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Pigeon Garden
Alejandro on the balcony
Alejandro on the balcony
A few years back, inspired by Amma’s inDeed Campaign for Nature, we started planting vegetables indoors and on the balcony. My first year I grew some amazing baby kale that was quickly consumed by aphids and caterpillars. At least someone enjoyed it.

The growing season is short in Canada, so eventually we started planting seeds indoors using recycled clear plastic containers that act like a mini greenhouse. We’d then move the seedlings outdoors when the spring temperatures were high enough. In the summer, our balcony is covered in recycled pots and buckets, full of growing veggies.

The harvest is small but satisfying. We’ve learned that chili pepper plants are beautiful, bountiful, and quite resistant to insects. We don’t eat hot peppers, but can usually find enough people to gift them to. Cherry tomatoes were great one year, but had a much smaller yield the next, so we learned to rotate crops and plant something different in that soil the next year. Chives are another resilient plant that just grow back automatically next year with next to no effort.

Recycled plastic greenhouse
Recycled plastic greenhouse

Last year our balcony garden reached its highest peak. We grew a single cob of corn, lettuce and arugula (enough to make one salad!), a few sweet red peppers, lots of basil (enough for a few batches of pesto), a carrot, a sweet potato, a good amount of green peas and tomatoes, three tiny strawberries, asparagus, green onions, and plenty of flowers.

Every year is a new experiment. We’ve mostly learned to enjoy the journey and not be too attached to the results. This year, in the early spring, before we started planting, some pigeons started frequenting our balcony. We tried to gently dissuade them from coming (sad but true fact: pigeons are not well-loved in the city), but they were persistent. They made a nest, and before we knew it, they laid two eggs.


Pigeon eggs
Pigeon eggs

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At that point, we surrendered. If the pigeons were going to create new lives there, we’d make sure they were okay. It was around this time, too, that schools closed in our city (due to Covid19), and we found ourselves quarantined at home with an eight-year old boy and nothing to do. I turned the pigeons into a multidisciplinary project. My son had to keep an observation journal, combining writing skills and biology. We did research together, for the sake of his project, and learned a ton about pigeons.

The male and female share responsibility. The female spends a bit more time on the nest, from early evening to mid-morning, and the male sits on the nest in the daytime. The male tended to fly away any time he caught sight of us, but the female was more determined to stay put. Perhaps she had a bit more motherly instinct. The two were very coordinated together though. It took 18 days for the eggs to hatch.

Mama pigeon sits on her bab
Mama pigeon sits on her baby

When they hatched, the baby birds were tiny pink things with poky yellow feathers. At first, the parent pigeons sat on them all day long, still taking turns. Soon they grew enough that their little bodies would be visible underneath the parent, and eventually, the parents started leaving them alone for hours at a time.

My son played a game with the babies, where he would stand at a distance (to not scare them), and jump up and then squat down. The baby birds would copy him. When he went up, they went up; when he went down, they went down. It was cute to watch, and gave him a little something extra to do during the lockdown.

The babies got braver, and after several weeks, they could walk out of the nest and tour the balcony. When their parents were around, they’d hop back into the nest and chirp excitedly.

The babies look a bit like Frankenstein birds, with misshapen legs, adult wings, and baby heads. They made us laugh.

Just hatched pigeons
Just hatched pigeons

Yesterday we looked outside and saw no birds. I didn’t think I’d miss them when they finally flew away, but there’s a part of me that really grew to enjoy those pigeons. In all our research, we learned to respect pigeon ways and I see them with new eyes now. Ironically, we had tried to shoo them away at first, mostly because of the mess they create. But when we let them be to have their nest, they stayed in one spot and the rest of our balcony stayed clean.

Elsewhere in the city, I’ve seen pigeons make a nest using bits of garbage and plastic. I think this is a reflection of our environment, more so than of the birds. Given the choice, our balcony visitors used bits of our garden, like twigs and dried leaves, to build their nest. We were happy to be able to unexpectedly serve nature in this way.

Through our gardening and pigeon adventures, I’m reminded of Amma’s words "when we serve nature, nature serves us."

You don’t have to be an avid gardener or even have a beautiful space to start with. Just one little plant will start to transform even the smallest balcony or windowsill into a little patch of nature. You never know what might happen next.

- Natasha

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