Skip to main content

Gardening for the Birds

It's freezing cold today - below zero - and I see a couple little winged friends moving about, but that's it. I'm glad we filled the feeders yesterday. In winter it seems obvious to me why we're attracted to birds as gardeners. We can't be outside as much as we like, because in some ways there is less to do. Yes, I could review my garden plan from last year and work on next year's. I could go through the seed catalogs and choose things that are outside my garden plan and more than my garden can handle. (Happens every year. I might as well be honest about these things.) I can read gardening books.

While all of these are delightful, birds are a connection to the outdoors that I love and the space I work in when the weather is warmer. Other than the first green shoots of bulbs, birds are lively companions that help me enjoy winter, make me laugh with their antics, and offer a sense of wonder that such a small thing is able to survive what I find are bone-chilling temperatures.

Birds are relevant to the garden because they eat the pests that eat my flowers and vegetables. (I like to share, but I have my limits.) I picked up some interesting facts this morning from Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. "In an afternoon, one diminutive house wren can snatch up more than 500 insect eggs, beetles, and grubs...More than 60-percent of the chickadee's winter diet is aphid eggs."

So, not only are they snacking on pesky mosquitoes in summer, but in winter they're busy eating those aphids that gave my tomatoes the business this past summer. It seems like a feeder or two about the yard offering an extra snack, along with a little bit of water, is a fair trade.

Useful sites that talk about attracting birds to the backyard abound.
Helpful Gardner
talks about gardening for birds and yourself, while offers a some garden designs and other bird information for gardeners. Gardens Alive also offers some good tidbits for attracting birds to your garden.

Native plants (I like Wild Ones definition) are a good bet for attracting birds, too. The birds have evolved with the plants, and so they help pollinate, eat the fruit, and spread the seeds. I'm working on a perennial bed in my garden that incorporates native plants like bee balm and Joe Pye Weed with the iris and tansy. I've also started a small bed of natives outside the garden to attract bees, moths, butterflies, as well as birds to help my garden.

Audubon offers some great resources for learning more about native plants and attracting beneficials, as does Wild Ones. (Here's my confession: I'm a member of my local Wild Ones chapter, and a big advocate of native plants in general.)

Finally, after you get your feeders filled and out, and have added bird friendly plants to your backyard landscape, you can check out this bird map. Just click on the map and see what's happening in your region.


Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro