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Of Seeds And Birds
January 6, 2002

I’m happy to be able to say that the longest and darkest day of the long dark (December 21st) is now behind us. From now on the days are getting longer and the cold nights shorter. The new seed catalogs are arriving in the mail daily. I have always like the seed catalog season. It gives me a chance to see what’s available and pick out some new things to try this spring. 
Keep in mind that seed companies are trying to save money just like the rest of us and generally won’t be sending you a catalog unless you ordered something from them last year. If you didn’t order from them you may have to request a new catalog this year. Here are some of the seed company’s online addresses where you can request a catalog. http://www.stokeseeds.com/, http://www.veseys.com, http://www.dominion-seed-house.com, http://www.richters.com/. There are of course hundreds more but these will get you started. You will find many more listed at http://www.icangarden.com and direct links to the ones above at http://www.tropicals-north.yk.ca
The earlier you order your seeds the better. It will give you the best chance of getting the varieties you want. If you plan on starting you own geraniums or begonias this year you will want to have your seeds here to plant by the end of January. By the time March rolls around the seed companies are at their busiest and orders can take much longer to get to you. 
Speaking of seeds and long nights, with all the new snow and cold weather you might want to start feeding the birds. I know there is considerable controversy about the subject of feeding birds. There are many people who feel that feeding any wild animal or bird is not a good idea. Some folks feel the birds will become dependant on the food people provide and that will weaken their ability to fend for themselves if the food provided by people is taken away. 
Turns out that this isn’t the case. Birds feed at the spots that provide the most food with the least expenditure of energy. If your feeder is empty they will go on to the next feeding spot. Small birds like chickadees eat up to 100% of their body weight every day. The colder it is the more they have to eat. Their body temperature is about 20% higher than ours and they burn calories faster the colder it gets. So far this year it hasn’t been very cold but we all know that can change overnight. 
Feeding suet in the winter will help give birds the energy they need for the long cold nights. They are forced to find perches for the night at dusk. With our long nights in the north it makes for a long time till breakfast. I like to make suet/fat blocks. I save fat from cooking like bacon grease along with whatever else is available in a container. When there’s enough I take an empty margarine container and fill it about halfway with mixed birdseed. Then melt the fat down to liquid and pour it over the seed. Depending on what kind of fat is in the mix it makes a solid block when it cools to put out on the feeder. The birds don’t seam to care what kind of grease the mix is. Suet or beef fat can be obtained from the local grocery stores at no cost. It will make it easier on the birds if you grind large pieces up like hamburger and it keeps the bigger birds from carrying off the chunks whole. 
When I suggested using bacon fat last year a reader e-mailed me wondering if the salt in bacon fat or the fat itself was bad for the birds. I don’t think birds have a long enough life span to worry about long term effects like clogging their arteries. In the winter I think they burn off the fat too fast for it to be a problem. Maybe we can start a new weight loss program, at dark you just go out and sit in a tree till daybreak and I bet you could eat all the fat you wanted without gaining a pound! 
Here’s what the National Bird-Feeding Society has to say about the subject. “We aren't aware of any studies on the effects of bacon grease on the health of birds. We would not recommend this practice because of its attraction of other, perhaps unwelcome, visitors. It is better to feed birds suet, a fat from near beef kidneys even though salt does not harm birds.”
As the days get longer and the nights shorter both you and the birds will be happier. (It’s less time spent sitting in that tree). With you’re new seed catalogs in hand you can sit and watch the birds feed while a little more of the long dark slides by.


John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 

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