Preserving · Wildcrafting

Creating A Living Winter Food Tree For The Animals

When our younger boys were preschool age, they attended a forest school, that was all outdoors. The first year we decorated the forest and made living winter food trees for the birds and squirrels that call the area home year-round. It’s a really fun project for the long Thanksgiving weekend, when the children are bored by Friday.

Evergreen trees show the treats well (the color popping against the deep green), however empty deciduous trees also work well. And if you live in a rainy area, consider decorating a covered porch as well. The animals will still visit, and your home will be beautifully decorated for the Winter Solstice (or Christmas).

A popular one was orange slices:

While we hung fresh cut ones, as we had a covered area, dehydrating them first makes it a lot less messy. And less likely the children eat all the supplies (hah).

Dried oranges are incredibly easy to prep, and can be done with lower quality fruit, than if you were eating the citrus fresh. I buy 3 pound bags of navel oranges at our local discount shop (Grocery Outlet), and wash them oranges well, then dry off. Trim the ends, slice and separate.

You have two choices, one is more gentle, the other is faster – a great option if you decide in the morning to wildcraft.

Dry on a dehydrator, at 135 to 155°, till dry. This may take 12 to 24 hours, depending on temperature in machine, in the house and the home’s humidity.

Heat your oven to 200°. Lay out the orange slices on cooling racks, over baking sheets. It will take about 2 to 3 hours till dry.

You can use grapefruit, lemons, limes, whatever you have on hand.

For hanging the dried slices, use a plastic or metal blunt end needle (for knitting). Hemp twine works well, or any similar biodegradable gardening twine. Avoid using fishing line as it is plastic, and can harm animals. Once strung as you like (you can make knots between each slice to keep from sliding), hang or drape as you like.

Cranberry garland:

If you missed this classic in school, I say it’s never too late to do it! One bag of fresh cranberries (which like the oranges need not be the best in shape, so if it’s marked down, grab it). Using a thinner needle (metal works better here), thread the needle with twine. If the twine is thin you will want to make a loop and knot. If thick, just knot one end. Simple sewing here. Thread on the cranberries, length-wise. You can knot between if they are slipping at all. Wind the garland around trees or bushes as desired.


I only suggest popcorn if your winter is on the arid side. I don’t do it here, as it rains too much. Air pop organic popcorn, and use a sewing needle with a double section of cotton thread (knotted). Once a section is done, arrange on trees.

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