Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 22, 2013

THE DIRT ON GARDENING: This winter, why not feed our wild friends?

Goshen News

---- — When cold weather arrives, those who opt to help birds and other creatures should make sure seed and suet stations are filled regularly. Corn and nuts are good selections for ground-feeding wildlife.

Feeding wildlife supplements their diets at best, but makes for a better survival rate through freezing temperatures.

Nature provides winter food for wildlife in many ways, and one way is by producing seed-bearing plants and berries of all kinds.

Take for example all the ornamental trees and shrubs that produce an abundance of berries and fruits that cling well into our coldest months and are there for the picking by hungry birds. These trees not only provide necessary food for birds and earth-bound critters, but at the same time (and mainly why we plant them) provide us with colorful beauty throughout each of our seasons.

Spring brings the colorful blossoms, which are then pollinated and produce the thousands of tiny colorful fruits. So while we admire them for their beauty, the birds admire them for a food source and are attracted to them for this same colorful beauty.

Crabapples are the first that come to mind, but are certainly not the only berried trees and shrubs. On trees and shrubs there are many fruits because each berry produces seeds that eventually sustain the species by falling and sprouting to regenerate.

Some of the more prominent berried species that come to mind, and that we regularly see in landscapes, are the many varieties of dwarf crabapples, dwarf cherry, hawthorne with their bright red/purple fruit, mountain ash with their bright orange clusters at their appendages, holly trees with deep red berries, cotoneaster shrubs, European cranberry bushes and the list goes on and on.

The same goes with nut-bearing trees that have their “seeds” fall to the earth to root and sustain the species. The bulk of a seed tree’s production is sought after by hungry critters which stash them for the frigid winter months, or in some cases bury them to retrieve when weather permits.

This ongoing cycle of production that includes beauty, fruit, seeds, food, and re-generation are all in God’s plan of sustaining life on this great planet of ours.

Even worms, as much of a nuisance as they are when they infest our fruits and nuts, are merely trying to seek out a food source to sustain their species. It reminds me of that comical quote: “If Noah would have only squashed those two mosquitoes when entering the ark we wouldn’t be bothered with them today.”

Farmers and fruit growers spend thousands of dollars every year to control bug, worm and insect infestation, whether by natural control or chemical control. This effort is generally highly successful by producing prime examples of a more perfect product. On the other hand, it produces a more perfect and disease-resistant worm, insect or bug, and the cycle continues. After all, they are just seeking out a food source to survive.

Natural predators are the perfect solution in a lot of situations; however, in large-scale operations (which many farmers are involved in presently) it would be impractical to rely solely on this kind of remedy to have a prized high-production crop. When you’re dealing with hundreds and in some cases thousands of acres of grain and/or fruit, and high and best yields are at the top of the list, then some form of chemical control is the norm.

If you like (and want) our wintering friends and critters, then give them a helping hand by providing a supplemental food source, especially if there aren’t any “natural” supplies nearby.