By Allen Hamrick
I know it doesn’t seem as though spring will come, especially with the ice and snow storms we have had, but late winter is a good time to plan your garden and organize your projects. This preparation will save you time and money in the long run. With today’s world getting harder to assume what will happen next, people everywhere are wanting to plant their own garden to become more independent and self sufficient. Whether it’s a large acreage garden or a square foot garden, proper planning will yield far better results and a greater harvest. One of the most important things to prepare for is pest control. Deer, raccoon, rabbits, bear, worms, critters and just about everything great and small will attack your garden with vengeance and leave your cellar and your tater and onion bin empty. So, knowing how to control these critters will keep you from taking to the hills looking for satisfaction or holding vigils at night around the garden while waiting for an assault.
There are a ton of ways to rid your garden of pests; some are proven under fire and others are less effective. Many methods use a subtle approach while others take on drastic measures, from natural to chemical. In this week’s article I will concentrate more on the bugs, worms and flying insects that lay waste to tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and potatoes. I am sure that you have generations of knowledge on pest control within your family, but these are some of the best natural ways to protect your plants. Everything from using liquid garlic in the soil to spreading mothballs, it’s all been tried. One of the best natural methods is attracting birds to your garden operation. Bluebirds are a great to have around. They love worms and bugs, and the more bluebirds you attract, the better your success will be at ridding your plot of pests. The bluebird has been desired by gardeners for centuries; not only do they work the garden purging pests but their song is so prized by people that more poems have been written about them than any other bird.
The whole key to using birds as pest control is having enough of them to protect the whole garden. Once a bluebird has an established home, that is where it will stay until it migrates. They will always come back to where there is a great food supply and a safe place to raise their young. They are a very loyal bird and dedicated to their terrorist. You can build a pair of nesting boxes and place them within 20 feet of each other, but if your space requires more birds, then you have to place the next pair 300 feet from the others. The box needs to face the east and, if possible, towards the open garden. The habitat you offer has to be ideal for them to stick around and help with the garden chores. The box you build doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be the proper size. Bluebirds also have to have a place where there is warm water available because they love to take baths. Natural perches where they can search for insects is a must as well. It can be an old fence or anything close to the garden.
The bird house dimensions are critical because bluebirds have a mortal enemy in the house sparrow that often kills the bluebird when competing for a nest. The ideal materials used in the construction of the bluebird box are cedar, cypress, redwood or simply exterior grade plywood. The wood does not have to be stained or even finished; as a matter of fact, that is the way the bluebird likes it. You can paint the outside of the box, but if you do, it has to be a lighter color for heat control. The roof should extend over the entrance hole to provide shade and cover, and there should be holes in the side to provide a cross draft of air. There should also be holes drilled in the bottom for drainage and the inside of the front wall be roughed up so that the young birds can get out of the nest. A 1 ½ inch hole is the exact size of the entry hole for the species of bluebird that is in our area. Mount the box high in the air either on a piece of conduit or water pipe; this lessens the threat from predators. The box should be a minimum of five feet off the ground. Monitoring the nest box is done about once a week to know if you are successful in attracting the bird. Monitoring the nest will also help keep the house sparrows away from the area. While most birds are welcome to nest in the box, some are not.
As you can see, most birds are beneficial to have around the garden with the bluebird being a very welcome sight. They will help greatly with insect control in a natural way. This is also a great opportunity to teach kids and preserve the habitats so that these helpful birds will never cease to exist. The houses are not difficult to build and are a fun way to spend an afternoon. I guarantee if you are one who enjoys an early morning coffee on the front porch while the birds are singing, you will be glad you took the time to give them a home. Come back next week for tips on keeping deer out of the garden.