Organic Gardening is for the Birds


March 25, 2016. Good Friday. Distinctive chatter welcomes me to Heart & Sole Gardens. Martin scouts circle overhead. Purple Martins, that is. Migratory birds we regard as pets claim the gourds we provide for them to nest and raise their young. After an annual flight from South America, taking as long as six weeks and covering as many as 5,000 miles, this is no small feat. As long-time Purple Martin hosts, we anticipate the scouts’ arrival as eagerly as the harvest of summer’s first ripe heirloom tomato.  Perhaps, even more so.

Martins arrive March 2015

Purple Martins eagerly explore summer homes

Foregoing the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers translates to providing a garden habitat that encourages insects, reptiles, mammals and birds to linger and feast upon organic bounty. Adding composted manure to soil helps earthworms as they tunnel through miles of earth, aerating ground and depositing nutrient rich castings. Seedlings thrive, enticing deer and groundhogs, those eating machines, to munch tender foliage and stems. Blossoms open and invite a medley of winged pollinators that complete plants’ sexual acts and result in fruit and vegetables that feed humans, insects and animals. In a garden, Life and Death coexist, constant mortality reminders for the gardener. Within this intricate food chain, birds assist farmers as they devour insect pests. At Heart & Sole Gardens, we nurture Purple Martin families and delight in their aerodynamic antics as much as we appreciate their insect control.

Social birds, Purple Martins often engage human workers with song. Swooping low over my head, they frequently lure me close to the tall poles that hold their gourds and serenade with a lilting voice for as long as I linger.  When my mimicking efforts elicit response, it is interaction that pleases us all.  After years of attentive listening, I quickly recognize a Martin distress call and often help shoo predatory hawks, watching a group of Martins chase the marauders into the distance and observing the return flight, which often includes “wing bump” celebrations.  Useful and entertaining, Purple Martins bring joy and happiness to weary farm workers and their late summer departure leaves a quiet sadness in the air.

Martin gourds all sanded

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