Inside, the kitchen’s steamy warmth fills the air. Seeds, tomato and pepper, sprout forcefully—searching for sunshine.
A timid Avocado unfurls leaves.
Outside, viewed through a kitchen window, winter tries to thwart the hope of spring.
To thaw frozen toes, I take MasterGardener® classes, learning of soils, and trees and pruning…grasses, annuals, perennials. Insects, diseases, and fungi haunt my dreams. I prune the shrubs on a warm, windy afternoon—the hardy six survivors—hoping for blossoms and fruit.
Wielding a hoe awkwardly, I poke at the compost heap to assess progress. My grocery list changes from produce aisles to garden centers. This week I will plant tomato seedlings and scheme to keep them from kitten paws.
Here’s the sketched out plan:
FOOD – Planting native shrubs and trees that bear fruit, nuts, seeds, or berries. Bird feeders and ground feeders. Plant nectar-producing native wildflowers. Insects are important, too. Avoid using chemical pesticides to rid insects…many wildlife species, especially birds, feed on them. Maybe a beehive.
WATER – Provide a water source for drinking and bathing (not for me, silly). Create natural sources of water where possible. Use clean birdbaths and change the water daily. Install a small pond or stream with some of the great do-it-yourself pond products? Perhaps a Bird Pond Kit with cascade.
COVER – Meet the cover/shelter needs of wildlife. Evergreen trees, native vines (wait—there is a Trumpet Vine sprouting in a corner…) shrubbery, brush piles, rock piles (I have tons of rocks), meadow grasses… Perhaps this year’s gourds will survive to become nesting boxes. The rickety privacy fence in the backyard and proximity to neighboring house provides some shelter from harsh winds.
PLACES TO RAISE YOUNG – Birds need tree cavities or man-made nest boxes—my large front yard tree provides some of those elements. What about toads and tortoises—how can I keep them happy and from roaming onto a busy street? Burrows or dens, and some need tall grasses?
Provide the best food and cover sources for wildlife
Use the least amount of fertilizer, water, and pest control.
Plant native plants suitable for region
Use captured rainwater for plants
Work on more efficient watering methods
Use mulch to conserve soil moisture
Eliminate all chemical fertilizers
Control pests with natural pest control products and predator species
I have missed you. My apologies for dropping off of the planet, but I needed some time to rethink the blog. Backstreets and Alleys began in a small town on the plains of eastern Colorado—gosh—it has been seven years now. I initially wrote to survive culture shock, loneliness, and horrid treatments for Multiple Sclerosis. Although the blog was then titled Tumbleweed Alley, I merrily wrote about anything that came to mind. After a few months, a pattern emerged—plants, wind, trees, harsh temperatures all came to the foreground, and the blog formed its personality.
Four years ago, I moved to a rental house on a small lot in a small city. The blog name changed, and I chronicled the seasons, my community garden plot, and the startling nature just outside the door. Then I became a little stuck for a theme with the blog, so I let it rest for a season, planted many failures, composted some ideas, tossed in a few new seeds. I believe the time yielded some new ideas.
The new, long-term project is creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. Guidelines for the certification program are aimed to help transform outdoor spaces away from lawn-dominated areas that contain invasive exotic plants and chemical pesticides/fertilizers. Instead, the habitat moves toward a native plant-based, chemical free, wildlife-friendly habitat. As a result, a yard, a school, or even a balcony (if you’re a city apartment dweller) can receive national certification as a wildlife habitat.
Goals are simple: Provide basic habitat elements for wildlife. The property must include: 1) food, 2) water, 3) cover, and 4) places to raise young for local wildlife. In addition, the site must meet sustainable landscaping practices. This involves practices such as water conservation, growth of native vegetation, building healthy soil through composting and other methods, and eliminating chemical on the property. (More details will follow in subsequent blog posts.)
I find I have moved in this direction all along, but the property presented many immediate difficulties that needed resolution. My target is my backyard (of course), so you will step along with me in this journey and perhaps advise me on overcoming challenges, rerouting directions, and redeeming a small plot of this planet.
Along the way, I will showcase a myriad of challenges, blunders, and failures. Some of those challenges are personal—like my tiny retirement income, knotted/arthritic joints, and Multiple Sclerosis. Other hurdles have been imbalanced nature: ants, weeds, rotten soil, itchy bug bites, extreme temperatures, and a herd of squirrels. What to do with a backyard junk pile? Or the biggest challenge of all: What if for years, a property owner’s idea of landscaping was to roll out landscape fabric (and shower curtains and carpet remnants…) then dump rocks on top of it. When weeds grew, the process was repeated (as near as I can tell–four times on the ENTIRE property).
So come along with me to my backyard, backstreets, and alleys—where the only success has been the Buffalo Grass, and the wildlife consists of chiggers, mosquitoes, and abandoned feral cats hiding in a junk pile.
Do you have any idea what this plant is? Growing in my back yard (Colorado, US). In the shade–about 3 feet tall. No flowers–at least not yet. Leaves 2-3 inches. Limp, soft, slightly fuzzy.
When my sons were small they romped in the yard on summer nights. Little legs pumped hard on the swing hung on the limb of an Ash Tree. They played with cars and trucks around the knotted roots that broke through the grass. Babies yet–all of five and four years.
One summer night, I let them play into dusk. I went inside to catch up on chores–flitting from window to window to make sure all was well. The screen door had not banged, no squabbles erupted, so the reward was a little extra play before bedtime rituals. I visited them under the tree—taking in the small city they had built with blocks of wood and sticks and bricks. “Fifteen more minutes,” I said, “you may play until I turn the porch light on.”
I clicked the old switch by the doorjamb, illuminating the darkening yard. My younger son came inside shoes untied, screen door slamming. “Where’s your brother?” He shrugged his answer. Alarm rose in my mom’s heart. I called his name into the night—ran to the back door doing the same. I ran around the yard—under trees to the street. Calling. No son. Anger…then cold fear hardened.
Younger son in tow, I ran up the sidewalk—out into the street looking one way then another. A few houses away, a small form made its way up the hill. The small prodigal dawdled slowly, swinging a loop of rope. Now and then he looked back over his shoulder. I ran toward him, “What were you…never leave yard…scared to death,” I gasped at him. I repeated, “What were you doing?” Swinging the limp rope fragment, he pointed up at the sky over his shoulder, “I was trying to catch the moon.”
All running, words, fear, anger whooshed away. A fat moon rose on the horizon–I had not even noticed, but the child with sky eyes had seen, and he ran trying hard to capture its wonder.