Sometime in late March, migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds will begin to appear in Central Kentucky, returning after having spent the winter in southern climates. You can follow their progress on tracking maps at Hummingbirds.net, a Web site dedicated to all things hummingbird.
Although they're tiny, their appetites are enormous as they zip about seemingly faster than the eye can keep up. Hummingbirds sip nectar for much of their food energy, either from flowers or from what they find in feeders that many bird lovers place around their homes and gardens.
It's time to get those feeders ready. Jane Sparkman, who lives in London, has been feeding birds for more than 50 years.
"I grew up helping my father with bird feeders as a hobby in Ohio and have done it ever since," she says.
Sparkman offers some advice for attracting and nourishing these small visitors. First, find feeders that are easy to take apart and clean. She recommends Burkmann Feeds in London as a source, but she also says that large home-and-garden shops, including Lowes and Home Depot, carry feeders, cleaning brushes and how-to books.
Feeder prices at those stores range from about $5 to $20. In Lexington, Wild Birds Unlimited (Lexingtonky.wbu.com) specializes in bird-related products and can provide expert advice.
Once you have a feeder, prepare a simple sugar syrup of 1 part ordinary sugar and 4 parts water, boiled together briefly, then cooled, to fill the feeders. Sparkman is concerned that a higher sugar ratio might be unhealthy for the birds, and she has found that a commercial red syrup is unnecessary.
"Bright colors like the usual red attract the birds," she says, "but red flowers or ribbons near the feeders serve the same purpose." When refilling, be sure to clean feeders thoroughly to prevent mold from growing during the summer.
Identifying and Feeding Birds by Bill Thompson III ($14.95), along with Bird Watcher's Digest magazine, make a great beginner bird-watchers combo.
For hummingbirds, it's best to use feeders that allow access to many birds at once. The birds are territorial, so you might discover some dominant personalities. Just browsing through the book can bring a new understanding and awareness in your observations.
Share your success in hummingbird feeding and watching by sending a high-resolution JPEG photo to Durisek@aol.com, along with your name, city, the date of the photo and any other important details. I'll post it on the Inside/Out & About blog at Kentucky.com.
Farm Bureau auction
As auctions go, the Fayette County Farm Bureau's 28th annual farm-equipment consignment auction could be a bit of an adventure and an education for the average city dweller. Most of us can identify with riding lawn mowers, boats and assorted shrubbery, but how well versed are we in troughs, plows, tractor parts and balers?
The auction is a fun gathering where you can pick up some good deals, so be sure to bring a pickup because you might end up carting something home. According to the auction flier, no junk will be accepted for sale, and any donated items will benefit the Fayette County Farm Bureau's Education Program.
The bidding is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. March 19 at the Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Ironworks Pike. It's open to the public, and parking is $5 a vehicle. For more information, go to KYFB.com/Fayette and click on "key programs," or call (859) 253-0023.
Miracle-Gro garden grants
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has committed to install 1,000 gardens and green spaces by 2018, when the company will celebrate its 150th anniversary of supplying consumer lawn and garden products.
Through a program called GRO1000, a series of Grassroots Grants, worth as much as $1,500 in monetary and in-kind support, are being given to non-profit, tax-exempt organizations for projects designed to include neighborhood residents and foster community spirit.
So if you want to green up your neighborhood and you need a sponsor, get with a 501(c)(3) organization and apply for a grant. For more information and application forms, go to Scottsmiraclegro.com. This year's deadline is March 31.Dave's Garden
If you haven't discovered Dave's Garden at Davesgarden.com, you are in for a surprise. The site is a massive clearinghouse for practical and timely information about plants, including their identification, sources and growth habits, and an interactive communication tool for gardeners worldwide.
The main page includes regularly updated features, and other pages are forums by more than 45,000 followers about varied topics including retailers and how plant varieties have fared in various locales. Data collected from 2.8 million visitors to the site each month was analyzed recently to be included in Dave's Garden's 2011 Plant Almanac. One report, the 10 Most Popular Plants, includes rose of Sharon, moonflower, corkscrew hazelnut and crape myrtle. Another, Top 10 Plants Gardeners Want to Buy, puts miracle berry, Synsepalum dulcificum, as number one on that list. The plant has gained interest because the berries possess the ability to affect the taste of other foods.
Whether you're investigating the track record of a possible vendor, wondering how far north a fragrant olive can survive the winter outdoors and who's selling them, or just looking for new ideas for your garden this spring, this is a valuable resource.
Reach master gardener Susan Smith-Durisek at firstname.lastname@example.org.