Christmas came and went in a blur this year and we've both been working a lot ever since so I'm a bit behind on this. Traditionally in my family we leave the Christmas tree up until "Little Christmas" also known as Epiphany, Orthodox Christmas or Twelfth Night if you will. It's always a bit of sad task to put away all the glitz and tinsel for another year, and the discarded trees look so forlorn waiting on the street for garbage pick up. A few years ago I had the idea to recycle my tree for one last celebration of sorts; I turn it into a wildlife tree and decorate it with tasty treats for all the small creatures that appear outside my backdoor, looking hungry in the dead of winter. It looks so pretty out side in the snow!
I like to use a variety of nuts, fruit and seeds. Acorns and chestnuts I picked up in the fall, seeds I saved from sunflowers, squash and pumpkins, and bits of fruit I salvage from stuff I've dried. This year I also have apples from that last late harvest that didn't get preserved and are too far gone for us to use. I also had some dates that got lost in the fridge and were dried beyond edible at least for human teeth. And of course I use popcorn, and cranberries if I have them. I drill holes in the nuts and use bits of yarn and twine to tie them to the tree like ornaments, and string popcorn, berries and seeds on thread. The animals eat the food and take the bits of yarn and such back to their nests.
For the birds I also like to make suet balls. Suet balls are really simple to make and you'll find you have the necessary things on hand most of the time and can likely find a good substitute if you don't. Rather than buy suet, I keep the fat from cooking beef or pork in a jar in the fridge until I'm ready use it.
Suet Balls 1 cup beef or pork fat ( or a mix of both)- you can also use commercial lard.
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter ( natural preferably)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds-( I use some flax seed and sesame seeds as well)
Raisins, small pieces of dried fruit and/or nuts- optional
1 cup mixed wild bird seed- set aside half
In sauce pan over low heat, slowly melt fat and peanut butter.
Add all ingredients plus half of bird seed. Mix thoroughly. Add dried fruit and nuts if using. Allow to cool slightly but not completely solidify. Spread remaining bird seed on a plate. When it's cool enough to handle, take enough mixture in your hands to make a ball about the size of a golf ball, roll in bird seed and set aside to completely cool- you can put them in the fridge at this point. Or if you prefer, you can divide the mixture into muffin tins and make them into suet cakes
I save mesh bags from onion, garlic, etc to hold the balls. Place on tree branches where birds can access them. Squirrels around here will steal anything they can, so I sometimes use bits of wire to attach them.