It's true; Helen Yemm really does know everything about gardening. There are two magazines I buy each December; the Christmas edition of the Radio Times and the BBC's Gardener's World magazine (for the calendar). I also know that a goodly portion of my witty, charming and urbane readers do exactly the same. In the magazine is the most interesting article about feeding garden birds through the current appallingly cold winter we're enjoying across the UK. The nub of it is to stop feeding garden birds whole sunflower seeds and start putting out sunflower hearts / kernels instead. Birds cannot afford to waste energy chewing off the useless outer sunflower husks to get at the oil-rich kernels inside. Makes perfect sense.
Dragging myself off my flu-infested sickbed, I drove over to my favourite garden centre and bought two 5kg bags of sunflower kernels. I dutifully drizzled a 5m line of kernels across the top terrace outside the french windows, and stood back to watch the show. Nothing happened. And nothing happened until a couple of days later, when I came down for brekkie, pulled back the curtains in the kitchen and revealed a scene like something out of The Birds. The feasting feathered community has now settled down to a regular two dozen blackbirds, four thrushes, dozens of resident sparrows, 5 robins (which shows how harsh this winter is), assorted yellow tits and a few exotic waifs and strays slumming it from the exotic bird feeders across at my farming neighbours.
I occasionally chuck out some chopped up raisins, bits of finely diced jacket potatoes, and leftover brown rice (ensuring none of last night's curry sauce is attached), but it's the kernels that reassure the ground feeders. Sometimes the 5m line is eaten completely within the hour, and most days I make three runs for my delightful, much cared about garden birds. I know when the kernels need replenishing because the blackbirds huddle around the terrace, on the branches of the fruit trees and along the hedges like a series of menacing full stops; "Feed us or we'll peck your eyes out."
Helen Yemm describes her brother's Scottish recipe for a cheaper version of bird food - porridge oats drizzled in sunflower oil. I know, it makes the most perfect sense, so read the whole article here. Back off my sickbed, traipsing over to Cauldwell's Mill for jumbo oats then back to the kitchen to mix up a storm. It's true, the birds enjoy the porridge oats and Helen Yemm needs to co-present Gardener's World when it returns in the spring.