Last Minute Inspiration

Here we are, down to the wire. Christmas is on Monday. Hopefully you’ve finished up all the “should do’s” and now have time to enjoy the “want to do’s”—spending time with loved ones, enjoying the neighborhood decorations, munching Christmas cookies and drinking hot chocolate, and contemplating the reason we celebrate in the first place.

However, if you’re still scrambling for gifts, I can help you with some suggestions for the birder and/or gardener in your life. All of these are last minute approved, and all should fit into the budget no matter how much you have left to spend.

For the Gardener

Garden tool fix-up
Every gardener has tools, and they likely need some loving attention. Yet, taking care of the tools is nowhere as much fun as browsing seed catalogs, transplanting seedlings, or harvesting juicy tomatoes—so we tend to procrastinate. Here’s where you can be the hero. Sneak out some evening and gather up all those tools. Wash off the dried mud. Then sharpen all those with blades—pruners, shovels, hoes. Finally, sand off any accumulated rust and apply a nice coat of oil to protect the metal. If you don’t have time to get the job done before Christmas, draw up a coupon for doing it afterwards. Your gardener will love your generous gesture—and you!

Gift certificate to a Seed Catalog
Once the holidays are over, your gardener will be anxious to turn in their seed order before the best cultivars are sold out. You can make the process more fun by presenting them with a gift certificate. Available online, just print out your purchase and roll it up or otherwise disguise it in a wrapped box. For help in getting started, here are my favorite catalogs: My Favorite Seed Catalog, part 1 and part 2.

Seed starting supplies
How much you purchase depends on your budget, but there are some basic supplies that every seed-starting gardener needs to replace each year.Start with finely ground potting mix (one brand is Jiffy Mix) and plastic six-packs with a tray (and often a clear plastic dome). I don’t use the compressed peat pellets, but your gardener might. Or consider a soil block maker, so they can make their own. If they’ve been using the window sill, spring for a shop light and a couple of LED bulbs. Good lighting is essential for stocky seedlings, but you don’t need fancy grow lights when all you want to grow are transplants.

Offer your labor
If you have strong muscles and a good back, you can offer to dig needed holes, shovel compost, or pull weeds—and that’s just the start. Gardening is good exercise, but sometimes it can become a bit overwhelming. A willing helper is a treasure!

For the Birder

Feed the birds
Most birders also have feeders hanging outside their windows. And those feeders need repeated filling. Birdseed is always welcome, but be sure to get something that the birds will like. Skip the supermarket bags of mixed seed, which usually contain fillers that don’t get eaten, and focus on black oil sunflower seeds, either alone or in a higher quality mix. White proso millet attracts sparrows, doves, and other ground feeders. Safflower seed is an option if you have a big problem with squirrels. Peanuts, dried meal worms, and blocks of suet are other choices. I buy my seed at our local feed store, which tends to be much cheaper than the wild bird specialty businesses, and Walmart’s suet blocks are a quarter of the price; some brands are under a dollar each! You can also make your own peanut butter lard mix.

If your budget allows, add a new feeder to go with your largess. See my previous post about picking a good one. Nyjer seeds can come in a refillable sock you can just hang up, as shown here. To make a free suet feeder, cut a 3-inch thick branch to about 12 inches in length. Drill six 1-inch diameter holes in the branch, and add a thin hole for a wire at the top so you can hang it. Stuff the holes with suet or peanut butter.

Clean binoculars
After riding around in the car, being stuffed into a backpack, or used on a windy, dusty day, it’s a good bet that the binoculars need cleaning. Pull out a lens cloth and lens cleaning fluid (make sure it’s safe for coated glass) and get to work. Your birder will be amazed at the different clean glass can make! Again, if you can’t get around to doing this in the next few days, create a coupon, but be sure you follow up!

Be a field trip Sherpa
My husband excels at this. He’s not a birder, but after hanging around me this long, he knows what my needs are. Once we’ve picked a date for our trip, he’ll get on eBird to find out where the best birds are being seen, then make suggestions for a destination and map out a route. When the day arrives, he’ll help me load the car, and either pack a lunch or get back online to research restaurants near our destination.

When we arrive at our destination, he often helps get me set up with camera, backpack, etc. If needed, he even carries my heavy lens and tripod. If it’s a wildlife refuge with car route, he drives so I can look for birds and hang my lens out the window. When we get hungry, he’s got lunch well in hand. If the birding is amazing, he’ll leave me in place and head off to pick up take-out. And finally, when we get home all tired, he unloads the car while I collapse. No, I’m not sharing Pete, but you too can be that awesome!

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