- Part 3

Setting Up Obtainable Goals for Rescued Parrots

 May 29th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
IMG_2222

Setting up obtainable goals for rescued and re-homed parrots: What is progress, and how do you know if you’ve made it?

 

The question of knowing whether you’ve progressed at all can be surprisingly difficult to tell! With our neurotic pet-shop cockatiel, for instance, we had to decide what was her personality, and what was emotional ‘damage’ from her past. Progress for her came in very tiny steps. It took time for me to get that a super-quiet bird may be that way because it is warily assessing the environment, or it may simply be a quiet bird. A couch-potato may be, ahem, energy-efficient… or it could be learned helplessness that needs to be worked on more urgently.

When assessing a bird whose past is largely unknown, I like to start with a goal of diet conversion. Training for me comes after that, as a bird demonstrates that it is comfortable.

Here are the goals I set for training our cockatiel:

  • Convert her to a good diet
  • Teach her to play with toys
  • Convince her to fly
  • Desensitise her to one object a day
  • Give her ‘happy time’ where she wasn’t experiencing fear
  • (Optional) Train her to step up
IMG_3815

Cockatiel eating from a vegetable skewer (and giving me a nice greeting!).

 

We chose goals for her in the order of what I deemed most urgent. Her happiness was critical, and factored in immediately. For the first several months of her life with us, however, I viewed stepping up as I view petting a bird: Optional. This took a back seat while I worked on more serious issues with her. To make life with her easier, we worked out a system where Mishka the cockatiel could fly everywhere. She’d get a reward for doing so, and thus we neatly side-stepped having to pick her up – and, bonus, she burned off some energy. There are many ways around having a parrot who won’t step up, but with patience, she did eventually learn.

This was part of the secret to taming this neurotic bird with a rough past. Our cockatiel knew that we would not force her to do what she didn’t want to. That relieved part of her fear.

Teaching her to be happy was a difficult process. Mishka lived in fear of everything. In fact, she wouldn’t sleep – which made her much more grumpy and prone to biting. To get her to sleep, we had to get her to calm down.

IMG_3917

Cockatoo getting sunlight. See his beak? That was a result of his past.

 

One part of setting any goal is knowing how to reach it. From my research online, I had a game plan.

First and foremost, we gave our parrot choice: Mishka the cockatiel spent as much time as possible out of her cage, and was able to choose which room she wanted to be in. At night, she slept at the foot of the bed on a tall java-perch contraption that my partner rigged up. She literally got to choose when she wanted to go to bed.

We also taught her to eat vegetables. For her, this was critical. I will never forget the moment she flew to me because I had some sugar snap peas in my hand. She twirled in excited circles around my head, and I knew in that moment that we had made a breakthrough.

This was the key to taming her: Associating ourselves with that lone source of happiness. Food.

If you have a phobic or depressed bird, you need to identify what makes it happy (and also what makes it afraid, so that you can remove that source of fear if possible) and make yourself part of that happiness. Toys? Food? Nap time in the bedroom? Walks in the travel cage? Your bird’s favourite thing could be anything.

Bobo, our umbrella cockatoo, always loved going outside. It didn’t matter if we wheeled his cage into the garden, or popped him in his carrier. His ultimate reward was a walk.

Flying parrot

How can I know if my bird is happy?

Figuring out whether our cockatiel was happy or not was actually a challenge. We had to look closely at her behaviour. Less screaming, but still lots of flapping around madly? Yes, that’s an improvement. She was still very wild, but as I got to know her more and more, I got the impression that she wasn’t unhappy anymore. Part of your bird’s behaviour may come down to personality. For Mishka, she was just a slightly neurotic wild-child with a stubborn streak.

When you’re looking at your own parrot, you have to decide what you want to accomplish. I like to encourage people to think about how the bird feels. How can you better its life?

Then make that a goal.

Working with rescued and re-homed parrots takes time, and whatever goal you set yourself, know that. It’s okay to have setbacks – lord knows we had those! It’s okay to feel like you’re not accomplishing much – we had that too. It can take years to fully gain a bird’s trust.

So perhaps your goal will be teaching your parrot to step up politely, so it can spend more time with you. Maybe it’s teaching it to eat well, so it will live a longer, better life. Or maybe it’s just to have a bird who doesn’t live a life of constant terror.

All it takes to achieve these things is your own perseverance and empathy.

Spoiling your Parrot Vs. Good Quality of Life

 May 22nd, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull

 

 

 

DSC00181

How do we tell the difference between spoiling a pet, and giving a good quality of life?

There are two main components for a captive bird’s quality of life:

  1. The basics: Food, water, a decently-sized cage, fresh toys, suitable perches, and a clean, safe environment
  2. Unconditional love: Your understanding, patience, dedication, and empathy

If you’re wondering whether a bird is spoiled, ask if what he has or is being given is really necessary in his life?

Providing a parrot the basics isn’t so basic at all in the eyes of many non-bird people. First of all, I don’t believe in saying that a bird is spoiled (in a negative way) because it has a large cage. Someone once said that about our Senegal, who lives in a cage that is built for a much larger bird, yet has small bar spacing. I feel that no cage is large enough for a creature that is in every way designed to fly dozens of miles each day, so the biggest cage possible is (to me) a necessity. He spends most of his time out, but sometimes I have to go away. Then it really improves his life.

Good diet is also a necessity. It isn’t spoiling your pet to make sure he or she has daily vegetables, pellets, fruits, and treats. To cook for your parrot is not spoiling it. Proper nutrition ensures that your bird is happy and healthy, and it reduces the likelihood of screaming, biting, and plucking. It also plays a huge role in enrichment.
IMG_2995

Enrichment is another part of owning parrots that can seem extravagant. A lot of money gets sunk into buying or making toys. Food plays a critical role in keeping a parrot, too, as there are endless ways to present it – and it isn’t cheap to buy the organic stuff they need. And a parrot play gym isn’t overkill, again, because it provides a safe haven for your bird while he’s out of his cage. Nice perches? Once more, a decent perch prevents health issues and brings your bird comfort.

It is possible to go overboard, definitely. Sometimes we can give our birds too much love and squash them in the process. But a parrot suffers if its basic needs aren’t met.

The next time someone says you’re spoiling your parrots, feel free to let them know (gently, of course!) that you’re meeting the complex needs of a very demanding animal. They might not understand, but that’s okay. You’re doing your part.

Using Your Energy When Working with Birds

 May 15th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
DSC00083

African Grey

Energy is very important to parrots and how they react to us. Our birds can sense our every mood change, reading both your body language and the way you look to them in UV. They can perceive many more colours than we can, and – as the Island Parrot Sanctuary once put it to me – because of that, they know you better than you know yourself. They can see your mood.

One of the things I try and do with new or nervous owners is show them how their energy can affect their bird. If you go into a training session with anxiety, your bird picks up on this. He notices and wonders what’s wrong, making him more likely to react negatively. After all, you’ve accidentally put him on edge.

By outwardly acting cool and collected – even if you’re not inside – you can help your bird feel safer and calm down.

There are four main instances where energy is an important tool to use:

  1.  When training. Don’t go into a training session with any kind of residual negative energy. Training is a time for enjoyment, and a parrot needs to see your trust in order to trust you.
  2. When dealing with an aggressive parrot. A bird who knows you are afraid will strike because it doesn’t know what else to do. By making you go away, it will be able to relax. Learn to fake this – it’s kind of like being a performer! You don’t show the audience how scared you are when you go on stage, no matter what it takes. Eventually, you will actually relax into your own performance.
  3. When working with an abused, sick, or feather-destructive parrot. A bird can sense when you’re feeling pity, sadness, or anxiety. If you react with these things, the animal will pick up on it, turning those emotions inward in a vicious cycle. The IPS once told me that they can’t open to the public quite the way they used to because strangers would walk through the aviaries pointing and reacting with alarm. The birds were aware of this – and would become upset. They saw people looking at them this way, and felt anxiety because of it. Even if you want to feel pity for a plucked parrot, put a positive spin on it. He has a good life now.
  4. When going through your daily routine. Surrounding your bird with positive energy sounds very new-agey, but it works. A bird is built to react to everyone around it. They survive in the wild by being completely attuned to both their flock and their environment. You can turn this on its head by lowering your own heart rate through deep breathing, speaking in a calm, low voice, and trying to ‘emanate’ real confidence and happiness.

If you want to know how to use your energy in a positive way, it’s easy to begin. Deep breathing will lower your heart rate.  Let everything go. If you’re nervous or afraid, fake it by adjusting your body language. This is as simple as squaring your shoulders, looking directly ahead, and moving confidently. Don’t shy away from the bird. Move slowly and deliberately, and ignore your fear. Breathe.

Fake being confident long enough, and it will come naturally.

For owners who are scared of their pet, if everything gets to be too much, don’t try to handle him. Just quietly, calmly remove yourself from the room for a moment. Try and relax by breathing or stretching through your nerves. When you’re feeling ready, head back in. Projecting good energy goes a long way towards calming many birds down.

DSC00095

Befriending an African Grey

 

I asked once how the owner of the sanctuary could work with any parrot and not be afraid. After all, some can be very unpredictable and dangerous. She replied that of course she gets nervous sometimes, but she isn’t going to let a bird know that. By projecting quiet confidence with aggressive birds, and gentle reassurance with phobic ones, she prevents a bite most of the time. IF a bite should happen, she told me not to be afraid. It will probably happen sooner or later. Better to accept that than live in paralysing fear of it.

Parrots feed off emotion.

Cockatoos are really one species where you can most clearly see how energy and parrots work. Bobo, our umbrella cockatoo who went to live at the sanctuary due to my own visa issues in the UK, was like most of his kind: He responded immediately with more of the same. Energetic? Yup. He’d be just about bouncing off the walls. Scared? He’d attack because he was too. Calm and relaxed? Bobo would only calm down if I was calm, too. I learned to take him from bursting to bite to preening quietly on his cage top just through my own actions.

There was one point where he was being assessed by the IPS, and the room laughed at some joke that was told. Instantly, my bird went from a relaxed, chilled-out cockatoo, to manically laughing with his crest held erect. He was prepared to attack. The room lowered their voices then, and he slowly went back to normal. It was like watching a rubber band tighten and then release.

DSC00075

See how engaged this Grey is?

As one last example of energy and working with birds (and how it varies per individual), towards the end of my last visit at the sanctuary, I went from the macaw aviary into the disabled aviary, which held twelve or so African Greys. These birds are not able to move into the big-bird aviaries yet, for one reason or another. Many are too timid and need the disabled aviary as a sort of stepping stone in their recovery.

I was instructed to go and sit in their midst on my own. Remember that these beauties come from all walks of life, and are not all inclined to trust a stranger. With the macaws, I had been able to move with a lively energy. They were much more boisterous. The Greys were much quieter, and I knew I had to respond with more of the same to earn their trust.

So I pulled up a seat and talked gently to these Greys, not making eye contact yet. I let myself relax. As I settled in, the birds joined me one by one.

DSC00093

Warming up to me.

By adjusting my energy, I was able to tell them that I was no threat. I did not try to touch them or force my attention where it wasn’t wanted. If a bird turned its back, I stepped a few paces away and focussed on a more willing recipient. By reading their body language and letting them be the ones to choose to come near, I was able to connect.

You can do this with any bird, from any background. Through positive energy, you can help your bird feel safe, too.

Why Social Dominance Theory Does Not Apply To Flocks

 May 9th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
Ptak and Maverick's Arrival 043

Aggressive Senegal Parrot

Dogs and parrots are very different creatures, but as humans, we often try to draw comparisons to their behaviour. Canines being a creature that most everyone has had experience with, a lot of owners will try to draw connections.

For instance: The theory of height dominance. The idea is that birds move up high to try and ‘one-up’ their people.

First, let’s look at a parrot’s motivation for climbing up out of reach. A bird feels safer the higher up he goes, because this is beyond the reach of many predators. A bird isn’t trying to dominate its humans. It’s making itself feel safe.

Think of it this way:  If you were a bird who naturally is a prey animal, would you want to come down from the safest place around – that place that very few predators can reach? No, you’d probably do a lot to stay there – including biting the hand that reaches for you.

Wild parrots will squabble over food, and the bird who is strongest often gets more. It’s about self-centred survival. He who eats the most probably makes the most babies and lives the longest. But the birds are focused on themselves.

DSC00150

The birds in the background have moved higher because they can watch me, but I can’t reach them.

A bird is all about what he needs for himself. We’ll notice this in our own homes, too, that our pet may switch his favourite human on an apparent whim, or cuddle up to someone he normally hates when they have food, etc. He won’t hesitate to help himself to your food, or bite you if he thinks he can get you to surrender something interesting.

Flock dynamics are about who can get what, most peacefully. Wild parrots do not bite each other unless there is absolutely no other option – for instance, if the nest or a mate is threatened. Instead of attacking another bird, a bird who does not like what is happening will typically turn its back – or perhaps vocalise and posture in order to drive off the threat. If that doesn’t work, it will leave. End of conflict. Fights mean bloodshed, and bloodshed means less energy to spend on flying and foraging for food.

Because parrots in our homes can’t always just leave a situation, we do experience a lot more bites. This isn’t about dominating humans, but instead about making a point. Parrots think of themselves as equals. Competition for resources is about survival, yes, but not about ‘ruling the roost.’

DSC00158

Indian Ringneck Parakeet placing himself up high, out of reach.

I think a lot of people confuse a flock sentry with a dominant or alpha parrot. When any group of birds forages, you can usually see at least one bird standing sentry above all the others, on the lookout for danger. This bird will sound the alarm if he or she spots danger. At that point, everyone either checks out the threat, or flees for safety – it can look like the sentry has driven them off.

Interestingly, it’s theorised that due to this behaviour, parrots may actually understand the concept of sharing. After all, if your guard gets hungry and weak, he can’t do his job as well.

 

The Unique Skill Set of the Small Bird Owner

 May 2nd, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
IMG_3114

Cockatiel

 

Before we talk about owners, I think it’s important to talk about their birds first: I do not believe in so-called beginner parrots, or graduating from one species to the next in order of size. This is because I believe that all parrots are made equal. The number of grams they weigh does not define them as ‘beginner,’ ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’ – in essence, buying a budgie will only ever teach you how to work with budgies.

My parrotlet is an aggressive, somewhat bipolar fellow with a shocking amount of power behind his bite – and yet a very sweet and gentle side. Our cockatiel, meanwhile, was always a timid parrot who knew how to defend herself, and, by the way, her bites may have been amongst the worst I ever received. Compared to our umbrella cockatoo, our cockatiel was easier to handle… but that’s because cockatoos are probably the most difficult parrot to work with.

I can’t really compare my experiences with any of them.

Birds' Arrival 247

Senegal Parrot basking in the sun.

 

None of these birds prepared me for the next. I had to learn by getting to know them.

Let me put it a different way: We were completely out of our element in those first few weeks of getting to know our cockatoo – in spite of our research and work with different species. And the same goes for every new member we’ve brought into our house.

Working with African Greys and macaws, for instance, I have found two things: Each bird is definitely an individual, but they do tend to have specific traits common to each species.

Macaws are often bursting with playfulness. Most love to roughhouse with their beaks all over you. Greys, however, are quite regal. They’re a calm and striking species who generally want no part of your roughhousing, thank you – though they certainly aren’t opposed to play. The Grey’s flock energy is oddly serene. If you dream of owning an Amazon, though, you can’t compare life with these two species at all, because Amazons are vocal and full of vivacity – and different in every way.

African Grey Parrot

African Grey

 

Don’t let a price tag define a bird, or the quality of his life.

A small bird has the same requirements as a large one. The difference between them is how they make their unhappiness known. A macaw bites or screams, and you know something’s up. A large bird forces you to notice.

Whether you own a macaw, a pionus, or a budgie, you run into problems and challenges in ownership – many of them are even the same, like hormones and biting. Many more of these issues are totally different, though. A macaw may have greater issues with over-bonding, or a Senegal with hormonal biting, but a female budgie may have calcium and egg-laying problems, because they are indeterminate layers who won’t necessarily stop at a set number of eggs.

It’s true that a larger parrot can be more dangerous. That’s why volunteering with a rescue, sanctuary, or friend who owns birds is critical. You’ll learn a lot this way, including whether a species actually ‘clicks’ with you. Me? I get on wonderfully with African Greys and macaws. I love the reserved, regal demeanour of Greys, and the rough-and-ready attitude of the macaws. From volunteering, I also found out that I’m not an Amazon person. They’re great birds, but they’re so rambunctious! (Not in the way that cockatoos are, because cockatoos are a force unto their own.)

IMG_4059

Crazy-cute Umbrella Cockatoo

 

When strangers ask the big question:

After Bobo moved to the Sanctuary – due to the fact that I could only import two parrots per year – something I am sometimes asked is when I’m going to graduate to another big parrot, because that’s why I have small ones, right?

My reply? I love small birds. I have them in my life because I think they’re cute as all get-out, their tiny size makes hormones slightly more manageable (slightly), and when they bite, I don’t need stitches. I love my ‘big’ parrots, too, but I’m not in a position to keep one in toys at the moment. So yes, I will adopt one eventually – when I can fully provide for it.

Parrotlet

Celestial Parrotlet

 

The myth of what a so-called real parrot is:

When Bobo the cockatoo first came home with me, a number of people congratulated me on my first REAL parrot. They meant well, but I was floored.

My parrotlet is a real parrot and it never occurred to me to think otherwise. He is spunky, fierce, and clever. While he may not have impressive size, he is one of the great joys of my life. But some people can’t look past that.

That kind of attitude truly hurts parrots. When we think of little birds as something to discard once we’ve learnt what we think we need to, we don’t do credit to their wonderful personalities. They still need foraging, attention, out-of-cage time, good diet, training, and love… or they suffer. My opinion is that they need just as much as a macaw, but in a different way.

I mustn’t neglect to mention that my smallest birds have possessed the largest personalities of all, filling my life with joy (and noise)! The small-bird owners I know are crazy about their flocks for the same reason. ALL parrots, no matter their size, possess amazing and unique personalities.

 A parrot is defined by its hooked beak for gripping and tearing, its zygodactyl toes (two forward, two back, for holding things), and its ability to mimic.

We all handle issues unique to our birds, and sure, small bird owners don’t have to worry about hospital visits during hormonal season – but the bites still hurt, and the birds still feel. Owners of small species aren’t inferior or less experienced to other owners. We just possess a different skill set.

Blue and Gold Macaw

Blue and Gold Macaw

 

Gardening for Parrots and People: Ten Easy and Nutritious Foods to Grow for Your Flock

 April 18th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
IMG_5777

My Senegal Parrot helping my garden

Gardening for parrots is not the nightmare you might imagine, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t have a green thumb! Now that spring is here, it is the perfect time to start planting for you and your flock — or to begin planning for the summer. Start small. Anyone with a garden or little patch of grass can grow their own produce, and doing so is a great way to save money. Feeding your flock is, after all, one of the single most important components of parrot care, responsible for their longevity, health, enrichment, and behaviour. It also isn’t cheap. Please remember, though, that any food needs to be thoroughly washed… even if it is home-grown and organic.

You don’t need a lot of land or skill to start a successful veggie patch. The real battle is knowing what to plant, when, and where.

IMG_5755

Strawberry sprout.

The following list contains ten nutritious full OR partial sun parrot-safe fruits and vegetables for spring and summer planting:

 (Water each of these plants daily for the first two weeks after transplanting, because they don’t have a big root system yet.)

1. Bell peppers:

  • Plant them: after the weather warms, as they originate from South and Central America.
  • Water: daily to keep soil evenly moist. Too much water can cause rot.
  • Light requirement: full sun.
  • Harvest when: the peppers are full. Green is unripe (but still edible, healthy, and tasty).
  • Store: freeze, or store in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Additional tip: buy a potted pepper plant from a greenhouse, rather than starting from seeds.

2. Carrots, beets, radishes, or turnips:

  • Plant them: during the spring.
  • Water: once they start to droop.
  • Light: min. 4-5 hours of sun. These can go in a shadier spot, but will take longer to harvest.
  • Harvest: when they measure about ¾ of an inch across the top under the stem. Wiggle them up out of the soil and remove tops.
  • Store: Refrigerate for up to two weeks.
  • Additional tip: the tops of these plants are highly nutritious and edible, and well worth saving.

3. Kale:

  • Plant them: before the last frost date in your area for maximum tenderness and flavour. You want it to get frost bitten!
  • Water: when it starts to droop.
  • Light: full or partial sun.
  • Harvest: when the leaves are about the size of your hand.
  • Store: you can freeze it, dehydrate it, or keep it in the fridge for fresh eating.
  • Additional tip: leafy greens like kale, lettuce, and spinach can get away with more shade than some plants, but still need some sun.

4. Strawberries

  • Plant them: in the spring.
  • Water: every other day after established. The watering amount affects their flavour! (More water decreases it.)
  • Light: full sun.
  • Harvest: when the fruits come in, full and red.
  • Store: refrigerate.
  • Additional tip: buy these plants pre-potted from your local greenhouse.

5. Cucumber, Butternut/Winter Squash, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Pumpkin:

  • Plant: in summer.
  • Water: as soon as they droop slightly.
  • Light: Full sun.
  • Harvest: cucumbers and zucchinis before they turn yellow; pumpkin and squashes after their vines dry out and rinds toughen. If you want seeds, fruits should be larger, and if you don’t, they should be smaller.
  • Store: pumpkin can also be frozen, and the seeds can be saved, baked, and served as a treat for both people and parrots. Other squashes can sit out at room temp short term.
  • Additional tip: if you plant more than one kind of squash seed, you may well end up with weird hybrids next season. We had ‘pumkini’ one year.
Fruits and Vegetables 102

Doing some research on prices at the store… Berries are one of the more expensive items! These usually grow on bushes, so can take up more space in your garden.

6. Spinach:

  • Plant them: in the spring OR autumn.
  • Water: daily.
  • Light: full sun or partial shade.
  • Harvest: with scissors. Leave the roots and cut off the leaves, and you’ll have a continuous harvest.
  • Store: refrigerate. If you leave it out short-term, put it in a bowl of cold water.
  • Additional tips: spinach likes cold weather. It gets bitter and bolts (goes to seed) if the weather gets too warm, as with most leafy greens.

7. Lettuce

  • Plant: in the very early spring (after last frost date) or autumn.
  • Water: daily.
  • Light: full sun or partial shade.
  • Harvest: like spinach.
  • Store: refrigerate.

8. Sweet Potatoes

  • Plant: in summer when soil is WARM.
  • Water: daily.
  • Light: full sun.
  • Harvest: harvest in the early autumn before it gets too cold. You know they’re ready because the leaves begin to wither, revealing the sweet potato.
  • Store: after harvesting, wash and lay them in the sun to dry out. Don’t eat them for a month, which allows flavour to ripen. Store in a cool, dry, dark place.
  • Additional tip: planting in warm soil is essential, or they will rot.

9. Swiss Chard

  • Plant: spring.
  • Water: daily until its roots form, then leave it alone.
  • Light: full sun.
  • Harvest: like spinach (cutting off just the stem and leaves, leaving roots).
  • Additional tip: this should pop up every year after. The stems make a good toy for your birds, and are perfectly edible for both you and the flock (if a bit tough).

10. Peas

  • Plant: very early spring after the last frost date, or in the autumn.
  • Water: daily.
  • Light: full sun.
  • Harvest: when the pods feel full, as if about to pop.
  • Store: room temperature or refrigerate.

 TIP: Watering your plants in the blazing sun will make them more susceptible to burning. Try watering your plant early in the day instead for optimal results.

If you choose to take your parrot out with you to soak up some sun, just make sure that he has access to shade, food, and water, and that you use a carrier or suitable cage/aviary. Because your attention will be on gardening, you can’t have your eye on your bird the way you need to while outside — it is especially risky to have a clipped or unrestrained parrot with you while working. These birds can go miles with just a little breeze, even clipped. While your parrot is out and about, just stay wary of cats, dogs, birds of prey, and other curious wildlife, as well as too-high or too-low temps.

Many plants and herbs can be grown in a box on your porch or window. I will be experimenting with this this spring, so will report back to you on that. Some easy ones include:

  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Leafy greens (red or oakleaf lettuce, etc.)
  • Strawberries

(All are safe for parrots in moderation.)

050

If you can’t grow a lot of veggies, many times you can at least supplement to help your wallet!

Preparing the veggie patch:

When buying your plants, you should look for a short and stocky plant without blight marks, obvious infestations, or wilting. Start by digging the grass out of a patch of whatever size you desire. The placement should ensure that these plants will get plenty of direct sun. We have one main patch that is about 20×40’. (Yours can be much smaller, especially to start — maybe 4×4’.) Next, turn the earth with a shovel until all weeds/roots are broken up. Remove any rocks, then smooth with a rake.

When I have multiple seeds or plants, I dig a long trench, and place the seeds evenly along it, covering when finished. See plant packets for depth. Don’t pack the dirt. You can use a stick or plant label for a marker.

Cover the area with straw once you’ve planted everything and it’s just started to show above ground. This acts like a mulch, keeping weeds down and moisture in. As it decomposes over time, the straw also adds healthy organic matter to your patch.

TIP: ‘Edible Landscaping.’ For those of you who have limited space or restrictive HOA rules, here is a little ‘cheat’ so you can also grow veggies. Try hiding them in amongst conventional garden flowers like zinnias, marigolds, and roses for visual appeal. These plants will stay through summer, unlike daffodils, tulips, or pansies. Also helpful if you like the idea of gardening food, but don’t want to sacrifice aesthetic.

IMG_5736

Example of edible landscaping. The wet patch towards the grass is going to be peas.

What if my area is too shady?

Even plants that are marked ‘shade’ or ‘low light’ require a few hours of sun every day. IF your patch is not in a sunny area, but you want to grow crops that have a low light requirement, you can try painting the area behind the crops white. Some greenhouses also carry reflective mulches for use in too-shady gardens.

TIP: Don’t plant the same things in the same place every year. Farmers rotate their fields to allow the soil to replenish, and you should consider this too, even if your quantities are smaller.

Make sure to check out the All Natural Feeding Program and Cookbook, so that you have plenty of ideas how to use these fabulous home-grown foods. You can even preview a couple recipes!

Have you tried gardening for parrots yet?