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Hollandaise Sauce

Mother Sauces

It might surprise you that all the subtlety and complexity of the sauces found in French Haute cusine flow from a short list of so-called “Mother Sauces,” but this is exactly what French culinary legend Auguste Escoffier observed in his seminal volumes Le Guide Culinaire. He put forth Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomate as the roots of all French sauces.

The skinny on Mother Sauces:

1) Béchamel is the most newbie-friendly, as anyone with some milk, flour and butter can churn one out. Simply make a roux from equal parts of flour and butter and sauté it briefly, and use it to thicken heated milk.

Typical stir-ins include onion and a pinch of nutmeg. Or, add a handful of grated Gruyere to make a nice Mornay sauce for your veggies.

2) Velouté is a very similar affair, with stock substituted for milk. Chicken stock is typically used to make Veloute, but veal and fish Veloutés are common.
With the help of a little heavy cream Velouté becomes the famed Sauce Suprême, often served over sautéed chicken.

3) A step up in complexity is the Espagnole. This is again stock thickened with roux, but the stock here is more involved. The stock is made from oven roasted bones to give the sauce a rich brown color. A flavor boosts comes from tomato purée and mirepoix, as well.

With some extra stock and much reduction Espagnole becomes the famed demi-glace, which has graced some of the finest beef in Paris.

4) Hollandaise is the tangy, golden ambrosia you see on your Eggs Benedict. The process is similar to making a vinaigrette dressing: pour a THIN stream of the melted butter into the beaten egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour too fast, and you’ll end up with scrambled eggs floating in butter.

Add some shallot and tarragon, and you’ve got Béarnaise. This sauce often graces the noble Filet Mignon, but it truly shines when served over white fish.

5) Finally, we have Tomate, which is a more refined and complex cousin to basic pizza or spaghetti sauce. It typically lacks the oregano found in its more humble relation and is often flavored with salt pork and/or ham hocks.

This hearty sauce forms the base of several kinds of soups and stews.

Lettuce and nasturtiums

Intensive Gardening: Growing Organic in Small Spaces

What is Intensive Gardening?

Gardening in small spaces uses an intensive or close spacing that is not the traditional spacing like you see on the back of your seed packets or use in the traditional row garden. It is designed to fit a lot more plants into a smaller space than would normally be required if traditional spacing were used. To be successful, this approach relies on optimum soil texture and fertility so that plants do not find it necessary to compete with each other for the nutrients they need to grow and produce fruit. Using raised beds makes this easy as it keeps the amended soil contained.

Good Soil is the Secret to Success

For some time now we have recognized that there is a whole world beneath the soil; small microscopic organisms that are necessary for the life and health of plants. These organisms are responsible for creating an ecology that enables the plants to feed and take up water; so we must protect that system by doing no harm to these organisms. By avoiding toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and practices like excessive tillage that are harmful to soil organisms and using natural amendments, we allow the plants to excel.

Good texture provides soil that is loose and friable and allows plant roots to penetrate through it easily. This is accomplished by the addition of organic matter, which also increases the soils ability to take in and store water.

The Root of Intensive Gardening

Each type of plant has its own distinctive growth habit above ground, which we are more familiar with. We know that by tucking in the smaller plants such as radishes around some of the larger plants like beans, we can make better use of space and light, but did you know there are also distinctive growth pattern of roots underground that are common to each type? Some plants have deep growing roots, and some plants root grow very shallowly. Some plants root spread wide and far, and some are narrow and compact. If you take these growth patterns, for example, pairing a medium rooting bush bean plant, a shallow rooted onion and a deep rooted sweet potato there is minimal competition for water and nutrients at the same soil level. By combining the above and below ground habits, you can create quite a mosaic in each of your beds increasing your harvest in a small space and keeping the weeding, watering and general labor at a minimum, saving your back. I’m all for having more leisure time to enjoy the harvest!

DIY Hand Balm

Homemade Hand Balm

This homemade moisturizing balm is perfect for anyone who’s into gardening or who just wants to take better care of their hands. It’s a soy hand balm, and it’s really easy to make. You can get the ingredients at a hobby store or health food store.

Materials for Making Hand Balm:

  • 6 ounces of soy wax
  • 9 ounces of coconut oil
  • 6 ounces of cocoa butter
  • 6 ounces of sweet almond oil
  • Lavender essential oil

Directions for Making Hand Balm:

You begin by melting six ounces of soy wax on a double boiler.

Once it melts, add nine ounces of coconut oil and six ounces of cocoa butter.

Continue to heat and stir the mixture until everything is in liquid state, then add in six ounces of sweet almond oil.

As a final step add about 20 drops of lavender essential oil to give the balm a nice fragrance.

Pour the solution into a small container with a snug-fitting lid.

Defining Organic Gardening

Like the word natural, the word organic gets tossed around a lot. But what does it mean to be organic in the garden?

A starting definition is gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But organic gardening really means a holistic emphasis on a healthy ecosystem.

Organic gardens cultivate an ecosystem that sustains the life of plants, soil microbes and helpful insects. Instead of delving into a never-ending cycle of shocking the system with fertilizer and then pesticides, organic gardeners understand that healthy plants are strong and much more disease-resistant. The focus reaches beyond just making plants grow in the short term; rather it realizes that a vigorous garden is a side effect of a healthy ecosystem.

The soil is the base of a healthy garden and dealing with soil properly can prevent many issues. So, organic gardeners make sure the foundation of the garden is correct. They add organic fertilizer and compost to the soil to ensure it’s able to retain water and provide adequate nutrients to plants. In summary, organic garden soil contains the right trace elements, low-release organic fertilizers, proper pH, is aerated and contains plenty of compost.

Now, pest control is something all gardeners encounter. Yet, organic gardeners use techniques to keep pest damage below a certain threshold. Rather than inciting a mass killing of all non-plant life by drenching the garden with chemicals, they find a simple solution for the pest at hand. For example, cabbage worms can be plucked off leaves and killed, and aphids can be sprayed off the plants with a hose. These methods require attentiveness and ensure that small issues don’t turn into big issues.

Natural pesticides, found in a garden center or made at home, can be applied to plants too. They tend to break down much more quickly than synthetic mixes, so gardeners must be conscientious about reapplication.

Other good gardening practices include planting native or pest and disease-resistant varieties, providing plants adequate spacing and matching the plant to the right site, one suited for its light and moisture needs. Basic good gardening practices will reduce chances of disease as plants are set up from the start for success.

With good gardening practices, going organic isn’t difficult or complicated. It calls for attentiveness, simple solutions as problems arise and an appreciation for a healthy ecosystem. Keep these principles in mind and watch your organic garden flourish!

Garden To Do List March

We’ll soon know if March is going to come in like a lamb and go out like a lion or the reverse.  Time will tell. What I do know is that even though the weather can still be wintry, it’s time to start working in the garden.

  • In mild weather regions plant cool season annuals for early spring color such as pansies, violas, snapdragons, nemesia, sweet peas and alyssum.
  • It is important that your greenhouse is properly ventilated during early spring when fluctuating temperatures are common. Open the windows on mild days and close them before nightfall. My Riga greenhouse has automatic ventilators. This saves me from making 2 trips to the greenhouse every day.
  • Plant potatoes as soon as the grass begins to green up.
  • If you live north of the Mason Dixon line plant grapes as soon as the soil is workable. Southern gardeners should plant grapes in fall so they will have plenty of time to get established before summer heat sets in.
  • As temperatures begin to warm and plants emerge from dormancy, slowly remove protective mulches. Beware of removing mulches too soon since hard freezes are still possible.
  • Transplant roses, shrubs and ornamental trees before the leaf buds open.
  • Walking on wet soil will cause it to compact. So after the spring thaw wait until the ground dries to start working in your flower and vegetable beds. To test the moisture level squeeze a clump of dirt in your hand, if it breaks apart when you open you hand, it is dry enough to work.
  • Apply slow release fertilizer to shrubs and perennials.
  • Plant parsley in your herb garden.
  • Get your lawn mower ready for the growing season. Replace the spark plugs, clean the air filter, remove grass and debris clogging the fins of the engine cover, and take it in to a small engine repair shop to have the blade sharpened and balanced.
  • Feed peonies with a low nitrogen fertilizer when they are about 2 – 3 inches tall.
  • Most perennials bloom for a 2 to 4 week period. When adding new perennials to your garden go for those that have great foliage as well as blooms or extend the flowering time by choosing a mix of early, mid and late blooming varieties.
  • To repair bare spots in lawns combine 5 shovels of sand, 1 shovel of sterilized topsoil, 1 shovel of grass seed and 1 cup of slow release fertilizer. Cover bare spots with this mixture, tamp down and water.
  • Harvest horseradish while still dormant, but when the plant begins to show green around the crown. Wear gloves because the roots can cause skin irritation. After digging the roots you can replant any unused portions such as side shoots or the crown for more horseradish later!
  • Transplant and divide snowdrops (galanthus) and snowflakes (leucojum) after the flowers fade, but the foliage is still green.
  • Clean water features and fountains. Make sure pumps and lights are working properly. Remove leaf guards.
  • Hot house azaleas are popular gifts this time of year. To grow as a houseplant give your azalea consistent moisture and place it in indirect light away from sources of heat such as a fireplace or air vent. Sheet moss placed on top of the soil adds a finishing touch to the container and helps retain moisture. Feed with a liquid fertilizer, diluted to half strength every time you water. If you feel the need to prune your azalea, do this immediately after the flowers fade and before it sets buds for next year.
  • Check your compost pile. Turn it every two weeks and keep it moist, but not wet.
  • Order bulbs such as crocosmia, eucomis, gloriosa, kniphofia and lycoris for interesting summer blooms. Read more about summer bulbs.
  • Set up an outdoor thermometer and a rain gauge. Keep a journal of the weather and when plants start to bloom.
Purple birthday party table

Leap Year Birthday Party Tablescape

Leap years only occur once every four years. The reason is that it actually takes the earth 365 days and 6 hours to make a revolution around the sun. That adds up to an extra 24 hours at the end of every four years, so we tack on a leap day to align our calendars with the sun’s position. You might think this extra day is exciting and rare — it comes with all kinds quirky traditions and folklore — especially if your birthday is on a leap day. Can you imagine only getting to celebrate once every four years? So if you are part of that less than .07 percent of the US population whose birthday falls on a Leap Day, then you better go all out when you finally get to celebrate. We’ve designed a leap birthday party celebration of our own to get you started …
Purple and yellow birthday table

Gift Element

If you can wrap a gift then you can create this charming birthday party tablescape. Start by making the box for your centerpiece.

  1. Just a regular box such as a brown shipping box is available at most office supply stores. Ours was 12×12 inches.
  2. Fold in the tops of the box to make a flat top edge.
  3. For the wrap you can use gift wrap or colorful vinyl on a roll. This worked well because it is lightweight and flexible. Lay the box down and bring the paper around the box and secure with tape leaving the top and bottom open and unattached.
  4. Next trim off the excess on the bottom of the box and fold the edges in and secure with tape.
  5. Fold the top paper inside the box. If using wrapping paper you may need to cut slits down the edges so that the paper doesn’t rip. Secure with tape if needed.
  6. Now for the fun part, embellishing the box. We used a simple silver ribbon.

Wrapping a box with purple paper

Silver ribbon wrapped around a box

Floral Element

Our centerpiece arrangement is made up of a base of boxwood, myrtle and rosemary. The floral elements include creamy white hybrid tea roses, Stargazer Barn purple and yellow iris and orange tulips. For added drama, curly willow branches were worked in. When arranging flowers, it is nice to use items that are in bloom. In essence, you are making a mini-garden on the table.

We created this arrangement using two blocks of floral foam resting on a dinner plate. We elevated the items on a cake stand inside the “birthday box,” but you could also use a tall cylinder vase or whatever you have handy because the nice thing about this arrangement is that the stems and the mechanics of the arrangement aren’t going to show.

Iris, roses and curley willow

Want to keep your centerpiece simple? Pop a couple of florist bouquets into a vase within the birthday box and presto, instant success.

Table Setting

The cream roses in the centerpiece echo the creamware plates used on the table. The plates are resting on top of custom-made placemats, which coordinate with the floral box. Here are the simple steps for making these colorful placemats:

  1. Cut out the cardboard placemat.
  2. Cut wrapping paper to fit.
  3. Secure paper around the cutouts with tape, or if your wrapping paper is thick you can use a spray adhesive to attach it to the poster board, but we encourage you to test this out first to see the results before applying adhesive all of the placemats.
  4. Embellish with a ribbon.

Tracing a placemat shape on yellow paper

Cutting yellow cardboard

Wrapping purple paper over cardboard

Purple placemat with silver ribbon

Lavender Champagne Cocktail
Liven the setting up with a colorful napkin topped with a Lavender Champagne Cocktail garnished with a fun paper straw. The recipe (borrowed from handmademood.com) is easy!

Champagne coupe

  1. Bring one cup of water to a gentle boil.
  2. Add in one cup of granular sugar, reduce heat, and combine until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat and add in 3 drops lavender essential oil.
  4. Transfer still warm liquid to a container for storage in the refrigerator. A glass vessel with a cap (such as a mason jar or a vintage soda bottle) and a funnel make this process easier.
  5. Once cooled, fill about 1/4 of a glass with your lavender simple syrup and then top with a dry sparkling wine, such as La Marca Prosecco.

Tip: Be sure to use food grade lavender oil.

Party Favors & Decor

Since our birthday boy or girl only has a party every four years on their actual date of birth, a fun party favor for all guests is a pocket calendar. Place the gift on each seat for a festive touch.

Purple gift bag with silver and gold tissue paper

Instead of tea light votives on the table, we used cupcakes on stands and topped them with assorted silver and gold birthday candles in varying heights. What a way to say welcome to dinner! The candles produce a festive atmosphere, and after they are blown out, serve for dessert.

Cupcakes on cupcake stands with candles

Essentials from Shop.PAllenSmith.com

Cupcake Stand
Creamware Cupcake Stands
Creamware Plates
Creamware Dessert Plates
J Schwanke Book on floral arranging
J Schwanke’s Bloom 365
Iris bouqet in a French flower can
Stargazer Barn Teslar Iris Bouquet
Dark purple sweet peas

Secrets to Growing Sweet Peas from Seeds Successfully

I covet sweet peas for their heavenly fragrance and old-fashioned simplicity. These little vining flowers are a delight to see and smell. Sadly, they can be a tricky annual for me to grow. They prefer cool temperatures but won’t withstand a frost. If I sow the seeds in early spring in my zone 7 garden they are likely to get wiped out by a late frost. Unfortunately, mid-South springs tend to be short, so if I try sowing them any later, the plants melt in the heat before they have time to bloom.

The solution is to start the seeds in the greenhouse in February and move the pots outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. Starting the seeds indoors gives them the head start they need to bloom before spring ends.

Gardeners in climates with long, cool springs can sow sweet peas outdoors as soon as the threat of frost has passed. If you are like me and need to sow the seeds indoors, do this about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area.

The secret to good seed germination is soaking the seeds in milk a few hours before you sow them. That’s right, milk. This helps to soften the outer covering of the seed.

Whether starting indoors or direct sowing in the garden, plant sweet peas in a spot that receives full sun. They like a sweet soil with a pH of 7 or 8, so if you know that your soil is acidic add garden lime to make it more alkaline. Be sure to following the package directions on the garden lime bag. Sweet peas have relatively extensive roots, so the soil should be friable at least 24 inches deep.

Provide immediate support for your young seedlings. Metal can get hot on warm spring days, so try twine or twigs.

Once they are up and flowering, you will want to do everything you can to keep the plants full of blooms. One of the best ways to encourage continuous flowering is to cut bouquets for the house. I like to cut the blooms about every other day. Flowers remaining on the plant will develop into seed pods. It’s a good idea to remove the flowers before this happens because you want the plant’s energy to go into creating more blossoms, not seed.

Supertunia Bordeaux and Sweet Caroline Ipomea

Twelve Plants That Are On Trend in 2016

This year promises to be a winning one for gardeners. Trend watchers are indicating we’ll see some exciting developments such as low-maintenance designs, bold color and, after years of focusing on hardscape, plants are back in the spotlight. Everyone is talking about the amazing varieties we have to choose from at garden centers this year: plants that produce big color with minimal care, multi-talented annuals, perennials and shrubs suited for any space including containers and vivid foliage that offers color all season long. It’s shaping up to be a fantastic year for adding beauty to our living spaces.

Here are 12 plants that I grow and love that are on trend in 2016.

Snowstorm® Giant Snowflake® Sutera

I can count on large elegant clear white blooms all season in the garden with Snowstorm® Giant Snowflake® Sutera. Stunning flowers that do well in full sun to part shade, it is one of my favorites to place in flower beds.

  • Large, pure white flowers on strongly trailing stems
  • No deadheading required for season-long bloom
  • Works great as a spiller in containers or as a groundcover in landscapes
  • Do not let plants dry out because it takes about two weeks for the flowers to reappear
  • Fertilize regularly for best performance
  • Full sun to part shade

Superbena® Royale Red Verbena

Beautiful and heat tolerant, the pure red flowers of Superbena® Royale Red Verbena grow all season whether they are in the flower beds or garden containers. Their saturated color is a stand out along borders and pathways.

  • Clusters of pure red flowers bloom spring to fall without deadheading
  • A perfect companion for Superbells® and Supertunia® in hanging baskets and containers; also great in landscapes
  • Vigorous, heat tolerant verbena that is resistant to powdery mildew
  • Tolerates drier soils with lower fertility
  • Benefits from a haircut to encourage fuller growth with more flowers
  • Full sun to part shade

‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ Ipomoea

‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ Ipomoea is a champ for brilliant deeply-lobed, chartreuse green foliage which serves as a canvas for different color combinations—whether in flower beds or garden containers.

  • Versatile trailing foliage plant for hanging baskets and containers
  • Heat tolerant and vigorous grower
  • Deeply lobed, chartreuse foliage
  • This sweet potato vine has minimal potato set, a bonus for planting in containers
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Protect from early and late season frosts in Northern climates

Dark Knight™ Lobularia

I prefer the fragrant deep purple flowers of Dark Knight® Lobularia on Moss Mountain because they don’t quit in the heat like some alyssums. Pretty in colorful combinations, they stand out along pathway borders.

  • Fragrant, deep purple flowers bloom all season and don’t quit in the heat like some varieties of alyssum
  • Continuous bloomer with no deadheading required
  • Plays well with others in containers, hanging baskets and landscapes
  • Requires consistent moisture to thrive in containers
  • Seriously, this is the first plant you’ll plant in the spring, and the last you will remove in late fall – we’re talking blooms from April through December.
  • Early and late snow and frosts are not an issue
  • Full sun to part shade


Always striking with light purple flowers with dramatic deep purple veining and throat, Supertunia® Bordeaux Petunias are regulars in my containers and hanging baskets. They are also beautiful among green foliage in full sun to light shade.

  • Striking light purple flowers with dramatic deep purple veining and throat, with dark green foliage
  • Blooms spring to fall without deadheading
  • A Petunia that grows anywhere from landscapes to containers and hanging baskets
  • Fertilize regularly for best performance
  • I’ve not found a petunia with a better habit for hanging baskets and container combinations – it grows well with all plants
  • Supertunias can handle light frost, so you can start them early and depend on them long into fall
  • Full sun to light shade

‘Cat’s Meow’ Nepeta

‘Cat’s Meow’ Nepeta with sky blue flowers atop silvery-green foliage adds charm reminiscent of an English garden, but also stylish enough for a contemporary look. One of my favorites for being deer and rabbit resistant while attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.

  • Lower maintenance, naturally compact selection that won’t need trimming to stay neat looking
  • Sky blue flowers appear on the silvery-green foliage from early summer into early fall
  • Shearing plants back by half after the first round of bloom encourages strong rebloom
  • Deer and rabbit resistant; attracts hummingbirds and butterflies
  • Full sun, lean and drier soils are best

Luscious® Berry Blend™ Lantana

With playful clusters of fuchsia, orange and yellow flowers, Luscious® Berry Blend™ Lantanas are perfect in my flower beds because they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. These sun-lovers bloom all growing season and stand up to tough conditions.

  • Tough-as-nails annual is extremely heat and drought tolerant, tolerates poor soils; protect from frost
  • Large clusters of fuchsia, orange and yellow flowers on mounded plants
  • Blooms all season without deadheading
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, not preferred by deer
  • In the South, it’s nearly a small shrub – great for large urns and patio containers
  • Full sun

GoldDust® Mecardonia

Low growing with dark green foliage dusted heavily with tiny golden yellow blossoms, Golddust® Mecardonia provides the perfect contrast of height and size in the garden—a sun-lover that thrives best in the midsummer heat.

  • Easy to grow annual for the edge of the border or garden path
  • Very low growing, dark green foliage is dusted heavily with tiny golden yellow blossoms
  • Blooms from spring through fall without deadheading – might even surprise you with more flowers the following spring after a mild winter
  • Thrives in the heat
  • Full sun

Colorblaze® Keystone Kopper® Solenostemon

No others compare to the rich orange- bronze foliage of Colorblaze® Keystone Kopper® Solenostemon (coleus) in a fall garden—making it a traditional favorite with little maintenance in large containers and the landscape.

  • Richly saturated orange-bronze foliage that won’t fade like “lesser” coleus
  • Bred to bloom very late or not at all, making the plant last into fall with little maintenance
  • Wonderful in large containers and landscapes
  • Heat tolerant and less preferred by deer
  • Full sun to shade

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia is my small space alternative that packs a lot of blooms and always produce beautiful clusters of fragrant, soft lavender-pink flowers, which are butterfly magnets.

  • Award winning, seedless butterfly bush that won’t sow its seed around the garden
  • Soft lavender-pink flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds from midsummer to frost without deadheading
  • Dwarf, compact habit grows only 1 ½-2′ tall x 2-2 ½’ wide
  • Perfectly sized for containers and small-scale urban landscapes
  • Full sun

Prairie Winds® ‘Cheyenne Sky’ Panicum

My garden essential for low maintenance and drought resistance—Prairie Winds® ‘Cheyenne Sky’ Panicum creates movement and continuity throughout gardens with beautiful tones of blue-green and wine red.

  • Smaller scale, native ornamental grass forms a dense, vase-shaped clump up to 3′ tall
  • Blue-green foliage begins to turn wine red in early summer; turns nearly all-red by fall
  • Matching wine red flower panicles appear in late summer
  • A hardy perennial alternative to annual purple fountain grass
  • Best grown in landscapes or very large containers due to its strong root system
  • Very easy to grow in any soil and full sun

Sunny Anniversary® Abelia

Fragrant and magnificent, Sunny Anniversary® Abelia is one of my favorite deer-resistant flowering shrubs for the landscape and container combinations. Sprinkled with creamy yellow and pink blooms, it brings not only a whimsical element to the garden but also hummingbirds, butterflies and especially me.

  • Fragrant flowering shrub with light yellow flowers splashed with pink and orange
  • Large, plentiful blooms appear on arching stems from midsummer through early fall
  • Mid-sized shrub, 3-4′ tall, used for landscapes, foundation plantings and containers
  • Deer-resistant, attracts butterflies
  • Full sun to part shade
Different types of bird seeds

Four Seeds Birds Love to Eat

Sometimes our feathered friends need a little help making it through the harsh winter. When temperatures drop, I think about the beautiful birds that have kept my garden colorful and lively throughout the year. Their water sources may freeze up, and food may become scarce, so I make sure their birdbath is flowing — with water and not ice — and their feeders are full. If you want to feed your local birds, first you need to find out what kind of seed they prefer. If you are starting out, buy for the birds you already have, and not the ones you hope to attract. Here are the basics on a few popular seed types that you can easily find at your local garden center or grocery store.

Bird Seed Millet

This seed is a great option for ground-feeding birds. You can use a low-hanging feeder, platter, or just toss out a handful at a time — but be careful not to set out more than your birds can eat in a day. And this seed may not be a good option if you have cats. When given the choice, birds usually prefer white millet, so you will often find this in many seed mixes. Millet appeals to doves, juncos, sparrows, thrashers, buntings, Carolina wrens, cardinals and starlings.

Bird seed stripped sunflowers

Striped Sunflower
This is an inexpensive seed that, because of its tough shell, is best for larger birds with strong bills. It can also be used as a deterrent for pesky raccoons and squirrels. Place some of this seed on a plate away from your bird feeders to lure them away, and help prevent them from ransacking your feeders. Striped sunflower appeals to blue jays, cardinals, some woodpeckers and grosbeaks.

Bird seed black oiled sunflowers

Black Oil Sunflower
This is one of the most popular birdseeds, and will appeal to a wide variety of birds, especially smaller songbirds. It’s a great beginner seed to try. It is rich in oil and gives birds the energy they need to make it through the winter. The thin shells are easy to open, even for smaller birds. Black oil sunflower appeals to cardinals, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, sparrows and woodpeckers.

Bird seed thistle

Thistle, also known as Nyjer seed, will drive your finches wild. It’s a tiny black seed that’s high in oil, which makes it great for winter bird feeding. Be aware, the seeds are very small and lightweight, and can easily blow away if used in the wrong type of feeder. A mesh-style or sock feeder is best for this expensive seed. Thistle appeals to goldfinches, purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, quail and mourning doves.

Bird Migration Types

When I look to the sky and see a flock of birds in a migratory formation it inspires a peaceful, calming sensation. It’s fascinating to take a moment from whatever task is at hand, and ponder how these birds can soar for miles and miles in this perfect shape. Why do they make this tedious annual journey? How do they know when it’s time to take flight? To what lovely, warmer climate are they traveling? … And why can’t I go with them?

Simply put, birds migrate when the food and nesting resources in their habitat are exhausted, which is usually due to seasonal changes. Though it’s not completely known for sure, ornithologists believe migration is triggered by a combination of changes in the length of the day, temperatures falling, depletion of food supplies, and genetic predisposition.

Different species of birds migrate different distances ranging from just a couple of miles down the road, to across continents. Here is a break down of four basic migration types and where a few of my favorite feathered friends (these will vary slightly from region to region) fit into the formation…

Long Distance Migrants – will travel distances from Canada and the United States to Central and South America. These can include the vast majority of North American bird species such as vireos, flycatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, ducks, geese, swans, tanagers, Blackburnian Warblers, orioles, Arctic Terns and swallows.

Nomadic/Irregular Migrants – These birds only follow the food. When it runs out the move on, and when they find a good source they may become residents. These can include robins, blue jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

Short Distance Migrants – may travel a few hundred miles or only change elevation by moving up or down a mountainside. These can include waxwings and American Tree Sparrows.

Residents – Some birds will stick out the winter where they are, or not travel but only a few miles to reach warmer temperatures. They tend to acclimate to temperature well, and eat a wider range of foods like seeds. These can include cardinals, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, pigeons, doves and finches.

Bird migration infographic