The last few days have seen a return of the wet weather, but before that the autumnal cold showed itself and reminded me that the birds at the allotment, and garden, needed a bit of extra help with food. Our allotment, squeezed in between houses, shops and schools like an urban oases, has a pretty varied bird life. In recent months I’ve seen everything from blue-tits and sparrows, to goldfinches and spotted woodpeckers. We usually put out some food at this point, to supplement the natural sources and the drying seedheads of the sunflowers and other flowers.
Last year I made seed cakes which, hung from the apple tree, were very popular with the feathered visitors to the plot. As was the peanut wreath which we hung on the shed door. Our own homemade food sources were always supplemented by bought bird feeders filled with seeds and nuts. However, the winds of early autumn have destroyed or completely removed these feeders, sending them across the allotment and into mangled heaps or oblivion. Despite the fact that I can buy a new one from a supermarket for a few quid I decided to make my own replacement. I may not be able to buy seed for tuppence a bag, but its pretty cheap from discount stores, so a homemade feeder cost me very little really.
You will need
A juice bottle or similar
Stick or twig of suitable size
Drill with drill bit matching diameter of stick
String or thin wire
Wash and dry the bottle, as its important to ensure that its as free of moisture to start with (too much moisture will promote seed growth which birds aren’t keen). Use the needle to pierce a few holes in the base; this allows any water to drain out too. About 1/3 of the way up from the base, drill 2 holes the diameter of your chosen stick, and then thread the stick across so it forms a perch on both sides. On either side of the bottle, use a craft knife to cut out an opening just above the perch. Tie the wire or string around the neck of the bottle to form a hanger, before using the opening by the perch to fill the feeder with seeds. The seeds should reach the level of the perch, so that initially the birds don’t need to reach too far into the feeder. Hang on a branch with easy access for yourself (to refill) and the birds (easy to land etc.).
One of the great things about having an allotment is having your own bit of the wild in which you can relax and enjoy the natural world. Gardens are increasingly being paved or decked and there is a constant pressure on green spaces in towns. Even in the countryside modern society is impacting on bird habitats; since 1945 more than 300,000 miles of hedgerow have been destroyed. Allotments offer the opportunity to reinstate some hedgerows. As well as providing birds with a place to hide and nest, our blackberry and rose hedge offers a diet of berries and haws to birds and small mammals alike. Hedges can also have advantages to the grower, providing stick supports for peas and beans, as well as defending delicate crops against harmful winds.
Needless to say the birds in our gardens (and allotments) benefit from a bit of additional food at this time of year. So, as well as the peanut wreath I blogged about before Christmas, I’ve hung some homemade seed cakes and fat balls on the trees. As long as you have some bird seed these are easy to make and are loved by birds.
Combine melted lard with a mix of seeds, oats and soaked raisins to a ratio of 1:2 fat to dry. Form into balls around a loop of string. Put in the fridge to set, then hang outside.
Gelatin Seed Cakes (makes 6)
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 4 leaves of gelatin
- 3 tbsp. golden syrup
- 4 cups birdseed
- muffin tin or other mould
- dash of oil
- drinking straws
- baking parchment
Start by mixing the gelatin with the water and stirring until the gelatin has dissolved completely. Add the flour and the syrup and ensure it is all thoroughly combined. At this point stir the seeds into the liquid mix, making sure that they are well coated. Grease the mould, then place a short length of drinking straw in each section, before spooning the seed mix in and firming the mixture down using the back of a spoon. Leave the birdseed cakes for a few hours to set, then remove from mould and remove straws (leaving a hole in each cake). Allow the seed cakes to dry for a further few hour (overnight is even better), after which you can thread string through the hole and hang out for the birds. Once you’ve set out bird feeders, why not spend a little time seeing what visits your outside space? The RSPB are running its annual Big Garden Birdwatch on the weekend of the 25th-26th January. I’ll be up the plot to see what visits. How do you help the birds in your garden or allotment?
According to the weather sites, Britain is due to have a really cold winter this year; and as the temperatures lower, my thoughts turn to the birds at the allotment. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that the feeders I have there are needing refilling regularly. So I decided to increase the number of sources of food for our avian friends, and as we entered Advent last weekend the allotment clearly needed a wreath.
You will need
Thin galvanized wire, enough to make a wreath sized ring (about 40cm long)
Cutting tool for wire
Fresh unshelled peanuts, lots
Make a small loop at one end of the wire to prevent the peanuts from sliding off. Either do this by hand or use round-nosed pliers. Thread the unshelled peanuts onto the wire. Aim for the middle of each unshelled peanut, the thinnest part of it and also the best place to ensure balance and ease of access for the birds. Once you have threaded on enough peanuts, shape the wire into a circle. Thread the end piece of the wire through the loop made in the second step and bend around to secure. At this point you can use the end of the wire to form a hook, or tie some twine around the top of the wreath to create a hanger. Hang in a spot of the garden where you’re able to see the birds enjoy their peanut feast.
It’s getting colder now and most days when I visit the plot after the school run I’m greeted with a delicate frosty blanket on the sage bush near the gate. It’s definitely winter and the log burner in the shed is coming into its own, proving a great place to go and warm up or dry off if the weather deteriorates. Despite this there are many things I want or need to do this month.
The shed itself needs a little more work on it, with a combination of bubble wrap and the leftover insulation from my brother’s extension. The plan is to cut the sheets to size, fitting them between the uprights of the shed. The bubble wrap I’ve got insulating the wall at present will be repurposed in the greenhouse; allowing us to continue to grow throughout the colder months.
There is still a bit of harvesting to be done with the last of the Cime di Rapa, as well as Cavalo Nero and the broccoli to pick. I’ll also be giving the brassicas a bit of a helping hand through winter; removing any yellowing leaves which may harbour disease, as well as firming the soil around the roots to give them a secure base. The winter digging will of course continue, with more manure and last years compost to add to the soil as space becomes available.
Winter is also the time when we should look after the birds that visit the allotment; so I plan to increase the number of feeders, including some for the ground feeders like Robins. I’m also planning to put up a new bird box to encourage nesting next summer. I’ve just got to source some wood which hasn’t been earmarked for the log burner!