Watering the Birds, Practical Gardening (with a video!)

Image morguefile.com

Water is a necessity for all life. Birds need water for drinking and preening; it helps keep a bird’s body cool from the inside and out. Water baths remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from their plumage.

Adding a water feature to your garden is an important element, and one of the quickest ways to attract birds. Offering water will draw more birds than just food sources, since birds that would not visit your feeders can be enticed by water. And the more birds, the more bugs eaten!

Standing water is not dynamic enough for visiting or migrating birds to notice. Moving water will attract more birds because they can hear dripping, sprinkles or splashes, and the reflective motion catches their eye. Adding a jiggler accessory to a standing birdbath adds motion. A hose dripping into a dish or pond can have a similar effect attracting birds. Flowing water also stays cleaner and is less likely to harbor parasites or bacteria that could harm birds.

The most popular ways to offer birds water in your garden are the basin/saucer style birdbath, on the ground or pedestal, and misters.

For birds to feel comfortable using a birdbath, it should be ½-1” deep at the edge and only 2” deep in the center. If you find birds are hesitant to use the basin, add a flat rock to the center or several smaller stones at the edge to create a shallower island for birds to use. The birdbath should also have a rough surface to provide traction.

Keep the birdbath (and stones) clean by scrubbing with a dedicated stiff-bristled brush about every other day—and wear some gloves—rinsing it well. In the heat of the summer you may find algae to be a problem even with regular cleaning. To help reduce this issue, after cleaning and draining the birdbath, add one part white vinegar to nine parts water and scrub the basin again. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry fully before refilling with water.

Place birdbaths in the shade to keep the water cooler. The birds will feel safer the closer it is to trees and shrubs when they need to further preen and dry. A simple saucer or shallow bowl can be placed on the ground, secured to a fence, patio table, stump or steps. Hanging dishes and models that attach to deck railings are available. If cats are in the area, use a pedestal style instead.

There are several types of saucer birdbaths to choose from. Concrete is stable, but difficult to relocate and tip for cleaning. Ceramic and glass styles are easy to clean and relocate, but a challenge for birds to get a footing because of the smooth surfaces. These style must be protected or brought inside during the winter. Birdbaths made from plastic or fiberglass are easy to relocate, tip for cleaning, and can be used all year round by adding a heater—or purchasing a model with a built-in warmer.

Consider adding a small fountain or bubbler to any style birdbath to draw attention.

Misters are a favorite way for hummingbirds to find water and they will often repeatedly hover in a mister on a hot day. Misters may be attached to fountains or birdbaths, or they can come as separate water features that attach to a garden hose. For the best effect, position the mister in a partially shaded area that has several perching sites within its mist. Hummers also do an activity called leaf rolling to clean their plumage. They rub against water-soaked leaves!


Thursday’s Prayer for Priests

Image morguefile.com

Emmaus Prayer for Priests 

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer

For the spiritual renewal of priests.

We praise you for giving their ministry to the Church.

In these days renew them with the gifts of your Spirit. 

You once opened the Scriptures

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Now renew your ordained ministers

With the truth and power of your Word. 

In the Eucharist you gave the Emmaus disciples

Renewed life and hope.

Nourish priests with your own Body and Blood.

Help them to imitate in their lives

The death and resurrection they celebrate at your altar. 

Give priests enthusiasm for the Gospel,

Zeal for the salvation of all,

Courage in leadership,

Humility in service,

Fellowship with one another

And with all their brothers and sisters in You. 

For You love them, Lord Jesus,

And we love and pray for them in Your name. Amen


What-Why-How #MyWritingProcess

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The blogging about #MyWritingProcess appears to have begun in 2011. At least that’s as far back as the thread for this hash tag goes. It’s a wonderful insight about other writers and how they do what they do.

It’s my turn to step into the pool and swim, thanks to Nancy Ward’s invitation. 

What am I working on?

If you are reading this you already know that I write for Patheos. The blog includes prayers, contemplative pieces on nature, and practical gardening tips. I also write a monthly column at CatholicMom.com, and just finished a feature article for Catholic Digest. The presentations on building prayer gardens for this spring are over, unless I get a call from another group.

My main focus is currently on the first round of edits that came this month from Bob Hamma at Ave Maria Press for my new book. I love what he’s done with my (now our) manuscript and am embracing his challenges to improve the work. The launch is set for spring of 2015. Being a gardener I deeply appreciate and enjoy (love!) working with editors. They take my meager efforts, offer their insights, and my work grows in a way I had never thought possible.

I have twelve other manuscripts in progress—gosh, that sounds arrogant. They cover a wide range of topics from saints and soups to retreats and evangelization. They are all garden related, and that would be stretching it a bit when it comes to the memoirs of a gardener.  

What makes my work different from other gardening writers?

My Catholicism. All that I write is from my faith as developed in the Catholic religion. The gardening themed manuscripts are focused on learning about the Creator through his creation. The nature reflections are fleshed out in Adoration.  

Why do I write what I do?

Writing came about by default as I struggled to accept physical decline and associated depression. I struggled mightily with losing my identity as a gardener. I didn’t know who I was if not part of the earth, digging in the dirt, hugging trees, and touching flowers. I prayed desperately to God to be open to his will as my life took a turn, for what I thought was the worst.

What I gradually realized was that I could share with others how God is present in the garden. I brought this new awareness to Adoration, and while there came to embrace the fullness of God’s created beauty. I felt compelled to share this insight with other gardeners and to offer them not only the why but the how of glorifying God with his gifts from nature. 

How does my writing process work?

I am a very slow writer and must work at staying disciplined. I was not an English or Journalism major in college—failing an English class twice! What I’ve learned about the writing process, and am still learning, came by way of Ann Margaret Lewis and the Catholic Writers Guild, and from the writers group I attend.

Notebook: It’s more like a small journal that accompanies me everywhere. When an idea comes—I call them seeds—I write it down. There are a lot of one or two sentence entries. The majority of ideas come during my morning prayer time when I reflect on activities, people, and Scripture. Other ideas come when I am outdoors walking, gardening, or simply sitting with creation.

Adoration: These seeds of thought are taken to the Adoration chapel and developed. The dear women who attend to the altar placed a long narrow table at the back of the pews. It is there that I set my portfolio of notes, papers, articles and books. After offering my prayers and petitions for others, I ask Our Lord to fill my emptiness with his desires…and then write longhand. Sometimes for 15 minutes, more often for over an hour.

God’s Writing Time: The writing that occurs in Adoration takes place independent of this, though that work is always incorporated here. I am graced with a single life of solitude and friends tease me about living in an “upstairs hermitage.”

After morning prayer, with a second cup of coffee, I go to my desk and write for an hour and a half, minimum. Nothing interferes with God’s writing time. Well, maybe if the dog has to go out… When I say I write, it also includes researching of information pertaining to the topic. Sometimes I will return to writing in late afternoons, though my best work is done in the morning.

I call it God’s Time because of the Rule of St. Benedict: nothing comes before the Work of God. I don’t answer the phone, crawl around Facebook, read emails, clean house, etc. Sure, St. Benedict was talking about the Work of God being prayer, and for me writing is just that. I try to honor God’s gift, in answer to my prayer, by prayerfully offering whatever words are written for whoever reads them.

Steps: I make a rough outline, go back and fill it in. If I am working on a manuscript I consider each main topic a chapter, each sub-topic a section in it, and can usually write 3,000-4,000 words for a chapter. I try to write a rough draft of a whole chapter in one sitting.

My rough drafts are really ugly with all sorts of mistakes and incomplete thoughts. BUT the thoughts are all there. I rework it as best I can. Then take it, piece by piece of about 500-1000 words, to the writers group who are wonderful at teaching me how to make it better. For my blog, when I don’t know what is wrong with my piece, I reach out to CWG members for editing. Did I mention how much I love English  and Journalism majors?

I rewrite as directed. I believe nothing is ever perfect and that’s perfectly fine with me. I’ve written my best and leave the manuscript in the hands of whatever publisher is willing to take my workand then it is no longer mine but ours.

Query Letters: I just don’t fuss over them. I’ve done what I could, offered it up, and leave the rest in God’s hands and God’s time. My goal has never been to get published, but to serve Our Lord in whatever small way I can—to which I am still striving.

 Sometimes I feel terribly intimidated when I read the powerful words of other Catholic writers. The words I am given are simple and I try to remember that not everyone seeking God seeks him in theology. For this reason I wrote the following prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me to trust that the words you encourage me to write meet the needs of those you guide to read them. Let me continue to delight in the beautiful words written by others and not despair in the simplicity of my own. Help me remember always to thank them and encourage them in their work. Guide my thoughts and my hands to express your desires for our lives. Allow me to follow your will, to trust your ways, to be unconcerned with how I write but that I write in the light of your Light. Lord, send me peace of heart so that envy and disparaging does not constrict my work for your glory.


I am tagging a Christian friend, Lynn Eckerle who writes a cooking column for several newspapers and has a wonderful cooking and photography blog.

Mulch Madness, Practical Gardening

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Applying mulch is the best time-saving measure a gardener can take. This is true for every type of garden—flower beds, vegetable gardens, hardwoods. When you mulch a garden it is healthier, has less weeds, and the mulch helps hold moisture so the garden is more drought resistant and you spend less time watering.

Organic Gardening offers the following advice:

There are two cardinal rules for using organic mulches to combat weeds. First, be sure to lay the mulch down on soil that is already weeded, and second, lay down a thick enough layer to discourage new weeds from coming up through it. It can take a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch to completely discourage weeds, although a 2- to 3-inch layer is usually enough in shady spots where weeds aren’t as troublesome as they are in full sun.

Organic mulches include formerly living material such as chopped leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost, wood chips, shredded bark, sawdust, pine needles, and even paper. Inorganic mulches include gravel, stones, black plastic, and geotextiles (landscape fabrics).

Organic mulch will decompose and have to be replaced, however in the process it will also improve your soil.

Bark and chipped wood mulches, which are best to use around trees and shrubs where you won’t be doing a lot of digging, can cause problems. Tree trimming services and county chip piles may be inexpensive or free, but stop and think for a moment…most tree removal is a result of disease. Some winters, like this last one, will create a lot of debris for chipping. Best advice is to know your source.

And speaking of mulching around trees, don’t pile the mulch up the trunk like a volcano…please, just don’t. I know lots of people do it, but it’s still wrong. It causes diseases and rots the bark at the base of the tree. A tree without a proper bark and underlying cambium for water uptake is a dead one.

Mulching around trees is intended to protect it from mechanical damage from weed whackers and lawn mowers, reduce weeds, and hold moisture. If the mulch is piled up the truck so the skirt of the trunk is hidden, it obviously isn’t holding moisture where needed—all the way out to the drip line at the end of the branches.

Chipped mulch has its problems, and so does cocoa mulch; it contains a lethal ingredient called Theobromine which is the ingredient used to make all chocolate—especially dark or baker’s chocolate. This ingredient—and so the mulch—is toxic to dogs and cats. Of course it smells like chocolate so it is especially attractive to dogs (and small children). A pet will ingest this stuff, become horribly sick, and possibly die. My advice, choose something else.

My mulch of choice is natural cypress, straw, and leaf mulch (from a reliable source!).  They all breakdown and, like compost, improve the quality of the soil.

(Photo of improper mulch in volcano stack from Tom LeRoy, http://www.gardeningwithtomleroy.com/175)


God’s Presence in a Breeze, Photo Challenge

Image Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

As a gardener I find God openly present in the natural world. Through his creation he offers wisdom to guide us homeward. There are insights from bugs under decomposing bark as meaningful as grace found while stomping through mud.

There is a movement to God that can be seen, though he himself is not. Like the fronds of ornamental grasses that sway in late summer, we do not see the breeze that moves them. What we see is the affects of that delicate wind. So it is with our Lord. Though we do not see the breath of God, we see the affects as he moves through our lives.

And like the grasses, when light is behind them, it is then that their greatest beauty is revealed. As are we in the revealing light of God.