Keeping squirrels out of the bird feeders

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Okay, I almost hate to say it, but I think I might—just might—have stumbled upon a sure-fire method for keeping those pesky squirrels out of the bird feeders for good. My friend Susan says that the only solution for squirrels in bird feeders is a “dose of lead poisoning,” but this is far less violent. And it is cheap too, with only two simple ingredients from the nearby discount store.

 Over the years we’ve tried just about everything, including baffles, cables, fancy and expensive “squirrel-proof” bird feeders, decoy feeders, and yes,  even that “dose of  lead,” but the squirrels just kept coming. It is, after all, their job to get that birdseed, and you can hardly blame them for that. But it  sure is infuriating when they clean out those feeders over and over again. We  even hung a couple feeders on the side of  the house two flights up off the ground, and the squirrels still managed to get to the birdseed.

But this time I mixed up a spicy-hot potion of red pepper and petroleum jelly. That’s it, that’s the secret weapon. I know that the birds don’t mind the red pepper, but the squirrels hate it. I’ve seen birdseed with red pepper mixed in for sale for the very purpose of keeping squirrels out of the mix. It is pricey and often difficult to find. My fix is easy and cheap, though a bit messy. The gooey mixture was spread on any and all squirrel approach paths. In one case I smeared the gook on the pole that holds up one feeder. On another it was the edge of the roof where the little devils would drop down from a nearby limb, and then jump down to the feeders on the side of the house. I even smeared the horizontal metal bars that hold those feeders.

All it takes is one visit from any of our furry friends to teach the lesson. So far, no returns, and the birds are happily munching. The 3 ounce jar of crushed red pepper was 99 cents and the big tub of generic petroleum jelly wasn’t much more. By mixing the two there will be plenty of the mixture to go around and re-apply where necessary for quite a while. It’s inexpensive and easy, and so far it’s working like crazy. Let me know if it works for you too!

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Let’s try Rehmannia: A perennial foxglove to grow from seed

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Make room in your gardens to try Rehmannia, a brightly-colored and frilly Chinese foxglove. Shaded gardens will glow with these stately beauties.

Foliage is glossy with scalloped leaves and graceful, upright flower stems filled with nodding, deep rose-colored, bell-like blossoms shaped like flaring foxgloves or open-lipped snapdragons.

Blooming well in shady spots, the sizable bright blossoms will light up the area. Long-lasting and prolific blooming, the plants continue to send up two to three-foot high spikes of bells for three to four months, according to Renees Garden Seeds, one of the best seed sources for this unusual plant.

For Florida gardens, the best time to start seeds is in the fall. Plants can overwinter and gardeners can expect blooms the following spring. Spring-planted seeds will bloom the second spring.

In flats filled with good-quality seed-starting mix, scatter the fine seeds on the surface, covering only lightly, preferably with vermiculite. Slow to germinate (three to four weeks), the flats should be kept in strong light, evenly moist. When seedlings are large enough to handle, separate and transplant into six-packs or individual pots filled with a potting mix to encourage root development. Feed seedlings every two weeks with a half-strength water-soluble fertilizer. When plants are three to four inches tall, gradually acclimate them to the outdoors, eventually planting them 10 inches apart in rich, well-drained soil in partial shade. Plants are hardy to Zone 7.

A glorious example of this plant was spotted this spring at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival in Orlando, and they were indeed a stirring sight–one of those plants you’ve “got” to grow.

For seeds, see Renees Garden Seeds (www.reneesgarden.com).