Q. We’ve decided to plant a vegetable garden in the backyard. Our soil is very sandy, so we’re looking for guidance as to how much extra soil amendment we should add to get the area off to a good start. Also, I heard a gardening term, “Three Sisters” used by a neighbor but didn’t get to ask what that is. Do you know what the term “Three Sisters” refers to? – J.S., Albuquerque
A. Please don’t get discouraged by this; you will never add too much. More is and will be better, always.
I need you to do a bit of visual imagining. Most soil amendments are sold in bags that contain cubic foot measurements. So imagine a square box that measures 12 inches tall, 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep. That box of 12-by-12-by-12 inches equals a cubic foot. Now imagine slicing that box into layers or slabs that are 1 inch thick. You’ll have 12 of these 1-inch-thick squares. Lay those “slabs” out on the ground touching and you’ll cover a 12 square foot area an inch thick.
Once you turn that amount of amendment into a predominately sandy area, you probably won’t notice much, if any, of the amendment. It will seen to disappear before your eyes.
It’ll be a start sure, just not much “improvement” at all. I’ll recommend you begin by adding at the least, two cubic feet of amendment per each 6- square-foot of area.
I know gardeners that have been working the soil in their garden and have been told that it is a never-ending challenge. More will be best as far as how much amendments you add to this new garden area. Your goal is to “invest” in the foundation of your garden.
Next you ask about the “Three Sisters.” Corn, beans and squash make up the “Three Sisters.” It comes from Native cultures.
When planted together, the sisters support and protect each other. The corn grows tall and creates a trellis, if you will, for the beans to grow up on. The squash grows and spreads at ground level, shading the soil. This keeps the “feet” of the corn and the beans shaded and protected from the harsh sun and, to a certain extent, helps store water in the soil.
So, there you go, the “Three Sisters” create a strong, supportive and protective family unit. Throw in some cheery marigolds when planting the sisters and you’ll get the added benefit of lots of colorful flowers, and a smidgen of natural pest control, too.
Q. I want to attract birds to my yard, but so far haven’t had a lot of luck. What are the components that you think I should concentrate on in order to attract more birds to my yard? – E. A., Albuquerque
A. First, and in my opinion most important, will be fresh water.
Employed in my yard I keep three different sources of water. I have an old hummingbird feeder in the style I prefer, shaped like a UFO, more disc-like than upright old-fashioned glass body type. The plastic cover broke, but I keep it hung and filled with clean water. The finches that tend to come to my yard prefer this waterer.
Then I have a large plastic saucer, 14 inches across that sits on the ground near the base of my piñon tree. Smaller birds like my sparrows prefer this drinking area. It’s wide enough that they sometimes bathe in it too. I keep a stack of flat rocks piled in the middle of the saucer so the birds have someplace dry to sit on and have a way to aid in escape if they happen to tumble into the water. That is most important, especially for the young and sometimes clumsy birds.
Lastly, I keep an old dog waterer cleaned and filled with fresh water. The starlings, robins, doves, curved-bill thrashers and the occasional hawk prefer this waterer. They can perch on the sidewall of the dish and dip their beaks in for a refreshing drink.
All of my waterers are placed so they are in the shade during the heat of the day, too.
Also notice I have used the term “fresh, clean water” several times. I make sure to wash all of my waterers with soapy water, two to three times a week, and keep them filled daily. It’s become my responsibility to assure all of my winged creatures have access to healthy clean water.
Now I know they are “just birds” but I believe my yard is a much visited haven for these guys because I keep the water fresh.
I do also have a hummingbird feeder and I also seed feed. The seed feeder is an 18 inch saucer that sits perfectly on an old wrought iron patio table that is missing its glass top. I have a large stone set in it for added stability. With that dish set up off the ground I have no trouble with ants or other bugs getting into the seed.
The smaller sparrows make quick work of any seed that drops or is kicked onto the ground too. It’s fun to watch upwards of a dozen doves at a time maneuvering for position.
Also the area is pretty quiet. I know that if the neighbors are particularly noisy and active, I have fewer birds visiting. They come back once the noise settles, knowing they are welcome. Mostly it’s a matter of consistency. If you set out water and then either let it dry out or get all moldy, dusty and crusty, trust me, the birds will not want to hang out. Once you make the decision to tend the birds, stick to it and you’ll be rewarded with feathered delights galore. Just be consistent.
Happy Diggin’ In.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.