Saturday, December 27, 2008

All This Snow

I was out shoveling the drive this evening. It was very still, except for the sound of my shovel scraping across the drive and the snow was still coming down and it was very peaceful. I could see the Christmas lights twinkling from down the street. I bought some ice melter the other day, thinking that it would help relieve me of the burden of shoveling the drive. Then I read the label. This is kind of like the time I bought the leaf shredder from my neighbor. I somehow thought that it would reduce the amount of leaves to about what would fit in a 5 gallon bucket. Wrong. And it was a lot of work, raking up all those leaves and running them through the shredder then spreading them around the flower beds and digging it in to the soil to decompose. I guess I thought the ice melter would somehow turn a driveway covered in snow into... something other than a driveway covered in snow and it would somehow all just go away. Wrong again.
So what does ice melter do and how does it do it? Well, when you read the fine print you find out that what it does is keep the snow from adhering to whatever it has fallen onto, like your driveway or sidewalk and it should be put down before it snows, not after. Who is going to remember to do that?! Ice melters are made from several different substances. The cheapest ice melter is rock salt. More expensive ice melters are made of different types of chlorides, including magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. Ice melters can melt down to different temperatures as well. Some go as low as -20 . Anything with chlorides in it will be corrosive to some degree or another and also damaging to plants. The lower the sodium chloride the safer the ice melter for your plants, deck and sidewalk.
There are organic ice melters now on the market that are completely safe for plants, decks and sidewalks. They melt down to -50 . They are even less corrosive than water and you won’t track the residue into your house. They are liquid and you can apply them with a pressurized sprayer. I have used it around my house this year and it seemed to work as advertised. I sprayed it before the snow fell and it did seem easier to shovel the snow from the front walk.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Crystal Lake today had two opportunities to enjoy holiday programs featuring Countryside staff members. This afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Fergus, from the greenhouse department, and her husband Rick sing at the First Congregational Church Christmas program. The concert features several choirs and a bell choir. What a fabulous performance and we all had a great time at the end singing a medley of Christmas songs. Tonight, Jim the driver, will be playing the tuba in the Crystal Lake Concert Band’s winter concert. If you didn’t get a chance to hear the band tonight, they are frequent performers during the Tuesday night concerts at the band shell in the summer.

With the first real snowfall this week, I got to thinking about the birds. The snow has covered up any seeds or other food sources so it is incumbent upon us to help provide food sources, especially as development takes away from the natural resources. A lot of birds, of course, do migrate to warmer climes with more available food sources, but the cardinals, juncos, and the finches, to name a few, stick around (I don’t know why, even my neighbor has finally left for Florida for the winter) and so we should put out not only food, but water also.
I have several friends, mostly from my garden club, who also feed the birds during the winter and they have two different philosophies about what type of food to put out. My one friend, (you know who you are) buys the cheapest bird food she can find feeling that whatever she puts out is better than nothing. I personally like to attract a wide variety of birds, so I put out several different kinds of bird food in different types of feeders. And I feel that if the birds won’t eat what you put out, why bother.

Selecting Bird Seed --It is pretty easy to tell a high quality bird seed, just look at the label. Just like at the grocery store, the ingredients are listed in descending order by percentage. Also listed on the label will be the guaranteed analysis, by percentage, of protein, fat, fiber and moisture. In order to compare one mix from another, compare the ingredients and the analysis. It also helps to know what type of birds you want to attract. If you want to attract finches, which like nyjer thistle and your mix doesn’t list it, then you won’t attract many finches.

Most birds that stay around through the winter prefer foods that have sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, millet, thistle and fruit. Suet is another popular food this time of year. Just as important is to also have a source for water. Just like all animals, birds need water, too. Using a heated bird bath is one way to provide a water source this time of year.
Birding is the second most popular hobby in America. It can be a very rewarding experience to put out feeders, plant bird friendly plants, and make a backyard habitat for birds. If you want more information about birding as a hobby here are several links to websites for more information.

The Prince Corporation
Cornell Ornithological Lab