Feeding our feathered friends in winter

The arrival of ‘proper’ winter weather has seen the usual flurry of wild bird activity in our garden. I see robins fluffed up like pompoms and black birds looking huge – thank goodness they have such great insulation in their feathers. But it’s important we look after our garden birds throughout the winter months, especially now as so many of them are under threat.

Garden birds need extra nourishment to keep them warm, just as we do and, as I know you are all so keen on cooking and ‘making’, I thought you’d love to have a go at making your own winter bird feeders!

All you need is vegetable suet, or lard, bird seed mix and empty yogurt pots.

Mix one part suet to two parts seed, transfer to a saucepan and gently heat until the fat melts.

Next, make a small hole in the bottom of each pot and thread some twine through to tie the feeder to a tree branch. Pour the mixture into the pots – do this on a tray or baking sheet so if any fat leaks through the hole it won’t damage anything. Set overnight in the fridge, then simply remove the pot and hang up outside.

Don’t forget their water in winter. I keep a stock of old plastic post and cartons from packaging that I fill with water and weight down with a stone to ensure they always have fresh unfrozen water.

Finally, hygiene is very important – when a large number of birds are attracted into an area to feed, the danger of disease increases. Prevention is always better than a cure, and is the best thing you can do to help the birds.

The RSPB has lots of useful information about bird feeding and advice on how to keep everything clean. Click here to find out what they suggest

http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/hygiene.aspx

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Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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No need to shell out!

I hate throwing things away, especially natural things, so I’m always interested in ideas for recycling. Egg shells are of course lovely things in their own right, and we’ve talked about blowing and painting them before… but what about the typical broken egg shells that we throw away every day after we’ve used the eggs?

My Hen Pal, Julia Wherrell obviously has lots of eggshells and has some interesting ideas on what to do with them, plus some ideas she’s been told by other hen enthusiasts… see what you make of these…

1. Sprinkle broken up eggshell around your garden to deter pests

Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell, I find it works really well.

2. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost

Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem and it’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. A very successful veg gardener friend of mine puts eggshells in the bottom of the hole when he plants out his tomatoes to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year as my tomatoes were rubbish this year!

3. Use them to start seedlings

I think this is a lovely idea, especially if you are short of space. Give your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells! An egg box fits perfectly on a small windowsill so use this to hold your eggshells. They need to be at least half shell in size, so try and remember that when you’re next cracking some eggs, rinse them clean and then plant up your seedlings as normal but obviously, best to stick to smaller things, like herbs. When you come to plant out, gently crush the shell as you plant it and it will decompose in the soil around your plant.

4. Compost them

Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your compost bin.

5. Sow directly into the soil

If you don’t have time, energy or inclination to compost, simply dig crushed shells directly into your garden. It’s still better than just chucking them out!

 

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