By Penny Corbett
For most of the United States, the growing season is just about over or quickly coming to an end. Before you give away anything or toss it onto the compost pile because you have either canned, frozen all you need or just do not want to deal with it any more, consider your birds. Most of what I grow is done so for the birds. Through the growing season I feed as much fresh produce as possible to my flock and babies. What cannot be fed fresh is stored, frozen or dried. Keep your best quality produce for storage. Anything that is marked or blemished should be eaten or fed during the season. Top quality fruit, greens and vegetables store better and are the best keepers.
Don't stop at your own garden. Sources of fresh food abound if you give it some thought. What about a relative's, friend's or neighbors fruit trees? These often supply excess fruit that is gathered to be thrown away or composted. Excess fruit is also left to fall on the ground. Some is eaten by the wildlife, but most attract bees and rot. And what about a Halloween pumpkin? It's more than just a holiday prop. Its seeds can be dried for the birds instead of landing in the trash.
Even gardeners with small gardens usually have a few tomatoes that can be prepared for the birds. It seems you wait forever for the first ripe tomato, then you 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 only feed my birds dried/dehydrated tomatoes because I do not have the extra time or energy to deal with cleaning the bird, cage 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.
Chili or any 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. I grow chilis by the rows and feed them fresh-picked during the growing season. A few words of caution — if you cut the hot peppers for your birds instead of feeding the whole pepper, wear plastic gloves. The gloves protect your hands from burning and keep the pepper juice off your hands so that when you touch or scratch your eye later it won't burn. (Contact wearers: If you do not wear gloves and later clean or insert your contacts, you will wish you had worn the gloves.) If your birds are indoors and you have more than a few pairs, do not give all the birds a pepper or two at the same time. If you do, and return to the area later, you will cough, choke, sneeze and suffer watery eyes. It is amazing how much pepper juice can get into the air from all of those fresh peppers being devoured!
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)
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. Some items can even be rehydrated safely. Keep drying in mind the next time there is a sale. You can buy extra and dry what is not fed fresh.
Use the same guidelines for drying food for your birds as you do 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 contaminates. Thoroughly wash everything before drying and use a safe drying method. Store dried foods properly in containers in a cool, dry place with low humidity.
Foods that are brittle or crumble easily need to be protected when handled and stored. Drying broccoli that crumbles and turns to dust is not appealing to most birds. However, broccoli dust would be useful as a food additive or for small birds. Extra care in storing and handling helps to ensure the florets are intact when they are fed.
Freezing comes much easier for most people than drying. Most have frozen something over time, even if it has only been leftovers. The same safety guidelines are followed for freezing produce for birds as for humans, including hand washing.
When deciding what to freeze, keep in mind what it will be like after it thaws. Some of the best veggies to freeze are corn, carrots and beans. The summer squashes will be very soft and may not be eaten by some birds unless they are part of a cooked mix. The same holds true for spinach and similar greens.
Other Storage Options
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 will keep all winter in a comparatively dry atmosphere temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Handle squash carefully to avoid scrapes and scratches that could invite decay. 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. In some areas, it is possible to store certain crops outside in a pit.
Follow these tips to provide a feast of delights for your bird throughout the year. Ready, set ... start storing that produce!
Penny J. Corbett has bred and kept birds for more than 30 years. She has bred several species including hookbills, softbills, canaries and finches. Corbett serves as Judge of American Budgies and Pet Birds in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York areas. She has also been given numerous awards for her own birds, and she has received several bird breeding awards.