For the past month or so I have just been visited by a myriad of bird species along with at least 3 gray squirrels that have feasted on seed and suet provisions from several feeders throughout the yard. It is really enjoyable to provide food for wild birds as they benefit from the supplemental food sources and are really a joy to behold. A window feeder in the kitchen gives me ample opportunity to look up in the Audubon field guide exactly who is coming for breakfast (or lunch or dinner!). I was really excited to see a red-bellied woodpecker working on the bacon fat last week and reports are that since some tree seed sources are scarcer in Canada this winter, we might find some more northern species at our New England feeders this year. Native plants in the yard and surrounding woods provide food as well.
Mr. or Ms. Rabbit has also been exploring and probably sampling the various forms of vegetation in the yard most likely holed up in a large azalea planting. Except for munching on my last bush green bean planting, I was able to ignore the small amount of rabbit damage done to the vegetable garden this past year. Probably it helps that the lawn has lots of clover growing in it. Now he is likely nibbling on bark, buds and seeds and grass in the shoveled path to the compost pile.
Because of the open winter last year, no deer damage was done to any of my plantings. I see this year, that will not be the case as on New Year’s Day, feeding is already evident on the yew hedge. We received about a foot of snow a few days before so the open areas the deer were feeding in are covered in white. Also some of the buds are missing on my deciduous azaleas – the ones with the most amazing spicy floral scent, of course!
Because there is not a lot of deer damage in my gardens during the growing season, I probably am a bit more tolerant of their nibblings than gardeners who are constantly at war with them. I draw the line at this one arborvitae, however, that is recovering nicely from being on the deer menu a couple of winters back when the snow cover was heavy and persistent. Hopefully the trellising and soccer net will keep them away! Chicken wire works well too but it is best wrapped around the shrubs before they are covered with snow.
Except for physical barriers, reviews of deer repellents are mixed. The thinking goes that if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat just about anything. Probably this is true of most animals. A number of commercial products as well as homemade remedies can be found that may deter some deer from feeding. http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/factsheets/tp_05_deercontrol.html Switching products and reapplications may be the best method of limiting feeding.
Humans crave vegetation too and the cold winter months are perfect for homemade soups and stews filled with winter vegetables and dried herbs from the garden. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make vegetables a much larger part of our daily meals. Using fresh vegetables does often require a bit more prep time when making dinner but the final result is worth it both in taste and nutrition. A dish that recently went over well with guests was a lentil stew filled with onions, garlic, winter squash, carrots, beets, turnips, kale and parsley. As you peruse the new seed catalogs and think about what to plant in your garden this year, try a few winter storage vegetables. Here’s hoping the New Year will provide us all with bountiful gardens and good memories.