Another favorite vegetable among companion parrots is green (or snap) beans. Although not as nutritionally-dense as spinach and broccoli, green beans do have small amounts of vitamins A, C and K. They are also a good source of dietary fiber.
Many varieties exist, ranging from the standard 4-inch-long green bean to slender French filet beans, broad-podded Italian or Romano beans, yellow-podded wax varieties, and a variety with deep purple pods that turn green when they are cooked. Most of these come in climbing pole and shorter bush varieties.
Green beans are a warm-season crop and should be planted after danger of frost has passed. Sow seeds one to one-and-three-quarters inches deep, two inches apart for bush varieties and six to 12 inches apart for pole varieties. Provide pole beans with some kind of stake or trellis to grow on. Green beans need moist soil, especially when the plants are flowering and while pods are forming.
Green beans are prone to some insect problems, including Mexican bean beetles, aphids, leafhoppers and cucumber beetles. If your green bean plants become infested, apply an organic pesticide, following the directions on the label.
Most green bean varieties mature in 50 to 65 days after sowing, and that's when you can start picking them. "Pick them just when the pods begin to swell before they get a lot of fiber in them," Straw advised. "You want them to be full but you don't want them to be tough." Once your green beans start coming in, you need to pick them every other day to encourage growth of more beans. Harvest beans in the morning and when they are still tender.
Green beans are best used as soon as possible after harvest, but may be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Don't wash them before you put them in the refrigerator for storing. "They tend to get moldy and deteriorate a lot quicker if they're moist," Falconnier said. "The best thing to do is just put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and then wash them really well right before you eat them."
How should you serve green beans to your parrot? Most birds prefer them raw. Soucek's smaller parrots enjoy digging the beans out from the pods. For her macaws and cockatoos, she will often stuff a bunch of raw green beans in an empty (unscented) toilet paper roll and hand that to the big macaws and cockatoos. "They get a kick out of tearing it up, and will eat them that way," she said. Your bird may also enjoy steamed or boiled green beans.
Last, but probably tops on the list of veggie taste treats for most pet parrots, is sweet corn. Admittedly, corn doesn't have a whole lot of nutritional value, although it does have a small amount of vitamin C and thiamin. Mostly corn is just enjoyable to eat. "It's a favorite of many parrots and a good energy source," said North Carolina avian veterinarian Gregory Burkett, DVM. "Also, most parrots love demolishing the corn and the cob."
At Soucek's house, sweet corn is, in her words, "birdie nirvana." "Every bird I have adores it, so I actually use it as a treat or a bribe sometimes," she said. Even the grumpiest psittacine will usually come around to a better disposition if given a few bites of corn.
There are more than 200 varieties of sweet corn, ranging from yellow to white to bi-color, each with varying intensities of sweetness and number of days to maturity. Most varieties mature in 70 to 80 days, but some are ready for harvest in just 60 days while others take 90 or 100 days to mature. "You can plant several different varieties at the same time — some that will mature early and others that will mature later — and you'll have a consistent supply of corn," Straw suggested.
Sweet corn is a warm-season crop, directly seeded into the soil after all danger of frost is past. Sow the seeds one to two inches deep and four to five inches apart. Later, when the corn plants are six inches high, thin them to 12 inches apart.
To make sure your sweet corn gets pollinated, plant several rows together in a block, rather than one long row. "Pollen from the male tassels needs to make contact with the female silks and close planting means more contact," Jauron explained.
For an increased yield and larger ears, Straw suggests you put some nitrogen fertilizer or manure around the base of each plant when seedlings are 12 to 18 inches tall. "Water is also critical at this stage, so if you're not getting rain you probably should irrigate," he added.
Corn tends to attract aphids, flea beetles and worms. As a preventive measure, spray your corn plants with an organic pesticide early in the season. Later in the summer, if you actually see these pests on your corn, Straw recommends you spray it with an organic insecticide. "You can also use mineral oil. Just take a medicine dropper and drop it onto the silks," he said. That's often all it takes to get rid of the insect problems.
When is sweet corn ready for picking? "The best quality is usually 15 to 17 days after the silk first appears," Straw replied. "Corn is sweeter a little immature than overmature." When harvesting, break the ear from the stalk close to the base so as not to damage the ear or the stalk.
Corn can be served to your parrot either fresh (cut into one to two inch thick rounds), steamed or boiled. If you have a larger species such as a macaw or cockatoo, it may enjoy the challenge of peeling and eating a whole, unhusked ear of corn. Smaller birds such as lovebirds and conures may simply enjoy a few kernels of either raw or cooked corn in a bowl at the bottom of the cage.
With any of these veggies, vary your presentation from day to day: steam them, feed them raw, chop them in different shapes and cuts, grate them, etc. Try spicing up your vegetable concoctions with various herbs and seasonings. Put the veggies in a bowl, cut them in small pieces birds can hold with their feet, or weave long, skinny veggies in the cage bars. You can even mix raw or cooked veggies with pasta or scrambled eggs.
One final word: Give your bird time to get used to all the new vegetable dishes you are putting before it. "Birds will only eat what they recognize as food and they may have to see the food for a very long time before trying it," Garrou said. It once took her a year of putting raw carrot in an imported severe macaw's cage daily before he began to eat it. She added, however, "Once he got the concept, he loved all vegetables!"
Your birds, too, even if they're not into veggies now, are sure to come around and love them, just as you yourself learned to like vegetables once you grew up. And when you finally do see your parrot scarfing down its spinach, you'll know all that time you spent in the garden was worth it!
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