beech

Oct 232012
 
burning logs in fire

Firewood 

“To have no fire, or a bad fire, to sit by, is a most dismal thing.”

William Cobbett

Lighting a fire

They say that making up a fire is an art in itself and everyone finds what works for them eventually – I was always told that a fire should light with one match and generally I have found that to be so.  Having got the fire to light sometimes it just doesn’t do and I am at a loss as to why.  For an explanation and tips on how to light a fire check out this article.  

Below is a poem by an unknown author that may help us all to know the best firewood to burn and keep us warm.

What to burn

“Oak logs will warm you well, if they’re old and dry.

Larch logs of pine will smell, but the sparks will fly.

Beech logs for Christmas time; yewl logs heat well.

‘Scotch’ logs it is a crime for anyone to sell.

Birch logs will burn too fast; chestnut scarce at all.

Hawthorn logs are good to last, if you cut them in the fall.

Holly logs will burn like wax; you should burn them green.

Elm logs like smouldering flax, no flame to be seen.

Pear logs and apple logs, they will scent your room.

Cherry logs across the dogs smell like flowers in bloom.

But ash logs, all smooth and grey, burn them green or old.

Buy up all that come your way, they’re worth their weight in gold.”

The quality of firewood is based upon various characteristics such as its speed of burn, heat given off, tendency to spark (spit), ease of splitting, time required to season, etc.

 Grade: 1 = Poor, Grade: 2 = Okay, Grade: 3 = Good, Grade: 4 = Excellent.

Firewood Rating Table
Common Name:  Botanical Name:  Comments:
 Alder Alnus  Low quality firewood.Grade: 1 
 Apple Malus  Needs to be well seasoned. Burns well with a pleasant smell and no sparking/spitting. Grade: 3
 Ash Fraxinus  One of the best firewoods. It has a low water content and is easily split with an axe. Burns best when seasoned but can be burned green. Grade: 4 
 Beech Fagus  Beech has a high water content and will therefore only burn when seasoned. Grade: 3 
 Birch Betula  An excellent firewood that will burn when green. However, it burns quickly so should be mixed with a slower burning wood such as Oak. Grade: 3/4
 Cedar  Cedrus  A good firewood which burns with a pleasant smell. Gives a good lasting heat and does not spit much. Small pieces may be burned green.Grade: 2/3 
 Cherry Prunus  Must be well seasoned. Burns with a pleasant smell without spitting.Grade: 2/3 
 Elm Ulmus  A good firewood but due to its high water content of approximately 140% (more water than wood!) it must be seasoned very well. It may need assistance from another faster burning wood such as Birch to keep it burning well. However it gives off a good, lasting heat and burns very slowly. Larger pieces of wood will prove difficult to split. Grade: 2/3
 Eucalyptus Eucalyptus  Allow to season well since the wood is very sappy when fresh. Can be difficult to split due to stringy wood fibre. Best method is to slice into rings and allow to season during the summer, the rings will start to split themselves. Burns fast with a pleasant smell and without spitting. Grade: 2/3
 Hawthorn Crataegus  A good firewood. Grade: 3/4 
 Hazel Corylus  An excellent wood when seasoned. Burns fast without spitting. Grade: 4 
 Holly Ilex  A good firewood that can be burned green. Grade: 3 
 Hornbeam Carpinus  Burns well. Grade: 3 
 Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum  A fairly poor firewood.Grade: 2 
 Larch Larix  A very poor firewood which spits excessively while burning and leaves an oily soot in the chimney. Provides a good heat. Grade: 1
 Lime Tilia  Poor quality firewood.Grade: 2 
 Oak Quercus  One of the best firewoods. When seasoned well, it gives off a good, lasting heat. Burns reasonably slowly.Grade: 4 
 Pear Pyrus  If well seasoned it burns nicely with a pleasant smell. Grade: 3 
 Pine Pinus  Burns hot but needs to be well seasoned. Leaves an oily soot in the chimney and spits excessively.Grade: 1 
 Plane Platanus  A reasonable quality firewood. Grade: 3 
 Poplar Populus Very poor firewood. Burns with a poor heat and only usable when well seasoned. Grade: 1
 Rowan Sorbus aucuparia Burns well. Grade: 3
 Spruce Picea Low quality. Grade: 2
 Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa Burns when seasoned but spits continuously and excessively.Not for use on an open fire and make sure wood-burning stoves have a good door catch!Grade: 1/2
 Maple (including Sycamore) Acer Burns well. Grade: 3
 Walnut Juglans  Poor quality firewood.Grade: 2 
 Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron  Very bad quality. Grade: 1 
 Willow Salix  A high water content means it needs to be well seasoned. Grade: 2/3 
 Yew Taxus  Usable. Grade: 2/3 

Burning green or unseasoned wood

In simple terms, the word ‘seasoned’ means ‘dry’ and the term ‘green’ means ‘freshly cut from living tree’.

Green wood carries about a third of its weight as water, which on the fire evaporates and helps to carry the heat away up the chimney.  You can often hear a log sizzle or hiss in the fire if it is too green or damp.  Read More

Difference between wood and coal for burning

Wood fuel has typically less than half the calorific value of coal and smokeless fuel which burns for longer, so you must be prepared to use a greater volume of wood to heat your home or room, unless you use both wood and mineral solid fuel. Coal ash should be disposed of in your rubbish, whilst wood ash has many uses and should not be discarded.

Best wood for an open fire

Generally hardwoods are best for open fires because they tend not to spit excessively, however there are exceptions  (horse chestnut spit badly making them a hazard in an open fire). Conifer wood (like spruce) tends to spit excessively when fresh, so is best used for sealed wood burning stoves, again there are exceptions. Many conifers also cause an oily, sticky ‘soot’ to form inside the chimney which can increase the risks of chimney fires. Once properly seasoned conifer wood can be successfully used on the open fire without excessive spitting. Ideally, conifer wood is best mixed with hardwood.

 Where to find firewood

The most common form of wood fuel at the moment is logs. These will usually come from local sources and can be brought from a variety of outlets – e.g. coal merchants, farmers, tree surgeons. There are now companies who only supply firewood.  If you cannot afford to purchase firewood, then why not contact your local Forestry Commission office and enquire about a Scavenging Permit to lift leftover wood after an area has been harvested.  The only other option is to grow your own – however this is a long term investment (unless you buy a mature woodland) some trees grow faster than others such as the fast growing willow Viminalis but the downside is that you have to store them for longer before they are dry enough to burn. 

Buying logs – what you need to know and ask

It is better to buy wood by volume than by weight because between 35% and 60% of the weight of freshly felled wood comes from water. Read More 

Which trees are hardwood or softwood and what is the difference for firewood?

The two categories of woods, softwood and hardwood, do not actually refer to how hard or soft a wood is to the touch but rather how dense the wood is.  Read More. 

Useful links to information about buying and drying firewood

 October 23, 2012  green, post archive, tree Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Oct 182012
 
burning logs in fire

How to make a log fire

In these days of central heating where you push a button or the heating comes on automatically by timer – heating your house with a log burning  or dual fuel stove can be a challenge, and for many is a skill that they have never learned.  As children many of us were warned away from fire, and discouraged from playing with matches.  Our houses were warmed by gas, electricity, or oil.

So you have opened up a fireplace or installed a stove, and are struggling to light that fire or get a good blaze going.  Ray Mears can produce a fire from a spark in the wilderness but you have gone through several matches and firelighters and still there is a pitiful flicker that produces no heat.

What are the tips to lighting a fire?

The things you need to consider are:

  • Air flow or draw of the fire

    Your chimney is the lungs of the house and you need air flow to feed the flames and build up heat.  When we had an open fire this included opening the door in the room, or putting up a sheet of newspaper against the chimney opening to create a rush of air.  In a stove this is easier by opening the vents and door slightly.  Sometimes there are issues about not having enough of a draw – if this is the case seek professional help – a cowl (see link) might be required and on occasion I have heard of a electric fan assisted cowl to artificially generate a flow of air.  If you have an open fire then beware of back-draft when it is windy – sometimes it is just not worth  setting a fire (you can get a cowl to help this see link above).  Or you may have to much of a draw that creates a draft when the pass door is open -(we experienced this which is why personally we prefer stoves).  We have not had a problem with back-draft since we installed the stoves and when the fires are not lit – we don’t have the cold air coming down the chimney.  One last point on an open fire – they are less efficient than stoves because you lose a lot of heat up the chimney.  Stoves retain heat simply from their structure and they enable you to control the rate of burn thereby maximising efficiency.

  • Type of wood you are using to light the fire

  See my other blog on what types of wood burn best.  Most types of wood when unseasoned or green, are too full of sap and water to burn effectively (Ash is the exception).  Also some wood just does not burn very well.  The heavier and therefore denser the wood, the higher its calorific value and therefore the longer it will burn. Hardwoods tend to be denser than softwoods such as pine and spruce and some of the densest are oak and beech. However, some of the very dense hardwoods like oak and elm can be very difficult to burn, so it is usually best to burn them with another type of wood as well. Softwoods tend to be easy to light and to burn quickly (making them very good kindling). Some of the best woods to burn are ash, beech, hornbeam, hawthorn, crab apple and wild cherry.

Your wood needs to be seasoned (dried over a period of time or in a kiln). If buying from a log merchant, check that your load will be well seasoned and ready to throw on the fire.  If you are still unsure, or storing it yourself, use a moisture meter to detect when the timber’s content is below 25%.  Until then, store in a pile with plenty of air circulating around it.

  • Moisture content of wood for the fire

 This can affect how well wood will burn.  Wet wood is also less efficient because the rising steam takes away heat from the room. It will also coat your chimney with resin and soot which is a major cause of chimney fires. More information on this issue can be found here.

  • Size of wood in the fire

 You need to light a small piece of wood and newspaper or firelighter that then lights a bigger piece (called kindling) that then lights a log.  Heat needs to build up and you need a bed of embers burning before logs will burn freely. Check out this You Tube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6aIeIZfTkg&feature=related

  • Log fires need a lot of attention

They burn quickly and can go out if not attended or fed with other logs.  Coal is a less green option but gives a greater long lasting heat.  However it produces a lot more ash or spoil that is considered toxic and cannot be used in your hen shed or compost.  We put our wood ash under the roosting perches to balance out the acidity of the hen poop. The chicken manure and wood ash react, driving off the nitrogen and drying out the manure. The result is an easily handled, easy-to-store, organic fertilizer that is rich in potassium and phosphorus.  We also add wood ash to the hens dust bath.  Wood ash is a good source of potash check out this link for more info.  For the reasons given we do not mix wood (apart from initial lighting with kindling) with coal, we have one type of fire or the other.

  • Health and safety

Open fires can be more dangerous than wood burning stoves because of the sparks they produce – amongst other dangers.  Never leave an open fire unattended, however stoves can become dangerously hot and touching them or proximity of materials close to stoves can melt, or smoulder.  Fire guards, proximity, and health & safety are things that must always be taken into consideration.

  • Flammable materials

do not burn things in your fire that can cause fumes or are dangerous.

  • Maintenance of chimney

make sure your chimney is cleaned or swept regularly – it is recommended that this is done at least once a year.  Otherwise that roaring fire might turn into something far more dangerous…….  When coal soot deposits or wood tar deposits build up to a sufficient level there is the risk of chimney fire. The heat from the fire warms the deposits releasing the combustible volatiles until they ignite. The fire then migrates up the chimney as the burning deposits heat the chimney above. Chimney fires can damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. Here are some useful links http://www.chimney-cleaners.co.uk/chimney-fires.phphttp://www.stovesonline.co.uk/chimney-fires.htmlhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3drlKFx8P7Y.

We fitted chinese hats to the tops of our chimneys to stop rain getting in, birds getting in, and reduces downdraft.  Check out this link for examples of caps or hats for your chimney.

Making a fire

When your wood is ready, make a wigwam of dry kindling (gathered twigs, chopped up logs, or pallets cut into batons) over scrunched up sheets of newspaper.  Once the paper is lit in several places, this is the foundation of your fire.  Other items that give it extra spark include fir cones, loose or dry bark, or cardboard such as empty toilet rolls. When the kindling is roaring (if using a stove, open up the vent fully or for an open hearth, use bellows to fan the flames), start by adding one log and then more once the fire is established (in a stove leave the vent partially open to keep it steady).  Continue to stir/poke the fire to stimulate combustion and feed with fuel when necessary.

 A log stove can go out quickly if left without fuel, if you wish to stoke up a fire then you need to reduce the air flow and make sure there is plenty of fuel so that it can be left overnight, for example, to burn slowly or smoulder and produce a low heat over a long time.  Hardwoods such as oak are best suited to this as they are dense and slow-burning.

With coal it is possible to pack it down, reduce the air flow, (some people even pour a little moisture over the top to create a crust), and restart the fire again in the morning.  This is less likely to happen with wood as it will burn quicker.

 Wood ash

Unlike coal ash that should be disposed as rubbish, wood ash has many beneficial uses and should be treasured.  Wood ash contains 10-25% calcium, 1-4% magnesium, 5-15% potassium and 1-3% phosphorus. And amongst other things is good for your compost, garden, and chicken dust bath. Read more

 October 18, 2012  green, post archive, smallholder, tree Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Jan 152012
 
timber damage after storm at fife smallholder

The relationship between Beech, Bats, Woodpeckers, Owls, and Pigs on our smallholding

‘Piglet has his own house, a “very grand house in the middle of a beech tree,” which he gave to Owl when his house was blown down on a very blustery day’ .
Winnie the poo
large beech trees in winter
We have some large Beech sentinels in our wood that are estimated to be 190 years old, and one of them suffered damage in the recent high winds that hit Central Scotland.  The limbs on these trees are very large and although unfortunate it does offer opportunities from the adversity.
fallen tree trunk from beech tree

Firewood

Beech wood is an excellent firewood, easily split and burns for many hours with bright but calm flames.

Woodlander

Beech wood burns well and can be used to smoke herrings and cheese. Chips of beech wood are also used in the brewing and making of some beers. 

Wildlife

Although a fallen limb or tree is good for firewood, it is also a part of the natural process within a wood and many species depend on this happening to maintain the balance and ecosystem that exists within a woodland.  The larger the concentration of old trees in an area and the longer they have been present on site the richer the variety of species you will find among them.
Many species live here all year round. Some are visitors and some live here permanently. Some come for the spring (Great spotted woodpecker), summer (Insects: Hoverflies, Birds: Green woodpecker), autumn (Fungi), and others for the winter months (such as Brambling birds ). Because of the variety of habitats available. A range of birds use the broad leaved woodland, evergreen conifer, open rough grassland and low bog areas.
nest in beech tree

Beech mast and Beech leaves

Beech mast is also a favourite food of many woodland animals such as badgers, deer, mice and squirrels and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars.

The laughing woodpecker

The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the woodpeckers and has been known to visit our woods and its collection of fallen and rotten timber. It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is greeny-grey on its upperparts with a bright green rump and red on the top of its head. They have an undulating flight, and will climb up tree trunks and branches and will move around to be on the side away from anyone watching. It has a very distinctive call in that it sounds like it is laughing.
rotten wood and timber

Relationship between bats and woodpeckers

Tree are vitally important for our bats. The majority of British bat species have been recorded roosting in trees and some, such as the Noctule, rely almost exclusively on them. Noctules are often found in Woodpecker holes appearing to prefer them over natural cavities. Some researchers have suggested that Noctules may be dependant on woodpeckers to provide suitable roosting opportunities. Read more about bats.
potential bat roost in old woodpecker hole in tree
The picture shows an old woodpecker hole which could be used by Noctules for roosting. The hole is formed in a soft section of the stem of a tree. The stem has been infected by a decay fungi which has caused the wood to become soft enough to allow the woodpecker to create the hole. This potential roost has been created by a complex ecological relationship between Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica), Tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) and woodpecker, possibly the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis).  It isn’t just roosting opportunities that make beech trees useful for bats. The trees attract insects and therefore provide valuable foraging habitats.

Bats and Beech

Bats roost in trees, in obvious cavities, cracks and splits, but also in less obvious places such as under ivy and under loose bark.  The damaged parts of a tree are the most likely places to find roosting bats.  Any tree can be used for roosting as long as shelter is provided,  but old oak, beech, ash and Scots pine are most frequently used. Bat roost sites can be at any height, although the upper trunk and branches are favoured. Entrance holes may be narrow slits on the underside of a branch that can be easily overlooked, as well as more obvious old woodpecker holes in the main trunk.

Owls and Beech

One of the best trees to attract owls is the beech tree. That’s not because owls eat the beech mast, or beechnuts, but because the mice eat them. In this way, the carnivorous owls get nice, fat, juicy mice to eat to keep them in the area.
beech nut casings
“As long as owl’s habitat is left alone by man and in such a state as to produce a great number of rodents, there will be no loss of owls in a region. One of the things that those people managing woodlands can do is not to clear out all of the undercover where mice live. Tawny owls will particularly benefit from this practice. Wood left on the ground and a pile left to rot will draw all kinds of insects which also feeds owls.”
decaying wood attracts insects that are predated by owls

Livestock

Pigs and Beech

Livestock were once released into beech woodlands to feast on the beech’s oil-rich bounty. The nuts were also important as a source of food, particularly for pigs. They are energy rich and could be used to fatten pigs up for market. The period when the nuts ripened and fell was perfectly timed to fatten swine for late autumn butchering. A farmer with access to oak or beech mast could thus convert calories present in nuts into calories in pork with little or no additional effort and at no additional cost in fodder. Indeed, by using mast rights a farmer was able to make use of a resource that would otherwise be unharvested or very inefficiently harvested.

Pheasants, Poultry, Turkeys and Beech

Beech mast has also been used to feed pheasants, poultry, and turkeys.  Beech nuts should never be fed to horses.
fifesmallholder beech trees in autumn

Smallholder

It is commonly accepted that the foods used to feed and to finish meat livestock affect the final flavour of the product. Pigs  fed on oak mast, chestnut mast or beech mast has a reputation for producing exceptional finished meat. As a result, with the new interest in artisanal and high quality foods as well as humane stock handling, there is a resurgence of mast-fed pork.
While beechnuts are nutritious for humans, eating too many can cause headaches or giddiness, as vast amounts of potash are contained within the tree.

Beech Tree facts

  • Beech trees are shallow rooted, and mature trees are at risk of being uprooted in high winds.
  • These trees grow slowly, eventually reaching a height of up to 120 feet, with branches spanning 50 feet.
  • The nuts are encased in a spiny bur and are favored by birds and other wildlife. Beech has a full crop of nuts every 5 years but does not really start producing a good crop until it is at least 50 years old.
  • The timber is practically pure white and is used to make furniture and toys.
  • The tree is best known for its many and low branches that create a deep shade.
  • Beech leaves take a long time to decay, so few nutrients are released to nourish ground plants. Consequently, there is little undergrowth in a beech wood, unless trees have been deliberately thinned out (coppiced).

Folklore

names on a tree trunk

Magically, beech is specifically useful for making wishes. To do this write a or scratch your wish on a piece of beech wood then bury it in an appropriate spot.  As your written wish is claimed by the earth so will it begin to manifest in life.  Beech is also popular with lovers, as witnessed by the many hearts arrows and names carved upon the smooth trunks of beech trees.
beech leaves in fifesmallholder wood

Recipe

Beech leaf Noyau

1 bottle vodka
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 glass of brandy
Collect young, fresh beech leaves and strip them from the twigs.  Half fill an emptly bottle or jar with the leaves  and then pour on the bottle of vodka.  Seal up the container and keep leaves in it for 3 weeks, before straining them off.  Boil the sugar in half pint of water and add this to the vodka with a good sized glass of brandy.  You should end up with 2 almost  full bottles of noyau for the price of one bottle of vodka.

Links

Nov 022011
 
fungi

The relationship between trees and fungi

Its been a good year for mushrooms or fungi, on our smallholding.

 

woodland mushroom at fife smallholder

 

What is fungi?

Fungi, together with the bacteria, are the ‘decomposers’ of our environment and they are just as important as the ‘producers’ the green plants. Fungi lack the green pigment chlorophyll, the pigment that is essential in converting sunlight into plant energy, because they don’t have this pigment, fungi have to get their energy from other sources, from organic material produced by other plants.

Fungi are not plants but belong in a kingdom of their own. Their cell walls are made of chitin (a white horny substance more easily recognised as the substance that forms the outer skeletons of crabs!) and instead of using photosynthesis to obtain energy they digest organic matter.

Where will I find fungi?

Many fungi grow only in very specific places, or are associated with particular kinds of trees. i.e. ‘Birch’ polypore or Razorstrop, a bracket fungus.  Fruiting bodies may also be produced in a particular season. Although Autumn (August to November)  is the most fruitful season. In spring for example, there are Saint George’s mushroom so named because the fruiting bodies first appear around the 23rd April, which is St. George’s Day. In Summer  –  giant Puffballs and the edible bracket ‘Chicken of the woods’.

woodland fungi

woodland fungi

The fungi in the picture above is likely to be Honey Fungus.  This is a destructive parasite which can be found on tree stumps, roots and buried branches.  It is recognisable  from the black rhizomes encircling its host which resemble a network of leather bootlaces.  Do not eat raw.  Collect the caps when young, when the gills are white.  Blanch before cooking and then fry slowly.  Honey Fungus has  a strong flavour and firm texture.        

Types of fungi

Fungi can be divided into three groups:

  •  Saprophytes 

are probably the most numerous, performing a vital role in breaking down dead organic matter. Feeding on dead tree trunks, decomposed plant remains in the soil, dead insects, man-made foodstuffs and clothes. e.g. Stinkhorns.

  • Parasites 

Parasitism is the dark side of fungal ecology, these fungi obtain all their nutrients from a living host. In many cases resulting in the death of the poor host. A plant parasite commonly seen locally is the Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea.

  • Symbionts 

These fungi live in close association with the roots of other living plants to their mutual benefit, this symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhizae (fungus roots).  The fungus benefits by receiving sugars from a plant and the plant obtains phosphates and other nutrients from the fungus.

In particular, this is the type of mushroom I am interested in – the mycorrhizal. They have a symbiotic relationship (friendly exchange) with trees or other plants.  Mushroom mycelium receives carbohydrates and other nutrition from trees while delivering minerals and water. The tree often receives a significant amount of it’s water intake by delivery from the extended mycelial network. Both organisms benefit. More than 90% of all plants form beneficial associations with fungus.

Trees in our woodland

Oak  supports many species including maitake,  chanterelles,  chicken of the woods, honey mushrooms, oysters and many others. 

White, yellow, and other birches can harbor polypores on the wood and chanterelles,  and others on the ground. Mature, scarred, or dying trees usually produce more. 

Beech are where you find chanterelles,  and occasionally oysters.

 

mushroom found on smallholding

nibbled mushroom

What fungi is in our wood just now?

Bearded Milk Cap: Lactarius pubescens 

All the Lactarius species produce a milky fluid if the gills or the cap is damaged, giving rise to the common name “milk caps”. Cap 3-10cm across, convex with a depressed disc and in rolled margin, becoming flat then shallowly funnel-shaped with an arched margin; pale tan or cinnamon pink, slightly darker at the disc. Found on soil amongst birch, Broadleaved and mixed woodland, parks. Common. Late August to October to autumn.

Jew’s  Ear –  Auricularia auricula- judae

 
Common, found in the UK  all year round. Soft, floppy, reddish brown ear on branches. Jew’s Ear fungus likes to grow on common elder and false acacia.  It is edible and considered a delicacy in the far east. n.b.  ‘Jews ear’ refer to the legend that Judas hung himself on an Elder  the ‘ear’ being his returned spirit.

 Oyster Mushrooms – Pleurotus ostreatus

In the woods near me there is a semi-rotten beech tree that hosts oyster mushroom mycellium. Every year, after a very cold snap (usually in January) the mycellium runs and its fruiting bodies appear. Behold! Sumptuous oyster mushrooms.

Check out this website for lots more info

http://www.rspbliverpool.org.uk/Fungi.htm 

Check out other posts from Fife Smallholder on this topic including the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code.

Sep 102011
 

Our smallholder garden has plants that the birds enjoy the seeds from in the autumn.

There is a delicate balance going on – the sparrows are quite heavy and bob about in the wind whilst eating the seeds.  This is a resident flock of sparrows that live on our smallholding.  But we also get migrant and seasonal birds that visit, to eat from the range of berries, nuts, and seeds that are available naturally.

 

Wild birds in smallholder garden.

Feeding wild birds in winter

In winter, small birds should be fat to avoid starvation and lean and agile to escape predators. This means that they face a trade-off between the costs and benefits of carrying fat reserves. Every day they must gain enough fat to survive the coming night. Severe winter weather can therefore be a major hazard for survival. A bird will lose a substantial proportion of its body weight during one cold winters night, and unless it is able to replenish its reserves, a prolonged cold spell could be catastrophic for large numbers of birds. Some species such as tits and crows cache or store food for times of less natural food abundance.
 

Supplementary Feeding

If offering supplementary foods provide a wide variety of foods at different levels – on the ground, in feeders and on a bird table. Scraps of bread (provided it isn’t stale), cooked rice and lentils, dried fruit such as raisins and sultanas, apples, oranges and grapes, coconut halves, mashed potatoes, peanuts, vegetable suet, millet and black sunflower seeds are all suitable foods to offer to birds. It is also possible to purchase ready-made up high-energy bird food mixes.
 
Providing birds with supplementary food will bring them closer for you to enjoy their fascinating behaviour and wonderful colours. However, supplementary feeding can’t provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that adult and young birds need, so it’s important to create and manage your garden to provide a source of natural foods as well, through well-managed lawns,  shrub and flowerbeds.
 

All year round food for wild birds

If you provide both natural and supplementary food, your garden will be visited year-round by a host of different birds.
 

Ways of Attracting Birds into the Garden

There are many simple things that we can do to entice birds into the garden and encourage them to live and breed there. Basically, birds need water for bathing and drinking, a constant supply of food, shelter from the elements and nest sites. Water can be supplied by making a small pond with marshy edges or if that isn’t possible by obtaining a birdbath or drinking dish and regularly changing the water. Nest boxes can be installed for breeding purposes and climbing plants (e.g. ivy, honeysuckle and clematis) and shrubs, especially prickly shrubs, will provide additional natural nest sites as well as berries for the birds to eat. A well-stocked bird table will provide food, but of course providing natural sources of food is even better. With careful planning, it should be possible to provide a natural supply of food for birds for most of the year. Plants and shrubs, which provide fruit, berries and seeds are especially useful to birds and don’t be in too much of a hurry to pull up your weeds as many of these will also provide food for birds.
 
 

How to identify some common garden birds from their song

Planting for Birds

There are many trees, shrubs and plants that are especially attractive to birds, but of course the plants that you choose to grow will depend on the size of your garden/allotment, soil type, aspect and your own personal preferences. However, when selecting which plants to grow for birds do try and choose plants that don’t all produce food at the same time!
 

Trees

If you have a large garden or smallholding you may wish to include some trees. Trees provide shelter, nest sites and perches for birds, but there are many trees that will also provide them with food. Oak supplies acorns and woodpigeons, and woodpeckers will eat these. Rowan’s berries are popular with thrushes, fieldfares, redwings, bramblings, blackbirds and waxwings and the fruits of bird cherry (Prunus padus) and wild cherry (Prunus avium) are much loved by birds. Alder provides food for siskins,  goldfinches and tits, both the cones and the catkins being eaten. Bullfinches eat the seeds of ash and beech mast is popular with bramblings,  great tits, woodpeckers and chaffinches. Goldfinches and bramblings like the seeds of silver birch and various insectivorous birds also feed on the many insects that live on this tree. Conifers such as scots pine, larch, spruce, and yew also supply food for birds and have the advantage that they do not lose their leaves in winter, thus providing all-year cover. Scots pine seeds are eaten by finches, woodpeckers and the Scottish crossbill. Various types of thrushes eat yew’s berries and the seeds of larch and spruce are popular with finches, spruce seeds also being eaten by woodpeckers and European crossbills. Fruit trees such as apple, crab apple and plum are especially popular with birds. So why not plant some fruit trees or fruit bushes just for wildlife?
 

Hedging Plants

Hedges act as windbreaks and like trees provide shelter, somewhere to roost and nest sites for birds. Of particular value in a hedge are shrubs bearing berries such as elder, spindle (Euonymus europaeus), bramble, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly and wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which supply food for birds as well as shelter. In addition quite a few of these shrubs are spiny and offer good protection from cats and other predators. Hawthorn is popular with many nesting birds for this reason who often nest in tangles of bramble.
winter seeds for wild birds
 
Waxwings and redwings will eat hawthorn’s berries, whereas those of blackthorn are popular with thrushes. Holly and elder berries are loved by many types of birds, but are especially popular with blackcaps and thrushes. Hazel can also be used to make a hedge and its nuts are a valuable source of food for many mammals as well as for birds such as woodpeckers, jays, pigeons. Why not plant some honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)? It will soon clamber over the hedge and thrushes, warblers and blackcaps will eat its berries. Dog rose (Rosa canina) and guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) produce hips and also do well in a hedge.
 

Useful Shrubs

The following shrubs should attract birds into your garden/allotment:
 
  •  Berberis (Berberis stenophylla) – Berries are mainly eaten by thrushes and blackcaps.
  •  Cotoneaster (especially C. horizontalis, x watereri and C. frigida) – Waxwings, fieldfares, redwings and blackcaps will eat cotoneaster berries.
  •  Pyracantha – (P. coccinea, Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’). Berries mainly eaten by blackcaps, waxwings and certain thrushes. Can be used to make a hedge.
  •  Viburnum – Waxwings like these berries. Can also be used to make a hedge.
  •  Ivy – Best grown up a fence, wall or tree. Woodpigeons, thrushes, warblers, blackcaps and robins eat ivy berries, which ripen in the winter.
  •  Mistletoe – Is an important garden plant, supplying berries at a time of year when food is normally in short supply.
  •  Buddleia – This shrub is tremendously popular as a nectar source for butterflies, but it will also provide seeds for bullfinches and other seed-eating birds.

Garden Plants

Many garden plants will supply seeds for seed-eating garden birds such as finches and linnets. These include evening primrose, michaelmas daisy, foxglove, aubretia, forget-me-not, sunflower, cosmos, snapdragon, wallflower, sweet william, lavender, sweet rocket, honesty, goldenrod, bird’s-foot-trefoil and globe thistle. And when I left some purple sprouting broccoli to go to seed I found that the seeds attracted quite a few greenfinches.
 

Weeds

As previously mentioned many plants that are generally classified as weeds are of tremendous food value for birds. Burdock, chickweed, cow parsley, clover, dandelion, groundsel, black medick, greater stitchwort, hogweed, fat hen, knapweed, shepherd’s purse, plantains (e.g. ribwort and hoary plantain), stinging nettles, teasel and many types of thistles such as spear thistle and woolly thistle will all provide seeds for birds to eat. Thistle seeds are especially popular with goldfinches, linnets, siskins and serin whereas goldfinches will eat the seeds of dandelions, groundsel, knapweed and fuller’s teasel. Dock, stinging nettle and meadow cranesbill seeds are popular with bullfinches.
 

Bird Identifier

The RSPB has an improved, interactive bird identifier to work out what bird you saw. Tell them a few details about the bird and they will suggest what it could have been. 
 
 
 


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