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Chili peppers

 

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by Paula Putt.

 

Making the Most of Your Garden

 
View 1 of Penny's garden

Before you give away anything or toss it onto the compost pile, consider your birds. Most of what I grow in my garden is for my birds. Through the growing season, I feed as much as possible to my flock and babies fresh. What cannot be fed fresh is stored, frozen, or dried. Saving part of the harvest to be fed through the winter months ahead.

It always pays to keep your best quality produce for storage. Eat or feed anything during the season that is marked or blemished. Top quality fruit, greens, and vegetables store better and are the best keepers.

Even the smallest of gardens will have a few tomatoes that can be prepared for the birds. It seems you wait forever for the first ripe tomato, then have far more ready at one time than you can possibly use. These surplus tomatoes can be dried to feed birds. If you do not mind the mess involved with feeding them fresh, they can be offered fresh as well. I feed my birds dried/dehydrated tomatoes to save that extra time and energy cleaning birds, cages, and surrounding area after they eat. There is no way I want to chance missing any of the leftover tomato or juice and have a sticky mess or the odor. When dried, tomatoes are a bit leathery and do not crumble into fine dust.

Chilis or any other hot peppers grow well and dry easily. Dried peppers can be fed dried as they are, mixed into the base food mix, or added to bean mix or other soak and/or cook type food. Chilis here are grown in rows, and many are fed to birds during the growing season fresh picked. A few words of caution: If you choose to cut the hot peppers for your birds instead of feeding the whole pepper, consider wearing plastic gloves. The gloves will protect your hands from burning and keep the pepper juice off you hands, so when you touch or scratch your eyes later they will not burn. Contact wearers, if you do not wear gloves and later clean or insert your contacts, you will wish you wore gloves. If your birds are indoors and you have more than a few pairs, I would suggest you do not give all birds peppers at one time. If you do and return to the area, you will cough, choke, and sneeze, and your eyes will water. It is amazing how much pepper juice can get into the air from all of those fresh peppers being devoured.

View 2 of Penny's garden

Just about anything can be dried: veggies (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, squashes, seeds from the like etc.), fruits (apples, bananas, pineapple, apricots, plums, grapes, papaya, etc), and greens (dark green leafy are best). I normally mix and store a variety of greens to be sprinkled over soft food or added to a bean mix or some other cooked food. Keep drying in mind the next time there is a sale. You can buy extra and dry what is not fed fresh. In addition to feeding dry, mixed with basic diet, soft foods, and bean type mixes, some things can be re-hydrated safely.

Don't forget about a relative's, friend's, or neighbors fruit trees. Most can not use what the tree's supply, and the excess is gathered, thrown away, or composted. Often the excess is left to fall on the ground. Some is eaten by wildlife, but most attracts bees and is left to rot. Seeds from a Jack- O-Lantern will serve better dried for the birds than landing in the trash.

Use the same guidelines for drying food for your birds that you would use for humans. Discard over-ripe or bruised items. Some bruises can be cut away, saving the remainder. Remember issues involving chemical or any other type of contaminants. Thoroughly wash everything before drying, and use a safe drying method. Store dried foods properly in containers in a cool dry place, avoiding high humidity.

Foods that are brittle or crumble more easily will need to be protected when handled and stored. Drying broccoli only to have it crumble and turn into dust will not be appealing to most birds. It could be useful for a food additive or for small birds, of course. Extra care in storing and handling helps to insure the florets are intact when they are fed.

Freezing comes much more easily for most people than drying. Most have frozen something at some point, even if it has only been leftovers. We are not as accustomed to drying foods, except maybe herbs. The same safety guidelines should be followed for freezing produce for birds as are used for freezing produce for humans, including hand washing.

When deciding what to freeze, keep in mind what the food will be like after it thaws. Some of the best veggies to freeze are corn, carrots and beans. The summer squashes become very soft and may not be eaten by some birds unless they are part of a cooked mix. The same is true for spinach and similar greens.

Winter squash store well in a cool area, eliminating the need for freezing. Make sure the area is cool and dry, and inspect often for any that may be "going bad". Root crops also store well under similar conditions. In some areas, it is possible to store certain crops outside in a pit.

Brief storage guidelines: Root crops and cabbage need cold (not freezing) and moisture. Pumpkins, squash, and sweet potatoes need warmth (not heat) and dryness. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and squash keep all winter in a comparatively dry atmosphere temperature of 50 to 60 degrees. Handle squash carefully to avoid scrapes and scratches that could invite decay.

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