while teaching at a public access glass art studio in Boston. Early on in our relationship, we individually pursued our own artwork while working for other artists in the greater Boston area. But occasionally we were given opportunities to work on commissioned projects together. These projects became the foundation of us working together as a team and ultimately led to us co-founding our company, Vegetabowls, in 2010 (also the same year we got married).

B&B: How did you get started making Vegetabowls? Where did the idea and the name come from? (We love the play on words, by the way!)

Melanie: The idea came about during a ceramics class I was teaching. I used a cantaloupe to demonstrate the use of plaster molds to capture texture in clay. I finished the cantaloupe bowl and brought it home to use. Justin immediately saw the potential in the bowl to create a whole line of fruits and vegetable bowls. The next thing he said was, “Vegetabowls!” Since then we have expanded the line to over 20 different designs, and we are always adding more!

B&B: What’s the process like to make one Vegetabowl?

Melanie: The process to make a Vegetabowl begins with choosing the right fruit or vegetable from our garden or local farmers market. We then make a plaster mold directly from the veggie. Once the mold is set, we remove the actual veggie and allow the mold to dry. We are then able to pour liquid clay into the mold, which picks up the texture from the mold. Once the clay is dry, we remove it from the mold and trim and wipe it by hand. It is then fired in the kiln, glazed by hand, and fired in the kiln again to make it food safe.

B&B: Do you do a lot of gardening, then? (Non-pottery vegetables, of course!)

Melanie: In the warmer months, we do have a small vegetable garden at our house, which we are hoping to expand this year. We also harvest from my mother’s large garden and visit the local farmers market often!

B&B: Do you have any future Vegetabowls creations in mind?

Melanie: With the wide variety of fruits and veggies out there, we are constantly inspired to create new designs or improve on our current ones. Right now, we are working on offering complete dinner sets and refining our citrus set to be the perfect addition to any cocktail party!

Head over to vegetabowls.com or vegetabowls.etsy.com and use the coupon code “blooms” for a 15% discount on your next Vegetabowls order! Coupon code expires 6/1/15.

When Will Baltimore Orioles Arrive?

Rob Ripma

I’ve been getting many questions recently about when Baltimore Orioles will be arriving in certain areas of the country and when everyone should start putting out their oriole feeder to try to attract this beautiful bird to their backyards. This can be a tricky question to answer, as it depends on how migration progresses throughout the spring, but I can offer you the resources for you to keep track of migration so that you can see when the orioles will be arriving near you.

When Will Baltimore Orioles Arrive?

Are you hoping to attract one of these beautiful Baltimore Orioles to your yard this year?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, eBird offers you the chance to see where birds are being reported. This allows you to see the most recent reports and to track where birds are moving if you check back frequently.

When Will Baltimore Orioles Arrive?

You can see that Baltimore Orioles are being seen in the Southeast as well as up most of the East Coast.

Use this link to see the interactive map for Baltimore Orioles. Check back frequently for new reports and put out your oriole feeders when the reports start to approach your area! For tips and tricks to help attract orioles, check out this awesome article!

Attract Indigo Buntings with White Proso Millet

Jill Staake

The bright blue flash of an Indigo Bunting in mating plumage is a sight every birder would welcome to their backyard. In summer, this beautiful bird is found throughout the eastern U.S. and into Canada (Floridians can look for them in the winter, although they won’t attain full mating plumage until early spring), and you might be able to attract Indigo Buntings your backyard by offering one of its favorite seeds – white millet.

Attract Indigo Buntings with Millet

Jill Staake Indigo Bunting enjoying white proso millet seed

Offer white proso millet seed in platform feeders or tube feeders like the one shown. If squirrels are a problem, try one of the tube feeders encased in a cage that allows birds through but keeps pesky squirrels out. Sprinkling a little millet on the ground may also attract doves, juncos, quail, and bobwhites. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has Painted Buntings, you might find these colorful birds at the feeders too!

Attract Indigo Buntings Millet

Jill Staake Indigo Buntings (L), Female Painted Bunting (Top R) and Male Painted Bunting (Bottom R)

Here in Central Florida, I like to visit Indigo Buntings at Felts Audubon Preserve, where Painted Buntings can also be spotted. Both of these birds are routinely seen at feeders offering exclusively white proso millet seeds, making it clear that this is their favorite. Millet seeds are often part of bird seed mixtures, but you can also buy it on its own at specialty bird stores and online. (Avoid red millet and mixtures containing it – most birds don’t seem to care for it.)

Attract Indigo Buntings Millet

Jill Staake Indigo Bunting

With spring approaching and Indigo Buntings about to head north for the summer, now is a great time to add white proso millet seed to your feeders, so you’ll attract Indigo Buntings as soon as they arrive in your area. Learn more about Indigo Buntings, including a range map and song recordings, by clicking here.

Top 4 Gulf Coast Birding Hotspots for Spring Migration

Rob Ripma

The time of year when warblers arrive is rapidly approaching, and some species have even started to arrive along the Gulf Coast! Migration might not last long, but it sure is exciting while it’s going on. If you want to see some of the most spectacular displays of warbler and other passerine migration, make a stop at one or more of these birding hotspots along the Gulf Coast during late March and early to mid April. Birding should be good no matter when you go, but if you are lucky and experience a “fallout” it can be one of the most remarkable experiences in all of birding. A fallout occurs when the weather forces migrants to take shelter as soon as they hit the coast. These conditions can cause massive concentrations of migrants at these and other birding hotspots along the Gulf.

1. High Island, Texas

High Island is one of the most famous and active spring migration hotspots on the Gulf Coast. It’s designed to be birder-friendly, and there are many smaller birding hotspots within the High Island area where you can experience migration. Learn more about High Island from the Houston Audubon Society here.

Although Black-and-white Warblers aren't as flashy as some of the other warbler species, I still find them to be a stunning species to observe.

Although Black-and-white Warblers aren’t as flashy as some of the other warbler species, I still find them to be a stunning species to observe.

2. Dauphin Island, Alabama

Just off the the coast of Alabama sits a barrier island called Dauphin Island (not Dolphin like I hear many call it). This is one of the first places that migrants can make landfall after flying over the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. There are a number of parks and reserves that you can visit on the island to experience migration first-hand. Click here to learn about all of the birding sites. Also consider taking the ferry over to Fort Morgan for more birding fun!

Blackburnian Warbler is one of the species that many birders are most excited to see.

Blackburnian Warbler is one of the species that many birders are most excited to see.

3. South Padre Island, Texas

This is the farthest south of the hotspots that I have included and thus has migrants earlier than some of the other locations. This barrier island has few trees which means there are fewer places to look for birds, but there are also fewer places for the birds to hide. The best site on the island is the South Padre Island Convention Center trails. Not only can there be an amazing number of migrants, you’re sure to enjoy all of the wading birds and shorebirds using the tidal flats to feed.

Chestnut-sided Warblers are always a crowd favorite at birding hotspots!

This Chestnut-sided Warbler is one of my favorites to see each spring! Chestnut-sided Warblers are always a crowd favorite at birding hotspots!

4. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

This is the most remote and inaccessible location on the list. In order to get to this national park, you must first travel to Key West and then catch either a ferry or seaplane to get out to this small set of islands. While migration might not be as constantly amazing here, when a fallout occurs, the birding is phenomenal. The only fresh water on the entire island is a small well, and since all of the birds need water, the well is the place to be!

Since the Dry Tortugas sits much farther east than the other birding hotspots, more of the migrants that winter in the Caribbean can be found there. That includes species like this Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Since the Dry Tortugas sits much farther east than the other birding hotspots, more of the migrants that winter in the Caribbean can be found there. That includes species like this Black-throated Blue Warbler.

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Jill Staake

Believe it or not, even the most experienced gardeners are often hesitant to start seeds indoors. The process does take some time and planning, but once you create a good seed-starting setup, you’ll be able to grow flowers and veggies not available at your local nursery!

Start Seeds Indoors

Leroy (hopscotch) No need to spend a lot of money when starting seeds indoors – the best setups are simple!

Creating a Seed-Starting Setup

Location. Choose a place for your seed-starting setup that is safe from kids and pets, but where you’ll be able to easily access them each day. Basements, spare rooms, or kitchens are often good places; make sure you’ll have ready access to water and protect surfaces that could be damaged by soil or moisture.

Containers. The possibilities for seed-starting containers seem endless. You can buy ready-made growing kits to start seeds indoors that include trays, soil, and covers to provide moisture (I really like the BioDome from Park Seed), but you don’t need to spend a lot. You can start seedlings in plastic trays, peat pots, even eggshells! It’s usually best to start seeds in smaller containers, like the divided trays you’ll find for sale, since it allows more control over watering and helps them to develop compact root systems as they start growing.

Soil. You can use the potting medium provided with some seed starting kits (follow the directions to hydrate the disks into usable soil), or purchase a sterile seed-starting mix from your local nursery. Don’t use old potting soil you have sitting around from previous years or dirt from your outdoor garden, as it may contain unwanted old seeds or pests.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Gayle (cove2700) A simple shop light propped on supports will provide the light you need to get started.

Light. You’ll be most successful if you have bright light available for most of the day (12 – 16 hours). This isn’t usually something you can get just from a sunny windowsill, especially since late winter and spring are apt to be cloudy more often than not. You’ll find it’s worth it to make the investment in some fluorescent growing lights that can be kept at an optimal distance from your growing seedlings.

Water. Seedlings need consistent moisture, since they haven’t yet developed root systems and leaf networks to help them store it in dry times. Watering from above can be damaging to newly-sprouted fragile stems, so the easiest way to give seedlings the water they need is with bottom watering. Set your containers into a tray holding a few inches of water, and add more when the tray dries out.

Temperature. Many seeds need ideal soil temperatures before they will germinate and begin to grow. Starting seeds indoors allows you to control the soil temperatures and get a head-start before the ground outdoors is ready, but if you’re working in a basement or garage, you might need to provide a little extra heat to help them along. Gardeners have developed a variety of tricks for this, including placing the plants on top of the fridge (really!) or using a heating pad underneath the water tray. You can also buy specially made heating elements for seed starting, if you prefer.

Starting Seeds Indoors Thinning

These seedlings all look healthy, but there are too many in one cell. It’s best to thin them to one or two plants so they can develop strong root systems.

Getting Started

  • Your soil or potting medium should be damp, though not soaking wet. Fill your containers about three-quarters of the way, and press the soil flat and level (don’t compress the soil too much, though).
  • Empty the seeds from the packet into a small bowl. It’s much easier to control the seeds this way. Save your seed packets for future reference as the plants grow. (Try using a coupon organizer to keep your packets all in once place.)
  • Large seeds like zinnias or marigolds are easy to plant with your fingertips, but smaller seeds can be a little tricker. Use tweezers or even a small pipette to help you handle tiny seeds.
  • If you’re using a divided container with lots of small planting areas, plant just 2 – 4 seeds per section. If you’re planting in larger flats, make little furrows and try to space the seeds evenly, no more than an inch apart.
  • Follow the directions on your seed packets to determine how deep to sow the seeds. Some should be covered with a light layer of soil, while others will need to lay directly on the surface to germinate.
  • Once all the seeds are sown, cover with a layer of plastic wrap (or use the lids that come with some growing kits). This will keep the soil from drying out, and hold in heat as well. Remove the plastic wrap as plants begin to grow, and make sure they have adequate air circulation to avoid fungal growth, known as “damping off” (see “Troubleshooting” below).
  • Don’t forget to label! Many seedlings look alike, so grab a handful of popsicle sticks and a permanent marker and mark your rows by type. You may also wish to note the date, especially if you’re starting a variety of seeds at different times.
  • You’ll need to check your seedlings daily, since it’s vital that they don’t dry out. Add more water to your bottom tray as needed. You can also mist the seedlings with a spray bottle, but don’t overwater.
  • The first round leaves that appear from each seed are called cotyledons. Soon, the plant will form its first “true leaves”, which are likely to be different in shape. Once you see these leaves, it’s time to thin your plants to remove any weaker seedlings by using a small pair of scissors to snip them off at soil level.
  • When your outdoor soil and weather conditions are right (check the back of your seed packets for info), it’s time to “harden off” your plants by moving them outdoors and gradually exposing them to more sunlight. Within a week or two, you’ll be ready to transplant them into your garden.
Start Seeds Indoors

Leroy (hopscotch) Watch the weather carefully. Bring seedlings back indoors if the temperature drops dramatically or hard rain is predicted.

Learning to start seeds indoors is just like anything else: you’ll have some successes and some failures, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Start slow and be sure you can devote daily attention to your seedlings. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and keep a journal to document your ups and downs from year to year. Most gardeners find that once they really get going, the urge to start seeds indoors is pretty addictive – and very rewarding!

Looking for more details about starting seeds indoors? Check out this article for additional Seed Starting Basics.

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Thanks to our “Win a Pond” contest and our friends at Aquascape, Mother’s Day is…