Heartland Snow Humor

church snow signBy Teresa Woodard

With more snow predicted for the Midwest this weekend, I couldn’t help but smile as I passed this country church’s witty sign.  Yes, we’ve certainly had our record snow days this winter, but spring is still scheduled to arrive on Thursday, March 20 — just 20 days away.

So . . .  tune up your power tools, sharpen your pruners, order your seeds, stock up on fertilizer and check back here often as we countdown the days until spring.

Observations on a real winter and watching it rain…


Everyone knows that old saw about the weather: wait ten minutes and it will change. As I sit here on Feb. 20 looking outside at snow, watching lightning and listening to thunder, I wonder… is this someone’s idea of a joke?

The birds have been very entertaining and stories have been playing out all winter. I’ve watched them huddle in our evergreens, and in the weeping purple beech and climbing hydrangea that are close to our house during the subzero days.

Michael asked the same question I did, but mine was not about cardinals. What is with that titmouse that has been singing in the serviceberry for the past three weeks? It turns out HE is looking for his next mate. Hopefully, she will show up before he loses his voice.

We have an enterprising Cooper’s hawk who has scoped out our feeders. Patience is something we humans often lack, not so a Cooper’s hawk. Picture the hawk, sitting in our ginkgo tree, 25 feet from the feeders, waiting for the right moment. In a flash she* streaks to the feeders and is back in the tree with a male house finch clutched in her talons. The feeders are clanking together and there is not another bird in sight. Various birds have been breakfast or lunch for this hawk, even a large mourning dove.

One day her patience was not rewarded. Several birds sat in the serviceberry not moving. Birds preen, flutter, shake or do any number of movements as they wait for their turn at the feeders. No birds at the feeders, one mourning dove huddled against the house also not moving, no hawk in the ginkgo… so this human went outside to investigate. The hawk was three feet above me, sitting on the gutter right above the feeders. I am imagining the look of disgust she gave me as she flew away; hungry.juncos in beech 2-20-08 sharpened

Every year I’ve watched for the color change in the male goldfinches. Like the titmouse this is a signal that the male goldfinch is ready to breed and looking for his lady-love. Their drab gray-yellow plumage transforms to pure gold. Even though birding books state that the change occurs in mid to late Spring, I will swear that I have observed one male goldfinch that is sporting more golden feathers than the others that are visiting our feeders.

While watching the birds I am noticing the difference between the bloom “show” from last year to this year. If this year seems to be extremely cold, consider the Winter of 2012-13 which was extremely mild. We had an extended warm-up in January and February. At this time last year, my snowdrops had been up and blooming for three weeks. There is nary a sign of them in any parts of my garden this year.

There are more winter animal and plant stories and they are all down in my journal or captured by my camera. I will enjoy them next year as I try to remember what happened when.

* I’m guessing. Females are a larger than the males – and she is big – but I did not have the opportunity to measure her.

Why do birds sing when they do?

Cardinal 1

By Michael Leach

What could prompt a cardinal to sing on the recent near-zero mornings? Personally I find little to sing about these days, especially with frozen tonsils a distinct possibility when inhaling deeply.

Certainly this early bird can’t expect to be the first at the worms. They’re close to China by now to escape my permafrost backyard.

If the male of the species does something seemingly stupid, like singing in the rain or arctic temperatures, instincts relating to sex or territory are usually to blame. Could it be he will win choice territory with these daring, macho solos? In recent years I’ve noticed male cardinals start singing in early February. My guess is growing day length could be the trigger, rather than temperatures.

Yet in a few weeks temperature will play a part. Temperature helps time the birds’ songfests, not their desire to make morning coffee a more pleasant experience.

Birds need to send their messages as far as possible. While they probably know little more than I do about the physics of sound, they’e learned to take advantage of air temperatures.

In her engagingly educational book, On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes (Scribner), Alexandra Horowitz writes delightfully about walks she took with gurus in various fields of study. One is a sound designer and engineer, who works in theaters and many other venues. Birds take advantage of air inversions according to him.

Sound moving though a warm layer of air, with a cool layer nearby, travels farther before weakening and fading away. “This is why you will hear the most birds singing at dusk and dawn. After a cold night, when the earth is chilled, the ground layer is cool and the layers above the treetops are warmer …,” Horowitz writes. “A bird singing at dawn can send his tuneful song farther along the treetops than it otherwise would.”

At noon few birds sing because the warm air diffuses the sound making singing a wasted effort. (Perhaps, like me, they prefer a short siesta.)

All this is fine for warmer weather singing but this daring cardinal reminds me of Thomas Hardy’s poem, “The Darkling Thrush.”

The poet describes a depressingly bleak winter dusk, something all Midwesterners have experienced once too often this bitter season. He hears a thrush “… in blast-beruffled plume” singing “..a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited.”

He continues,

So little cause for caroling

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

Forgive me science, but this cardinal is a glowing, red herald of brighter days ahead.

Catch Us If You Can

Valentines leaves

Happy Valentine’s Day to our Heartland Gardening followers!  Here’s what our bloggers are up to in the next couple weeks:

  • Debra Knapke:  Debra will be speaking at the 35th Annual OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association) Conference in Granville on Sun., Feb. 16: Affirming Our Roots,  Breaking New Ground.  Check out the amazing array of speakers and topics at the OEFFA website.  If you go, make sure you stop by the Exhibit Hall that is filled with Ohio Made products and Ohio business.  There will be on-site registration.
  • Michael Leach:  Michael will be a guest on In The Garden with Ron Wilson on 610 am radio Sat., Feb. 15 to discuss the blog and The Columbus Dispatch Home & Garden Show. Ron’s program will originate from the show opening day Sat., Feb. 22. Also, for the show, Michael’s lined up an impressive slate of  garden speakers and will be one of the garden experts on a panel to answer visitor’s questions on Feb. 22.  He’ll also be giving tours of the show’s display gardens on Feb. 25-27.  Check out Michael’s gardening articles in Columbus Monthly Home & Garden which will be distributed at the show.
  • Teresa Woodard:  Teresa will speak on “Daffodils: Trumpeting Spring” at the Dispatch Home & Garden Show on Thurs., Feb. 27 at 4 p.m.  Also, look for her daffodils articles in Country Gardens (Early Spring 2014) and Midwest Living (March/April 2014) and her garden cover story for Ohio Magazine (March 2014).

Plants for Extremes

By Abby Fullen

There’s no doubt this winter season has been a tough one, and just within the past couple of years we were thirsty for help to get through the drought.  What’s a gardener to do with these almost impossible extremes? Well don’t fret, because with some simple tips you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a healthy garden through the brutal winter cold and fan-waving heat.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and get to know the plants best suited for that zone. The Midwest is generally in zones 3-6.

According to our blogger horticulturist, Debra Knapke, you should keep these ideas in mind for the cold:

  • Plants don’t feel wind chill. We may not be able to feel our faces by the time we get to the car, but plants are tougher than they look.

  • But wind can be a problem for our broad-leaf evergreens especially on a sunny day. Keep your plants protected from potential high-wind areas to avoid winter-kill or winter-burn of the leaves.

  • Leave the snow where it is. The snow cover insulates the plant from the cold.

  • Don’t prune your big-leaf hydrangeas right now. They may look dead, and very well may be, but if you touch them now there’s no chance the flower buds make it through the winter. Have faith in your plants.

  • Raised beds will provide the soil a better chance to warm faster.

And here are tips for the heat:

  • Provide your plants the moisture they need by mulching. This will retain that precious water. And spread it out; the more you plant, the more competition for water.

  • Shade. Pay attention to how much sun your plants really need and plant accordingly.

  • Water in the mornings, and evenly. Use a soaker hose to prevent water loss from evaporation and disease to your plants. Plus you’ll save on the water bill.

  • Be gentle. Just as you conserve energy by lazing at the side of your pool, gardens need the same treatment. Encourage flowers to continue blooming by deadheading faded and browning flowers around once a week, but leave it at that.

  • Have patience. Don’t jump for the fertilizer; your plants will be conserving energy during this heat. Give them the time they need.

Hardy “Proven Winners” favorites for the cold:

Here are some “Proven Winners” favorites for the heat:

As you gaze at your garden with longing for a better harvest or display, turn that frown upside down and know that with the right planning, your garden can and WILL prevail.

Bio: Abby Fullen is a Senior at Hilliard Davidson High School. She tends a square-foot vegetable garden with her mother. This piece was written to serve in conjunction with her Career Mentorship class at the Dale McVey Innovative Learning Center.

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: