Who doesn’t love spring? Flowers bloom, trees bud and bright songbirds return to the area. The renewed resurgence of radiant life may make you want to get in on the action.
Bring on the birds
Simple solutions to turn your backyard into an avian oasis
But if gardening’s not your thing and you just don’t see yourself as the type to go on a long outdoor hike, you can still engage in spring’s revelry and bring beautiful birds to your own backyard. Convincing songbirds and favorites like hummingbirds to visit your yard is as simple as providing them with plentiful sources of food, water and nesting material.
The avian experts at Songbird Essentials, a leading provider of accoutrements and food for outdoor birds of all species, offer a few tips for attracting some popular, picturesque feathered friends to your neighborhood:
Birds need to eat a lot to survive every day. While natural food sources are plentiful in warmer months, they’re just as happy to dine at your backyard buffet. You can attract delightful birds like yellow goldfinches, orioles and hummingbirds with the right mix of food and feeder types.
Start out by overlooking a few dandelions when you’re weeding your yard. Goldfinches love dandelion seed. They also like company when they eat and will dine in large groups. Look for feeders, like the Three Tube Finch Feeder, that allow 24 or more birds to perch and dine at the same time. This certainly sets the stage for a spectacular show!
Orioles, with their glossy black coats trimmed in bright orange or yellow, will fill your backyard with distinctive whistles and songs. They migrate at night and arrive in your neighborhood tired, cold and hungry, so if you wait until you actually see them to put out food, you might miss them altogether. Set out oranges, sliced in half with the juicy side out before you see the first oriole of the season. Or try feeding them all new BirdBerry Jelly, a human grade product that’s better for the birds. It’s all natural – no preservatives – and is lower in sugar content than most jellies. The unique grape/blackberry flavor attracts orioles and other species and keeps them coming back for more.
Try using a feeder like Songbird Essentials’ Grand Slam Oriole Feeder made of recycled plastic. It holds four orange halves and has two serving bowls for jelly. Other birds that love jelly include woodpeckers, robins and warblers.
Hummingbirds, while not great singers, are among the most intriguing and adorable birds to watch. Nearly every region of the U.S. has at least one native species of these tiny, speedy little birds. There are several ways you can tempt them into your yard; try these tips:
Provide plenty of nectar feeders – The more the merrier. Dr. J.B.’s Hummingbird Feeder is a good choice; it is dishwasher safe and easy to clean, has an extra wide mouth for easy filling and is bee resistant. Bob Sergeant, president of the Hummer Bird Study Group, the world’s largest association dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds, simply says; “This is the best hummingbird feeder ever!” Plus, the hummers love it.
Be sure hummers see red. Plant red open-throated plants. Or, if planting is not possible, tie a big red bow in your yard near your feeder.
Let the water flow. Hummingbirds prefer moving water sources like sprinklers, fountains, waterfalls, misters or drippers. Attract hummingbirds by keeping water sources fresh and clean and positioning them near food sources.
Provide natural nesting material. Hummingbirds won’t nest in birdhouses or nesting boxes, they build their cup-shaped nests in trees. Encourage nesting by providing materials like Hummer Helper Nesting Material, recommended by the Hummingbird Society of North America. An all-natural product, Hummer Helper comes in an open wire frame that allows hummingbirds easy access to natural nesting material.
For more ideas on how to attract hummingbirds and songbirds to your backyard this season, visit www.songbirdessentials.com.
Courtesy of ARA Content
Simple fixes deliver resort style to your own backyard
Sure you would like to live the fantasy this summer, spending a week lounging at a luxury resort, sipping colorful beverages, sinking into a plush chaise lounge beside a crystal blue pool while a cool breeze wafts through the fronds of a nearby palm. But there’s this whole thing about the economy.
Even though things are getting better, you may still hesitate to spend your hard-earned or hard-saved cash on something as transient as a luxury summer vacation. Instead of splashing money away on travel, why not bring the luxury home by creating a resort-like outdoor environment that will both enhance your enjoyment and improve the value of your house?
Improving your outdoor living space continues to be a good investment. Great outdoor living spaces continue to top the list of most-desired features for both homeowners and potential buyers. And for what you might spend on a luxury vacation, it’s possible to create your own personal oasis of luxury that you can enjoy for the entire summer, rather than just for a week.
Not sure where to begin? You can add home-style versions of the high-priced appointments such as pools and wall murals that you would find in luxury resorts around the world.
A pool is a must-have for a high-end resort. Thanks to kits that include everything from the pool walls and liner to the filter, it’s possible to cheaply install an above-ground pool in your backyard – provided homeowners association rules allow it. Prices range from a few hundred dollars for basic pools to a few thousand for more upscale versions.
If a pool is out of your budget, or prohibited in your neighborhood, or your yard is just too small for it, consider adding a different kind of water feature that takes up less room. Modestly sized fountains, rain chains, even a bird bath, can all deliver a restful mood and the charming sound of flowing water.
Set the stage
If you don’t already have a deck or patio, adding one is a great investment. You can go totally over the top – if that’s in your budget – or start with a modest deck that can be expanded later. If you already have a deck, consider upgrading it, along with the regular seasonal maintenance you already do. You can add designer touches like metal balusters on railings and decorative caps on posts. Accent lighting, built-in seating and firepits also can enhance a deck’s appeal.
Resort designers recognize the power of a wall mural to transform a space from merely beautiful to exotic. Virtually any smooth outdoor surface can host a wall mural, thanks to easy-to-mount wallpaper murals available from websites like www.MuralsYourWay.com. Adding a mural to an architectural niche, outdoor wall or even a sliding glass door can create a conversation piece for outdoor gatherings, establish a mood for your outdoor space and convey continuity between outdoor and indoor decor.
Outdoor furniture is one area where it pays to spend a little more to get a durable, well-made set that you love. For maximum luxury, you’ll need more than just a table and four chairs. Consider love seats, lounges and ottomans to impart depth, variety and comfort to your outdoor seating arrangement. If you already have a well-made set that just needs a little sprucing up, invest in quality new cushions. Metal sets can easily be freshened with a coat of spray paint and wooden sets can be refinished or painted to look like new.
Instead of spending money on a luxury vacation, keep the money and the value home this summer. With a few custom design touches you can turn your outdoor living space into your own personal resort.
Courtesy of ARA Content
By Sue Pezzolla
The summer of 2009 was a trying season for gardeners. The early spring heat tempted gardeners to plant earlier than normal, but then Mother Nature dealt us a long wet spell with cooler than normal temperatures – the perfect recipe for vegetable diseases.
It started last April, when many of the box store seasonal garden centers in the northeast received vegetable transplants from a southern grower whose plants/soil harbored the spores for Phythophthora infestans, better known as late blight. This is the same fungal disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the mid-1800s, and although it is seen occasionally, it has never shown up so early in the season and with such a vengeance.
Dr. Tom Zitter, a plant pathologist from Cornell, was asked to diagnose ill transplants from a local Ithaca big box store and was among the first to identify the pathogen as late blight. By this time, the newly-planted tomatoes were producing fungal spores that were picked up by the wind and the disease was spreading and infecting all plants in the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family, but mainly potatoes and tomatoes.
Backyard gardens and commercial fields were all hit by the spores and plant decline was swift. Copper sulfate is the best fungicide option as it will set up a barrier against the fungus, but it will not cure it. Symptoms of the disease include: brown streaks on stems, blackened areas on leaves that dry and wilt quickly, and olive green to brown blotches on the fruit that appear shiny or wet, but are hard to the touch. Humid weather will often foster a white fuzz or mildew-like growth on the fruit or leaves that indicate that the fungus is producing spores. Gardeners often remark that the plants were healthy one day and wilting with symptoms the next. The rapidity of the disease moving through a plant is humbling and not quickly forgotten; thus gardeners are wondering what to do to prevent this from happening again.
Since we have no control over weather and winds, we need to take precautions to ensure that our gardens are as hospitable as possible for planting this spring:
1. All diseased foliage and fruit should have been discarded in plastic bags for the land fill–not composted. All potato tubers should have been removed from the soil. If you see any signs of potato growth this spring (from leftover tubers), remove promptly as spores can over-winter in living tissue. Spores for late blight will not over-winter in the soil, they need living tissue.
2. Rotate crops, especially all Nightshade family plants. For example, do not plant peppers where tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes were growing the previous year.
3. Look for the tomato varieties ‘Mountain Magic,’ ‘Legend,’ or ‘Plum Regal,’ as they have resistance to early blight and Septoria leaf spot, both common diseases in Capital Region gardens. These varieties are also resistant to late blight, but remember that resistance is not the same as immunity; it means that these cultivars are less likely to get the disease. Start your own plants or buy from local growers and do not use any saved garden potatoes as seed stock.
4. Leave room for good air circulation when planting which will lessen the spread of disease. Do not crowd plants.
5. Incorporate organic matter such as chopped up leaves, compost or dried manures into the vegetable garden. Feed the soil and it will feed you.
6. Plan to mulch plants to limit splash back from rain – avoid overhead watering. Prune off lower leaves on tomatoes as the plants elongate as this will limit splash back.
7. Use a sea-based fertilizer such as fish emulsion, liquid seaweed or kelp. On-going studies suggest that these types of fertilizers offer some disease resistance.
Two excellent resources are The Compendium
of Tomato Diseases and www.vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu.
Cornell Professor Tom Zitter has been working with large commercial growers to ensure that better scouting takes place to catch problems before shipping occurs. However, home gardeners need to be diligent about scouting on a regular basis as many diseases can be managed if caught early. Hopefully late blight will not be found in our gardens in 2010!
If you have gardening questions call a Master Gardener for Cornell-based advice. In Albany County call 765.3500, in Rensselaer County 272.4210 and in Schenectady County 372.1622.
Sue Pezzolla is community educator for Horticulture at Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County.
It is about time that the “workers bees” of the garden are understood. Here are some honey bee facts to help us understand their importance better. Many healing and health-promoting opportunities are being supplied by these busy little creatures. They are extraordinary little beings!
1. The honey bee has been around for 30 million years.
2. It is the only insect that produces food eaten
3. Honey bees are environmentally-friendly and are vital as pollinators.
4. They are insects with a scientific name – Apis mellifera.
5. They have 6 legs, 2 eyes, and 2 wings, a nectar pouch and a stomach.
6. The honeybee’s wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.
7. A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour. It would have to fly around 90,000 miles – three times around the globe – to make one pound of honey.
8. The average honey bee will actually make only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
9. It takes about 556 workers to gather 1 pound of honey from about 2 million flowers.
10. It takes one ounce of honey to fuel a bee’s flight around the world.
11. A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.
12. A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honeybees and one queen.
13. Worker honey bees are female, live 6 to 8 weeks and do all the work.
14. The queen bee lives for about 2-3 years and is the only bee that lays eggs. She is the busiest in the summer months, when the hive needs to be at its maximum strength, and lays up to 2,500 eggs per day.
15. The male honey bees are called drones, they do no work at all and have no stinger. All they do is mate.
16. Each honey bee colony has a unique odor for members’ identification.
17. Only worker bees sting, and only if they feel threatened and they die once they sting. Queens have a stinger, but don’t leave the hive to help defend it.
18. It is estimated that 1,100 honey bee stings are required to be fatal.
19. Honey bees communicate with one another by “dancing”.
20. During winter, honey bees feed on the honey they collected during the warmer months. They form a tight cluster in their hive to keep the queen and themselves warm.
Natural Throat Soother
Honey has been used as a home remedy for centuries to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with a common cold. According to the American Association of Family Physicians, many things can cause a sore throat. These include: infections with viruses, such as colds and flu; sinus drainage; allergies; or cigarette smoking, among others. Sore throats caused by bacteria such as streptococci are usually treated with antibiotics. Always check with your doctor if you have a fever, or if symptoms continue for more than a few days.
Time is the most important healer of sore throats caused by viruses, but for relief of the irritating symptoms, try a spoonful of honey to soothe and coat your throat. Take a spoonful straight, as often as you need, to relieve the irritation. In between, keep up your liquids with a steaming cup of tea sweetened with honey. For added vitamin C, try mixing in orange, grapefruit or lemon juice. A new study by a Penn State College of Medicine research team found that honey may offer parents an effective and safe alternative to over-the-counter cough medicine. The study found that a small dose of buckwheat honey given before bedtime provided better relief of nighttime cough and sleep difficulty in children than no treatment or dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medications.
Honey is a sweet treat for skin
Manufacturers have used honey in everything from hand lotions and moisturizers to bar soaps and bubble baths. One reason they use honey is for its wholesome, all-natural image; more and more consumers are demanding cosmetics and personal care products made from natural ingredients. In the case of honey, however, image is just the beginning.
First, honey is a humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture. This makes honey a natural fit in a variety of moisturizing products including cleaners, creams, shampoos and conditioners. Honey also acts as an anti-irritant, making it suitable for sensitive skin and baby care products.
Look for honey in store-bought beauty products or simply add a squeeze of honey to your moisturizer, shampoo or soap at home. For some extra pampering, try whipping up a simple beauty recipe yourself.
Honey & Yogurt Face Mask
1 tsp. natural yogurt (not non-fat or low fat)
1 tsp. runny honey (heat up hard honey to smooth up)
Mix together apply to the face let it set for 15 min. wash off with warm soft water
Courtesy of www.benefits-of-honey.com
What to plant for 2010
By Larry Sombke
This year is going to be a wonderful year in the garden. Well, let’s face it anything will be better than last year. It was cold, wet and miserable for way too many days. Here are a few things I suggest will be good for you to plant.
David Austin Roses – These are old-fashioned, large-bloomed fragrant roses that have been modernized and updated making them disease-free, low-maintenance and repeat bloomers. They are also able to withstand the cold winters without having to cover them with mounded leaves or dirt as you would for the dainty but popular hybrid tea roses. In other words, they have all the beauty and fragrance of tea roses, but without the work. If you can imagine what roses were like in Jane Austen’s gardens or her neighbors’ in Hampshire, you will get this look in David Austin Roses. They resemble the blossom of a peony more than the blossom of a cut rose you find at the florist. David Austin himself is English, but he is now growing a lot of his roses in Texas. They are available locally. Learn more about them at www.davidaustinroses.com
American Beauties Native Plants – This collection of native plants can be used to create a bird and butterfly-friendly garden in your own backyard and must be planted in dry shade and moist sun. There is nothing new about using native plants in the home landscape. The plants are sold at your local garden center where you can get other useful advice on how to care for these rugged and good-looking plants. In the greater Albany area, buy American Beauties at Altamont Country Values in Altamont, Botanic Barn in Brunswick, Decker’s Landscaping in Pattersonville and Callander’s Nursery in Chatham. A portion of the proceeds from this collection goes to support the National Wildlife Federation. For more information visit www.abnativeplants.com.
Hudson Valley Seed Library Seeds – I bumped into Ken Greene, one of the two partners of this inspired seed company, when I spoke at the Capital District Garden & Flower Show at Hudson Valley Community College this spring.
I was so impressed both with their product and them that I bought several packets, even though I didn’t need the seeds. Here is what they say they are up to from their Web site www.seedlibrary.org
“The Hudson Valley Seed Library strives to create an accessible and affordable source of regionally-adapted seeds that is maintained by a community of caring gardeners and, to create gift-quality seed packs featuring works designed by New York artists in order to celebrate the beauty of heirloom gardening. In 2010, we will be offering over 25 varieties of locally grown seed. Most of our varieties are rooted in the history and soils of New York or are chosen because they do well here. Every year we plan on growing additional varieties on the Seed Library farm and contracting with organic and certified naturally grown farmers in the Hudson Valley and upstate New York to grow even more varieties. By 2014, we aim to be 100 percent New York grown.” Really nice!
Cool Perennials – Clematis recta, Dictamnus albus purpureus and Baptisia australis.
Those of use who are devoted perennial plant gardeners look forward to finding out what the cool new perennials are each year. Local growers like Behn’s Best Perennials (wholesale only) in Columbia County are at the forefront of this annual plant fashion frenzy.
I have my sights set on Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’, an old plant that disappeared for many years and is now again available. Clematis recta is not a climbing Clematis, rather it forms a mound-like shrub with trailing qualities. It forms white, star-like flowers in June. I first saw this plant in the perennial beds created by Lyndon Miller at the New York Botanical Garden and knew then I had to have it.
Dictamnus, a.k.a. “gas plant” is a rugged, 36-inch-tall shrubby perennial that produces pink flowers and fragrance around July 4. I’ve tried this before and couldn’t get it established, but now I have another chance to put one in the ground. Some say the strong fragrance of the plant is flammable, but who knows? It’s deer resistant and likes a mostly sunny place.
Baptisia australis, the 2010 Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year, is another shrubby perennial that produces blue flower spikes on a three to four foot tall bush that likes full sun and is deer resistant. What’s not to like?
Ask your favorite garden center to get these plants for you if they don’t already have them. They are available. Happy planting!
Larry Sombke is a garden designer, consultant and author of Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resort-inspired bathroom trends
By Vikki Moran
Have you ever taken a great vacation in a swanky hotel and left feeling you wanted to replicate the exquisite bathroom? Many of us have acted on it by contacting Aird Dorrance to replicate it. In a recent conversation with the “Franks” at Aird Dorrance (Frank Dorrance, the owner and Frank Ronda, showroom manager), I learned that I am not alone in wanting permanently what I have had for a few lovely days in great hotels and Inns. As Frank Dorrance put it, I was trying to take the pampering and luxury home with me.
According to the NAR (National Association of Realtors), remodeling your bathroom is one of the top three remodeling projects that will give you the best return on investment – 71.0 percent in fact!
The trends in new bathrooms range from low-cost, efficient customizations to very elaborate, high-tech options. According to Ronda, Aird Dorrance show room manager, people are trending towards elaborate showers. “They have taken the jets out of the bath in favor of soaking tubs and put the jets into their showers. With people using showers more now with our hectic, hurried pace, it is understandable that they want to make their shower more enjoyable.”
Manufacturers’ innovations of shower components include showerheads, rain showerheads, body sprays and personal handheld showers, and any new component or combination of pieces can enhance the total shower experience. If you are water and energy conscious, as we all should be, the new technology allows us to use less water with little difference in performance.
What is ahead for us in bathroom technology? How about custom showers with personalized water delivery? “Little Suzy” may like her shower cooler and less intense than mom and dad, so each member of the family, up to six, will have their own settings! Kohler currently has seamless integration of water, music, light and steam, all with a button touch.
Perhaps technology is secondary to you, and what you are really looking for is the grand look of your new bathroom. The trends are in tile, many now opting for the modern look of 16 to 18-inch tiles on the wall, and larger tiles on the floor, which will make even a small space look and feel better. Vanities are looking more like furniture and vessel sinks that are under-mounted versus the old-fashion drop-ins are in vogue. Bathroom counter materials tend to be earthier: marble, granite, quartz and soapstone. Now that the sealant technology has also changed, the use of the stones has soared and become much more practical in the water-driven areas.
Showers are now designed with frameless doors, with less metal being used. It is certainly a more sophisticated look, but it also stays cleaner and is much easier to maintain. Tubs are now being designed for luxury in mind. It’s all about the soak.
“The average family has nine products for their bath and shower, so great storage needs to be a part of the remodel,” said Dorrance, who recommends discussing your storage needs with your contractor. Will your linens be stored there? Do you have more products than the average family? Do you use your bathroom for make-up purposes?
These are all considerations when discussing storage.
I am sure, like me, you have drooled over some of the television shows featuring exquisite bathroom renovations. They always seem to feature big spaces, but you can create a great bathroom in a small space as well. Again, technology is to our rescue with products designed to fit the standard. You can take that tired old fiberglass tub and replace it with a modern, open shower space. Manufacturers are making these products available with the look and design we want to upgrade smaller spots. A stroll through a showroom like Aird Dorrance will fill you with ideas and supply you with answers.
Sitting down with a bathroom designer is probably a good idea for everyone regardless of using a contractor or attempting yourself. The designer can help you visualize the space, assist with tile ideas, faucetry, lighting and cabinets, and put the pieces together for you.
If you are planning to tackle this job on your own, The National Kitchen & Bath Association recommends the following tips:
Learn more about each step of the process–from determining the scope of the project to choosing a designer.
Assess what features you must have versus those you want.
When you redo a room as central to your home as the kitchen or bathroom, you want to make sure it will be a safe, efficient place.
You need to work out the specifics of your vision, address issues like traffic flow, ceiling height, shower size and the placement of appliances.