With Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, this past week was all about sharing the love. As a gardener, I thought it was only appropriate to share some of that love with my garden friends.
At times, birds can be a garden nuisance, pecking at ripe fruit and scratching out freshly planted seed, but birds can also be enormously helpful in the garden, gobbling up pests and weed seeds. This time of year, they are the main inhabitants of my garden, and at a time where their food sources are more scarce, I feel an obligation to help them out in exchange for their helpful nature.
Enter birdseed ornaments: a quick and easy project that has endless possibilities for your own creative touches.
To make my birdseed valentines, I used the following process (source):
4 cups birdseed
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water
2 packets plain, unflavored gelatin
3 Tablespoons corn syrup
Measure out your birdseed of choice in a large mixing bowl and stir in the flour until the birdseed is well coated. Set this bowl aside while you combine the water, gelatin, and corn syrup in a small sauce pan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until the gelatin and corn syrup have fully dissolved. Carefully pour the warm liquid over the birdseed and stir until fully incorporated (it will be very sticky).
Coat your hands and anything else you plan to use to form the ornaments (cookie cutters, cake pans, baking molds, etc.) with a light layer of cooking spray to work with the birdseed mixture. Form the mixture into the desired shapes (I just used my hands and free-formed it) and place the finished product on parchment paper to dry. Use a skewer or toothpick to create holes for hanging the ornaments and let dry for several hours before flipping them over to let the other side dry out. I was able to get six, 4-5 inch hearts out of a single batch.
It took about 12 hours or so for the ornaments to be dry enough to thread the yarn through the holes. The combination of flour, gelatin, and corn syrup makes a strong glue, so if you find the ornaments are crumbling or soft as you are working with them, let them dry for a bit longer.
At this point, the ornaments are ready to hang outdoors!
Because birds (especially the ones that love seed) can sometimes target a freshly planted garden, I intentionally kept these treats a good distance away from the vegetable garden, so they wouldn’t become accustomed to being fed in the garden itself. I also tried to hang them near another branch or two, so the birds could have something more solid to perch on (though this didn’t seem to be an issue for the birds I observed).
I also enlisted the help of the most adorable garden helper I know:
In less than 24 hours, the tree was filled with chickadees, playfully nibbling at the birdseed treats, and after a couple of days, we also had cardinals, woodpeckers, and sparrows frequenting the tree. It has been really fun to watch them from our family room and kitchen (these photos were taken through the window):
I did anticipate that the squirrels would eventually show up (and they did!), but I totally underestimated how greedy they would be. It took the squirrels a few days to show up, but when they did, they gnawed right through the yarn and hauled off the entire ornament–and by the end of the second day post-squirrel discovery, the entire tree (12 ornaments) was bare!
I’m not sure if there is really anything that can be done to deter the squirrels (maybe use wire to hang, so they can’t chew through it?), but when I make the next batch, I will only put out a couple of ornaments at a time, so they can’t clear it all out in one afternoon.
Squirrels and all, this little project has provided a good amount of winter entertainment and a good reason to get outside in the garden while we wait for spring! Do you do anything special for the wildlife in your garden during the winter months?