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For the birds: Bird feeders, bird food and creative squirrel-proofing methods

A small robin sits on a wooden birdfeeder that is shaped like a small house. There is snow atop the roof of the feeder.
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You can feed birds throughout the fall and winter while ensuring the squirrels don't take the lion's share.

Learn the basics of bird feeders, bird food, and how to locate the feeder away from the squirrels.

Many gardeners are also bird lovers. And you can make your yard one of birds' favorite stops, provided you follow a couple of tips: Have a variety of feeders, have a variety of food, feed throughout the winter and keep the squirrels away!

Because the birds who visit your feeders in fall will become reliant on that food, consider the time commitment before you get started. If you're ready to provide bird seed fall through early summer, then go ahead and get set up!

First, consider the feeders themselves. Having a variety of feeders will attract a variety of birds, as they prefer different types.

Chickadees and juncos prefer tube-shaped feeders. Jays and cardinals most often use platform feeders. If you want to attract woodpeckers, try suet feeders. Goldfinches eat thistle from a net or sock-like feeder.

And prepare to fill those varied feeders with different types of seed.

Sunflower seed is good for different types of birds but do be careful with the hulls. The seed hulls, when they drop to the ground, emit a chemical that will inhibit the growth of the grass or the plants. You can remedy this by buying hulled sunflower meats.

Once you have chosen feeders, set them up and filled with with a variety of bird food, next, it's time to address the squirrels.

The easiest method is to place the feeders where the squirrels can't jump on them - away from a roof, trees and other structures.

If that placement doesn't work in your yard, there are plenty of innovative bird feeder designs to keep the squirrels out.

Counterbalanced trough feeder are designed so when a squirrel jumps and lands on the perch, the birdseed trough closes because the squirrel is much heavier than a bird.

Another one that frustrates squirrels is a feeder that actually spins if a squirrel lands on its perch!

Whichever method you choose (and you might choose to live with the squirrels eating at your feeders, too) keep up with refilling the feeders, keep them clean and enjoy the birds.

Q: My husband and I live in northern NY and have approximately 20 acres, mostly woods. We have been gardening for years and in the past three years, we've had an unfortunate blight hit the winter squash and then the green beans. We get good growth and then the plants die with browning leaves overnight. We've used copper spray and also homemade Castile soap mixture and have rotated beds for years. We even let our winter squash area go fallow for a year and put potatoes in that area. Can you give us some advice? - Lynn and Paul, West Chazy, NY

A: Rotating the crops and adding compost to keep the soil really healthy are great ideas. Still, it's hard to know exactly what plant disease you might have in your soil without checking it out in a lab.

It could be downy mildew, for example, or a number of other things. So next year, when you start seeing signs of that disease, take a sample and send it off to the cooperative extension service, either in Vermont or New York. See if they can identify what disease you have.

In the interim, you can browse some seed catalogs and look for winter squash and bean varieties that are very disease resistant.

Q: I have a kale plant that I planted last summer and it came back this summer and flourished. Is there anything I can do for it now to help ensure it comes back in the spring? Haley, in Colchester

A: Kale plants are biennials, meaning that they'll grow and have all those beautiful, tasty leaves that will make it through the winter. But next spring, they'll grow a little bit and then they'll send up flowers. You can eat the flowers but in order to have more kale leaves for your salads and smoothies, you really should plan on planting new kale plants every year!

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All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Mary Engisch is the host and reporter for Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday on VPR.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on VPR. Be part of the fun and send your gardening questions here, for Charlie to answer on the air. Plus, find lots of great gardening tips and information for all seasons here. For more gardening information, check out Charlie's website, Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi. Charlie is a guest on VPR's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.