A Symphony of Hummingbirds: 10 Techniques and 18 Plants to Attract Them

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Unveiling the Marvels of Nature

Hey there, nature lovers! Get ready to dive into the incredible world of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds – those tiny, feisty creatures that are guaranteed to steal your heart! In today’s edition of Wild Neighbors: Antlers, Feathers & Paws, we will focus on our feathered neighbors and show you how to create your own backyard hummingbird oasis. It’s like having a VIP lounge for these fantastic flying jewels!

Just because it’s late August doesn’t mean it’s too late to start working on creating your hummingbird oasis. We’ll reveal all the secrets of how to attract these little charmers to your yard. From their favorite flowers and plants that they simply can’t resist to tips and tricks for making your outdoor space a hummingbird paradise – we’ve got you covered.

So, grab a cup of nectar (or a cool drink, if you prefer) and get ready to bring some buzzing and fluttering action to your garden. And hey, who knows, you might even get a front-row seat to witness those amazing aerial acrobatics firsthand. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get ready to learn about creating a hummingbird haven right in your backyard!

Security camera captures a visitor

Sunrise to Sunset with the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

As the crack of dawn as the sun starts to come over the back ridgeline, it’s showtime at Marleywood, New Hampshire’s own bustling avian metropolis. Hummingbirds begin swooping in from every direction like tiny speedsters, refueling for a caffeine-fueled joyride. They’re early risers, strutting their stuff around 5:25 a.m., just as the world starts to wake up.

However, I am already sitting at my desk, pen in hand, journaling. Just as I’m deep in thought, musing about the meaning of life or simply what happened yesterday, my trusty security camera politely interrupts my profound moment with a not-so-subtle ping. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey, wake up! The show is about to start!” And boy, do they put on a show.

Now, I must confess, when I first moved here, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of these little buzzers. Their loud buzzing made me question if I had stumbled into a jurassic mosquito convention or a bee rave. But no, these were the feathered daredevils, the hummingbirds. They were like something out of a cartoon, zipping and zooming with more energy than a toddler on a sugar high. They do make me laugh.

Back in my old stomping grounds in Connecticut, nature was something I barely had time to ponder. Raising two wild kids on my own was a full-time job, with no room for marveling at the wonders of the avian world. But here in Marleywood, it’s like the birds have their own VIP lounge, open 24/7. It doesn’t matter if it’s sunrise or sunset; these dedicated nectar enthusiasts never miss a beat.

Even as the sun says its dramatic goodbyes, painting the sky in breathtaking hues of orange and pink, these tiny daredevils are still making their rounds. They refuse to let a little thing like darkness ruin their party. It’s like they’re the last guests at an epic soirée, determined to squeeze out every last drop of nectar before calling it a night.

Feeder Insights: Key Considerations for Creating a Hospitable Hummingbird Haven

When it comes to selecting the perfect hummingbird feeder, the options are endless. From various sizes and designs to different materials and functionalities, there are plenty of choices to suit every hummingbird enthusiast’s preferences.

One type of feeder that I highly recommend is the Mini hummingbird feeders. These adorable feeders are compact in size and come in a set of six. What I love about these feeders is their versatility. You can place them in different areas of your yard, creating a network of feeding stations for the hummingbirds to enjoy. Whether you hang them from branches, pergolas, or even hooks, these mini feeders offer a convenient way to attract and feed these delightful creatures.

If you’re looking for a feeder with more feeding ports, the Hummingbird Feeders with 5 Feeding Ports are a great option. With more ports available, more hummingbirds can feed simultaneously, creating a buzzing and lively feeding experience. These feeders often come in eye-catching designs, adding a lovely touch to your outdoor space while providing nourishment to the graceful hummingbirds.

For those who prefer glass feeders, the Pinch-Waist Glass Hummingbird Feeder with Perches is an excellent choice. Featuring an elegant and durable glass bottle with an 8oz capacity, this feeder not only provides ample nectar but also adds a touch of sophistication to your garden. The perches allow hummingbirds to rest while they feed, making it even more enjoyable to observe their graceful movements.

Regardless of the feeder you choose, one crucial aspect to consider is ease of cleaning. Hummingbird feeders require regular cleaning to ensure the health and well-being of the birds. Look for feeders that are easy to disassemble and clean thoroughly, as this will save you time and effort in the long run. Proper maintenance of your feeders is key to preventing the growth of mold and bacteria, ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the hummingbirds to enjoy.

Remember to place your feeders in a strategic location, preferably near flowers or brightly colored shrubs, as hummingbirds are naturally attracted to vibrant hues. It’s also important to regularly replenish the nectar, especially during peak migration seasons, to keep the hummingbirds coming back to your garden.

By selecting the right feeder and providing a reliable food source, you can create an inviting haven for hummingbirds, adding beauty and joy to your outdoors. Plus, they make fantastic gifts!

Love in the Air: The Hummingbird Mating Dance

Once you invite these incredible beauties to your backyard, you will be amazed at some of the things you can witness. There have been many times that we have watched the incredible mating flight patterns while sitting on the deck enjoying our morning coffee. The air at Marleywood is infused with love. They orchestrate a mesmerizing display of affection, flying aerial acrobats that would inspire any aviator. With grace, they carve U-shaped patterns in the sky, a spectacle that rivals the romance of any movie. Their unique way of declaring, “Behold, I am a splendid catch!” This aerial ballet is a sight that left me awestruck the first time I witnessed it—an indelible memory etched in my mind.

A rare moment of eye-to-lens contact.

Where Feathers Meet Fences: Finding Harmony in Nature

Marleywood isn’t just a place where humans and hummingbirds coexist; it’s a symphony of collaboration. The wire fencing, originally intended to safeguard our deck from our exuberant dogs, emerges as an unexpected haven for these agile acrobats. The intricate dance of nature’s tiniest creatures has woven a tapestry of enchantment in our backyard, so much so that as I ponder a renovation – I am wondering how to incorporate new areas for them to perch.

As the morning sun rises over the back ridgeline, the air comes alive with the ethereal hum of wings. It’s a subtle yet captivating sound that beckons you to step outside and join the avian orchestra. Many times I have sat still in a deck chair with my camera poised on a feeder, hoping to get a shot. However, my camera is heavy, and although I could sit there for hours on end, I wouldn’t get anything else done. So, I’ve positioned a security camera at one of the feeders, a technological sentinel capturing the delicate beauty of every wing flutter. It is a front-row ticket to the hummingbird theater, where nature’s drama unfolds in all its splendor. Through the lens, I witness their aerial acrobatics and fierce territorial disputes as these avian marvels assert their dominance over the precious nectar-filled feeders.

Every feathery visitor brings a unique personality to the stage. Here in New Hampshire, we only have the beautiful Ruby-Throated Hummingbird to behold. But depending on where you are, you may be seeing the bold and assertive Anna’s Hummingbird, with its radiant emerald feathers and distinctive chirp. Or possibly the dainty Rufous Hummingbird, with its fiery orange plumage, captivating even the most jaded of spectators. Or the enchanting Calliope Hummingbird, the smallest bird in North America, with its ethereal song that seems to transcend time itself. Whichever hummingbird you are lucky enough to invite to your backyard, the rules are all the same in attracting and keeping their environment safe.

Marleywood has become our sanctuary, a place where time slows down and the wonders of nature take center stage. It’s a constant reminder of the delicate balance between humans and the natural world. Through the lens of the camera, I am humbled by the grace and beauty of these tiny creatures, and I am reminded of our shared responsibility to protect and preserve the precious ecosystems that surround us.

A Lesson in Care and Respect: Nurturing the Hummingbird Connection

Cleaning a hummingbird feeder isn’t difficult, but it is one that requires diligence and attention to detail. The process begins with disassembling the feeder and thoroughly rinsing each component with warm water. I find that using a good wire brush of many sizes is essential for reaching the nooks and crannies of the feeder where mold can hide. Once the initial rinsing is complete, it’s time to delve into the deeper cleaning. Using a mixture of boiling water and mild dish soap, I carefully scrub the feeder to remove any residual nectar or debris. Paying close attention to corners, seams, and feeding ports ensures a thorough cleanse. After the scrubbing is complete, a final rinse with hot water removes any lingering soap residue. It is crucial to eliminate all traces of soap, as even a small amount can be harmful to the hummingbirds. Once the feeder is clean, I dry it thoroughly before refilling it with fresh nectar.

Inspecting feeders regularly is another important aspect of hummingbird care. Checking for any signs of damage, such as cracks or leaks, ensures a safe and functional feeding station for our avian friends. If any issues are found, prompt repairs or replacement may be necessary.

Hummingbirds can get terratorial

When it comes to attracting hummingbirds, timing is crucial. Setting out feeders at the right time can greatly benefit both early and late migrators during their long journey. In the spring, it’s important to anticipate the arrival of hummingbirds before they even show up in your area. By placing feeders out a week or two ahead of their expected arrival in May, you provide a welcoming oasis for these feathered travelers. This extra preparation ensures that when the first hummingbirds appear in your region, they will find a reliable and easily accessible food source waiting for them.

Similarly, as the hummingbird season comes to a close in the fall, it’s essential to keep your feeders available for the late migrators. While most hummingbirds begin their southward journey earlier in the season, some stragglers may continue to pass through your area in search of nourishment. By leaving your feeders out until mid- to late October, you offer a much-needed fuel station for these individuals, allowing them to replenish their energy for their continued migration.

Setting out feeders at the beginning and end of the hummingbird season not only provides essential nourishment for the birds but also increases your chances of observing these delightful creatures up close. So, make sure to plan ahead and keep your feeders stocked to help the early and late migrators along their incredible journeys.

A female pauses to inspect the feeder
  1. Color Your Garden with Nature’s Palette Hummingbirds, like flying jewels, are irresistibly drawn to vivid hues. Paint your garden with a tapestry of nectar-rich flowers in red, orange, and pink shades. Imagine the jubilation as they flit from bee balm to salvia, collecting nectar and spreading delight.
  2. Hang Up Hummingbird Havens For a touch of enchantment, hang hummingbird feeders. Mix a simple sugar water concoction (1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup water). With my multitude of feeders, I prepare a mixture of 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water. Skip the food coloring—it’s unnecessary and potentially harmful. Witness the mesmerizing aerial spectacle as these acrobats visit for a sip, sometimes even playfully hovering by the window, wondering about the temporarily absent feeders.
  3. A Resting Spot for Weary Wings After a day of nectar-sipping exertion, even hummingbirds seek respite. Offer perches near the feeders and observe them take a breather. Our wire fencing emerges as an unexpected lounge for these feathered friends—an exclusive VIP area in our backyard.
  4. Showers of Delight Hummingbirds, it turns out, relish self-pampering. Often overlooked, their need for water extends beyond nectar. A shallow birdbath or fine mist transforms your garden into a sanctuary where these delicate visitors playfully refresh themselves.
  5. Pesticide Puzzles Here’s a conundrum: Hummingbirds feast on minute insects, yet these pests can plague our plants. The solution lies in natural pest control. Seek products labeled “OMRI Listed®” with the OMRI seal—ensuring organic, ecosystem-friendly care. This keeps our feathered friends well-fed and our gardens flourishing.
  6. The Joy of Clean Feeders Maintaining clean feeders is pivotal. Regularly clean them with boiling water and a scrub brush, using small wire brushes to reach the intricate areas where hummingbirds insert their beaks. Vigilance against mold is paramount.
  7. Shelter, Sweet Shelter Hummingbirds seek safe havens from prying eyes and hungry predators. Bushes, trees, and dense foliage provide the sanctuaries that make your garden a welcoming retreat.
  8. Bring on the Bling. A touch of sparkle is irresistible—even to hummingbirds. Hang reflective elements like mirrors or wind chimes to add a glint of wonder to their realm. Solar-powered plastic hummingbirds intrigued our guests, visiting curiously near the feeders.
  9. Flowers That Sing Year-Round The dream of a year-round hummingbird garden is tantalizing but unfeasible in central New Hampshire. Nonetheless, I relish their visits from May to September and sometimes even early October. Optimal planning involves planting various flowers that bloom at varying times, from spring through fall. This assures an uninterrupted nectar supply, ensuring our tiny guests return time and again.
  10. Native is Nifty Nature’s wisdom shines in native plants, extending an open invitation to local wildlife, including hummingbirds. These flora are uniquely suited to the local ecosystem—a win-win for all. When introducing flowers, shrubs, and trees for hummingbirds, select native species adapted to your region’s climate. Placing them in full sun is crucial, as sunlight fuels their blooming.

August is the perfect time to sow the seeds of hummingbird attraction. Consider planting shrubs and trees that beckon these magnificent creatures. Late summer and early fall are ideal for adding these plants to your landscape. No matter the time of year, you can always create a welcoming environment for hummingbirds by incorporating these charming blossoms.

Spring Blooms that Attract Hummingbirds

  1. Columbine (Aquilegia): Delicate and diverse, these flowers in various hues boast spurred petals serving as hummingbird-friendly landing pads.
  2. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis): Heart-shaped blossoms hold spring’s affection, a favorite among hummingbirds.
  3. Salvia (Salvia spp.): Spring’s onset witnesses many salvia varieties unfurling, extending their nectar bounty through summer.
  4. Lupine (Lupinus): Dramatic spikes flourish, a visual spectacle adored by hummingbirds seeking nectar.
  5. Summer Stars: 5. Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens): Fragrant orange-red flowers unfold, captivating hummingbirds from summer through fall (USDA zones 4-9).
  6. Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera x brownii): Trumpet-shaped blooms herald summer’s glory, a delight for hummingbirds in USDA zones 4-9.
  7. Bee Balm (Monarda): Vibrant and tubular, this perennial magnetizes hummingbirds throughout the sunny seasons.
  8. Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans): Abundant nectar fills large trumpet-shaped blooms, beckoning hummingbirds in sun-soaked splendor.
  9. Liatris (Liatris spicata): Unique flower spikes extend a late summer feast to hummingbirds, ensuring their vibrant presence.
  10. Hollyhock (Alcea): Tall and vibrant, hollyhocks form a picturesque backdrop as hummingbirds revel in their colorful blooms.
  11. Fall Flourish: 11. Crocosmia (Crocosmia): Vivid funnel-shaped flowers persist through late summer into fall, a hummingbird’s paradise.
  12. Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.): Pendant blossoms entice hummingbirds well into fall, a prelude to their migratory journey.
  13. Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): Striking red blooms emerge in late summer, a guiding light for hummingbirds preparing to depart.

Late Bloomers: Attracting Hummingbirds Even in Late August

  1. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata): A shrub graced with red berries persisting through winter—ideal for USDA zones 4-9.
  2. Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa): Bursting with pink or red springtime blooms, a fitting choice for USDA zones 5-9.
  3. Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis): Clusters of pink spring flowers adorn this shrub, flourishing in USDA zones 5-8.
  4. Viburnum (Viburnum spp.): A multitude of varieties—white, pink, or blue blooms spanning spring to summer, welcoming in USDA zones 3-9.
  5. Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens): This evergreen shrub boasts fragrant yellow flowers gracing late winter and spring and flourishing in USDA zones 7-9.

 Remember, region-specific conditions influence each plant’s success. By weaving these selections, you craft a year-round haven, drawing these captivating birds back repeatedly. 

In the hustle and bustle of life, I’ve discovered something truly remarkable about these little warriors: hummingbirds have this incredible ability to make us appreciate the magic that exists all around us. They teach us to slow down, to savor the fleeting moments, and to find joy in the world’s enchantment. So why not add a touch of vibrant beauty to your backyard? Mix up some sweet nectar, sit back, and let nature’s tiniest miracles transform your space. By embracing these insights, you’ll be creating an extraordinary hummingbird haven where nature’s wonders come to life in the most delightful way.

And there you have it, the world of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds unveiled in all its glory. From their vibrant morning buzz to their mesmerizing aerial dance of love, these little dynamos have so much to share. By embracing their presence in our lives and taking simple steps to welcome them – from planting the right blooms to choosing the perfect feeders – we open ourselves to a world of wonder right in our own backyard. So, as you gather your colors, mix up that sweet sugar water, and watch these tiny creatures zip and zoom, remember that the magic of nature is never far away. Happy hummingbird hosting!

Curious Hummingbird taking Selfies

Wild Neighbors: Antlers, Feathers & Paws Unveiled

Welcome to The Earthy Alchemist’s first installment of “Wild Neighbors: Antlers, Feathers & Paws Unveiled,” where we embark on a captivating journey into the enchanting world of wildlife thriving right on our doorstep at Marleywood, nestled in central New Hampshire. No need for hiking boots or mosquito netting, and leave your pack behind – just grab a tasty beverage, sit back, and let’s set out on an extraordinary adventure!

I’m beyond thrilled to share with you the hidden stories and mesmerizing visuals captured through the lens of our trail cameras and my camera. Every time we retrieve the camera cards, I am filled with awe at the privileged glimpses I get of the secret lives of our “Wild Neighbors.” The woods are teeming with wonder, and together, we will uncover the magic that lies just beyond our doorsteps – a realm where wildlife thrives, and the spirit of nature dances freely.

A bear walking up to our house one morning through the berry field

Find a cozy spot to nestle into and prepare to be immersed in the captivating world of wild America. Here on the mountain, we share our lives with a magnificent array of wildlife, including moose, bears, bobcats, deer, coyotes, porcupines, turkeys, raccoons, foxes, rabbits, groundhogs, and a myriad of birds. With each passing season, we have the delightful opportunity to witness the growth of adorable babies, and it’s especially thrilling to see so many twins being born on our mountain sanctuary. So, let the sights and stories unfold as we venture into the heart of Marleywood, discovering the marvels of the wilderness that surrounds us.

Black bear

Let’s start with the majestic Black Bear (Ursus americanus) – a symbol of untamed wilderness and strength. These powerful creatures roam our woods with grace, and their presence is a true testament to the resilience of nature. One fascinating fact about black bears is their remarkable ability to hibernate for long periods without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating.

Their metabolic rate reduces significantly during this time, allowing them to survive on fat reserves. This awe-inspiring behavior is nature’s way of coping with food scarcity during winter. When we go out with our dogs walking in the woods, I usually attach bear bells to them so that they make a little more noise than usual as we walk on our trails. If I walk alone – I tend to sing and make my presence known, not wanting to startle any wildlife around.

What a rack!

Next, we encounter the towering Moose (Alces alces) powerfully galloping through the woods. These magnificent animals are known for their impressive antlers, spanning up to six feet wide! The moose’s antlers are shed and regrown annually, with each set becoming larger and more intricate than the last. This constant renewal symbolizes life’s cyclical nature and the wild’s ever-changing beauty.

However, encountering a moose in the wild is not without its risks. Despite their seemingly calm demeanor, moose can be unpredictable and territorial. It’s important to keep a safe distance and admire them from afar, respecting their natural habitat. The awe-inspiring sight of a moose in its natural environment serves as a reminder of nature’s grandeur and our responsibility to protect and preserve these incredible creatures for future generations to admire.

The graceful Deer (Odocoileus spp.), whose superpower makes any forest look like a fashion runway. With their elegant leaps and graceful gait, they have inspired many runway walks in the animal kingdom. These beauties thrive in our woodlands, gracefully maneuvering through the dense underbrush, effortlessly leaping over fallen logs, and blending perfectly with their surroundings. It is truly a sight to behold as they navigate the forest with poise and elegance.

Many times, we have witnessed the heartwarming scene of a newborn fawn stumbling after their mama. These precious babies are adorned with delicate white spots, creating a striking contrast against their reddish-brown coats. It’s a true testament to the wonders of nature, watching these tiny creatures take their very first steps and eagerly follow their mother’s lead. As they grow, we see them develop into magnificent individuals, and it’s always a joy to witness the bucks as they proudly showcase their impressive antlers, a symbol of their strength and maturity.

The deer truly captivate us with their beauty and grace. They remind us of the marvels that abound in the natural world and the significance of safeguarding and appreciating the diverse ecosystems that sustain their existence. Whether we encounter them in the wild or simply admire their elegance from afar, the Deer will forever hold a special place in our hearts as symbols of resilience, enchantment, and the innate splendor of the environment.

They never look a the camera when you want them to

Among the shadows, we find the elusive Bobcat (Lynx rufus), a master of stealth and camouflage. These solitary felines are known for their distinctive tufted ears and short, bobbed tails. With a body length ranging from 2 to 4 feet and weighing between 15 to 30 pounds, bobcats may appear small in comparison to their larger feline relatives. However, don’t be fooled by their size, as their strength and agility make them formidable hunters.

A fascinating fact about bobcats is their exceptional hunting skills – they can leap up to 10 feet in pursuit of prey, thanks to their powerful hind legs. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, and mice, but they are also known to prey on larger animals like deer when the opportunity arises. Despite their solitary nature, bobcats have a wide distribution across North America, including the forests and woodlands of New Hampshire. In fact, New Hampshire is home to a significant number of bobcats, to the point where many sightings of these elusive creatures have been reported. However, it’s essential to note that some individuals may mistake bobcats for mountain lions, as the latter also exist in the state, albeit in lesser numbers. The key differences lie in their size and tails, as bobcats can appear imposing until seen next to a mountain lion, an encounter that is a rarity in the wilds of New Hampshire.

Male turkey strutting his stuff on our driveway

In the heart of the wilderness, wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) captivate us with their vibrant plumage and fascinating behaviors. The males, known as toms, proudly display their extravagant feathers, transforming themselves into living works of art. Their flamboyant courtship rituals include a delicate dance, with heads held high, tail feathers fanned out, and wings slightly lowered. This display is both a declaration of dominance and an invitation for the females to admire their beauty.

Beyond their stunning appearance, wild turkeys play a crucial role in the forest ecosystem. Foraging on the forest floor, they help control insect populations by gobbling up insects, grubs, seeds, and berries. Their ability to adapt to various habitats across North America showcases their resilience in the face of challenges such as habitat loss and predation. Wild turkeys remind us of the intricate beauty of the natural world and the importance of preserving biodiversity.

Bluebird in March

The songbirds that grace these woods are a constant source of wonder. From scarlet tanagers to grosbeaks, goldfinches, and bluebirds, their vibrant colors and beautiful songs never cease to amaze me. The hummingbirds are particularly enchanting as they zip through the air, their iridescent feathers glistening in the sunlight.

Sadly, these beloved songbirds are under increasing threats like habitat loss and climate change. It’s crucial that we act now to protect them. By creating bird-friendly environments and reducing harmful chemicals, we can make a meaningful difference. Let’s cherish the beauty and melodies of these feathered wonders and ensure their presence for generations to come.

Finally, not to be forgotten, we glimpse the elusive Coyote (Canis latrans), a symbol of adaptability and survival. These clever creatures are highly resourceful and have successfully adapted to various habitats, including urban environments. Coyotes are the original “foodies” of the animal kingdom – they can eat almost anything! They’re on a never-ending culinary adventure, trying out all the latest “farm-to-forest” delicacies. Coyotes are crucial in controlling rodent populations, maintaining a delicate balance within ecosystems. I am grateful we haven’t come upon any while we are out and about with our dogs, though. I’ve seen what they can do to a fawn.

Looks like the coyote has spotted the camera

As we bid farewell to this unforgettable journey, let us embrace the wisdom of John Muir: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” With these profound words resonating in our souls, let us embark on a new path of discovery and awe. May the wonders of the natural world continue to reveal themselves to us, enriching our lives and nurturing our spirits. Let’s wander through the enchanted landscapes, embracing the harmony and serenity that nature offers. Together, we can find solace in the wilderness and create lasting memories in the magnificence of the captivating wildlife of Marleywood.

Thank you for joining me on this captivating journey through the enchanting world of “Wild Neighbors: Antlers, Feathers & Paws Unveiled” at Marleywood. I appreciate your time and curiosity in exploring the extraordinary wildlife thriving on our doorstep. This was just a quick glimpse into the wonders of nature here on the mountain. I invite you to return for more fascinating tales and breathtaking visuals as I continue to uncover the hidden wonders of nature. Until next time, embrace the magic of the wild and let your spirits soar. Happy adventuring!

Compost for Change – My Path to a Greener Lifestyle -How We Diverted 2,205 Metric Tons of Food Waste

Are there things you try to practice daily to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

Mark and I have been on a remarkable sustainability journey for the past decade. Every day, we diligently compost our food scraps and waste. Knowing that there’s a distinction between the two is important. Food scraps are the remnants of the meals we’ve enjoyed, while food waste represents the uneaten and discarded portions. It’s alarming to realize that a staggering 40% of all food in the United States goes to waste, generating a mind-boggling 135 million tons of emissions. This colossal problem stems from the food we never even savored but instead allowed to go to waste.

Rotten fruit and vegetables, farmers waste, unsustainable agriculture concept.

When we founded Homegrown Harvest in 2011, our mission was crystal clear: to live a more sustainable lifestyle ourselves and inspire others to do the same. We embarked on a journey of selling, installing, and nurturing raised bed gardens to encourage and educate people about the significance of growing their own food. I would often take the stage to deliver engaging lectures on gardening and composting, spreading the message of sustainability far and wide.

Composting, as we soon discovered, could be quite a challenging endeavor. It had its fair share of messiness, odors, and time-consuming aspects. If not done correctly, it could turn into a toxic mess, attracting critters from all corners of the woods. We initially followed the traditional cold process, mixing, mashing, and repeating, but it took an eternity to obtain usable compost. Winter posed another obstacle, making composting nearly impossible depending on where one lived. The barriers to ease and success were abundant, frustrating our composting ambitions.

“Composting is not only about recycling waste; it’s about creating life. It’s a way of honoring the cycle of nature and nourishing the earth that sustains us.”

-Beth Ojczyk, Composting enthusiast

While running Homegrown Harvest, I constantly sought out companies offering sustainable solutions. That’s when I stumbled upon a great Canadian company that manufactured a game-changing machine called FoodCycler. No larger than a bread machine, this compact device could sit right on your kitchen counter, transforming food scraps and waste into compost. With FoodCycler, you can instantly replenish your garden with nutrient-rich compost. Collecting your food scraps and waste in the cast iron container, starting the process in the FoodCycler, the machine would heat the food, eliminating harmful molds and bacteria, and pulverize it into compost. The beauty of it was that even meat, poultry, and fish scraps were welcome, bones included. Vitamix acquired the company a few years back, revamping the design, and while we have yet to try the new version, it’s heartening to witness companies focusing on such innovative products. I’ve heard of another company called Lume with a similar product, but I have yet to have the chance to explore it. It’s incredibly inspiring to witness these companies addressing a solvable problem, offering consumers a tangible way to live more sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint.

During our early FoodCycler days, we were still raising three kids, two in high school and one living with us. As a family of five, our garbage output was substantial. However, with two FoodCyclers running daily, we found solace in having a system that worked for us before moving to New Hampshire. Given the local wildlife, harsh winters, and subzero temperatures, outdoor composting was simply out of the question.

Our town boasts an impressive recycling and refuse center, segregating our waste into at least eight categories. We separate burnable items, including food scraps and waste, aluminum foil, batteries, plastic, glass, cans, cardboard, and newspapers/magazines. This comprehensive recycling system occupies three of my kitchen cabinets and requires a minimum of two trash cans per room, even in the bathrooms. Everything that ascends the mountain eventually makes its way back down. By subtracting food scraps and waste, we significantly reduce the amount of garbage we haul to the dump each week.

It’s vital to understand that when food ends up in landfills, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. People often overlook this fact, assuming that since food is biodegradable, there’s no harm in tossing it in the garbage—it’s not like plastic, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way. The problem lies in the way landfills operate. Initially, food waste undergoes aerobic decomposition, releasing minimal methane in the first year. However, the trouble arises afterward when anaerobic conditions set in, and bacteria decompose the waste, producing copious amounts of methane as the food slowly breaks down.

Landfill with burning trash piles. Environment pollution concept. Birds flying over the trash dump

Sadly, landfills and wastewater globally contribute to a staggering 67 million metric tons of methane emissions, accounting for 20% of all methane released. The climate impact of methane is significant, as it possesses global warming potential 25 times higher than carbon dioxide and is a whopping 84 times more potent in the first two decades.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that throwing away just one pound of food results in a staggering 3.8 pounds of methane gas. Applying this calculation to our composting efforts, Mark and I conservatively estimate that we composted approximately 1.5 pounds of food scraps and waste daily, which adds up to at least 547.5 pounds of food per year. Over ten years, we prevented a jaw-dropping 5,475 pounds or 2,205 metric tons of food scraps and waste from reaching the landfill. That’s thousands of tons—tremendous amounts of sustainable impact. This equates to 20,805 pounds or 9.437 metric tons (10.4 short tons) of methane we diverted from polluting our atmosphere.

Nowadays, whenever I travel, a sense of guilt washes over me when I have to dispose of food scraps or waste into a non-compostable bin. It’s one of the simplest ways everyone can contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle and care for our planet. Our kids, too, have embraced the benefits of the FoodCycler, even using it in their apartments. They’ve discovered it’s cleaner than letting food waste sit around in the garbage can; even throwing the compost in the trash is a better alternative than filling the landfill. I hope more companies focus on creating manageable and affordable home composting solutions. Moreover, companies in the food industry should be held accountable for composting, considering the significant amount of food waste generated by restaurants and other food-related businesses. Adopting simple measures like these could result in a substantial reduction in methane emissions.

Renowned environmentalist Wangari Maathai once said, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” Living a sustainable lifestyle is our opportunity to embrace this new level of consciousness and leave a positive mark on our planet for generations.

Elevate Your Salsa Game with 11 Peppers with the Earthy Alchemist

Unleashing the Flavors of Pepper Paradise

Welcome to Pepper Paradise, where peppers of all varieties come together to create sensational salsas. Join me, the Earthy Alchemist, on a journey through the world of salsa-making as we explore the distinct flavors and heat levels of these 11 carefully selected peppers. Each pepper has unique qualities that transform your salsa into a flavor-packed masterpiece. Let’s dive in!

We recently completed this year’s planting on the mountain in our pepper-infused garden oasis, nestled against a stonewall with a canoe brimming with bags of soil. Spring got away from me, and I realized I had missed ordering some of the fantastic peppers that made last season’s salsa batch a true delight. However, I’ve sourced an array of peppers bound to elevate our salsa game and add a personal touch to your culinary adventures. These peppers have been carefully chosen based on their unique flavors, heat levels, and my own experiences. Let’s delve into this pepper paradise and uncover how they can help you create great salsas that will tantalize your taste buds.

  1. Hungarian Wax: Bursting with vibrant yellow hues, these peppers add a tangy kick and subtle sweetness to your salsa. Their medium heat level strikes the perfect balance for those seeking a flavorful yet milder salsa experience. I managed to get my hands on some of these for this year’s garden.
  2. Ghost Pepper: Brace yourself for an intense, fiery encounter! These red-hot peppers boast a scorching heat that will awaken even the most daring taste buds. I was thrilled to pick up a 6-pack of these for this year’s salsa! Approach with caution and savor the thrill of the spiciest salsa adventure.
  3. Cayenne: A timeless classic in the salsa world, cayenne peppers bring moderate heat and a distinctive smoky flavor. Their versatility allows them to harmonize beautifully with other ingredients, adding depth and complexity to your salsa. I breathed a sigh of relief when I managed to grab the last 6-pack of these.
  4. Jalapeno: No salsa is complete without the iconic jalapeno pepper. Known for its medium heat and bright, zesty flavor, this beloved pepper brings a familiar kick that will transport your taste buds to salsa heaven. Unfortunately, I’ll have to depend on my local farmstands to deliver these for this season as they were sold out at the nursery.
  5. Barbados: Hailing from a habanero lineage, Barbados peppers are a treasure trove of medium-thick flesh that transitions from a pale green to a passionate red. Their fiery essence and a touch of tropical nostalgia will infuse your salsa with vibrant flavors and fond memories. These peppers have been an excellent addition to our salsa in the past, bringing back fond memories of our vacation to the island years ago.
  6. Ring of Fire: Perfectly suited for early-season salsa-making, these hot cayenne peppers offer a thin flesh that matures from green to a fiery red. Their robust flavor and heat make them ideal for crafting zesty salsas and flavor-packed powders. They were so good and another fantastic addition to last year’s salsa.
  7. Dragon’s Claws: Unleash the captivating allure of these midseason medium cayenne peppers. With lengths of up to 10 inches, they boast a smoky intensity when roasted, infusing your salsa with a tantalizing depth of flavor that will leave you yearning for more. They were so good and another fantastic addition to last year’s salsa.
  8. Candy Cane Red Hybrid: Add a touch of sweetness and visual flair to your salsa with these stunning peppers. As their medium-thick flesh transitions from green with yellow stripes to a fiery red, their distinct flavor profile will complement and enhance your salsa’s overall appeal. They were so good and another fantastic addition to last year’s salsa.
  9. Sigaretto Di Bergamo: Embrace the rich heritage of Italian cuisine with these peppers that mature from green to brownish before revealing their vibrant red hue. With their length of 4.5 inches, they’re a perfect choice for pickling or providing a delightful crunch when fried or stir-fried. They pair deliciously with steak. But good in salsa too.
  10. Yummy Orange & Yummy Red: Despite their small size, these pendant-shaped peppers pack an extraordinary sweetness that will surprise and delight your taste buds. Their radiant orange and dazzling red colors add visual appeal and flavor to any salsa creation. They were so good and another fantastic addition to last year’s salsa.

Now that we’ve explored these peppers’ remarkable qualities let’s put them to good use in a simple and delicious salsa recipe. Here’s a personal favorite that encompasses the flavors of these 11 peppers while leaving room for your creativity to shine:

garlic searing in pot as tomatoes get ready to be sliced up and added to the pot

I started making my salsa for canning using The Best Homemade Salsa for Canning as a base. I don’t bother to remove the skins since the skin of a tomato can provide additional nutritional benefits and it saves some steps and mess. Plus, I don’t have a freezer that has a working ice-maker so ice is a luxury until I get a new refrigerator with a working ice maker. First-world problems. I also add more peppers but here’s were I like to layer in the heat.

Xine’s Salsa
A Modified version of The Best Homemade Salsa for Canning by Alex Caspero

Cook Time : 60 minutes, Total time : 1 hour, 30 minutes
yield: 7-8 Pints

9 cups chopped tomatoes
3 cups, bell peppers (green, red, yellow – any combination or one of each)
3 cups chopped white onion
4 jalapeños – chopped – with seeds for hot
2-4 other peppers of varying heat like Yummy Red or Candy Cane Red with Dragon’s Claw and Ring of Fire – the key is a little sweet with some heat – a little goes a long way
8 cloves garlic, chopped
6 teaspoons canning salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 can (12 oz) tomato paste)

  1. Chop up your ingredients and have them in separate bowls to easy, quick access.
  2. Place ingredients in a 10 qt. saucepan or spaghetti pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Taste. Add spices as needed. Personal preference – everyone is different. I hate cilantro but if you like it throw it in. Taste like soap to me. I buy a lot of our spices from The Spice House and have been known to throw in some Ukrainan Village – a Bell Pepper blend, Hot Roasted Tomato Flakes and /or some Aleppo Pepper flakes in. (I have no affiliation to Spice House, I just like their stuff.)
  3. When salsa is done – add to jars and either can using water bath method or pressure-cooker

I’ve whipped up countless gallons of this incredible salsa recipe, it’s a breeze to make and delightful to behold! There’s something truly special about using vibrant, freshly harvested produce that adds an extra touch of beauty to the dish. Our garden has an abundance of luscious yellow tomatoes, which are lower in acid and make a perfect addition to the salsa.

One of my favorite parts of the salsa-making process is canning it. A sense of pure joy and satisfaction fills my heart as I seal those jars, knowing that I’m preserving our homemade goodness for the future. And when my kids come to visit, it warms my soul to send them off with a few jars of this homemade treasure. It’s a gift from the heart, filled with love and flavors that remind them of home. I can’t make enough of it – we eat all throughout the year – devouring it on Taco Tuesdays in particular.

¡Vamonos! Let’s go! It’s time to wrap up our spicy journey through Pepper Paradise. But fear not, for the salsa adventure doesn’t stop here. Stay tuned for more personal anecdotes, mouthwatering recipes, and captivating tales of peppers in future editions of The Earthy Alchemist. Let these peppers be your companions as you explore flavors and create salsas that will make your friends and family ask for more. The spirit of salsa is alive and vibrant, ready to infuse your meals with a touch of spice and a whole lot of joy!

As we bid farewell to our pepper-infused garden oasis, let’s take a moment to appreciate the mindfulness and health benefits of gardening. There’s something gratifying about feeling the dirt under your fingernails and inhaling the aroma of rosemary on your fingertips—a reminder of our deep connection to nature. And now, we must exercise patience and tend to our plants, knowing that the rewards will come in due time. Through gardening, we learn valuable lessons about patience, care, and being fully present in the tasks at hand. As we tend to our plants, we become attuned to their needs, observing their growth and responding to their requirements. This process encourages us to slow down, appreciate the present moment, and cultivate a sense of mindfulness.

Kona is one of the unpredictable things I find in our garden

Additionally, the unpredictability and occasional surprises that arise in gardening can bring a sense of humor to our journey. Whether it’s a mischievous squirrel nibbling on our vegetables or a flower blooming in an unexpected spot, these lighthearted moments remind us to embrace nature’s joy and spontaneity. Gardening, therefore, becomes a holistic experience that nourishes our souls, connects us to the natural world, and adds a touch of laughter to our lives.

So, my fellow salsa enthusiasts, take care, be patient, and tend to your gardens with love. Embrace the joy of watching your plants thrive and eagerly anticipate the bountiful harvest that awaits. In the meantime, let’s keep our taste buds tingling with the sensational salsas we create from the peppers we’ve gathered. Happy salsa-making, my friends! May your culinary adventures be filled with laughter, deliciousness, and a sprinkle of spice. ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy your meal!

The Earthy Alchemist: 10 Reasons to Embrace Harmonious Alliances in Your Garden

Unlock the Potential of Your Garden with Companion Planting

Welcome to the captivating realm of the Earthy Alchemist’s garden, where plants sway and dance in perfect harmony. As I prepare to venture into my rain-soaked garden, ready to conquer the unpredictable working conditions that nature throws my way, there’s one tool I can’t overlook: the trusted companion planting chart. Before I immerse myself in the muddy trenches, let’s delve into the secrets of companion planting. Together, we’ll unlock the full potential of our gardens and discover the ten compelling reasons why this enchanting technique reigns supreme. So, grab your gardening gear, step into the Earthy Alchemist’s world, and let’s embark on a horticultural adventure like no other!

Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and marigolds

10 Reasons to Embrace Harmonious Alliances in Your Garden

  1. Natural Pest Control: Certain companion plants act as natural repellents, deterring pests and reducing the need for chemical pesticides. For instance, marigolds repel nematodes, while aromatic herbs like rosemary and sage ward off harmful insects.
  2. Improved Soil Health: Through the clever pairing of plants, companion planting enhances soil fertility and structure. Nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes (e.g., beans and peas) enrich the soil with this vital nutrient, benefiting neighboring plants.
  3. Maximizing Space: Companion planting allows you to make the most of limited garden space. Growing vertically or intercropping compatible plants can achieve a higher yield in a smaller area.
  4. Increased Biodiversity: By cultivating diverse plant communities, companion planting promotes biodiversity in your garden. This attracts beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predators of garden pests, creating a thriving ecosystem.
  5. Weed Suppression: Some companion plants act as natural weed suppressors, crowding out unwanted plants and reducing the need for manual weeding. Examples include ground-covering plants like clover or vining crops that shade the soil.
  6. Enhanced Nutrient Uptake: Certain plants have root systems that complement each other, allowing for efficient nutrient uptake. For instance, deep-rooted plants bring up nutrients from lower soil layers, benefiting shallow-rooted plants growing nearby.
  7. Extended Harvest: By strategically pairing early- and late-maturing crops, you can extend your harvest season. Utilize the space left by harvested plants to sow new seeds or transplant seedlings for continuous production.
  8. Natural Shade and Support: Taller companion plants can provide shade and support for their shorter counterparts. For example, sun-sensitive plants like lettuce can benefit from the shade provided by taller plants like corn or sunflowers.
  9. Flavor Enhancement: Companion planting can enhance the flavor of certain crops. For instance, aromatic herbs like basil or thyme planted near tomatoes can impart their fragrant essence, elevating the taste of your harvest.
  10. Aesthetically Pleasing Gardens: You can create visually appealing garden designs with companion planting. Combine plants with different heights, textures, and colors to craft stunning and harmonious arrangements that please both the eye and the soul.
Zinnias and Sunflowers

By embracing the ancient art of companion planting and tapping into the hidden powers of these ten compelling reasons, you’re about to become a gardening alchemist extraordinaire! Prepare to unleash a symphony of growth and abundance as your plants dance in perfect harmony. With the Earthy Alchemist as your guide, let your hands work their magic and embark on this enchanting journey. Watch in awe as your garden transforms into a breathtaking tapestry of flourishing companionship, where plants thrive and create a botanical masterpiece that will leave your neighbors green with envy!

Friends Benefits and InsightsFoes a.k.a.
Incompatible Pairings
Asparagus + Basil/ParsleyBasil/Parsley attracts beneficial insects that prey on pests that may affect asparagus, such as aphids or beetles.Asparagus + Garlic/ Onions/Potatoes
Basil + PeppersBasil and peppers make fantastic companions. Basil’s strong scent can help repel aphids, spider mites, and other pests that may bother pepper plants. Plus, the combination of basil and peppers in various dishes adds a delicious culinary twist.Basil + Rue/Sage
Beans + Corn Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, benefiting corn growthBeans + Onions
Beets + Swiss ChardSwiss chard and beets are close relatives and make excellent companions. They have similar growth requirements and can be planted together to create a visually appealing garden bed. Swiss chard’s vibrant leaves can also provide some shade and protection to the developing beet roots.Beets + Pole Beans
Cabbage Family + Aromatic HerbsA variety of aromatic herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, and sage, make great companions for the cabbage family. These herbs repel pests like cabbage worms and can help deter harmful insects from damaging the cabbage plants.tomatoes, strawberries, pole beans, peppers, eggplants, grapes, lettuce
Carrots + Onions Onions deter carrot flies, while carrots repel onion maggotsCarrots + Dill/Parsley
Cucumbers + RadishesRadishes repel cucumber beetles, protecting cucumber vinesCucumbers + Potatoes 
Lettuce + Chives Chives repel aphids, protecting lettuce from infestationLettuce + Parsley/Cabbage Family/Strawberries
Marigolds + CucumbersMarigolds repel pests like aphids, while cucumbers provide a climbing structure for marigolds to grow vertically. This combination maximizes space utilization and promotes a visually appealing garden.Marigolds + Cabbage Family/Potato
Onion + BeetsBeets help repel onion pests and also benefit from the onion’s pest-repellent properties. Planting beets near onions can create a mutually beneficial environment, enhancing the growth and health of both plants.Onion + Asparagus
Root Crops + MarigoldMarigolds repel nematodes, protecting root crops like carrots, parsnips, turnips…Root Veggies + Potato/Onion/Garlic/Pole Beans/Fennel
Tomatoes + MarigoldsMarigolds repel nematodes, improving tomato healthTomatoes + Potatoes

Peas + CarrotsCarrots help improve the soil structure by loosening it, making it easier for pea roots to penetrate.Peas + Garlic/Onion/Alliums
Peppers + Tomato“Salsa Companions” They have similar growing requirements, can be planted together, creating a visually appealing and productive garden bed, provide shade to each other’s lower leaves, reducing weed growth and conserving moisture.Pepper + Fennel/Cabbage Family
Spinach + StrawberriesStrawberries provide shade, keeping spinach cool and moistSpinach + Cabbage Family
Roses + Garlic Garlic deters aphids and repels black spot disease on rosesRoses + Potatoes
Sunflowers + ZinniasSunflowers attract beneficial insects that control pestsSunflowers + Pole Beans
Squash + NasturtiumsNasturtiums deter squash bugs and attract pollinatorsSquash + Potatoes
Tomato + Basil 

Basil repels pests that afflict tomatoes; both enhance flavor. Basil repels pests that afflict tomatoes; both enhance flavorTomato + Cabbage Family/Corn/Potato/Fennel

You can download a printable version by clicking the download link below.

Tomatoes and Marigolds

As we bid farewell, remember that the magic of companion planting continues to unfold in every garden. The Earthy Alchemist invites you to explore the vast possibilities of harmonious alliances and unlock the hidden potential of your own little Eden. May your plants grow strong, your harvests be bountiful, and the bond between nature and your garden flourish with every season. Until we meet again, may your hands be blessed with the touch of the Earth and your heart be filled with the joy of tending to your botanical companions. Happy gardening!