What’s the difference between all of the ice melters? And why can’t I use a bag of rock salt? That seems to be the cheapest way to go.
A: Read the label on all of the ice melters — some are clearly marked that they “contain(s) rock salt and other elements” which you may not want to pour on plant material or walks made of concrete or specialty stonework — or track indoors, particularly onto polished wood floors.
Wipe your pet’s feet after spending time outdoors — driveway or road salt chemicals can crack foot pads.
If the icy area is very small or the temperature is close to freezing and snowfall is light, the quickest way to make the area safe for walking is a kettle of hot water, then a light application of a commercial melter. Don’t forget the use of clay kitty litter — not to melt, but to provide traction. It’s cheap and readily available. The only problem is that it sticks to shoes and animal paws and can leave a muddy puddle. So, what are you to do?
How about one of these?
Calcium chloride melts well to temperatures of 13 below zero, works fast, does not damage metal (think the underside of your car, porch railings) or concrete and does moderate damage to plant life.
Sodium chloride, or plain old rock salt, melts best at temperatures above 18 degrees. It works fast, damages concrete, metal and plants, but it’s cheap.
Potassium chloride melts well to 15 degrees but is slow to work. It won’t damage old concrete but does some damage to plants.
Choose carefully — there is a melter for you — and spring can’t be too far away, can it?
Should I be feeding birds all winter?
A: It’s the perfect time of year to open a new restaurant on the Cape Ann — a birdie restaurant, of course.
Please, feed the birds this winter, even if you’ve never done it before.
Why? Start feeding them now and the birds will be there for you to enjoy — and they’ll eat bugs in your garden all summer.
What kind of a birdie restaurant do you want?
Go to any hardware store or most garden centers. You’ll find a terrific array of feeders ranging from the simple to the sublime — and all the seed you’ll ever need.
There are feeders you can hang and feeders that attach to the window with a suction cup. There are sill feeders and flat, ground feeders that look like large trays. There are fancy, Victorian feeders and simple wooden Colonial feeders. Which is best? You decide — whatever you like. The birds don’t know the difference between Victorian and Colonial styles.
Now when it comes to food, that’s a different matter! Birds do know the difference, and some have definite preferences. Of course, there is always the exception — the bird that eats anything.
For starters: Sunflower seeds will attract a lot of different birds, and if you look closely you will see that these birds all have a powerful beak — all the better to crack the tough shells. Sunflower seeds have a high oil content which the birds need in cold weather. They’re attractive to cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, and chickadees — and yes, squirrels too.
Corn attracts sparrows, pigeons and mourning doves — and turkeys!
Fruits attract finches and most other songbirds. Pieces of apple and oranges are much appreciated for their water content as well as their meal.
Millet attracts sparrows and doves.
What about all the shells that birds leave behind? If you are really fussy, you can make bird feeding very clean. Use hulled food, like hulled sunflower seeds, sometimes marketed as sunflower hearts, and shelled peanuts. It’s more expensive, but clean. Every bit will be eaten.
For gourmet feed, put out thistle. There’s also mixed seed by the pound — it’s not gourmet, but it feeds and nourishes the birds quite well and is available in sacks wherever seed is sold. It usually contains varying amounts of sunflower, corn, millet and other grain.
If you are buying in bulk, be sure the seed is clean and is not contaminated with moths or maggots. If you see them in your sack of seed, place the seed outdoors in a metal can and let it freeze for a few days.
Be sure to announce the arrival of your birdie restaurant with a scoop of seed — and stand back; they will be standing in line.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a self-stamped, self-addressed envelope to her c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.