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When Do I Take Down My Hummingbird Feeder in the Fall?

September 15th, 2011

If you put up a hummingbird feeder in the summer you may wonder when you need to take it down. It has been rumored that if you leave it up the little birds will stick around delaying their migration, but this is not the case. There is no need to worry that you’re keeping them around. It’s actually a good idea to keep the feeder up well into fall for the opposite reason. Even though the hummingbirds that frequented your feeder all summer may have left already, migrating birds from farther north may use your feeder for a quick pit stop on their way south.

Here at Chiot’s Run we leave the hummingbird feeders up until mid to late October (I wait 2 weeks after seeing the last hummingbird). They get taken down and washed in a non-toxic soap every 3 days and then they’re filled with homemade organic nectar. Making your own hummingbird nectar is quick and easy.

Simply mix 1/4 cup organic sugar with 1 cup of filtered water in a cup or bottle. Mix until combined, fill feeders, store any extra in the fridge (although I make just enough to fill the feeders each time). Contrary to popular theories, you don’t need to boil the water or use hot water.  The nectar does not last longer if it is boiled since bacteria is introduced the first time a bird drinks.  It is also not necessary to add red food coloring either.  In fact the red coloring can be detrimental for the little birds.  I make sure I use organic sugar and filtered water because birds are more sensitive to toxins (read through your oven manual and they say to never clean your oven with a bird in the house and think about the canary in the coal mine).

To give the little hummingbirds a helping hand you can also make sure you have some late blooming flowering in the garden. Nicotiana, or flowering tobacco does very well at seeding down and blooming through frost here at Chiot’s Run. I also have Cardinal Climber vines and a few other nectar rich flowers for them.

Keep those feeders up and have some late blooming flowers in your garden for the little birds traveling the LONG way down for the winter!

Do you feed the hummingbirds in your garden? When do you take down your feeder?

Future Butterflies

July 9th, 2011

Last week I was at my mom’s and she mentioned that she had some yellow swallowtail caterpillars on her fennel. I had seen a few tiny caterpillars on my dill, but they were too small to tell what they were yet. I’ve been keeping my eye on them, and sure enough – they’re going to become yellow swallowtails. These caterpillars are quite striking with their lined and bright colors. They’ve been munching away on a bronze fennel plant I have growing in my front flowerbed. It’s amazing how quickly they grow!


This is one reason to include a wide variety of plants in your gardens. Fennel seems to be attractive to a lot of insects, as does milkweed. My mom has been working on establishing a nice stand of milkweed for the last 15 years and last year she was finally rewarded with monarch caterpillars on hers.

Do you have any herbs or plants that seem to attract certain insects?

We Have a Frog

July 5th, 2011

I was trying to catch a small frog at my mom’s last week but we couldn’t find one. This weekend I was out working in the garden and found a frog in a container I keep under a small leak by the rain barrels. I figured he’d be much happier in the garden pond, so I took him up there.


Frogs eat all kinds of insects so they’re great to have in your garden pond. I’m very happy to add frogs to the list of amphibians I have in my gardens. Hopefully he’ll stick around as I sure enjoy seeing them sitting on the water lilies.

Do you have any amphibians in your garden?

Tiny Toads

June 9th, 2011

I’ve been watching the pond daily and keeping track of the growth of the toad poles. There are hundreds if not thousands in there. There may be some frogs as well, I haven’t been able to tell yet if any of the tadpoles are frogs. It truly is amazing how a small 70 gallon pond will increase the biodiversity in your garden and capture your interest as well.


I’ve been watching these little guys since they were about the size of a grain of rice. Now they’re the size of a very large pea. About a week ago I noticed that they started getting legs and yesterday I noticed a few of them had started to lose their tails and were crawling out of the water.

Soon my garden will be overrun with tiny toads. Many of them will become food for birds but a few will survive to wage war on the slugs and other insects in the garden.

Any interesting thing in your garden you’re keeping an eye on? rabbit or bird nest? insect eggs?

Make Your Own: Suet Cakes

April 7th, 2011

I’ve been wanting to make suet cakes for the longest time but I had trouble finding suet for them. Finally I broke down and bought a 5 gallon pail of pastured beef tallow from US Wellness Meats (I know 5 gallon is a lot). We’ll be using some of this in our cooking, and some of it will be added to the homemade pet food. It will also be used to make suet cakes for our little feathered friends. We love providing suet because we get a lot of woodpeckers at our feeder by having it. A lot of other birds love it as well and it provides a good source of fat and energy for them during the cold winter months.

One of the reasons I want to make my own suet is because I try not to support CAFO’s in any way – buying ready made suet cakes supports them. I asked around and none of the local farmers were able to get suet from their cows, so local beef tallow/suet was out. I found a small farm on-line, but they were out and weren’t going to get any in until later this year. Finally I decided to purchase some from US Wellness Meats when they had it on sale. US Wellness now has ground grass fed suet for sale (they were out when I bought my tallow). If you don’t want to go to the trouble of melting suet, you can simply put out the suet as is for the birds, they’ll eat that as well.

Another reason I wanted to buy pastured organic tallow for homemade suet was because birds are very sensitive to chemicals (you know the whole canary in a coal mine thing). If you notice your oven booklet will tell you to remove birds from your home when you use the cleaning cycle. This is because birds are very sensitive to VOC’s – which always makes me wonder why they don’t recommend humans leaving the house? I know that the beef tallow I purchased will not be contaminated with any hormones, antibiotics or chemicals that will hurt my feathered friends and their offspring.

Making suet cakes at home is really simple and surprisingly, even with the cost of pastured suet, cheaper. I spent some time researching recipes on-line and didn’t particularly find any that sounded great, so I made my own.

HOMEMADE SUET CAKES
1 1/2 pound of beef tallow or lard (preferable organic & pastured)
2 cups birdseed mix
2 cups black oil sunflower seeds
2 cups organic whole grain flour
1 cup dried fruit or peanuts (I used dried cherries from my bounty this past summer)

Mix all seed and flour in large mixing bowl while melting tallow or lard in a skillet over low heat. When tallow is melted, mix in with birdseed. If tallow thickens too quickly place entire bowl in a warm oven until melted again. If your house it cold it would be beneficial to warm birdseed mix and bowl in oven before adding melted tallow. Pour into 9 x 13 pan lined with a sheet of parchment paper. Let cool for a few hours. Cut into 6 squares, which fit perfectly into a regular suet feeder.

I put some of this out on Sunday and the birds are loving it. They’ve been flocking to the feeder. I haven’t figured up the cost to the penny, but this suet cost me about $5 for this batch of 6 cakes and they’re larger than the ones you buy at the store. This would be a great project to do with your kids, especially for a handmade gift (time to start thinking about your handmade holidays).

My next plan for the birds is to try to find a local source for healthier organic bird seed. When the new garden area is finished I’ll have some space to grow some grains and sunflowers just for the birds. Then the birds will be able to glean naturally. I’ll be adding a lot of bird friendly shrubs to my new garden area as well, I’ll be talking about that specifically soon.

Do you consider the birds when you select plants for your garden? Do you put out suet?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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