Nuts

Nuthatches at feeder ©Janet AllenWhite-breasted nuthatches at the peanut feeder

Although peanut kernels are pricey, one bag lasts the whole winter, since they just pick at them through the mesh. I also break up peanut halves to put in a window feeder for the chickadees and titmice. These last quite a while, too. (In future, as it says in the sidebar, I'll buy peanut kernels meant for human consumption.)

roasted peanuts We buy human-safe peanuts ©Janet Allen

We also buy large bags of whole, unsalted peanuts at Wegmans. Ironically, these seem to be no more expensive—sometimes even cheaper—than peanuts specifically sold for birds in home stores. They're guaranteed to be safer (see sidebar).

Chipmunk eating peanuts(Enlarge)  ©Janet Allen
The chipmunks enjoy peanuts

We enjoy chipmunks. It doesn't take long for them to become accustomed to getting peanuts at the back door. On the one hand, I don't like animals to be dependent on such handouts, but on the other hand, chipmunks aren't an endangered species. Besides, their biggest challenge is cats, so if they can gather food more efficiently, maybe they'll be exposed to this danger a little less.

Blue jay getting peanut  ©Janet AllenBlue jay getting peanuts

This blue jay already has one peanut in its beak, but it's trying to get another one stuffed in. Sometimes it's successful!

We feed blue jays peanuts in the winter, but not during nesting season. Other birds (with good reason) don't like blue jays around, and they promptly chase them. With all the other stresses of nesting season, we don't want to encourage blue jays to hang around, adding to the stress of nesting birds.

Natural sources of nuts

Oak tree ©Janet AllenOur red oak seedling

Although we've bought peanuts to offer the chipmunks and birds, we hadn't thought much about planting trees or shrubs that provide nuts.

Even after reading Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home, and even after understanding the importance of native plants, it still took us a few years to fully appreciate the importance of trees and shrubs, some of which produce nuts.

We'd really like to have a large oak, but like many people in the suburbs we simply don't have enough space in the front yard, and we're concerned about producing too much shade in the back yard where we're growing as much food as possible.

Oak's fall color  ©Janet Allen
Our red oak's fall color

Even so, we did plant two seedling oaks, a white oak (Quercus alba) in the front yard and a red oak (Quercus rubra) in the back yard.

We planned to keep the one in the front trimmed into a bush. Is this possible? I don't know, but we won't have a chance to find out since it turned yellow and died. We later learned that it probably needed a more acidic soil than we have.

Oak's dried up leaves  ©Janet Allen
The oak's dried leaves

We planted the red oak seedling at the back northeast corner of the yard near a black cherry (Prunus serotina) tree and an elderberry, so it doesn't have much room unfortunately.

Although it won't be able to produce acorns as a small tree, it will be a valuable larval host plant for moths and butterflies (and therefore insects and caterpillars as food for birds).

Red oak 5 years old  ©Janet Allen
In 2014, 5 years old and about 10 feet tall

It's a beautiful tree in all four seasons. Its green leaves in the summer and its brilliant red leaves in the fall are beautiful. And I especially like the color and metallic sheen of the dried up leaves throughout the winter, since oaks hang on to their leaves longer than do most trees.

We hope it take its time growing, though, so it won't interfere with our edible garden, at least as long as we're here.

Though it's too late for our area (which was developed in the 30s, 40s, and 50s), I can see the advantages of splitting land up differently, such as the Ithaca Ecovillage did.

They clustered the houses together, so on the same amount of land, they have much larger areas for growing food as well as for meadows and woodlands.