Eastern Beneficial Birds & 10 Ways to Attract Them to Your Garden

Among the gardener’s many friends are a variety of birds. Some species help pollinate crops while others wreak havoc on pest populations. Some help keep the rodent population in check while certain species eat the seeds off troublesome weeds. When planning an organic garden it’s definitely worth considering local bird species. Implementing a few simple strategies to attract them to your garden can help you natural improve your yields.

  • Owls
    These nocturnal hunters are excellent at keeping rodents from stealing your crops. The most common eastern species that will hunt in or near your garden include Barn Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, Barred Owls, and Great Horned Owls. Barn Owls in particular have seen population declines and would benefit from nest boxes.
  • Hummingbirds
    Only one species of hummingbird is commonly found in the eastern United States, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They are beautiful to see in the garden and help pollinate too!
  • Goldfinches
    Often overlooked helpers in the garden are the seed eating birds. Goldfinches are a common variety that’s easy to attract and they’ll lend you a hand by eating the seeds of many common weed species.
  • Swallows 
    While there are many species in the swallow family that eat insects Purple Martins and Barn Swallows are two species that can be commonly found frequenting backyard gardens.
  • Northern Cardinals
    In the winter time cardinals will frequently be found at seed feeders however during the summer month they’re more than happy to eat pests in your garden. They’re very common on the east coast.
  • Blue Jays
    Despite their sometimes bad reputation Blue Jays can actually be helpful in the garden. They mostly feed on nuts and seeds but they’ll also eat caterpillars and other insects.
  • Chickadees
    Chickadees are common throughout much of the east coast and have no qualms about hanging out in your backyard. Depending on where you live you may see Boreal Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, or Carolina Chickadees with the second two being more likely to frequent populated areas. Chickadees are omnivores and making them easy to attract to your garden during the winter so they’ll munch on insects during the summer.
  • Eastern Bluebirds
    These birds love to eat insects and could use some serious help. Eastern Bluebirds populations have declined due to competition with House Sparrows for nesting sites. If you’d like to attract them to your garden they’re happy to use nest boxes.
  • Hawks
    There are several species of hawks that can be found in the eastern United States but you’ll most likely to see Cooper’s Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks,  Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks near your garden and they can help keep rodents and other small mammals from overtaking your garden.
  • American Kestrel
    The American Kestrel shares may of the same features of hawks but is actually part of the falcon family.

How to Attract Them & Keep Them Visiting Your Garden

  1. Research and put up species appropriate houses. Obviously you’ll need a different sort of house for a chickadee than a barn owl but there’s more to it than that. Some birds also have distinct territories and won’t nest in boxes too close to their neighbors. Research your favorite specie’s requirements and make houses to suit their needs.
  2. Feeders are an easy way to get birds to visit your garden. Many birds like chickadees will really benefit from seed feeders out during the winter but will lend you a hand with insects during the summer months as well. If you have bears in your area you may need to take feeders down during the summer months.
  3. Provide multi-level gardens. Birds like natural areas. Perfectly trimmed lawns and just low growing plants won’t cut it. Birds prefer places to land and hide. Adding a blend of taller and shorter plants, planting some things in dense groups, and adding perennial plants, shrubs, and trees will make birds feel more comfortable visiting your garden.
  4. In the same sense, keep nearby wooded areas natural. Leave standing dead wood for birds to nest in and feed on. Avoid heavy pruning and creating manicured looking woodlands.
  5. Leave standing dead material like corn or sunflower stalks during the winter. Birds that overwinter in your area will often find insects in them to feed on.
  6. Add a bird bath to your yard especially if you live in a dry area. While some birds will actually use it to bath many will use it to get a drink while they’re visiting your garden.
  7. Spay/neuter your cat. As lovable as cats are they can devastate a local songbird population. Having a pet is a wonderful thing but contributing to stray cats is horrible for wildlife.
  8. Avoid using rodenticides and insecticides as these will travel up the food change and harm or even kill birds.
  9. If you can leave a few sturdy, mature trees around. These are preferable perches for larger birds like hawks and owls.
  10. Make your windows visible. Hanging things in your windows or adding decals to them can save birds from unnecessary collisions.

Of course these are not the only birds that are helpful, there are tons of species! This list is just a few of the species common to the eastern United States that can be beneficial around gardens. Using these 10 tips can help you have a better garden while helping local wildlife. What do you do to attract birds? Did we miss anything?

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Easy Fermented Cucumber Pickles

Fermenting food is actually one of the oldest and safest methods of food preservation. Despite this fermenting food as a means of food preservation has largely been replaced by canning and freezing. While fermented foods may require a little extra care and attention they are still pretty easy to make and are beneficial to eat. Eating a diet that includes fermented foods promotes healthy gut flora and good digestion.

Fermented cucumber pickles are an easy way to get started with fermented foods and they’re just as tasty as home canned ones! They’re also easy to make in small batches, perfect for people with smaller gardens.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • fresh cucumbers
  • filtered water
  • salt 
  • onions
  • spices (dill, pepper, garlic, etc.)
  • jar or crock
  • crock weight
  • *optional – grape leaves 

Directions

Rinse your cucumbers and remove any that are bruised or damaged. If you’re making a large crock and can fit them in whole they’re ready to go. If not slice your cucumbers however you desire. Spears and slice both work fine.

Mix your cucumbers, onion slices, and spices and pack them into your jar or crock leaving an inch or so of head space.

Don’t worry that the recipe isn’t specific. It doesn’t matter! Unlike canning you can mess around with ingredients without making your food unsafe. If you’re not sure what spices you’d like small batches are wonderful for trying different combinations.

In a quart jar mix 1 1/2 TBS salt and water until the salt is dissolved and pour over your cucumbers. Repeat this process as needed until they’re completely covered.

Place some sort of weight over your cucumbers to hold them under the water. You can purchase a crock weight, use a plate, or use a clean rock. In my mini batch pictured above I washed a small rock and used it.

If desired you can also layer clean grape leaves over the top of your cucumbers before weighing them down. The grape leaves help keep the air away from your cucumbers and the tannins in them help the cucumbers stay crisp.

If you’re using a jar you can now lightly put the lid on. Don’t screw it down tight. If gases can’t escape your jar will explode. If using a crock you can lay a clean towel or cloth over it. Let your pickles ferment for 2-3 days on the counter.

Once they’ve fermented they can be moved to cold storage like a refrigerator or root cellar and they’ll last for months!

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7 Medicinal Weeds & How to Use Them

Dealing with weeds may be one of the worst parts of gardening. No matter how diligent you are or how much you cover crop and mulch there will always be a few that get by you and mature. While I’ve often heard gardeners refer to edible weeds with the positive motto, “if you can’t beat them eat them.” It doesn’t always work for me. When I’ve worked hard to nurture a late crop of heirloom lettuce onto our plates, a salad of wild greens just doesn’t have the same appeal. However there are medicinal uses for some of the pesky garden weeds that plague your summer chore list. Here’s a list of common medicinal weeds and how they can be used.

Ground Ivy/Creeping Charlie

Ground Ivy is edible but not exactly tasty. It has been used medicinally treat a variety of ailments. It’s astringent, anti-inflammatory, and very high in vitamin C. It was once used to treat scurvy. Today you can make it into an immune boosting tea or tincture.

Plantain

There are two common types of plantain, Plantago major (left) and Plantago lanceolata (right), and both share the same medicinal properties. Plantain leaves and seeds are edible and full of important vitamins but the leaves are most frequently used externally. The leaves have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and can be crushed and placed on small injuries and insect bites to help soothe and heal.

Chickweed

This plant is often used to treat stomach conditions including constipation. It’s also high in vitamin C and can be made into a tincture or eaten fresh.

Dandelion

Flowers, leaves, and roots, all parts of the humble dandelion are medicinal. Though it hasn’t been well studied dandelion is believed to help support liver function and balance hormones. The leaves and flowers can be dried as tea, made into a tincture, or eaten fresh. The roots are sometimes ground and dried as a coffee substitute.

Cleavers

Also called goose grass or bedstraw, this plant is most commonly used as an herbal tea to treat urinary infections and promote kidney health. The plant and its seeds are very good at sticking to clothing.

Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel was once commonly believed to a blood cleanser. It has also been used to treat stomach ailments including vomiting and a poor appetite. Juice from wood sorrel plants is believed to helpful in treating ulcers when used as a mouth rinse. It’s also thought to help treat sore feet when added to a tub of warm water, a perfect use for the busy gardener! Though tasty, it should be consumed in moderation as it is high in oxalic acid which can inhibit calcium absorption.

Lambsquarters

Lambsquarter actually is quite tasty but it can also be used medicinally. Traditionally it was used internally, either eaten fresh, cooked, or made into a tea to treat rheumatic pains and chronic wounds. It’s can also be crushed and used as a poultice to help soothe eczema, sunburns, and insect bites.

Using a few herbal remedies won’t eradicate the weeds from your garden or replace your costly health insurance but maybe it will help you connect with nature. Maybe it will make you a little less sad to see weeds popping up in your garden. What weeds have you utilized from your garden?

I’m not a medical practitioner or herbal medicine expert. Please consult a doctor before trying to use herbal remedies to treat any ailment. Some plants may interact with certain prescriptions or pre-existing conditions.

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Saving the Past for the Future