Sunday, September 26, 2010

Winter Treats for the Birds:Peanut Butter/Lard Suet Cake



Your backyard avian visitors will devour this mock suet cake. It doesn’t actually contain suet; instead I use lard as the fat. Our feathered friends require more than just their customary diet for the winter. They require fresh water for bathing, not just to stay hydrated. It is important for them maintain clean feathers to insulate them from winter’s cold. We have an electrically heated birdbath that will be installed soon. Birds also require some sort of oil or fat to stay warm and well fed over the winter. I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but the birds go nuts for it. To the basic recipe, I will add whatever I think birds might enjoy: stale nuts (unsalted, of course), dried out raisins, outdated wheat germ, whatever the pantry serves up that might make the cake tasty and healthy. This time, I added the black thistle seeds.

You must be patient, for it may take several weeks for your feathered friends to discover such a treat. Once they discover the cakes, you will be making them weekly, so make plenty. Chickadees, nuthatches, and downy and hairy woodpeckers will become frequent diners, as well as house finches, sparrows, pine siskins, and other seedeaters.

I buy the cheapest, generic ingredients. You will find the lard in the baking aisle shelved
with the shortenings and cooking oils.

2 cups quick cooking oats
2 cups corn meal
1 cup flour

1 cup sugar
1 cup lard
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
Optional: any bird feed mixes

Microwave lard and peanut butter until they are totally melted, stir, add dry ingredients, stir. Pat into a plastic container; press down firmly, cover and refrigerate until cake is hard. Cut, bag, and freeze.  Hang them in trees around the yard, especially close to windows so that you take great close-up photos. I put the cakes in the wire suet holder. I have found the my backyard visitors will prefer the homemade cakes to the commercial seed cakes.

On a final note: While I used my good Tupperware today, I much prefer the Glad plastic storage just because if you slice the container while cutting the cakes, you can just throw away the container. 

Although the vegetable garden has died back, the late summer flowers continue to inspire and there is abundant life in the Garden Spot. The Rudbeckia and black-eyed Susans, both seeded from last summer, still have huge blooms—and those wretched ambush bugs. The roses continue produce strong and luscious blossoms. With the cooler weather (nights at least), the roses seem less stressed. The purple pincushion, the most photographed flower in the yard, now forces one bloom at a time, seeming each the last of the season. I love taking its picture because of the amazing detail in the blossom. I wish I had planted more mums; they must go on the list for next summer, for they provide a rainbow of fall colors. I have ordered my bulbs from White Flower Farms (check out their wonderful web site) and probably not enough. Can a garden ever too many daffodils? Never. Of course, I still have abundant space that needs spring color. My husband did get the 7 sand cherry bushes that the previous owner planted in the middle of the flowerbed moved to the far side of the hay field. We are trying to create more bird habitat at the back of the property. Next, he will remove the 7 junipers that were planted for privacy along the patio. They, too, will move east to join the sand cherries.

Even as summer dies down, there are still plenty of photo opportunities in the Garden Spot. Last Sunday broke with heavy fog and dew, making the various spider webs look like finely crocheted and jeweled lace draped in the blue spruce. I have managed to get pictures of the yellow warblers that are passing through. The warblers are especially hard to photograph because they don’t come to the feeder; instead they flit through the tree leaves, rarely perching making it hard to spot them, let alone get their picture. I listen for them first then using the 300mm telephoto and getting as close as I can, if I am lucky, I will get a decent photo. I love the digital SLR camera with automatic shutter advance so that I can shoot until I get the best picture. Then I use iPhoto to crop and enhance and Picasa to size the photos for the blog.

Next project: Peanut butter/lard cakes for the winter residence. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quiet Gardening Days

It's pretty quiet in the Garden Spot these days with school work and the end of the growing season. The local farmers are beginning to harvest here in Northern Colorado. The pinto beans have been cut, onions harvested, the cabbages and lettuces are coming in. Soon the corn cutters will shave the corn fields clean, and the last cuttings of grass hay and alfalfa are complete. With the lack of gardening projects to report on, I have brought out a couple of last year's lady bug photos to share.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

As Summer Wanes

The long, hot days of summer are growing shorter, but it is still very warm and painfully dry. The leaves have not yet stared to turn, though there are reports that the aspen in the mountains are beginning to turn golden.  The garden is going dormant, winding itself down. The pumpkin, squash, and cucumber vines have died back. The zinnas are fading fast. The cosomos got a late start and I am hoping that they seed before the first frost. I always combine them with dill, for the two make a lovely combination for the pollin collecting critters. The new Garden Spot had some successes: huge pumpkins that the grandkids will love, a plethora of the sweet butter nut squash, acorn, and summer squash, an over abundance of cucumbers. We got the rhubarb and raspberries started. There were failures as well. The tomatoes are just plain dismal. They are very slow to ripen and while there are about 20 vines, the production just didn't happen. There is always next year, and over the winter we will reevaluate and decide what we need to do to have better soil prep and devise a new irrigation system to move from expensive city water to using the well water. Raised beds might be in order to help combat the hideous goat head stickers and Canadian thistle and to give the garden some shape and order. Lots of Round-up, I guess, next spring. Now I need to order the bulbs, for it is getting late and I must have my spring color.

My blog has been accepted to Blotanical. I am quite excited to see how I will rank and to see if I gather any followers along the way. So the pressure is on now to meet the standards set by so many fabulous gardeners, bloggers, storytellers, writers, photographers. While I have lofty creative goals to meet, I must exercise self discipline and not become obsessive in the medium; I do have papers to grade and lectures to plan. None-the-less, I am quite excited to become apart of a wonderful community of those who garden with a passion. Welcome to my Garden Spot.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Texas

I left my Garden Spot last Thursday for La Grange, Texas, to attend my niece's wedding held at my brother's and wife's beautiful Texas Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. While it is still quite hot in Texas (our northern Colorado home is just as hot--high 90s--, we just don't have the humidity), the countryside is beautiful to visit. My daughter and four year old granddaughter traveled with me. We stayed at a working quarter horse ranch that also doubles as a bed and breakfast. It was there at the B & B that I took the pictures of the beautiful butterflies. While we do have the black swallowtail butterfly here in Colorado--I plant dill and zinnas to attract them--they are half the size of the one I photographed in Texas. Even the yellow swallowtail looked a bit different than ours, deep color, I'd say. I was particularly put out at myself. In June when we visited my brother's ranch, my goal was to photograph the cardinals that are plentiful in his woods, but they are nearly impossible the photograph in the wild. I left my camera at my brother's since we were only sleeping at the horse ranch. The next morning at breakfast my daughter called my attention to the cardinal at the bird feeder! And no camera. There are several nesting pairs at the horse ranch that regularly visit the feeder. Rule one: always take your camera to the garden with you, and now I guess even to breakfast if there is a near-by bird feeder! Well, I will just have to return to Texas. Our B & B hosts were wonderful, the accomodations classic western decor, and a lovely garden in which to photograph flowers, insects, and those beautiful red birds. Now it is time to return to the classroom an daydream of the next vacation to Texas.