This Christmas Tree is for the Birds

This weekend, I finished up the last of my outdoor holiday decorating with a Christmas tree for the birds. I’d seen suggestions for these on a few birding and gardening web sites and thought it would make winter more exciting if we had some birds to watch outside of the front window.  After reading several articles on how to make a tree for the birds, I consulted with my friend, Penny, and the fellow she refers to as “the resident bird expert.”  Lucky I did, because the resident bird expert warned me off all suggestions of stringing cranberries and other fruit for birds. The birds that like fruit are long gone from here, he said, leaving only true northerners behind — birds who like fat, protein and carbs.

You can create all sorts of decorations for your tree, including the standard pine cone with peanut butter and seeds and balls of suet and seeds. The suggestion that caught my imagination, however, was one to use stale cake donuts as carriers of fat and protein for the birds. The instructions called for melting a cake of suet, then dipping the stale donuts in the suet and rolling it in seeds. I had already prepared a pot for the tree and planned to use the tree I’d bought earlier for other holiday decorations. I started work on the ornaments Sunday afternoon, melting my suet, rolling the donuts, and watching the seeds fall right off. (This just goes to show, never trust anything you read on the internet!) Frustrated at how this was going, I took a break with a cup of coffee and a stale donut.

It seemed the seeds needed more traction, so I added peanut butter to the melted suet. That didn’t work either, so I just gave up and spread peanut butter on the donuts and dipped them in seeds. Voila! I used the melted suet/peanut butter mixture as glue in a few pine cones, which I filled with seed, and when the mixture was cool, rolled what was left into little balls.

The donut thief

The bird expert says it may take two weeks or so for the birds to find my tree and start frequenting it. Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood with very few squirrels — an oddity relating to the newness of the area and the location of three ponds. Unfortunately, our dog, Lily, found the tree right away, and already snarfed one of the donuts. She’ll be on leash from now on, and we can hope the birds will get at least a few of the treats on the tree.

For more ideas on holiday decorating, check out the November/December issue of Northern Gardener. Julie Scouten has a great article on how to make decorations using garden supplies and greenery.

More Fun with Greenery

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Maybe a little wild looking, but not bad for a first try.

Making your own holiday wreath is easier than it looks. I followed (more or less) the instructions offered by Susan of The Shambles under Highland Butte, a fellow blogger from Oregon, to make two wreaths for our front and back entries.  I used a red-twig dogwood branch for the form and leftovers from my holiday pots for the greenery for the first wreath. This wreath is made entirely with natural ingredients (except for the ribbon holding it up) and looks festive hanging off of our back deck.

Front-door wreath
Front-door wreath

For the second wreath, I used a heavy-duty wire hangar that I bent into a circle for the form and a combination of real and artificial ingredients.  It seemed a bit more formal to me — though that was not the intention — so I hung it on our front door. One tip: If you plan to make a wreath, be sure to use the 24 gauge wire Susan recommends. I started my first wreath with some picture wire we had around the house and it was much more difficult to work with. I found the 24 gauge wire at a local beading shop.

This is a fun project that an older child could handle with some assistance. Thanks for the instructions and encouragement, Susan!

Crafty Gift Idea

img_0470.jpgMy family does its holiday gift-giving on Thanksgiving, so I got a chance to sew up a garden apron idea that I saw in Gayla Trail’s You Grow Girl. I gave one to my sister, who not only hosted Thanksgiving for 28 but willingly modeled the apron (thanks, Elly!). I also gave one to my mom, who got a subscription to (of course!) Northern Gardener, as well.

The apron is a very easy project. A 10-year-old with a parental unit who knows how to sew could execute it successfully. To make the apron you take two 16-by-20 inch rectangles, sew them together to make a lined rectangle, then fold one end up, sew in little pockets, and attach a tie. The pockets give you a place to carry seed packets, ties to tie up plants, your hand pruners, and all the other things that I tend to forget in the garage or leave in the garden accidentally. Complete instructions with illustrations are in the book, which is available at most bookstores and through interlibrary loan if you live in Northfield.

img_0472.jpgWhat attracted me to the project were the interesting fabrics shown on the apron in the book. I’ve been looking for a project that was fairly easy and would give me an excuse to buy some fabric at digs in downtown Northfield. I love looking at the fabrics in the basement, even though I do not sew much. They are so bright and fun–almost retro looking. The store also carries furniture, yarn, cool buttons, and lots of other crafty stuff. I found a heavy striped fabric for the outside of the apron and a lighter apricot-colored fabric with a subtle print for the lining. It cost less than $20 to make both aprons, and I have plenty fabric left over to make one for myself, too. If you are looking for a simple, homemade gift for a gardener, try this one.