The Cranky Gardener

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Home Sweet Home, Part 2

As the old song goes, 'Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home1'.

This is true of course for wildlife, as well as humans. But because of human encroachment into natural wildlife habitats it is often necessary for us to provide a safe place for our backyard friends to roost or nest.

Roosting/nesting boxes are important additions to your landscape. They provide protection from the cold, rain and wind. Birds and small
mammals will both benefit from the presence of roosting boxes. During
the winter, for example, several birds of the same species will roost together in one box and share body warmth. So remember that shelter for wildlife is important at other times of the year - not just when they are nesting.

Almost everyone has had experience with birdhouses. Plain wooden birdhouses are easy to find and inexpensive to purchase. There are also
kits and/or patterns you can buy to make your own. But not all bird species are attracted to the same size or style of nesting box. So you will need to know which species you want to attract and then find a suitable design. There are too many possible variations to go into detail here, but if you are interested in building birdhouses you can find free patterns at

Some instructions for birdhouses ask for you to paint them. In my experience birds prefer unpainted homes. The painting, after all, is to
make them more attractive to humans. So, paint if you wish, but be warned that your feathered friends may not use them. My dad, who used
to make and sell birdhouses as a hobby after he retired, told me that he could always tell which of his customers were actually bird people and which ones were more interested in decoration. He sold more painted
houses than unpainted ones. Trying to reach a compromise between the buyers and the birds, he tried a variety of finishes. He had some success taking acrylic redwood paint and thinning it to the consistency of a wash before he applied it. He also used a thin whitewash on a birdhouse designed to look like a chapel. And he tried using paint as an accent only - painting the trim or putting a tree or daisies in very thin acrylic directly onto the bare wood. I don't know why birds don't like painted houses. Perhaps it is the smell of the paint when the houses are new. Or maybe they just prefer a natural wood colour.

Bats are also appreciative of roosting boxes. Before you go 'Yuck! I
don't want bats in my backyard!' you should keep in mind that they are insect eating machines and really aren't dangerous to you or your pets. They do not get caught in people's hair. They do not suck human blood. Several bat species use bat boxes. If you have Southeastern bats, little brown bats, big brown bats, long-eared myotis, pallid bats or Mexican free-tailed bats, then you should provide them with a couple of roosting boxes. Instructions for making bat boxes can be found at Norfolk Bat Group. And if you are really serious about attracting bats to your backyard, I recommend the Bat House Builder's Handbook by Merlin D Tuttle and Donna L Hensley.

Don't be suckered into buying a butterfly house. Butterflies prefer natural shelter. If you want to provide shelter for butterflies you are better off building a brush pile. They like natural cover. So, if you want a butterfly house as a decorative accent, then buy one. But don't be surprised when the butterflies won't use it.

Do you like frogs, toads and salamanders? If so you can easily create a house for them with an old clay flowerpot. Just break off a section of the rim to create an opening for the critter. Place it upside down in a shady, protected spot in your garden. The clay will create a cool, humid environment for amphibians. It protects them from the sun and from predators. It would also be a good idea to place a clay saucer nearby and keep it filled with water. Remember, toads eat slugs among other things, so encouraging their presence in your garden is a good thing.

Another simple amphibian house is created with a piece of plywood or
other scrap lumber. Find a shady location and dig a shallow depression - 2 inches is ideal - the size of your wood. Place rocks in two adjacent
corners. These rocks should extend above the edges of the depression. Then lay the wood in the depression. One end should lie on the ground
and the other end should be propped on the rocks. The high end allows
access to the area. Cover the plywood with leaves if you have them or
some other mulch. You can plant native plants around the perimeter for
added protection and to improve the appearance. Or for a multilayer habitat, build a brush pile on top of the amphibian house. Be sure to keep a source of water nearby.

It is also possible to attract native bees to your garden. In the area where I live, bees are under attack from pesticides and many colonies have been lost. Bees are the primary pollinators in orchards and vegetable gardens, so if you raise your own produce, it is important to have bees in the vicinity. Most of the over 4000 native American bee species are nonaggressive, rarely sting, and do not build hives.

Building a bee house is actually very simple and inexpensive. The easiest method is to cut one inch bamboo canes into five inch lengths. Hollow out about three and a half inches on one end of each section. If
the canes are already hollow, put some mud into one end to seal it. Then tie eight to ten pieces together in a bundle with jute or lightweight rope. Cover the bundle with chicken wire to keep birds off then hang it in a sunny spot on the south side of a building, post or tree. Bees will use the tunnels to lay eggs. Once the house is inhabited do not disturb it until winter when nesting has ceased.

I hope this series has encouraged you to return a portion of your garden to nature. It is impossible to cover all issues in a series such as this one, but if you have questions about creating natural habitats or suggestions for further articles on the subject, please let me know or contact the Post editors.


If there is anyone out there still eating low fat rather than low carb, do I have a recipe for you. This is a delicious, super easy cake that is totally fat free. I got the recipe from my sister-in-law and don't have a clue what the name of it is. For the sake of convenience, I will christen it:

Jennifer's Angel Cake


  • 1 box of one-step angel food cake mix
  • 1 20oz - 500g - can of crushed pineapple packed in juice
  • Nonfat cooking spray such as Pam
  • The topping of your choice.

That's it. Really.

In a bowl combine the dry cake mix and the undrained can of pineapple. Stir until it is well mixed. Bake in a 9" x 13" cake pan that has been sprayed lightly with nonfat cooking spray. Bake at 350ºF - 180ºC, Gas Mark 4 - for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. You can top it with fresh fruit, whipped topping, ice cream, chocolate sauce or the topping of your choice. Just remember to use a low fat version of whatever topping you use if you are counting fat grams.

The Cranky Gardener


26.08.04 Front Page

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1From the John Howard Payne operetta, 'Clari, the Maid of Milan'.

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