So the other night, in the cool of the evening, I spent an hour speed-transplanting flower, herb and veggie seedlings that were itching to get their roots into bigger digs. Transplanting young green stuff when the weather is warm and dry, even at night, can be risky. Unless you provide some worthy shade, seedlings may appear fine the next morning, but will be limp, like Velveeta cheese melted on a pile of corn chips.
The next morning, delivered a different kind of surprise. I headed outside, coffee cup in hand, to survey the garden. Pausing at a container of sweet peas on the deck I noticed there was bits of soil scattered around. A little later, while checking my onion seedlings, the same thing: sprinkles of soil dotted the top edges of the raised bed and the adjacent lawn. A closer inspection revealed small craters around the base of many seedlings.
This was the work of a fox sparrow — rather, its feeding habits. As local bird expert Rich Macintosh explains, “There are other birds around here that you might occasionally see digging in gardens, for example, the song sparrow. But the classic ‘digger bird’ is the fox sparrow.”
It didn’t take me long to witness these guys in action. From my kitchen window, I could see them sending up sprays of compost and soil as they hopped and scratched around plants, with a shuffling motion that resembled an up-tempo moonwalk.
To give you an idea of their looks, fox sparrows are one of the largest sparrows in Alaska, but pretty nondescript. They are generally rust-brown above with a mix of rust and gray on the head, and heavy brownish splotches on their flanks and along the center of the chest. They have stout bills and medium length tails and. And in case you’re looking for a nest, they build them either low in bushes or on the ground. The female lays four to five pale greenish eggs in the nest, which may be lined with feathers.
While fox sparrows might seem drab compared to many of our feathered residents, they make up for in their song, a lovely, melodic trill.
Since fox sparrows spend a lot of time on the ground, using their sturdy legs to kick away soil and leaves in search of insects and seeds, you need to be prepared for their antics. For example, if you just sowed a few rows of radish seeds you might have radishes growing in odd places.
I try to outfox the fox sparrow by draping all manner of materials over seedbeds: shrimp netting, spun fabric such as Agribon, and Grotherm, a plastic cover perforated with 1/4-inch holes every three inches. The idea is to keep the covers in place until the plants are mature enough to survive a fox sparrow visit.
If you come across damage due to fox sparrow activity, just sweep up the mess, upright your plants, pat them back into place and sprinkle them with water and healing thoughts.
IT’S NOT TOO LATE
Many people have asked me lately if it’s too late to plant.
Nope. While the solstice has come and gone, there’s a lot of summer to go yet. Take advantage of bedding plant sales and stretch your grocery dollars by sowing more seed-rows of lettuce, Bok Choy, mustard greens, cress, kale mixes, even beets. If you can find local sources of the seeds you want, then hop online and order a few packets. What you sow now will be ready for cutting in just a few weeks, so you can keep sowing well into August for a fall crop.
And if you’re sitting on a pile of seed potatoes, get them planted, too. You might be rewarded with a fabulous crop of spuds in October and November.
Sow more planting of cilantro, spinach
For hoophouse growers, clear out space for crops to potentially wintering over. This includes carrots, beets, kale, spinach and other hardy vegetables.
RECIPE: PESTO WITHOUT BORDERS
With some many greens coming on right now, it’s a challenge at times to come up with unique ways to use them all. Pesto is the Holy Grail of sauces, originating in the kitchens of Italy. But you don’t have to use basil to make fabulous pesto. So long as you have the basic components (cheese, nuts, olive oil and garlic) the base ingredient can be almost anything.
Here is a basic recipe. I used parsley, with variations listed below. I replaced the pine nuts (too expensive) with walnuts (more reasonable).
4 cups parsley, loosely packed
2 to 6 garlic cloves
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup slightly roasted walnuts
1 TBL lemon juice (or to taste)
Salt to taste
Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and roast them for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven to cool. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasoning. Use pesto to jazz up fish, meats, sandwiches, toasted bread, pasta, rice, appetizers, potato salads and as a base for salad dressings. Store in the fridge or freezer.
Base ingredient options: Cress (would that be called cress-to?), spinach, cilantro, garlic scapes (flower stems), mint, kale, Swiss chard, nasturtium leaves, arugula, turnip greens, mustard greens, artichoke hearts.
Nut variations: Cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds
Marion Owen’s garden is open for tours from 9am to noon (on most days). For more information, call 907-539-5009 or find her on Facebook. To connect with local gardeners, visit the Kodiak Growers or the Sustainable Kodiak Facebook page. Archived copies of Marion’s columns are posted at www.kodiakdailymirror.com.