Gardening: Working on projects after the holiday rush

Once the holiday rush is over there is usually time to complete a project or two with the children or grandchildren. Introducing children to bird feeding can be fun and entertaining for both parties.

A feeder can be as simple as spreading seed on the ground. To avoid a huge mess in the spring, place a small tarp or cardboard under the feed to keep seeds from becoming imbedded into the earth. Ground feeding birds will appreciate the treat. Do not use this type of feeder if cats are a problem.

A slightly more complex feeder can be made by cutting a hole in the side of a 4 liter milk jug. Seeds are then placed inside and the feeder is hung outside on a tree or pole. Granted, this type of feeder is not aesthetically pleasing but it will attract birds and most children can complete the task with little or no help. All that is needed is a felt pen, knife with a retractable blade or a pair of sharp scissors.

Draw a circle on the side of the milk container. The size of hole depends on the type and size of bird that will be feeding. The larger the hole, the larger the birds that will be able to perch and eat. Make the hole 1 – 1 ½ in (2 – 3 cm) from the bottom to keep the seed in the container. Once the hole is cut, smooth out any sharp or pointy edges.

Suet balls are more time consuming but great for children that like to cook or make a mess. The ingredients tend to be sticky so for ease of cleanup, cover the mixing area with newspaper or plastic. It is possible to render lard into suet but it is much easier to purchase pure lard and mix it ½ and ½ with peanut butter. Add nuts, whole grains and small portions of dried fruit then mix together using a large spoon. Do not add seeds in shells as they become slippery and are hard to crack open.

Once the mixture is combined, place it in a net bag and attach a string. The finished ball should be hung high enough off the ground to remove all chance of the ball being eaten by a dog.

When buying ingredients for the ball, avoid items with added sugar or salt.

Older children might enjoy assembling a wooden feeder. Unless the child proficient with tools, putting a feeder together is a joint activity between a child and adult.

If your child lives to shop, there are many different types of feeders on the market. Choose one that fits your budget and yard. While they might not have made the feeder they can still enjoy filling it and watching the birds.

Having a good bird book that contains pictures of the common birds in the area add to the enjoyment and educational experience. Books on Birds of Alberta can be found at the Public Library, at book stores and various outlets.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at

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