Thursday, October 3, 2013

Birds Watch as we Plant Mason Winter Garden

-Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

Today we planted winter crops in the Mason Food Garden. Birds watched from nearby trees in anticipation. More about that in a moment, but first a word about our food garden.

Last week volunteer extraordinaire Keith Ashley pulled dead corn stalks and the withering squash vines out of the Mason Food Garden to get it ready for our winter garden.

Keith Ashley prepping the vegetable garden

The Mason garden is a small demonstration area containing three Kino Heritage Fruit Trees, a few native culinary herbs and a postage-stamp vegetable garden. We purchased the fruit trees and culinary herbs from Desert Survivors Nursery ( last fall. Over the summer we planted corn, beans and squash.

Quarter-inch drip line with in-line emitters
When it rains, the garden gets a significant amount of moisture from a pipe that brings water from half of the bathroom roof directly into a French drain inside the garden (the gravel-filled trench visible in the photo above).

The garden has a drip irrigation system that we use when there isn't enough moisture from rain (which, for vegetables, is a lot of the time!). We just installed some new 1/4-inch irrigation tubes with in-line emitters every six inches. We're hoping this will be more water efficient than our old drip system and put water right where we want it. 

Seed packets
This morning we planted some fall/winter crops, including a sampling of carrots, Swiss chard, beets, lettuce, fava beans, mustard greens, onions and cilantro. Most of the seeds are from our great local heritage seed bank: Native Seeds/SEARCH (

As we planted I heard a lot of birds nearby, including Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Costa's Hummingbird and a Black-throated Sparrow.

It made me wonder if they knew what we were doing. Maybe they see our little plot as the Mason Bird Food Garden! If our summer garden was any indication, the critters are indeed watching. Somebody thought the beans we planted were pretty good because instead of twining up the corn stalks as we had planned, the bean sprouts simply vanished both times we planted them.

Planting onions
[Photo by Keith Ashley]
We don't mind if the birds help a little with the harvest. After all, everything we do is for the birds. But we are taking steps to avoid total losses, such as putting down an Agribon "frost blanket" to protect young plants from critters. (The blanket will also help prevent soil moisture from evaporating.) We're also sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around as a barrier to the leaf-cutter ants that seem to be working full time hauling off leaves of the pomegranate and chiltepin. These protections are in addition to the anti-javelina fence we put up around the garden.

Make plans to visit Tucson Audubon's Mason Center this fall, including our Harvest Festival and Mesquite Milling on November 9. If you are interested in Tucson Audubon's urban sustainability program, please go to and subscribe to our emails on "Gardening for Birds and Urban Sustainability."

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