Wild Things…
Garden Seasons End 
By Karen Vizzi
    The days are getting noticeably shorter and for most gardeners the season has come to an end. Thoughts are turning towards the holidays and other matters. Seed catalogs are already starting to trickle in and it’s time to retire to the armchair for a long season of dreaming and planning. Or is it?
     In the wild garden, things never really go to sleep. In fact, the beauty of garden life persists throughout all the winter months. A leisurely stroll with an eye toward the ground will most certainly show you that many perennials have already begun a new growth cycle, with fresh new leaves bravely pushing up through muddy rains and frost. Not to worry! Although the leaves you see will most likely not survive the winter, they’re a good sign that the root systems are healthy. Growth will begin again in spring when the time is right.
    Most insect life is now dormant, but our resident birds have barely noticed the change in season. It’s a good bet that the wild gardener will at some point or other become fascinated with birds. Bird feeding and bird watching is the best way to stay close to nature during winter months, and watching is so much easier to do now that the trees have shed their leaves. With a little creativity, you can even do it from the warmth of your home.
     I am fortunate to have permanent metal poles on my backyard deck, which support an awning during summer months. When the awning comes down in the fall, these poles provide an excellent support for my winter bird feeding stations. Shepherd’s hooks and large, sturdy branches are just as handy for hanging feeders.  My deck also has a built in flower box. Once the flowers have died, I pull them out and cover the soil with a one-inch layer of sand. This serves as a perfect platform feeder for many ground-feeding birds that hesitate to use hanging feeders. The sand provides grit, which aids in bird digestion, and also provides drainage so that seed scattered on top does not mold as quickly. Sturdy plastic or wood planters and flower boxes can serve this same purpose. However, you would not want to leave any type of clay pots outside, as freezing and thawing will crack and permanently damage them. Using several different feeder models and different varieties of seed is a good way to attract the largest number of species. Position your feeders so that they are easy to fill when the weather is bad (for your sake), and so that you can see them from inside.
     Finally, it is not true that once you begin to feed birds in winter, you must become a slave to your feeders and that you will be responsible for decimating the population if you miss a few days. Birds are survivors and will almost always find a food source on their own. HOWEVER … one thing you must commit to is keeping your feeders clean. Moldy seed and dirty feeders are responsible for spreading all sorts of avian maladies. I scrape out all the old seed each time I refill them, and twice a month each feeder is scrubbed in a bleach and water solution. Rather than making this a monumental project, I put my feeder cleaning on a rotating schedule so that the task is much easier…and I stay committed to keeping my friends healthy.
    BIRD BRAINERS: How would you like to become a Citizen Scientist? The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology offers an incredible opportunity for the average person to make a contribution. Project Feeder Watch is an annual survey of birds that visit feeders in winter. It’s easy and fun to do! The monitoring season starts this week, so hurry for details at http://birdsource.tc.cornell.edu/pfw/index.html
    BUTTTERFLY BULLETS: Did you know?…The largest butterfly species in the world is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, with a wingspan (in females) of up to 11 inches! They are found only in the southeast section of Papua New Guinea.
    LET IT BE: Don’t trash those fading jack-o-lanterns! Chop ‘em up for the compost pile. And rumor has it that tasty pumpkins may temporarily distract squirrels from your bird seed.

 
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