Thistles and hummingbirds
After telling you how much we need rain for the grass to begin to grow, now it’s time to spray weed killer on some of that grass to control the weeds. Several times in the past week, I’ve seen neighbors out with their sprayers.
My driveway is asphalt, and my dad found that if you spray along the edges this time of year it minimizes those very persistent, and highly invasive roots from growing underneath the pavement and breaking it up.
Just as everybody else does, I also try to control a variety of weeds around or near the house. In the grazing areas, I have a variety of weed with a bit of a sticker along the edges of the weed, similar to the old nettle. These are not nearly as large or vicious as the ones I’ve always heard called the “bull nettle,” but don’t go walking through them with bare legs. It won’t burn for hours like being touched by the bigger ones, but it’ll definitely get your attention.
There is also a type of thistle that is very persistent, and very stubborn. I have been spraying these thistles consistently for several seasons and have gained the upper hand. At least the outcroppings I have are limited to a few areas around the ranch.
However, if I happen to miss even one plant, it will mature and go to seed. And, when these thistles do seed, they are very light. They’ll spread downwind with even the lightest of breezes. One thistle missed this year, can actually mean 30 more next year, usually in a narrow patch and downwind of the parent plant.
The first pass around the ranch with the spray rig can’t be the last if I want to stay ahead of this pest. At the least one more trip over the fields, sometime in another month or six weeks, will catch most of them. Regardless of how diligent I am, there are always one or two that are missed. Not to fear, though. It will be much easier to find them next spring. So this time of year, it is imperative to check carefully.
When the gophers begin digging new gopher runs in the spring, there is always a mound of earth pushed up at the end of the run. During the winter months, the burrowing vermin only dig enough to create an air vent, with no mound. This past week, I was not overly surprised to find a fresh gopher mound in my lawn. The man who mows for me said he is also seeing gopher activity in many of his lawns. So far however, there is only one in my yard. But I’m sure it’s time to begin combat with the gophers once again.
One of the pleasures on our hilltop are the hummingbird feeders. I have six of the one-quart feeders hung along the eastern porch which is in front of the kitchen and family room windows. During any hour of the day a glance out at the feeders will find at least a few birds at the cafeteria line.
Without feeders, the hummingbirds will visit all the blossoms they can find to suck up the nectar. A reasonable alternative is a solution of white sugar dissolved in water in the feeders.
My formula, however accurate it is or is not, uses 10 cups of sugar in a one-gallon pitcher of hot water. Actually, after measuring carefully, I found I fill the pitcher to a bit over the 16 cups it takes to make a gallon, to a full 18 cups of water. The 10 cups of sugar have to be stirred vigorously to put it all into solution.
It takes about 25 pounds of sugar to make five gallons of what we call “hummer juice.” I don’t put any coloring in the water either. I used to, but found the majority of the food coloring on the cement underneath the feeders, excreted by the hummers in flight. I don’t find the birds any less willing to eat without the coloring.
Many seasons, it’s not unusual to find at least two or three birds at each feeder. This obviously means between 12 and 18 birds gathered to eat at any one time.
The most amazing time is either very early in the morning, well before the sun comes up, or just before dark in the gathering dusk. First thing in the morning, these tiny little creatures have been without nutrition since dark the night before. As soon as they can, they must eat to fuel their bodies.
In the late summer, when there are very few natural sources for nectar, the hummers empty our six feeders in 30 to 36 hours. During this period, anytime during the day you can find five to eight birds at each feeder, or 30 to 48 birds feeding.
During the past week I stepped into the kitchen just before dark. The feeders were crowded. Each feeder has six openings in the bottom, with a perch all around the bottom. Each feeder had at least 12 birds sitting side by side, sharing the openings. One would dip in the hole, pull back, letting the other one take a turn. Also in flight around the feeder were at least another two or three birds looking for an opening to get in. That means there are at the least 75 to 90 birds coming for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Brent Gill lives in Springville. His “Daunt to Dillonwood” column appears regularly in The Porterville Recorder. If you enjoyed this column, follow my blog at: http://foothillwriter.blogspot.com.