According to legends and folklore that were told to me by my Welsh and Irish elders when I was growing up, the wreath was originally woven of whatever vine available and used to crown the heads of winners of races and other games played during community gatherings. So honored by having a winner's wreath placed upon his head, the champion would then give the wreath as a gift to his betrothed, proclaiming his affection, and she in turn would hang it upon her door so that any other suitors would know she was already spoken for. True or not, it is a nice beginning to our story of the wreath, an adornment for our homes that is no longer only associated with the holiday season.
When I was growing up in eastern Kentucky in the 50's, my sunny summer days were spent exploring the mountain that was my family's extended back yard. I would pack a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a jar of ice water in a brown paper sack, and be on my merry way. It was there on the mountain side that I learned much about nature, including the habits of small wild critters, and the wonder of hidden blossoms. And what a treasure I found one day when I accidentally got all entangled in a grapevine. By the time I unwound myself from the tentacles of the vine, some of it had broken off the mother vine, and I found myself trying to rewind it around the branch of a tree. While I sat there and ate my lunch, a chipper little brown bird hopped upon the wound up grapevine and chattered away in my direction. I flicked him a crumb. He flew away. When I was ready to leave my grapevine, I smashed the unfinished sandwich against the wound vine, leaving peanut butter smeared and bread ensnared, wondering if the bird might eat it when I left. Later that afternoon as I wound my way home, I came again to the grapevine. A gathering of birds was happily sitting on the wound grapevine, pecking at the peanut butter and swinging in the breeze, while another little group nipped at the apple core on the ground where I had been sitting.
That was many years ago, but I still like to surprise my critter friends with all natural vine wreaths stuffed full of peanut butter flavored suet and tasty seeds and grains.
The bird feeder wreaths are very easy to make, if you have access to wisteria, grapevine, or honeysuckle. Wrap the vine in a circle, starting with 3 or 4 very long strands, all with uneven ends. After having made at least 2 wraps, separate a couple of the strands and loop them over a branch that you can see from your window, then wrap again. After the third wrap around, begin to wind the strands of vines around the circle that your wrapping has created. They don't have to be pulled tightly, but they do need to wrap several times around the circle. Once you get to the end of your strips of vines, begin to tuck one end at a time into the wound circle that you have made. Beauty is not necessary at this point, but the security of the end pieces is important.
Voila'! You have created a wreath and attached it to a tree limb with very little effort. Now the fun part begins. Birds love raisins, cores from apples and pears, some like jams, leftover cooked cereal (oatmeal), dry cereal crumbs, grains, and any kind of nuts. Using a tasty peanut butter suet mixture to hold the seed mix onto your wound vine wreath, you will have given your fine feathered friends a tasty treat that will last for many winter days.
Here is my peanut butter/suet/seed recipe, but I think most any combination that is healthy for birds will work:
2 cups shortening or drippings
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup bird seed
Spread mixture around and onto wreath, and push extra nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, or any other edible into the suet mixture after it is on the wreath. It will be tacky enough to hold most small bits of food. If you are having trouble pushing the suet mixture into the wreath, simply work with it like clay, pushing the mixture in with your hands, and adding the seeds as you go.
Be sure you leave space for little bird feet. They love to have a place to sit and swing while they enjoy your feast, but they don't like to get peanut butter on their toes.
Your wreath will last several months, and will only need to be checked periodically. I only make one food wreath at a time, so that the food does not get old or spoil, but I might have more than one wreath in a designated tree. When the food wreath does get old it is easy enough to clip down, throw it away, and move on to the next wreath, which the birds are already used to. Gather your kids, your grandkids, or even your spouse and collect those trimmed vines. Create a gathering spot for all your colorful birds that need help finding food when snow is deep.