Feeding and Watering the Birds

Art by Dean Crouser
Art by Dean Crouser

Winter around my part of the prairies is bitterly cold. Lately the daily high has only reached around -25C/-13F.
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Therefore, to look out my frosty kitchen window and see birds busily grooming, drinking water from our de-iced bird bath, and pecking at seeds is quite astonishing. How they manage such cold is impressive. I feel like the least we can do is offer them some food and water!
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The old lilac outside my kitchen window shelters a handmade bird feeding house (made by my eldest son when he was 12, with his dad). Up in the branches hang an old seed ball (too messy…) and a suet feeder (love these!). The daily entertainment and satisfaction my family gets from viewing the variety of local birds that come to feed and drink here is worth every penny.


ground-flicker-and-jayOffering a few peanuts is all it takes to get Blue Jays and Northern Flickers to visit my yard. Buying nuts in bulk helps keep costs down. After we get the huge bags home, we cut them open and pour into airtight (and rodent-proof) plastic bins and store them in the garage. I transfer a manageable supply to a couple of ‘upcycled’ yogurt containers to keep outdoors near the feeder.
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water-de-icerThe de-icer was bought at a local wild bird store but I’ve seen them at Amazon and elsewhere. A Google search should bring up local sources for you. They range from $50-$100 but if you enjoy watching wildlife, it’s worth it. The water is more popular than the food! Finding an unfrozen source of drinking water is challenging for birds in this winter weather.

Buried in snow

tiny tough SnowdropsIt is a northern gardener’s life to be unable to garden outdoors for half the year (or more). Just one of gardening’s many great lessons: patience. That and learning about cycles. Cycles of seasons, light and shadow, decay and rebirth. Of noticing migrating birds when they leave, and when they return again. When the massive queen bumblebees emerge and drowsily look for new dens to start this year’s hive, eliciting alarm as they buzz close by ears and again reacquaint us to the sound of buzzing creatures. And of the tenacious determination of green growing things, pushing through the soil and sometimes even, through snow.

This is what makes me so happy to plant flowering bulbs. I adore spring bulbs because I do it every autumn – almost – and they perk up into a spring-thawing but otherwise brown garden just when I need it most. March! Okay… April, but by March I’ve got some forced mini-bulbs growing indoors and am busy planning a tea party luncheon, but I digress.

Even in those years when autumn rushes right past in the blink of an eye, because Mother Nature was in a hurry and flung us from late summer right into winter with a massive September snowfall (like this past fall), I can rely on spring flowering bulbs to keep coming even if I fail to add to their numbers. If we gardeners select a zone-appropriate bulb that is resistant to grazing (ie: tastes unpleasant to animals) and plant it at the correct depth in the right location (read: if they’re ‘happy’) bulbs will continue blooming and even multiplying year after year with no further assistance from us, except maybe a handful or so of good compost and leaving their leaves alone. And of course to be remembered where they are and not get accidentally dug up!

But their greatest gift to me, as a northern gardener enduring far too many months of frozen lifeless ground, seems to happen to me every year around this time when I am feeling weary from the short daylight hours and not enough time spent outdoors, I find comfort in simply knowing they’re out there. Tiny little bundles of hope buried under the snow and soil… just waiting for the perfect time to brighten the world. My world. My yard.

I celebrate spring blooming bulbs! Tulips (which survive in a corner of our back yard with a high fence, not in the popular-for-grazing front), Chionodoxa ‘Glory-of-the-snow’, Narcissus ‘Daffodils’, Muscari ‘Grape Hyacinth’, tall purple Allium… plus their rhizome-cousins Crocus, Lily and Iris… your very presence brightens my heart. Even unseen, just knowing you’re there and that your bright faces will be blooming soon makes me happy on dreary winter days.

Luckily we can all buy them already blooming in containers to grace our kitchen table or bedside (talk to your florist and try to buy organic). And after having read that planting previously ‘forced’ bulbs in our gardens to be a lost cause, I’ve found that to be untrue. I had mini-daffodils and grape hyacinths forced in containers and once they were done blooming I put them in the garage, forgot about them for a couple of YEARS and then threw the pot contents into a wild corner of our backyard. They actually took root and grew! I now have a little patch of Tete-a-tete daffodils and Muscari that come back every spring. How cool is that? So if you have a patch of ground, throw those spent bulbs in and they may or may not come back, but why throw them in the garbage when, sometimes, they come back? Mind you bulbs hate to be ‘naked’ for long and the dormant ones I mentioned were in a dry pot of soil. I’ve tried this with bulbs I’d had left over in the package for a while without the same success.

Of course I adore all my perennials, shrubs and trees – in my own yards and everywhere – but nothing better beckons the coming of spring than the early-blooming bulbs.

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New Small Raised Beds

Summer is always such a fast season, isn’t it? What with the abundant sunshine and long days keeping us up late and all the outdoor chores to be done it certainly seems like time flies. I’ve been away from this lovely little blog for far too long and an update of what I’ve been up to is overdue.

Sharing photos of some of my garden areas seems like a great place to begin. A 14′ x 25′  sunny back corner of our property is where our old truck sat for many years. We’ve since learned the hard way that vehicles really don’t like to sit unused. Suspension, frame and brakes sadly rusted up and she’s off to her new home, a family member with a collection of Chevy’s that could really use the good parts such as tires, windshield, tranny, and more. I feel like we signed her ‘donor card’ and she’s now living on in other old trucks! But once the sentimentalizing passed I began planning what could be done in that old parking pad, and voila! Witness the birth of my small raised bed garden.

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While I’ve had some resistance to sharing my less-than-perfect shots of my far-from-perfect new garden area, I decided that my love for this reborn area just might show through in this post. Plus, enough procrastinating! Hopefully you’ll enjoy and even feel inspired to grab some 1-foot wide boards at the lumber store. These were 12-foot lengths that they cut three times so I could have four 3-foot lengths for each box. Then the soil was delivered in huge bags and we have some left over, waiting to be wheel-barrowed over to the front perennial beds. I’ll just add that to the ever-lengthening To Do list!

Four tomato plants are likely too many for this bed, especially with four pepper plants lined up along the front, and never mind the swath of marigolds being overcome. Ahh… it’ll be fine. Still need to get out there and do some tying up of these sprawling tomatoes but their enthusiasm and daily growth inspires me.

Once we added landscape fabric and bark mulch it’s been feeling cozy back there. The tough fabric helps thwart the weeds and the bench offers a shady spot to sit between waterings. Oh, right. The waterings! Yes I’ve learned how quickly raised beds dry out in hot weather so be prepared if you make small beds. Twice daily watering for these thirsty tomatoes, peppers, basil, beans and summer squash.

One of my favorite statues in our gardens, Saint Francis, tenderly holds a lamb as they stand in a spot that is slowly being overcome with another rogue raspberry plant. Nothing a few snips with the clippers can’t fix but the bees adore those berry blossoms so much that I know St. Francis would have understood a little waiting. Also is a length of fence with a collection of birdhouses and another fence section with a few uplifting adornments behind some tall stands of Hollyhocks and Giant Yellow Mullein over by one of the rain barrels. That precious water-saving barrel is nearly hidden in this photo but it’s there nonetheless, nicely shaded by these giant staples of any self-respecting unkempt cottage garden.

raspberry abundanceAnd what would summer be without an (over) abundance of raspberries! Luckily they freeze beautifully and are delicious and nutritious in all kinds of muffins, smoothies, shortcakes and jams. Well plus fresh too of course. Yummy! Even Nikki, my old blind dog can still find her way to the low-hanging ripe berries for a self-serve tasty treat. Funny dog.

So I truly hope you have enjoyed this wee tour about my humble backyard patch of heaven. This evolving area has been bringing me tremendous joy. I shall endeavor to return with posts and updates much more frequently, my friends.
I trust you are doing well and enjoying your summer!
Until later (but not too much), cheers. Gina