Finches love their greens, too

When I described the loss of my entire kale crop — OK, six plants — to Master Gardener and bug expert extraordinaire Marsha Waite, she answered me with one dreadful word: "Finches."

Tell me it ain't so, Marsha.

It seems these seed eaters also like to eat their greens. So putting a bird feeder near your vegetable garden may lead to some unintended consequences. The things I've noticed finches like: sunflower leaves, kale and, waah, basil.

Finches also like to eat aphids, so it seems these birds are omnivores, just like us.

Since I can't move my vegetable garden, I decided to share. The discovery had me paying more attention to what the other birds in my garden are doing. The pine siskin have taken a liking to my tall verbena plants. The other day I drove into the driveway and a particularly tenacious bird remained clinging to the swaying stem very near the car. Giving me an occasional piercing look, the bird hungrily pecked away at the flower head.

Since I had my camera, this event made a nice photo opportunity. After getting out of the car, I made a close examination of the plant. Not a bug in sight. I suspect the bird was eating the flowers, or perhaps young seeds.

While I haven't eaten verbena, I have happily munched on rose, nasturtium and chive blossoms. These add such a glorious flair to salads it's a wonder we don't include them every day.

To refresh my memory about edible flowers, I looked at "The Edible Flower Garden," by Rosalind Creasy. Bingo — another reason to grow scarlet runner beans, which rarely produce beans in my location — the flowers are good in salads, on sandwiches and as a garnish to green bean dishes.

While it's too late for runner beans, there's still time to sow bush bean seeds for harvest in September and October. I'm making room in the garden for a larger crop, just so I can add the flowers to my salads. You might have dill, thyme, arugula, bee balm (Monarda) in your herb garden, and these flowers can be added to salads, as well.

While some flowers might be edible, they shouldn't be eaten. I'm referring here to nursery-grown flowering plants. Don't go buy a chrysanthemum plant, also edible, for its flowers unless it's been grown organically. Ornamental-plant growers may use a number of chemicals that are not certified for food use.

On the other hand, those mums that have established in your garden — or are grown from seedlings purchased early in the year — may be perfectly edible. According to Creasy, the large-petaled, daisy-flowered specimens are the easiest to handle. Just think, mum season has barely begun.

What began as a disappointment has turned into a delightful reminder of how much the garden has to offer. How like gardening! It's a good life lesson, as well.

The birds have earned their keep again.

Master gardener Althea Godfrey is gardening editor for HomeLife magazine. Reach her at

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