Shortly after the first clutch of baby robins flew to the Mulberry Tree, I noticed Hector and Heloise “sneaking” nesting material into the hops vine on the opposite side of our yard from their 1st nest.  I know how territorial birds are, and also remembered reading that if the habitat is particularly good, birds will have multiple nests per season, so I wasn’t surprised.  This site, Project Nestwatch, says that Robins usually have 2 clutches per year, the second right after the first set fledges.  Which is just about what our Robins did, although I find it totally irritating that they chose the site that they did, because you cannot see the nest, it is so deeply buried in the hops.  I guess we annoyed them when we were incessantly watching and photographing them from the window for the last batch.  This current site does not to seem to me to be such a great spot, either.  It is right next to our driveway, and although we don’t drive down it, the kids ride their bikes and play right there, as well as I have potted tomato plants, and we kind of go in  and out and hang out right near the nest.  We were driving them absolutely nuts today, while I was trying to photograph them.  Too bad.  If they are going to nest in such a busy place, they are just going to have to get used to us.


When I went to check on the robin chicks yesterday morning I discovered that the nest was empty. After our sad loss last week, I feared the worst.  I immediately went outside and searched the entire area around the nest, but found nothing.  A little later in the morning, as I was refilling the bird bath, I looked up and there they were, in our Mulberry tree.  I hadn’t realize that they were that close to flying, because because their tail and wing feathers weren’t grown in yet.  But I guess they were ready, since their parents couldn’t have carried them.  That must have been quite a journey for them all, from the arbor on one side of our house, to the Mulberry Tree all the way back near our garage on the other side of our lot.  It’s got to be at least 75 feet, as the bird flies, so to speak.  What amazes me is how good Hector and Heloise’s timing was.  The Mulberry tree just ripened a couple of days before their chicks fledged.  Between the nest building, the courting, the incubation, the hatching and the fledging, about 6 weeks to 2 months must have passed.  It just leaves me in total awe of how the natural world flows in synchronicity.

That Mulberry tree is such an asset to the wildlife in our community.   It’s a weed tree and its existence entirely due to serendipity.  When we bought this house about 11 years ago, it was as tall as the forsythia border between our driveway and the property line.  I have fond memories of Mulberry trees, there were a few in the neighborhood where I grew up in the Bronx, so I just let it grow.  My neighbor wasn’t crazy about it because it cast too much shade on her border on the other side, so every spring I tried to prune it to keep it on our side.  In those days, it was too young to fruit though, and remembering the purple stained sidewalks of my childhood, I wasn’t sure that we’d want to keep the tree once it started to fruit.  But it was a fun project for me to hone my pruning skills on (as is forsythia).  The side benefit of that early pruning is a really cool branch structure, perfect for tree climbing.  Both my kids and the neighbor kids love getting up in there.  Fortunately it turned out to be a white mulberry tree, so although it does make a mess at this time of the year, the berries don’t stain.  And the wildlife LOVE it.  It’s absolutely insane how active that tree is at this time of the year.

In addition to our two beloved baby Robins, I’ve noticed several (2 – 4) newly fledged starlings in the tree.  It’s hard to differentiate fledglings from their parents, because they are almost the same size, but I’ve observed that they definitely don’t fly as well as the adults, they look like they have to work really hard at it.  The mulberries are a great food source for all kinds of birds, I’ve seen cardinals, sparrows, catbirds, mockingbirds, grackles, and mourning doves.  Song sparrows and gold finches are around too.  Mulberries are somewhat sweet, and have tons of seeds, which are a great source of protein.   I don’t like them much, they’re a bit bland, but my neighbors’ mom likes them.  They seem to be a new health food, too, I’ve seen packets of them dried in our local Whole Foods.  I just looked them up online and they are going for $7 to a whopping $15 a pound!  They are supposed to be a great source of vitamin C, iron, calcium, and protein.  I’ve read that cherry orchards plant mulberry trees because they fruit at the same time as cherries, but the birds like mulberries better, so they stay away from the cherries.  I have a young cherry tree, but the mulberries didn’t protect my cherries last year.  Maybe birds prefer the black mulberry.

What kind of monster do you think I am?  After researching catapults this evening with my 9 year old, the title of this post does sound like a dish that would be served at a European medieval banquet.  The idea of braised lettuce reared it’s ugly head again after I harvested all of my lettuce because of the threat of hot weather.  There was no way we’d be able to eat all of it as salads before it went bad.  So, I mentioned it to my Mom this morning and she told me that her Dad had made braised lettuce with peas, once, years ago, but the flavor was so amazing she’s never forgotten it.  I then turned to the helpful internet, first epicurious, and then a general google search for inspiration.  I had some aging leeks, so I sautéed them in oil and butter, then added the lettuces, 2 bibbs, quartered, plus some chicken broth, and cooked coverede at a low heat for about 20 minutes.  Even though I wasn’t convinced about the peas, I added them (frozen) at the end of cooking.  And the results?  Eh.  The first few bites were good, but then, I was quite hungry.  And they went well with the quick veal stroganoff I made to accompany it.  But after it sat on the plate for a while it lost something.  I think the lettuces might have started bolting before I picked them, and so the centers were bitter.  It definitely did not make me want to repeat the experiment.

This experience has reminded me of some of the challenges of learning how to be a good kitchen gardener.  The obvious one is learning how to plant so you have the right amount of produce that you like at the right time.  But honestly I think there will always be surpluses.  I’ve had some other “failed successes” over the years, and the failure is usually due to a kitchen failure  (i.e. my screw up).  Last year I tried snow peas, since I’ve found regular peas to be too much trouble, and take up too much room, for too long, for what you get.  I had a bumper crop.  However, I totally messed up cooking them.  I made a huge batch of shrimp with snow peas, but didn’t realize that you have to string the pods.  Yeah.  Disgusting.  The year before that I had a bumper crop of these beautiful Japanese eggplant, Fairy Tale.  But I had heard that you don’t need to salt Japanese eggplant to get rid of their bitterness, so I didn’t.  Mistake.  The sad thing is that I was totally turned off to both of these veggies because of my kitchen errors. I haven’t given up trying new stuff, although I have given up on snow peas and eggplant.  It’ll be a while before I try those again.

Finally I have to give all of you bird lovers out there an update on how our little darlings are doing.  They are great!  They’re getting their “big boy” feathers in, their wing and tail feathers are coming in, too, and they look like real birds now.  I tried to sneak over from the other side, off the patio, to get a shot, and got totally dive bombed by one of the parents.  Plus the little guys are so alert, they saw me coming and hunkered down into their nest for protection.  The best views of them are still from our sunroom window.  They are starting to stretch their wings and are constantly grooming themselves (they look itchy).  They are getting crowded in that nest too, I am primarily worried about one of them falling out.  Fortunately the nest is in a protected area, so the dog can’t get them if they do.  You’ve got to figure that they will be learning to fly by the end of the week.  It’s so exciting!

Two posts today!  Just a quick one to let any fellow baby bird lovers out there know how the little darlings are.  Even with the terrible rain we’ve been having they are doing great!  Heloise sat on them all through the worst of the rain, keeping them warm and dry.  They are getting big, and strong.  They kept poking her off of them, sticking their hungry beaks up.  My 9 year old and I spent about an hour watching them through the window, trying to capture the image.  We saw some amazing things, but unfortunately the camera wasn’t on.  The big moment came when after about two hours, Hector showed up with a huge beakful of worms and bugs.  Heloise took off immediately, I bet she was ready for a break.