Winter is for the Birds
Cold weather can be rough on our feathered friends. Sparrows, woodpeckers and nuthatches are a few species of birds that stick around our region during winter, but red-hat-wearing cardinals are my favorite! Providing birds with food and shelter during the winter helps keep them happy and healthy, and will light up your yard with color and song.
Birdhouse gourds, seed cakes and ornaments, and homemade suet are fun DIY projects for cold December days.
How to make a birdhouse gourd
Birdhouse gourds provide a perfect natural cavity for nest building. They also provide protection from winter elements, owls and other predators. You can grow your own gourds, or purchase gourds from a local farm for this project.
Step 1. Grow birdhouse gourds. Growing large ornamental gourds takes 100+ days. When spring soil is warm, plant 2-3 seeds directly in to the ground, ½” inch deep, at least 4’ feet apart. If you’d like to get an early start you can start seeds indoors up to 4 weeks before last frost.
You can grow gourds on the ground, up a trellis or along a fence line. No matter which method you choose be sure to give gourd vines plenty of space to expand.
Step 2. Harvest gourds. Gourds are ready to harvest when they quit growing in size. Rinds will look dull and become very hard. Stems will have started to shrivel and brown. Clip gourds with a 3” inch vine. Leave clipped gourds to cure in field 1-2 weeks.
Step 3. Clean gourds. Wash exterior of gourds with bleach water. Use a 1 ½” to 2” inch circular hole saw to cut entry way holes into each gourd. Drill hanging hole through the top of each gourd. Scoop out seeds and discard, or save seeds to plant next year.
Hang gourds in a clean, dry place until completely dry. Drying will take several months. Mold will develop on exteriors but don’t worry, mold does not harm gourds.
Step 4. Buff gourds. When gourds are completely dry, buff their exteriors with fine steel wool to remove mold and debris.
Step 5. Paint gourds. Apply 2 coats of clear waterproof varnish to gourds to emphasize their natural coloring. If you plan to paint your gourds with decorative themes, apply a light colored exterior house paint to prime the gourd first. Finished birdhouses will stand up to the outdoor elements for several years.
Bird seed ornaments
1 (1 oz) unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cup bird seed
Molds (cookie cutters for ornaments, empty square suet containers for cakes)
Cord for ornaments (bailing twine works well)
- Combine gelatin and water in a sauce pan over low heat.
- Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
- Add bird seed, stir to coat.
- Spoon mixture into cookie cutters.
- Loop 6 inches of twine and tie a knot at open ends. Push into ornament center.
- Allow cakes to set overnight.
- Remove from cookie cutters after seed cakes have set.
16 oz peanut butter
3 cups Crisco
6 cups cornmeal
3 cups flour
2 cups sunflower seed, chopped peanuts or mixed bird seed
- Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until blended.
- Press into an ex-large baking sheet.
- Freeze overnight.
- Remove from pan and cut into squares.
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