Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Soul

We usually focus on what's growing outside in My Florida Backyard, but we've had a recent new addition inside we wanted to share. We've added a new kitten to our family, and he loves watching what's going on in the gardens just as much as our other two cats.

"What's going on out there? I wanna see!" 

"You're an odd-looking fellow. Do you come here often?"

By the way, we're getting ready to do some planting in the gardens this weekend. Check back soon to see what's going on!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Attitude

As a follow-up to our last post about the National Wildlife Federation's disappointing partnership with the Scotts MiracleGro corporation... National Wildlife Federation and Scott's MiracleGro issued this joint statement today:

So, you might be wondering... what exactly is this pending legal settlement that's causing such problems? Why, nothing more than the discovery that from 2005 through 2008, Scotts sold 73 million units of birdseed coated in pesticides that was toxic to birds. Even after being told by its own scientists that the birdseed was likely causing damage to birds along with fish and other wildife, Scotts continued to sell it (the pesticide was meant to keep insects from eating the birdseed while in storage). And as of Friday, Scotts pled guilty to this in federal court and agreed to pay millions of dollars in fines. (Learn more here.)

Up until now, I'd been willing to say that I could understand why NWF decided to partner with Scotts, even if I didn't support the decision. After all, it takes a lot of money to support the kinds of really good programs that NWF has (and they really do have some good programs), and a corporate partnership with oodles of money could be very tempting. But the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Because there's no way that at least some of the folks at NWF didn't know about this lawsuit in advance, and yet they had the gall to make their partnership announcement just days before the settlement took place. NWF agreed to make a deal with the devil, and they wound up with major egg on their face.

In my book, NWF has a of work to do to regain my trust before I'll be trusting them with my donated money again. And as for Scotts? I've purchased the very occasional MiracleGro and other Scotts products in the past, but you can bet that I won't in the future. Over and over again I learn the message... it's better to spend a little more money to deal with smaller companies who truly have an interest in protecting the environment. The fastest way consumers can send a message is with their pocketbooks.

OK, enough of the soapbox. Back to all the good things that happen in My Florida Backyard - we're still spotting lots of monarch and sulphur butterflies, but no red admirals or buckeyes yet. Has anyone seen these spring species flying in Central Florida yet? Let us know!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sometimes They Disappoint You

We generally avoid political type issues on My Florida Backyard, but a recent news story caught our eye because it involves the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). My Florida Backyard has always been proud of being an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat; our whole gardening philosophy has always been based on it. So we were disappointed to learn that NWF has announced a partnership with Scott's MiracleGro, the mega-company that manufactures the most commonly used chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the country.

Wildlife habitats have always been about putting the needs of wildlife above the convenience of humans. Broad application of fertilizers may keep the lawn green and the flowers constantly blooming, but the runoff of phosphates into waterways causes major pollution. Ants and other garden pests can be irritating, but overuse of pesticides throws off the balance of nature, killing all insects without regard for their place in the ecosystem.While we use the very occasional dose of MiracleGro or other fertilizers here and there in the gardens, we have a much higher focus on using the right plants in the right place and adding compost to enrich the soil. As for chemical pesticides? They don't have a place for us.

Here's the interesting thing, though. The reason we started eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers from our habitat was at the advice of NWF. When certifying our habitat through NWF, we had to meet five criteria, which we documented on the Our NWF Wildlife Habitat page right here on this blog. The first four were "Provide Food", "Provide Water", "Provide Cover", and "Provide Shelter to Raise Young". The fifth requirement was "Sustainable Gardening Practices", and included the following (among other items):
Organic Practices: Eliminate Chemical Pesticides • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers • Compost
I just visited the NWF Certified Habitat page and guess what? The fifth requirement of "Sustainable Gardening Practices"  IS NO LONGER THERE. I just cannot believe this is a coincidence. An organization cannot partner with the largest producer of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and also advise against the use of them.

While a corporate partnership doesn't have to be bad thing for a non-profit organization, and I don't like to jump to conclusions, NWF has left me little option here. I can only believe that this corporate partnership will result in the watering-down of NWF's political stands and the actions they take. As long as NWF chooses to pursue this partnership and make overt changes to their recommendations as a consequence, I cannot in good conscience endorse their organization. Like many wildlife bloggers, I'll be making changes to that portion of this blog soon. It won't affect how the blog runs, of course, but National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat will no longer be the model we use in My Florida Backyard.

That's all for the politics, folks. We now return you to regularly-scheduled Florida wildlife-watching.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Littlest Things

It's hard to tell size from the picture below, but we recently discovered The Littlest Monarch in My Florida Backyard. We found it a few evenings ago, obviously just emerged from chrysalis (you can see it in the bottom right corner of the picture in the background), drying its wings and getting ready to fly. It was at least one-third smaller than an average monarch butterfly, more the size of a buckeye or white peacock.

There could be a few reasons for the small size of this monarch. Most likely is the limited food supply this time of year. Though we have some milkweed in the garden for monarch caterpillars to eat, the dry and cool season has limited its growth. This gives the caterpillar less to eat, causing them to be smaller overall when they enter chrysalis. Butterflies are fully-grown when they emerge, and this one will not grow or change size during the few weeks of its life, but as long as it has the ability to fly, eat, and mate (which this one seems to), it should do just fine.

Winter is a time to savor every bit of wildlife in My Florida Backyard, no matter the size. We feel fortunate to have butterflies of any size in My Florida Backyard in January, especially when snowstorms rage up north!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There Grew a Little Flower

We realized we've been terribly neglectful of the blog thus far in 2012. We blame this on a combination of a light freeze plus a long dry spell that has made the gardens pretty uninteresting AND winter colds that have kept us confined to couches with tissues and cough drops. The yard has been pretty neglected, and we admit to making absolutely no progress on those 2012 resolutions - we've done no new planting and our backyard is still haunted by stray cats, keeping birds from the feeders and the new bird bath.

Fortunately, life in the great outdoors continues even when you ignore it, and we noticed this weekend that there are dozens of teeny tiny zinnia flowers coming up from seed all around the yard. They are incredibly small (about the size of a nickel at most), most likely from lack of rain or any supplemental watering. Still, they're awfully cute, so we thought we'd share them with you in lieu of anything more exciting.

Here's hoping your 2012 has been a little better than ours so far. We're looking forward to trading the tissues for gardening gloves and getting out to do some garden rehab some weekend soon. Have you been up to anything good in your garden? Tell us about in the comments and give us some inspiration!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shake It Out

Anhingas are common visitors to My Florida Backyard. As we've noted before, anhingas fish underwater with almost their entire body submerged. When they surface and wish to fly, they must first dry their wings. Unlike ducks, they do not have oils on their wings to make the feathers waterproof. So they are often found perched along the edge of waterways, wings spread to the sun.

This evening, though, an anhinga that was fishing in the pond left the "drying in the sun" part until a little too late. The sun had already set, and the evening had grown very still. With no sun or wind to help her out, this anhinga had no choice but to shake her wings dry, occasionally giving her head and neck a good shimmy as well (rather like a dog).

She shook her wings pretty steadily for almost 10 minutes, finally taking off as the nearly full moon rose behind her. All living beings have to know how to improvise sometimes!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's a New Year

2012 is here! The holiday season kept us busy, and the new year was here before we knew it. We did find some time to put up our favorite Christmas gift in the garden - this butterfly-shaped bird bath sent all the way from Ohio (once again, thanks, Dad!).

We haven't had any bird visitors yet, possibly because our yard is suddenly full of stray neighborhood cats. And that brings us to the matter of...

My Florida Backyard 2012 Resolutions:

  1. Figure out how to deal with the stray cats. We're cat lovers here in My Florida Backyard, but ours never get any closer to the great outdoors than watching it somewhat wistfully through the screens of the back porch. These stray cats (we've counted four different ones at least) like to lay around in the gardens in the sun, keeping birds from the feeders and the new bird bath. Any suggestions?
  3. You wouldn't think there'd be room for any more plants in our gardens, but there are a few we're determined to track down and add this year anyway:
    • Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)
    • Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
    • Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
  4. Plant around the mailbox. We've just let the grass take over around our mailbox area, but this is a great place for sun-loving, drought-tolerant plants. This year, we want to find some easy-care plants to put there, and landscape it more attractively.
So that's what we're planning for 2012 in My Florida Backyard. What about you? Have you made any resolutions for your gardens in 2012? We'd love to hear about them. Happy New Year!