Arts and Entertainment

Gardening is for the birds

It all started a couple of months ago when one of my salesmen came by the nursery for his weekly sales call. Among other things he had a special going on in his bird department and since I had been thinking about adding a couple more feeders around the joint I sat down and listened to his spiel. By the time he was done I had ordered four more feeders, 100 pounds of special seed and three cases of suet (36 cakes). I figured I was good to go for at least a month.

Up went the feeders, each one holding no less than 5 pounds of seed and two suet cakes. It only took me a week to realize I was in deep doo-doo. The feeders had to be refilled every two days (that's 20 pounds of seed every two days in case you can't do the math) and the suet cakes were devoured in about 3-4 days (that's 8 cakes a whack). To my horror, my one month supply of seed and suet went up in smoke in a little over a week.

Being the resourceful person that I am I decided to make some design corrections to my feeders. A good portion of the seed was ending up on the ground because the base of the feeders had no edges to hold the seed in. This was probably a convenient flaw perpetrated upon me by the seed companies so they could sell me more seed. First I enlarged the base and added a lip to catch the seed. But all this did was to trap a larger pile of seed that eventually overflowed and spilled onto the ground. So I removed the plastic panels and ground down the little spacer tabs that created the slit that the seed flowed out through. This reduced the amount of seed being discharged and solved my problem. Now I only have to refill the feeders every 4-5 days instead of every other day.

As for different seed blends, I tried several flavors of so called "no waste" formulas, some with millet, some with ground nuts, some with berry flavoring, some with high energy supplements and after several hundred pounds of experimenting I have come to the conclusion that buying 40-pound bags of sunflower seeds from the local coop supply store is the best way to go. At $24 a bag it is also the cheapest. As for the suet cakes, there are several flavors out there and I have settled on an "all purpose" one for now. I think there is probably a winter formula I will need to start using this fall.

Since adding these extra feeders I have had all sorts of birds come to my garden. Early on flocks of starlings and red-winged black birds came but thankfully their numbers seem to have dwindled to a manageable level. I have blue jays, grosbeaks, towhees, nuthatches, juncos, house finches, sparrows, flickers, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, mourning doves (they eat the seed that falls on the ground), robins (they stick to worms in the lawn) and even a red-breasted sapsucker (although I was glad to see him move on after I realized he was drilling a ton of holes in my weeping sequoia). It's really been a lot of fun watching and listening to all these feathered creatures throughout the day.

Feeling extremely successful, my next move was to work on attracting our state bird, the American Gold Finch. These little 'wild canaries' love to eat nyjer seed and you have to have yet another feeder specifically designed for this kind of seed. I stumbled on a very simple 'sock' that is made of a mesh material that the birds can peck through and extract the seeds. I have four of these hanging off to the side so they can have their own space and on any given day I might have up to six birds hanging on each sock for a total of 24 cute little guys. While nyjer seed is expensive I have only had to purchase one 20 pound bag so far. It seems to go a long way.

Finally, I am working on attracting humming birds to my garden. Two years ago I hung up four large feeders but had no luck bringing in the hummers. Again last year I did the same but moved them to different locations. Still no takers. I have moved them once again this year and am still waiting. I have seen only a few in the area despite the fact that we have lots of fuchsias in the nursery and other humming bird friendly plants. If anyone has some tips for me I would love to hear them.

Next week I will go into more detail about bringing birds into your garden but in the meantime, if you don't have a feeder, go out and buy one and get started gardening for the birds.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, a retail garden center celebrating it 60th year in business. You can contact Steve at 425-334-2002 or online at

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