The Impromptu Bird House For Wrens

Crocheting a little wren birdhouse.

Last year we had wrens flying into the garage and we discovered they were building a nest. The nest, unfortunately, was inside my son’s tool belt which hung up high near the window.

I told him to leave it alone and let the birds do their thing. It was an odd place to have a nest because with the garage door closed, they couldn’t get in or out. Usually the door was left up a little during the day for the cats, but it was always closed tight all night long.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Did that appeal to the wrens? Maybe. They never did make a complete nest or have babies in our garage, but this year they began the same routine. They love the tool belt because it has big open leather holders that are deep. I suspect a handyman would carry his drills or whatnot in them.

This time my son was having none of it. He is not a nature lover and didn’t want birds in his belt. He dumped out the few little leaves inside and put the belt away. I know. Mean.

So I got to thinking that maybe I could make a nest, or buy one, that the wrens might use. This led to me searching for a nest to make out of yarn.

I have a website about my knitting projects called New England’s Narrow Road. I am an avid fiber artist… fancy name for knitter of things. But I wanted this birdhouse to be done fast, so I chose to crochet it.

My Birdhouse Made of Yarn

I hadn’t crocheted for a while, but it all comes back when you begin. I love knitting, but crochet is much faster and easier to correct mistakes.

I can’t tell you exactly how I made this birdhouse, but I began as if to crochet a bag – at the bottom. After expanding up and out, I made the hole. Then I decreased for the top and made the loop.

I used pure wool (Jamieson & Smith) so it would be a natural material that would last outside in the elements.

Crocheted bird house

When the whole thing was finished – it took only 2 nights of work – I washed it and dried it in the dryer to “felt” the wool yarn. This tightens up the strands of yarn so it’s less porous.

I took it outside and hung it on a shrub where I would often see wrens. This is where I stumbled across a pretty little orange flowering milkweed plant.

Crocheted bird house

I want to make more houses and possibly create a pattern that I can share with others. Around here, we have frogs and other creatures that take over birdhouses, so there may never be a wren inside. Maybe I will make a bunch of houses and hang them inside the garage!

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Ladybug Friends For the New Garden Season

It’s 2022 and aren’t we glad to have the last couple of years behind us? New problems are brewing, and with ridiculously high gas prices, it’s best to just stay home and garden! ….. Right?

The ladybugs are already beginning to arrive for the new garden season. I saw one crawling on my eggplant and sure enough, I later found yellow eggs planted beneath a leaf!

First ladybug of the growing season!

Her eggs are tiny and yellow and they will be left under leaves. If they survive, they will all become ladybugs eventually.

Ladybug eggs

The next day, I saw that the eggs had hatched into black critters that were crawling a bit. They look like tiny, black spiders. They will soon turn into long black bugs with red markings. I wrote a page with photos about the life stages of ladybugs here.

As a gardener, I want to be aware of which bugs are good, or beneficial, and the ladybugs – in all stages – are good! But we must know how they look before they become ladybugs in order for them to survive.

Ladybug eggs hatching into black larvae
New little ladybug larvae looks like tiny black spiders

My Fear: Do Anole’s Eat Ladybugs?

I’ve searched for an answer and have not found one that is exact, but I am hoping that brown (and green) anole lizards do not eat ladybugs. Here in Florida we have both types of lizard.

There is a very large brown lizard that loves to hang out on the eggplant plant (see him below). I have seen some green aphids, and maybe he is eating those. But aphids are also ladybug food. The lizard could be eating ants, or something else. I’m wondering if he will gobble up the baby ladybugs too.

Ladybugs Do Not Taste Good

I can attest to the fact that ladybugs do not taste good. Accidentally, I had a ladybug in my mouth – it was in the water I drank – and it left a horrible taste. I hope that our lizards think so too and will let the larvae live.

Ladybug on eggplant stem
March ladybug on eggplant

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Bought a Hot Frog Tumbling Composter

Recently I purchased a Hot Frog tumbling composter, which has two spinning bins. We struggled a bit putting this thing together, but in the end it’s pretty nice. I’ll update progress as time goes on, but here is my experience so far.

Hot Frog composting bin on stand in the yard.

A Serious Gardener Needs Good Dirt

This year I am getting into gardening more seriously. I dislike where I live, but I am determined to make the most of it. The backyard has been mostly neglected since my wood-sided raised bed began to crumble. The price of wood is too high to re-build it, and by now it is packed down and full of roots and unusable. It has become a place for weeds to grow.

My yard is small. Digging a garden is hard work, and Florida “dirt” is made up of sand. I’ve opted for buying, and building, raised beds. This also helps a lot with invading weeds, grass and roots. But buying all of this is not cheap, and I also struggle with finding decent, affordable dirt.

Early Spring is a good time to begin Florida vegetable gardening. This year I started some organic seeds in little eggshells and then transplanted them to grow boxes. I shelled out money for the boxes, dirt and seeds. Getting started is not cheap, but once the planters and dirt is purchased, it gets better.

Gardens in grow boxes in Florida backyard
Growing eggplant, peppers, onions and tomatoes in grow boxes on the patio.

This is where making my own compost comes in. I can stop buying soil and amend gardens with organic compost material. I plan to save seeds from the organic plants I’m already growing.

I know the basics of creating a compost pile, because I made my own compost in New Hampshire, but now I am in Florida and it’s different. How different? I’ll let you know. The Hot Frog is purchased (link below), put together, and filling up with vegetable scraps, leaves, and yard stuff. I’ve never used something like this to make compost. It’s pretty cool… so far. I have one side about half full and give it a spin often.

Hot Frog Directions Are Lacking

After I ordered my Hot Frog by FCMP Outdoor and like the fact that it is made in Canada and not China. (this is an affiliate link to Amazon. If you purchase through this link I could earn a small amount.)

The two big wheel-like bins come in a big box with a mess of green metal piping that needs to be put together to make the stand. The directions are mostly non-existent. A little diagram is included. On our first attempt the thing was crooked. Something was wrong. That happy face / sad face thing on the paper told us why. It was kinda weird, but fixed the problem.

It took both of us to hold the barrels and feed the long pole through the middle and connect it to the legs. So, you may need some help putting it together.

Poles used as the composter stand

Once it was together the correct way, and the big bins were added, I dragged the whole unit out to the backyard myself. It’s not very heavy when empty.

The sun is changing location, but I want the composter to be mostly in the shade. I fear that direct sunlight in this climate will burn everything up inside. I can pull it back further when summer hits so it will mostly be shaded. I plan to keep an eye on the inside temperature. It is easy to move – that is a plus.

Presently, it is sitting in the back corner of the yard where the banana trees and big shrubs grow at the edge of my property.

Hot Frog dual turning composter

What I Like About Hot Frog

This Hot Frog composter has two separate sides. This is good for starting a batch of compost in a small area. Once that side is full (how full?) I will begin to add material to the other side.

The green sliding doors are marked “Start” and “Finish” which doesn’t really make sense, but it keeps the two separate. So, I began with the “Start” side and added oak leaves and dried banana leaves along with bunches of vegetable scraps. Each day I usually add a little bit more.

One complaint that I read in a review was that water can get in, and drips out, of the unit. I can see how dripping could occur with the holes in the side. However, compost is not supposed to be wet. My unit is on the grass so dripping is not an issue, but I don’t want the compost to become soggy.

As for how water gets in, I suspect through those same holes. In my photo below you might be able to see the little flies coming out of the hole. So far, it’s my only issue – the tiny flies. Apparently they are harmless.

Why You Should Consider Composting

If you are already an organic gardener, you should consider composting your own materials. Don’t over think it. Learn the basics (what to add) and you will find it to be quite easy to do. Add natural ingredients, and nothing from the yard if you don’t know what it is. You don’t want to add some kind of poisonous plant to the compost bin.

Since I’ve become a more healthy eater, I have a lot more vegetable scraps. Instead of throwing them out, I currently put them on top of the soil in my grow boxes. It’s sort of a quick composting attempt, and better than simply throwing good scraps into the trash. Old lettuce leaves scattered over the dirt can help hold moisture in.

Sometimes vegetable bits can help keep raccoons and critters away also – (think prickly cucumber stems and stinky onions). But each time I would do this, I would also think about doing compost the correct way.

I have all the elements needed to create good compost. Grass, leaves and vegetable matter is really all it takes. Most everyone has those things. Once the compost is ready, it can be added to vegetable gardens and will add extra nutrients to the soil and hopefully attract earthworms.

This sustainable way of growing crops and flowers helps the environment and your own health.

Florida’s Unqiue Compost Material

March is Fall here in Florida. The oak trees lose their leaves and catkins (long brown things) everywhere. I’ve been adding them to my composter along with vegetable bits.

After the cold of winter (don’t laugh) we also have dead banana leaves, which I cut up with scissors and also added to the bin.

Spanish moss can be added to the compost pile. It is also useful when potting plants. Stick some in the bottom of the pot for drainage.

Compost Organic, No Chemicals Allowed

The big problem in Florida is that many people spray their lawns with chemicals to kill the bugs. Florida is a buggy place. It used to be a jungle swampland. Now, people who want to live in paradise do not want bugs destroying their idea of an ideal place to live. Lawn service companies are constantly spraying lawns.

If your yard is full of chemicals, you can not add lawn clippings, leaves and garden matter to the compost bin. Chemicals will kill the good bacteria and things that are needed to create soil from compost matter. Not only that, the chemicals will end up in your garden, feeding your plants, or killing them.

I believe in letting nature take care of things in the garden. But, once again, here in Florida, that may not be as natural as you think. Our ecology is already being threatened by invasive frog and lizard species. I’m guessing this will play a role in organic gardening here.

Below is my photo of a big brown anole, or Cuban anole (lizard). Read more about the native green, and invasive brown, anoles. South Florida is not the only place with invaders.

Brown lizard

Check out this massive list of non-native reptiles at the Florida Fish and Wildlife site. There are no photos, but what a long list!

Transplanting Eggshell Seedlings to Grow Boxes

It is now mid-March and my grow boxes have been readied for vegetable seedlings. Just as I was thinking that the cold was behind us here in central Florida, we had a night in the 40’s. That will be rare from here on out.

I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry, but I know that the heat is coming. Yes, vegetables need sun and heat, but not the kind of heat Florida throws at us. I’m not even planting peas until September because I am sure it will get too hot for them now.

So here it was, a cloudy, somewhat cool, morning and I decided to get the seedlings into the grow beds.

Gardening table in the backyard, with seedlings and seed packets ready to plant.

I was a little tired of setting the eggshells outside and having to check on them. Something was eating some of the plants too. The seedlings were mostly large enough for the ground. Rain was in the forecast, so it was a good day to plant.

You can see my three new garden boxes in the background. I also have an old grow box to make four total in the group. My old raised bed is in the background. The wood has rotted and it is no long usable. We’ve switched to using smaller garden boxes.

The grow boxes I used were similar to the one below (which is an affiliate link to Amazon), but I bought mine at Home Depot. I bought them early before the growing season really began, just in case they were hard to find.

The box is called self-watering because you pour the water into a tube which sticks up in one corner. A mesh layer keeps the dirt up and away from the bottom and the idea is for the water to soak up through into the dirt. I also water from the top because anything with shallow roots will need that.

Really, I treat the box as a regular garden and don’t count on the self-watering part. Florida gardening is very different from other places.

Transplanting the Seedlings

I spent some time researching and studying where my little seedlings would go. Each box is quite small and will not hold a lot of plants. Things can’t be too crowded.

My tomato seedlings (2 only) went into the old box in the back. Planting tomatoes is easy because they can be planted deep. Some people plant them on their sides too. What this does is cause more roots to grow from the stem to create a (hopefully) better plant.

Cherry Tomatoes

I planted both cherry tomatoes deep in dirt up to the top leaves. I added cosmos plants, basil and a marigold.

Two cherry tomato plants
Cherry tomato plants in grow bed

Zucchini

One garden bed has zucchini seeds. I put three seeds in a mound in the center. I will probably keep only the best one. I planted little marigolds and cosmos on one side. The red onion plants were put in a few weeks ago when the dirt was added.

Zucchini seeds planted
Will be zucchini

Cucumbers

Two cucumber plants are the main items in this bed. Parsley, cosmos and dill are also in this garden. I don’t have much luck with dill and the plants don’t look all that great. More onions line one edge.

Cucumber garden

Carrots and Beets

This garden has four rows of seeds. Two rows of carrots – which I never have much luck with, and two rows of beets, which I’ve never grown. This is a bit of a trial and error box for me. One little parsley plant was also added and there are onions along one side.

Like the zucchini, I decided to use seeds here and not try to start root vegetables in eggshells. There is no reason to.

Carrot and beet seeds planted in grow box

Transplanting from Eggshells

I wrote a previous post about growing seeds in eggshells. This year was the first time I attempted this. Some plants did better than others and altogether I believe it was a good thing to do. I was able to keep a close eye on the little plants making sure they had sun and water and could be indoors during the cold.

As far as transplanting goes, I carefully broke most of the eggshell away from the roots and then set the plant into the dirt. The broken shell can stay in the garden, but I wanted to be sure the little roots would be able to spread.

This was pretty easy to do. You can see all the roots on this cucumber – he was ready to be set free!

Cucumber seedlings going into the ground.

The Garden is Planted! March 15th

Once all my little seedlings had a new outdoor home, I put up some posts (also bought at Home Depot) and wrapped the whole thing with some mesh I had. I only did this to keep my cats out of the garden! When they see fresh dirt, they think it’s an outdoor litter box.

I draped some Spanish moss, picked up in the yard, all around the mesh so hopefully birds won’t get entangled.

Four planting boxes with seedlings

I will take down this mesh fence once the plants get larger and the cats are no longer interested. It’s a good way to keep the raccoons out too, I hope.

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