A Winter Solstice Celebration

The winter solstice, also known as “Midwinter” and “The Longest Night” marks the astronomical beginning of winter as well as the shortest day and longest night of the year. After this date (occurring between the 20th-22nd   of December each year) our daylight hours will begin to get longer, but we still have three more months of winter until spring. We decided to begin a new tradition to celebrate not only the winter season, but our neighborhood wildlife that we get so much joy from observing throughout the year.

Suet cake in a re-purposed mug!

Winter marks the beginning of a time of hardship for our wild friends, even though they are perfectly equipped to cope with the harsh outdoor environment, food is not as plentiful as it is in the summer months. So to give them a little boost this is when we hang our suet feeders, peanut cages, and keep our seed feeders full. To make it a little more special we chose a tree in our yard to decorate with some festive treats too!

A string of popcorn and cranberries!
Cranberry & Orange Ornament

Popcorn Strings!: Since these are for wild birds that could be harmed by ingesting string or thread, I chose to string our popcorn on a length of wire.  Birds wont be able to take any with them when they grab a kernel and it eliminates the needle from the equation making this a kid friendly project! We popped plain popcorn in a pot on the stove with a bit of melted tallow instead of our usual bacon fat (yes we really do that and it is amazing). For a splash of color and a little vitamin C and moisture for our feathery friends I added fresh cranberries to the strings, as well as orange slices.

A Polar Bear Bird ‘Cookie”

Bird Friendly “Cookies” are also on the menu Preheat your oven to 350 and combine in the bowl of a food processor until very sticky:

1 cup dried dates & dehydrated apples

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup raisins

¼ unsalted sunflower seeds

¼ cup meal worms (optional)

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add two Tablespoons natural peanut butter, and one Tablespoon raw honey, stir until thoroughly incorporated, mixture will become hard to stir.  Press into cookie cutter shapes and bake for 20 minutes. Cool, string on wire and hang.

Don’t Forget Good Ole Rabbit: For our very plentiful population of wild rabbits, carrots and apples will be roughly chopped and placed in areas they are known to frequent. Corn cobs will be added to our squirrel feeder…maybe now they’ll stay out of our garage.

What about water? A lot of people express concern about where birds get water in the winter when all fresh water sources are frozen. Rest assured that their water requirements are met by eating snow and wild berries and fruit. But an open water source is always appreciated. You can find various heated bird baths available on the market and you may find that your yard becomes a hot bed of wild bird activity. Purchase a low to the ground bath if you wish to give your rabbit visitors a drink as well.

But where do they sleep?  I have often found myself wondering this same question on blustery cold nights.  Much like our chickens in the coop, wild birds roost together in large groups to conserve heat. They choose tree cavities, the root balls of upturned trees, and the eves and rafters of old barns.  Some species of wild birds will over-winter as a family in the birdhouse they claimed in the spring, so you may want to think twice before you clean it out at the end of the year. – I’d even use it as an excuse to leave that brush pile until spring.  Bird watchers can catch wild birds roosting just after sunset.

A note regarding the special treats mentioned in this article: The popcorn strings, and bird cookies will only be presented on this day until they are gone and they will not be available to wildlife the entire season to prevent dependence on them. If you live in an area that prohibits the feeding of wildlife, please observe these rules as they are there to protect not only the wildlife, but you and your family as well.

A Simple Wish For Our Children

As parents, we have hopes for what our children will be when they grow up. Some hope for their children to have unbridled success in high paying jobs like doctors or engineers, or maybe even president … though I can’t say I would be too proud of raising a politician.

Our hopes are smaller, much more simple things. I want them to love all things green and growing. To care for and respect all creatures whether they have feathers, scales, or fur. I hope that they are unafraid to work hard, make mistakes, or try something new. And that they know saving up for a dream is worth it no matter how long it takes. I want them to know how to do things. I hope they will be strong men with rough hands and big hearts. Above all we want them to grow into decent human beings.

I knew from when Little J proudly presented me with a carefully selected rock from the driveway, and when Little O picked his first wild violet this spring, and how they both are mesmerized by the chickens that we have a really great opportunity for showing these two little fellas the beauty of the world. I want to be sure we nurture this born-in appreciation for nature in hopes that it will be a lifelong love affair.

Boy, do I have plans! Next year they are each going to get a large pot to grow whatever their little hearts desire. They each have their own little watering can and they can water their mini garden when I water my flowers on the porch. Our garden center has some neat little figures and decorations for tiny gardening that I think they will enjoy … but it might just end up being a hot wheels car or a dinosaur. I’ve also been thinking about a children’s garden, and Matt is working up plans for an upgraded swing set complete with a climbing wall. They can even help gather eggs.

Jacob enjoying the herb gardens at Sauders Village

But right now, we go outside and watch the robins. They are 1-1/2 after all and we don’t have any expectations about what will occur on our trips to the yard. We know for sure they will run straight for the chickens and watch them for a long time, and they have to kick the tires on the car. There may even be a wagon ride or swinging. Sometimes we spend time in the garden; I love watching them pick a weed here and there and put it in the bucket to go to the chickens. They play in the dirt, fall down, run, and swing. Right now we watch them grow. We watch them wonder at the grass and the tiny black fly buzzing by, and appreciate the tiniest things that we as adults may find annoying. They don’t see grass as simply something to be cut or a fly just something to swat.

They see something amazing.

I hope we can help keep it that way.