The Accidental Gardener: For the birds

help Your feathered friends get through winter by Decorating with DIY edible ornaments.

Growing up, the anticipation of the holidays was almost palpable. Throughout the year we lived under the strict edict that children were to be seen and not heard. The only exception to that holy commandment was Christmas morning, so we all really looked forward to grabbing the spotlight for that small but epic moment. And we were continually reminded that Santa knew if we had been naughty or nice, so beware if you don’t want coal left in your stocking!

Needless to say, I always experienced a mild panic attack as I made my way cautiously toward the tree to see if Santa had catalogued my less-than-stellar behavior all year. Coal from Santa would surely invite additional punishment from my mother, and she seriously did not need any encouragement in that department. I began to think that he must be really slipping up in his old age because to my great relief there was never any coal. There was instead a plethora of oranges and, according to my mother, if we were “lucky” Santa also would bring us an exotic pomegranate.

You have to keep in mind that when I was growing up, fruit was seasonal. Watermelon and strawberries simply were not available in the winter. Oranges, however, were bountiful. I kept hoping that Santa might snag a pineapple for me on his way over from Hawaii, but he never did. Dad said there simply wasn’t any room in his sleigh. Did I mention that I hated oranges?

My mother knew that my oranges would rot before they were eaten, so rather than make me feel guilty, she began making a garland for the birds using my oranges (sliced into circles), raisins (cranberries weren’t readily available) and popcorn (after her New Year’s Day open house, of course).

My grandmother, not to be outdone by her daughter, quickly picked up the baton and began making pinecone bird feeders. She would smother the many pinecones in her yard with peanut butter, roll them in birdseed (you could also do this with gum balls) and hung them up in her trees. She began by taking a piece of yarn, wrapping it around the bottom of the pinecone to form a ‘handle’ for hanging. She then lathered it with peanut butter, rolled it in seed and then hung it upside down on branches once complete. If she was feeling particularly fancy, she would string raisins on a thin wire, forming a circle. She would then shape the circle into a heart and hang the heart from the tip of the pinecone. Bless her heart.

One year my mother read an article in McCall’s magazine that described the most adorable bird seed Christmas ornaments using Crisco and birdseed, shaped using cookie cutters and then hung from branches using festive ribbon. They truly were adorable for the first few minutes … before they melted into a hot mess in the garden. The ribbon survived the heat nicely though. The following year she read about using empty orange and grapefruit halves, hanging them with colorful yarn and filling them with bird seed. Again, they were adorable for a day or two until they became all moldy. And then they weren’t.

I found my own personal favorite birdseed ornament years ago when the boys were little, and we always had ice cream cones on hand. Instead of pinecones (which they both whined endlessly were too sharp and pointy), we simply substituted the ice cream cones for pinecones. This DIY couldn’t be any easier: First, poke holes in your cone and thread your yarn or pipe cleaners through the holes for hanging. Then slather the cone in peanut butter. Coat the peanut butter in birdseed (smaller seed works better). Then hang it on a branch and enjoy.

If you’re concerned about the bird seed sprouting in your garden or lawn, you can use nyger seed which is likely already sterilized. Or you can sterilize your own bird seed the very same way. Baking bird seed will stop it from sprouting. Simply spread bird seed on a flat baking sheet that has a lip all the way around. Heat your oven to 250 degrees. Place the baking sheet with bird seed in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Let it cool completely before using.

Here’s hoping your family traditions are delightful and for the birds. Happy gardening!

Ask & Answer

Dear Accidental Gardener,
My plants are infested with what appears to be tiny white flies. What should I do?
— Perturbed in Palmetto Bluff

Funny you should ask, as a future article will focus exclusively on these uninvited guests. Whiteflies are actually not flies or moths at all but instead are closely related to aphids — both of which can quickly decimate your garden. The easiest solution is to water the affected plants well at the base and then spray both sides of the leaves at dusk with neem oil when the whiteflies are sluggish. Spraying during the day will just disburse them and could fry your leaves (think suntan oil).

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