Little Wooden Box
My wife, Elsie, and I have been reading Grit for many, many moons — even back when it was in newspaper form. We both grew up in rural America on small farms in the late 1940s and ’50s.
For 45 years now, we’ve had a birdhouse in our backyard. It’s about 5 feet off the ground, hanging on an old basketball goal post that’s been there more than 50 years. The birdhouse is just a little box that’s 6 inches wide, 5 inches deep, and 10 inches high. We had to replace the original birdhouse several years ago, because it had deteriorated through many years of weathering. This past spring, I peered in through the small entrance hole of the nesting box and saw five small blue eggs, the first clutch of eggs that year.
Come summer, Elsie and I usually see the male and female bluebirds with their surviving young come up close to our kitchen window in the evening and gather around the birdbath. Once they’ve bathed, the birds flutter off to sit on a perch to dry and preen their feathers.
The perch the birds typically land on is made of prongs used in our backyard for hanging plants. Those prongs came from an old horse-drawn hay rake that Elsie’s grandfather used on his farm in the early 1900s, which was about the same time this bluebird species nearly went extinct. Their extinction was caused in part by pesticides and land-management practices that removed dead tree snags the bluebirds depend on for nesting. The major factor in this species’ population recovery has been the establishment of nesting boxes by private landowners.
We’ve observed over the years that a pair of bluebirds in our backyard usually raise three broods of young per year, with four or five eggs to a brooding. So, we might see 12 to 15 young bluebirds each year. In turn, we might see 120 to 150 each decade. Over the past 45 years, that one little box in the backyard has likely housed between 540 and 675 bluebirds.
I was thinking about the total number of young bluebirds that have fledged through the small hole from that nesting box in our backyard — a little box made of wood that requires hardly any maintenance, and that provides shelter and safety for a species of bird that years ago was in decline. I began pondering how that one little box has helped make life for its inhabitants a teeny bit better on this little plot of earth here in southern Illinois.
Life is good.
-James H. Martin, Illinois
I’m not a winter bird feeder. It attracts too many squirrels, and they’re the rascals of the neighborhood. Their antics are fun to watch, but their invasion of the bird feeders is relentless. Most of the seed ends up on the ground, because whatever the squirrels don’t like gets pushed out of the feeder. I’m not sure if they attack suet blocks too, but they might.
So, my winter entertainment will be a salad garden in the basement under grow lights. So far, I’ve been able to harvest lettuce and radishes all summer, and I’ve planted sorrel and spinach to expand the salad choice. I’m even contemplating trying to grow carrots under the grow lights this winter. I just can’t help myself; I have to feel dirt on my hands, or it’s just not a good day.
Nebraska Dave, Nebraska
‘Looking For’ Success
I was thrilled when I saw a “Looking For” request that specifically asked for a pen pal. I was even more excited to see how another person who had submitted a request for a pen pal had received 100 letters in the first week, so I responded to the pen pal request. I hope this will make the next issue.
By the way, I love your magazine. I remember selling Grit when I was just a kid in the ’70s. Thanks for keeping up the tradition. It’s just as good as ever.
Delana Morrison, Alabama
Readers, we received an outpouring of response to Caitlin’s “Rub Some Dirt On It” letter (Our View, September/October 2020). Here are some of our favorite tips you sent in for securing your garden from pests. — Editors
Blood Meal Barriers
I just read about your efforts to thwart off rabbits. Many years ago, someone told me that blood meal was the trick. When I see rabbits moving in for a feast, I sprinkle blood meal on my plants. It causes the rabbits to lose interest. The only downside is that it washes away with rain, but I just watch for rabbits to return, and then I go sprinkle more on the plants.
I was gifted a supply of blood meal by a friend who managed a processing plant (blood meal was a byproduct of their business), but I suspect you can find it at a local farm or garden store.
Living in the foothills of Southern California, we experience many types of critters, including rabbits that love to eat or trample our new plantings. When a patch of peas came up to a couple of inches, many of them just disappeared. I noticed some cute little birds around that area, and I figured out they were eating my pea seedlings. What to do! I used leftover wire fencing to create portable domes that keep all sorts of wildlife away from our new garden plantings, including birds. To make your own, use about 6-foot-long sections of 4-to-5-foot wire fencing. Fold it over, slightly sideways, and shape it into a dome about 12 to 18 inches high.
I now have several of these domes in different sizes to protect new plantings. This photo shows one in my herb garden covering my new arugula seeds.
Margo Farrin, California
Black-Eyed Susan Bribes
Being home this past spring allowed me to grow onions, basil, peppers (all types), and tomatoes in huge amounts. The rabbits were taken care of by a regular offering of black-eyed Susans, which they ate like cotton candy. A balanced garden is a happy garden.
Bill Fox, South Carolina
Take Advantage with a Trap
I really don’t have any advice on keeping rabbits out of your garden, but since you have them, take advantage. Build some rabbit boxes to catch them in fall, and then dress them and put them in the freezer. That way, you can enjoy them all year long. I grew up in South Carolina, and we often had rabbit for dinner. Fried rabbit is wonderful.
Dave Spradley, South Carolina
Share Your Thoughts
We welcome letters from our readers. If you’d like to comment on an article, share your opinions, or submit a “Looking For,” send us an email (with photos, if available) to Letters@Grit.com, or send a letter to: Grit Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Electronic submissions are more likely to receive a timely response.
Looking For Cupcake Recipe
I would love to get the Super Chocolate Pecan Cupcake recipe from a Kitchen Klatter cookbook published in the 1960s.
Mrs. John Buller
12424 E. 75th St. N., Apt. 5
Owasso, OK 74055
I currently live in Arizona, and I’ve spent a lot of time in rural Nebraska and Alaska. I’m a mom to eight kids and three “fur babies” (one canine and two felines). I love canning and freezing, cross-stitching, reading, writing, gardening, and cooking.
7818 E. Camino Vivaz
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
I’m looking for old papier-mâché and plastic Christmas ornaments to display on a 50-year-old tree.
2210 S. Courtland Ave.
Kokomo, IN 46902
I’m a 60-year-old married female. I’m looking for a pen pal with similar interests, including gardening, crafts, recipes, books, classic movies and TV shows, Chihuahuas, and all aspects of rural living.
4896 Spring Valley Road
Elk Creek, VA 24326