HELEN LANG: Composting, not just for the birds

It’s just about time to start feeding the birds. If you start early they will know they can get a good meal at your place

It’s just about time to start feeding the birds. If you start early they will know they can get a good meal at your place and will return often when food becomes scarce around the neighbourhood gardens.

It was one of our great pleasures to have flocks of bush tits (those dear little brown birds who fly in flocks) visit us on a regular basis.

And then there was a downy woodpecker who loved the chunks of suet we either hung from a branch or nailed to the trunk of the Hawthorne tree outside the dining-room window.

We fed the ground feeders on the surface of the deck as well and the robins and towhees on the grass adjacent. These fellows liked slices of apple the best, although when we felt especially generous they got a handful of raisins which were very popular.

One warning, though: if you go somewhere warm for several weeks during the winter, either don’t start feeding until your return or arrange for a neighbour to keep your feeders filled.

Another suggestion will save some avian lives.

If you have large windows or glass doors leading to a deck where you plan to feed the birds, do hang ribbons or some sort of warning that there is glass between them and the lighted rooms inside.

There is little more troubling than to find a shattered small body under the window they have just smashed into. Another song, now gone forever.

Of course you will attract other birds as well. Starlings and crows get hungry too but they are a greedy bunch and will clean up everything in sight unless you can somehow discourage them. I do not recommend a shotgun!

I found that by watching what was happening I was able to dash out and drive the interlopers away. Of course everyone left when that happened, but gradually the desirable ones kept returning until it was no longer a problem. The others sat on the fence and shouted and whined to show their displeasure and left nasty deposits on the stairs when the opportunity arose.

Let’ talk about the business of composting.

Something that is wonderful for your soil is applying a thin layer of seaweed, kelp being the best. It needs to be chopped up before being dug under but I used to do this after spreading it on the vegetable beds.

I used to wash it off by spreading it on the driveway, just to remove any lingering salt, but this step is probably not really necessary.

Winter rains would do it for you.

Gardeners speak of “green manure.” I think seaweed fills that description although I believe the accepted meaning is a “green cover crop grown over the winter and dug under the following January or February.”

I used to do this as well. In October I planted fall rye, which germinated and grew slowly over the winter. It would be only a few inches tall by spring and, when dug under, decomposed rapidly as the soil warmed up. I loved that garden.

I’d like to mention “sheet composting” which is done right where it is needed.

You dig trenches about eight inches apart and eight inches deep, putting your vegetable peelings (etc.) into these trenches, covering them as you dump the refuse in, with the soil you removed to make the trench. Scatter some bone meal or chemical fertilizer on the refuse before covering it. By spring everything will have become fertile soil, right where it is needed. No fuss, no mess! A lazy gardener’s idea of the easy way to compost!

You’ll probably need about six weeks for your final peelings to decompose before you start planting seeds, although this may not be necessary.

When you think about it, why shouldn’t these two co-exist?

Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 30 years.