Saturday, November 4, 2017

Garden Report: Feather-Shaped Bird-Haven Bed

The feather-shaped, bird-haven Hugelkultur bed is inspired by and dedicated to our daughter Elizabeth. She has a special way with animals which is why this bed is feather-shaped. 
I needed a theme to guide my planting. When I asked her for suggestions she gave the obvious answer - 'Make it a place for the birds'

The plantings will include a full range of plants to create a complex ecosystem known as a guild.
The first layer of plants in a guild is the overhead large tree canopy. The Feather Bed has a Douglas-fir tree over its north end. It is a source of food for insect-eating birds and those that like the cone seeds. The falling litter of cones and needles continually adds to the soil below making it more on the acid side, something I have to keep in mind when making my plant selections.
At the edge of the Douglas-fir drip line, I planted a cherry tree to provide early spring food, perching sites and hopefully nesting sites when this tree matures.

A few flowers blossomed in the 2nd year then the fruit appeared and was eaten by the birds within a few weeks - a sign this tree is going to suit the birds' needs well.

At the south end of the bed, I planted a medlar tree to provide winter food for birds that stay around. The medlar fruit is edible after it has bletted, that is, turned soft and brown, usually by November. It will also provide perches and hopefully nesting sites.
On my sister's advice we have nipped off any fruit for the past 2 years but come next spring we will enjoy watching the fruit grow.

Each tree has 3 herb type plants under its canopy, plants to support a healthy soil -comfrey to provide minerals and biomass to the soil ...

...and lupines to support nitrogen-fixing organisms making nitrogen available to the trees. The 3rd plant, borage, attracts pollinating insects who may visit the trees' blossoms also.

While still building up the soil in the bed and before I had settled on what the shrub layer would include, I pushed squash seeds into the soil. Squash plants grow quickly to cover and protect the soil and provide it with a large biomass when they die back. Birds enjoy pecking at ripe squash too.

I placed a big bundle of left-over embroidery threads onto the bed thinking the birds could use them when nest building. However, I noticed they only picked up the straw mulch. After I read about how long threads can be a problem for birds because their feet and wings can easily get tangled in them, I took the thread bundle off and put it in the compost bin.
For the shrub layer, I have focused on berry producing plants - black currants, red currants and sea buckthorn. Hopefully, they will produce fruit next season and I will have pics to show you. 

The vine layer in the Feather Bed ecology is a kiwi vine. 

 It is being encouraged to climb up and over the Arbor. We have noticed the birds sit on top of the Arbor cross beams a lot already. At this stage they are vulnerable to raptors flying overhead so they don't stay long but once the kiwi has grown its leaves will provide the birds with protective shelter while resting on their lofty perch.


I researched the types of flowers attractive to hummingbirds because we are seeing more of them over the years and I would like to provide them with a more reliable food source. Hummingbirds like red flowers. I planted a number of them along the east side of the bed where I can see them through my studio windows as they visit the flowers. Flowers planted to date are red daylilies, deep red echinacea, liatris (also called gayfeather), and red crocosmia. I haven't cut back the stalks or lifted any of the bulbs because the stalks are full of seeds and are natural bird feeders over the winter. If a plant doesn't survive our winter then I will find another one to plant in its place. I am not interested in annuals.
The dried stalks also provide nest-building materials come spring.
With this mass of red flowering plants reaching their peak blooming in a sequence, we noticed early each evening our resident California quail family climbed up the mound to forage - a bonus I hadn't planned for.
A thriving Bird Haven attracting a greater variety of birds and more of them is of great benefit to the whole Backyard Garden.

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