Sunday, March 14, 2010

This red wagon is for the birds

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel March 14, 2010)

The birds are enjoying their newest feeding station — an old Radio Flyer wagon filled with birdseed. My children used the wagon when they were little, but that was a long time ago. Since then it has been in the junk pile, exposed to all the abuse that wind and rain can muster.

The old wagon is a sorry-looking thing. Its color has faded, and rust has pockmarked the handle, hubs and bed. Although its wheels still turn, the wagon's swift-moving days are gone forever.

When I rescued the abandoned toy from the junk pile, my intention was to use it as a planter, but that was before winter temperatures plunged into the teens and my wildlife concerns skyrocketed. I fretted over the birds – the cardinals, goldfinches, doves and occasional jays that frequent the feeders. I wanted to give them more food to help them along during the coldest months.

The wagon was my solution. Its long, flat, edged bed holds quantities of birdseed. An old piece of screening laid over the bed prevents smaller seeds from disappearing through the corroded metal, and the wagon's flat surface enables many birds to feed simultaneously.

Rarely does an hour go by without some birds or squirrels approaching the feeder. Squirrels love the easy access I've provided to a seed-based smorgasbord, and while I'd rather feed birds than supplement the diet of hungry rodents, I accept the fact that squirrels are an inevitable component of all bird-feeding operations.

The mix I use is millet, flax, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, corn and thistle. Pretty little goldfinches come for the tiny thistle seeds while cardinals prefer the plumper sunflower seeds. Because the wagon's bed is roomy, even ground-feeding birds such as doves are willing to make use of my improvised feeder.

The converted Radio Flyer is the latest in a series of feeders made from reclaimed material. Over the years I have fed my feathered friends out of recycled milk cartons (both the plastic and boxy, wax-coated types), empty tofu containers, shallow cake pans, the hollowed-out shells of coconuts and half-round pieces of bamboo. It doesn't take much inventiveness to fashion an effective feeding station from items found around the home and yard.

I love finding new purposes for old items. There is so much stuff sitting in the back of closets and cabinets, filling up garages and overflowing onto yards. With a little imagination, chipped dishes, outgrown apparel, unwanted furniture and an abundance of other ordinary items can be refashioned in practical and attractive ways. I have turned old chairs into plant holders, retrofitted holey boots and conch shells into flowerpots, repurposed rusted-out wheelbarrows and converted a wood stove into an outdoor plant stand. When you begin creating garden art out of castaway items, you enter a new world of possibilities.

There are many Web sites that showcase the work of creative recyclers. The GardenWeb ( is a popular online community that covers a wide range of gardening topics. It has an excellent forum called Garden Junk dedicated to creative uses of everyday items.

Similar to GardenWeb is GardenStew, another online community for plant lovers. Also called Garden Junk, the forum on GardenStew ( calls itself a "discussion about creating interesting decorations and items of interest for your garden using everyday objects." Both sites provide ideas and instructions on how to convert bowling balls into gazing globes and teacups into bird feeders and how to create windchimes out of, well, just about everything.

I don't have a lot of time to spend browsing Web sites for ideas, but I do find myself frequently thinking about new ways to use old items. My most recent project — the refashioned Radio Flyer wagon — met all my personal requirements. It was extremely easy to convert. The conversion did not require any output of money. It looks attractive, works wonderfully and has the potential to last a long time.

Even more important, it brings me joy. Watching the birds — and, I admit, even the squirrels — flock to the red-wagon feeder makes me smile even when I'm feeling overwhelmed and down. I may be feeding thistles and millet to the birds, but they're providing me with a steady diet of hopefulness, happiness and amusement. That's what I call a recycling project that keeps on giving.

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