November-December 2018

Wood Slice Wine Charms

by cathym on December 3, 2018

by Cathy Monrad

Keeping track of one’s glass of wine at holiday parties is always a challenge. These adorable wine charms will help your fellow oenophiles distinguish which glass belongs to them.

1 wood slice, approximately 1 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch thick
1 screw eye, 4 x 15 mm
1 stemware loop, 25 mm
Embellishment such as a small sticker
Acrylic sealer

Small nail or wire brad

1. Sand both faces of wood slices until smooth.

2. Use hammer to tap the nail into the edge of the wood slice to make a starter hole for screw eye.

3. Use pliers to remove nail. Start twisting screw eye into hole by hand. Once started, clasp screw eye with pliers and twist wood slice by hand until tight and the screw eye is perpendicular to wood slice as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1

4. Embellish one side of wood slice as desired. I used bird stickers, but if you have an artistic gene, you could hand draw a different design on each with markers.

5. Use paint brush to coat charm with acrylic sealer on both sides and around the edges.

6. Slip stemware loop through screw eye and afix to wine glass stem.

– Not feeling artsy? Use chalboard paint. Simply bypass step 4 and go on to step 5. After the acrylic sealer has dried completely, paint one wood slice face with 2 or 3 coats of chalkboard paint and let dry completely. With a piece of chalk, write a guest’s name or initials on each charm.

– Not into wine? Use a larger diameter wood slice to create an ornament, then use any technique you desire to create a unique holiday keepsake. Instead of a stemware loop, use ribbon or twine to create a hanger.

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer and the self-proclaimed garden crafter for the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.


Cold Weather Garden Fun

by cathym on December 3, 2018

by Valerie Shaw

Ice balls. Photo courtesy Flicker: Robbie Sproule.

There’s nothing like the blue sky of an autumn day. Now it’s time to bring in the garden statues, take notes on your garden successes and failures, and prepare your garden for winter. Acorns, pumpkins, and beautiful leaves invite children outside for one last romp before the snow comes. The gardening fun doesn’t have to completely end, though! Here are some activities to keep your li’l green thumbs engaged throughout the cold months ahead.

Snow Poppies—Now is a good time to grab a packet of poppy seeds and spy out a prime poppy area in your garden or yard. Tuck the seed packet in the fridge and wait until a good snowy day. Then, pull on the snow boots, hike out to your spot, and scatter your poppy seeds in the snow! With the melting snow the tiny seeds are drawn into the soil. Come spring, look out for the slightly spiky looking leaves, followed by intriguing fuzzy stems with big flower buds. Poppies are cheerful and fun, and kids will like planting in the snow! Remember, though, that poppy plants will spread. If your kids are older, they might enjoy learning about the historical nature of this beautiful flower.

Ice Gazing Balls—Easy and very fun to make, you can stick these anywhere in your yard, and enjoy them as long as the temperatures stay cold. Simply fill balloons with water and several drops of food coloring. Stick them in your freezer or outside. When they’re solid, run them quickly beneath hot water and peel off the balloons. You’ll have made beautiful round ice balls that will reflect the pale winter sunshine. If you want to stick them to a railing or other object outside, you can use water to “glue” them in place. We made a series of them and stuck them on the arm of our mailbox—the kids thought they were amazing, and they looked very pretty for several days!

Sachets—If you’ve been collecting flowers or drying herbs from your garden, a simple sewing craft that many kids enjoy is making scented sachets, or scented hot pads. They also make great presents for the holidays. Using felt and a larger needle can make the project easier for small children. Old flannel shirts or other clothing with nice fabric can be a reusable resource, or hit the store and enjoy all of the beautiful fabric designs.

Homemade potpourri is another fragrant way to enjoy plants indoors. A simple recipe we use is as follows: The peel of one orange, a stick of cinnamon (or a teaspoon of powdered), and either powdered or whole cloves. Put the ingredients into a pot with two cups of water. Cook on medium until the scent starts wafting, then turn the heat down to low. (Also, of note, don’t use clementine peels. Though the fruit is yummy to eat, the rinds don’t smell good at all.) There are other great recipes at:

Dream, Gardener, Dream—One surefire antidote to the February blahs is the arrival of seed catalogs. Now is a good time to sign up for all the catalog joy. Try some new nurseries, and don’t forget to let your kids look through them too. Our little gardeners love putting their initials next to veggies they want to eat and flowers they want to plant. Some fun nurseries that might be new to you are Baker Creek (, the Cook’s Garden, Fedco Seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Thompson & Morgan.

And lastly, don’t forget houseplants—Geraniums come in many fun scents, like pineapple and rose, and are easy to grow in a sunny window. Head out to a nursery and you’ll be sure to find childhood favorites—pink polka dot plants, strange carnivores, and easy-to-care-for succulents. Many of the herbs you love outside can come in too. Just watch out for any insect hitchhikers when bringing in garden plants. (A brief quarantine is never a bad idea.)

Remember, spring is only a few months away! Happy holidays to you all.


Valerie Shaw is a homeschool mom, YMCA youth coach, and gardener with a yard that rather ran away with her this year. She lives with her husband and two kids in West Monroe, NY, and is excitedly awaiting spring, and the new batch of little goat kids that are due in March.


Prepping for Winter

by cathym on November 26, 2018

by Liz Magnanti

Vincetoxicum rossicum, pale swallowwort (dogstrangling vine) at the Skaneateles Conservation Area, Onondaga County, New York. Photo by R. A. Nonenmacher

Fall cleanup is an inevitable part of preparing for the winter months ahead. Raking, cleaning out the gutters, and cleaning up plant debris can be tedious. The good news is, sometimes the messier the garden the better it is for wildlife!

Many plants will offer seeds to birds like goldfinches, juncos, and pine siskins in the winter. Black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower are great examples that can be left all winter for birds to feed from. There is no need to deadhead or remove stalks of these plants now—it can wait until the spring. If you are cleaning out dead plant stalks in your garden, be on the lookout for the chrysalis of butterflies and the cocoons of moths. Swallowtails are one example of a butterfly that will spend all winter in their chrysalis. Other species like the Mourning Cloak butterfly will spend the winter as an adult and will hibernate in tree crevices or brush piles. On an unseasonably warm winter day you may even see some of these butterflies flying over your snowcovered garden.

Weeding out perennial invasives that are popping up in the garden is a good idea in the fall so their root system doesn’t expand more than it already has. Black swallowwort is a plant that is creeping into gardens at an alarming rate. It can easily take over gardens in a small amount of time due to its excellent seed dispersal and subterranean rhizome system. It looks like a vine, can wrap itself around other plants, and has slender seed pods similar to other milkweed species. Digging out this and other unwanted plants will make spring gardening easier. Also known as “dog strangling vine,’ this beast is harmful to our Monarch population.

Now is a good time to collect seeds from plants you want to propagate. Read up on the plant species because some, like milkweeds and cardinal flower, sprout better with cold stratification—this means they need to be left out in the cold in order to sprout. This can also be accomplished by keeping the seeds in the refrigerator for two to three months.

Sticks and branches cleaned up from the yard can be saved and arranged to make a brush pile. Brush piles are places for small mammals, birds and amphibians to take refuge. Hawks commonly come into yards in the winter to search for an easy meal and having a brush pile will give their potential prey a place to escape. You can add leaves and grasses to your brush pile to provide even more protection and places to hide.

Putting up a roosting house, or roosting pockets, is another way to give birds protection in the winter. A roosting house looks like a bird house but it has perches along the inside of it. These perches allow for several birds to occupy the space at once. Multiple species, even birds that don’t nest in houses, will use these roosting houses to stay out of the snow, rain, and wind. They are usually made of woven plant fibers or coconut shells. Birdhouses can also be left out in the winter. Birds or even mice will use them for protection as the weather turns.

Once the temperature drops you may see more activity at your bird feeders. This time of year it is important to make sure your feeders are clean and the seed you are feeding them is fresh. Birds are warm blooded and need to consume many calories in order to keep their body temperature up. Peanuts, sunflower, nyjer, and safflower seeds are high in fat and are a great source of food for birds in the winter. Peanuts tend to attract chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays. Sunflower and safflower seeds will attract cardinals, finches, sparrows, and more. Nyjer seed is a favorite of finches, especially goldfinches. Goldfinches are in the area all winter long, but they molt their feathers and will be a drab olive color. In the winter it is common to see pine siskins and sometimes redpolls at nyjer feeders. These birds migrate here from Northern Canada for the winter. Suet cakes, which are blocks of fat, are especially attractive to woodpeckers.

Water can be hard to come by for wildlife in winter. Many species of birds and small mammals depend on a shallow, unfrozen sources of water to drink and bathe in. You can provide this in your yard by using a heated birdbath or by putting a heater in an existing birdbath. These heaters operate on a thermostat and don’t make the water warm, but they keep it unfrozen.

Providing wildlife with food, water, and shelter from the elements and predators is important all year if you want to have a wildlife-friendly yard. You may find, however, when you provide these elements in the winter the amount of animals you see goes up significantly. When we have long periods of cold and snow cover, it can be hard for wildlife to find a meal, a drink, or safety. Now is the perfect time to prep your yard for the cold months ahead. The animals will appreciate the additional help, and you will appreciate their wonderful presence in your yard all winter long.


Liz Magnanti is the manager of the Bird House in Pittsford.