Events Page
2020Oct01


BugZooka™ (February 2012).

One of the presents I gave myself for Yule was a BugZooka™! I bought mine from Gaiam.com, but when I did a search using the name, I found several places that also sell it. I have purchased from Gaiam.com for years and like the way they do business. Plus they have "green" shipping... which means I was able to purchase Renewable Energy Credits to offset the shipping.

This tool lets you catch bugs without zapping them so you can release them somewhere more appropriate.

I have successfully moved two (2) spiders from inside my house to outside so far.

I also practiced using it on the cluster flies that are a royal pain just to see if it is possible. Yes it is! I must have sucked up 50 of the things without any problem... none crawled out or escaped in any way; and I was able to suck them into the vacuum cleaner from the tool. (Of course, it's easier to just suck the little critters directly into the vacuum... this was just a test.)


I highly recommend this product... especially if you want to safely inspect the thing you caught.

UPDATE: October 2020. I still love this product. Now I have two (2) because I latched onto the one I gave my folks after they moved to an assisted living facility (they have people to take care of that sort of thing now).

One thing I have learned over the years... there is a limit to the SIZE of the critter that you can capture. Crickets are REALLY tough because they have these LONG antennae and usually jump before I can get close enough. So I have an alternative device: an old cottage cheese container (CCC) without the lid and an old birthday card large enough to completely cover the opening. I am able to simply set the opening of the CCC over the cricket and then I slide the card (folded side first) under the CCC with a slight lifting (not enough to allow anything to escape). That way I can lift the CCC/card and turn it over to carry it outside, remove the card and let the cricket out. By the way, the CCC/card worked for a very tiny snake that somehow made its way into the house (I shiver to remember).

Unfortunately, the grass spiders and house spiders that are common out here are too large to suck into the BugZooka and I am too squeamish to try to capture them. I hate to kill anything, but death is part of the cycle of life. Heavy Sigh.

After 12 years, we have begun to see roaches in the basement... probably came in as eggs laid in corrugated cardboard. Usually they are dead because we are very careful about storing food products. But I am thinking about applying something in the basement that won't be toxic to pets.


Back to the Top


Japanese Beetles (September 2012)

These critters are really pretty. They look a great deal like scarabs, but are smaller... about the size of my fingernail. They sure do EAT! The ones shown here are on an elderberry plant and the leaf will look like lace when they are done with it.

Here is a link for more information about them as nasty, invasive critters:
http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef451.asp

Although, you might want to adjust the plants they list as "like" to include the American Elderberry (sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) and Aronia Berry (aronia melanocarpa)... at least from my experience on MY farm in Northwest Missouri.

I refuse to put poison on my plants and have opted to use traps that incorporate a pheromone in addition to floral scent lure.

Like everything, there are positives and negatives to this option. The lure is HIGHLY EFFECTIVE at attracting LOTS and LOTS of Japanese Beetles. Our farm is faced on the north by mainstream farm plantings of corn; and corn is one of the Japanese Beetles favorite food. (It has MANY favorite foods.) So there are LOTS and LOTS of Japanese Beetles to be found in our vicinity.

So far, I have been able to see a marked lowering of beetles on my berry plants. But I'm seeing more beetles in general... IN MY TRAP.

A benefit from all this is involves the chickens on the farm; and chickens LOVE to eat bugs! So I see all the extra Japanese Beetles as a food source for my chickens. The bug-guy at the Elderberry Workshop told me that a friend of his puts a Japanese Beetle lure in his chicken coop and lets the chickens feast!
He also told us that when they capture beetles for their studies, they freeze them and if you don't freeze them for at least TWO WEEKS, the beetles come back to life. Once they are REALLY DEAD, you can take them out of the freezer to store.
Another use for the dead beetles is as an organic mulch. (That would be pretty!)

Anyway, I'm luring and trapping Japanese Beetles away from my berry plants. At the same time, I'm removing the number trapped from mating and laying eggs in the soil. For my efforts, I'm getting fodder for my chickens (now and through the winter because I'm freezing bags of the things to share with them later).

I have become the predator of the Japanese Beetle in my little part of the world. (I even understand that these critters are edible by humans... but I think I'll leave them for the chickens for now.) And I accept that I won't catch all the Japanese Beetles. My goal is to minimize their feasting on my plants so the plant has a chance to survive and thrive. Plus I am working at improving the soil health at our farm and that will help the plants as well.

Here's to learning from nature and not trying to bully it!



From Pest to Feed (June 2014)

If you read the info above, you have some knowledge about Japanese Beetles and the invasive critters they have become in the United States. You also know that I prefer to see these critters as a blessing.

I did, however, leave you hanging about how I make use of this blessing. Sorry about that. Plus there aren't many photos, it's not easy to take pictures of myself doing the beetle chores or for me to remember to take a camera with me when I feed the chickens during the winter. Luckily, I DID remember (probably in February from the look of the first photo) and was able to take a couple photos that I hope will be interesting to you.

Collection:

First, the hubby and I put in 5-foot "T" posts on our land along the north side (our dominant summer wind is from the southwest) directly across the road from the mainstream row-crop fields of our neighbors (usually corn or soybean). I use an electric fence insulator (these are plastic pieces that wrap around the T-post and stick out about 6 inches... so you can string electric fence without it touching your metal post) on each T-post at eye level (for me, that is about 5 feet) and hang the Japanese Beetle Trap from that; using a piece of metal or heavy-duty twist-tie to keep it from falling off. (See the photo above for what the trap looks like.)

The traps are spaced about 100 feet apart so that each lure can be effective and not confuse the beetle about where the closest one is. I also put a few traps SOUTH of my berry plants because the wind sometimes changes and comes from the north. I don't see many beetles in those traps, but better safe than sorry. (I should mention that my land is about 1300 feet long, north to south and is in pasture. South of my land is more land in pasture for at least that same distance. Not much for Japanese Beetles to eat in pasture plants and therefore few beetles coming from that direction.) I also put a few traps along my west and east fence lines around my berry plants... the neighbor to the west grows vegetables (lots for Japanese Beetles to eat there) and I'm pulling the majority away from their plants (I hope). On my east is a large acreage in Walnut Trees/conservation... not likely to get many from there, but again, better safe than sorry.

When the beetles start invading depends on when they were able to come out of the ground. July and August seem to be peak around here on average (the first year I did this they started in May).

The wind carries the floral scent and pheronomes over those fields to the north of us and the beetles come searching for the food and the "fun". From my research, I learned that about 10% will not be lured at all, period. Of the other 90% that are lured, 70% will be trapped. That means I'm helping the farmer because instead of 100% of those Japanese Beetles out in the corn/soybeans eating and breeding, there are between 10 and 30 percent doing so.

I'm taking a big risk attracting 70% of the neighboring Japanese Beetles to my land where my berry crops are... but as you may have already read (above), I have LESS Japanese Beetles on my berry plants WITH the lure/traps than I had without them.

Ok, so each morning before it gets very warm, I make the rounds of the traps. I go early in the day because the beetles are sluggish when it is not hot and it's more pleasant to work the traps without excited beetles flying all around me. I bring empty bags and twist ties with me and replace each bag with a new one each day. Even if there are very few beetles in the trap... I replace the bag; this is because the beetles will give off a warning scent and I don't want that to compete with the lure.

I tried carrying a bucket and putting the twist-tied, full bags in it on my rounds...but found that some of the beetles make their way out of the 'weep' holes in the bottom of each bag. So now I simply carry the full bags hanging from my hand and the empty bags in my pocket. This works for me, because I'm only walking about 500 feet of traps at a time. If I had to go longer with more traps, I'd have to figure something else out (which I would do). Luckily, my barn with the freezer is at the halfway point of my entire trap set-up. I bring the first half in and put those traps into the chest freezer and head back out to do the second half which also gets deposited into the chest freezer.

It only takes about an hour for the beetles to be cold enough that I can empty those bags into the storage bags... but I like to wait til the next morning to do this. It's nice after my walk to feel the cold from the freezer and work with the cold bags. Sometimes the bags have extra water from a rain and that means I have to break up the ice covered beetles so they easily pour out of the bag. Once the bags are emptied into the storage bag and it is sealed with a twist tie, I take the newly empty bags out to the hose and wash them thoroughly to remove any of that warning scent and dead beetle smell/residue. I leave them to air dry and then inspect them for damage before putting them in with the bags to be reused.

The storage bags are tall and flimsy to start, so I use a bucket a little bigger than they are to set each one in to start filling it. Once there is a few inches of beetles in the bag, they stand pretty well on their own; until they get close to full and then I have to be very careful not to knock them over. (Lesson learned the hard way. LOL)

On average, it takes me about an hour each day from start to finish. It's a nice walk, I'm getting needed exercise, reducing the impact of an invasive insect and getting winter feed for my efforts.

Making Sure They Are Dead:

The Japanese Beetle is truly resilient. It takes two (2) weeks at 10 degrees Fahrenheit to kill them. You see, they winter in the soil and while the soil DOES freeze during the winter, it often does not get to that temperature for an entire two (2) week period of time. So the little critters go dormant and in the spring they come back to life.

To be sure the beetles that I trap are truly dead, they stay in my chest freezer at that 10 degrees Fahrenheit temp until I need them to feed the chickens in the winter...which is usually something over four (4) months. (My chickens tell me when it's time to feed the Japanese Beetles... if there is any other insect available, they snub their noses at the Japanese Beetles. Once there is not, they LOVE the things. I'd say this usually happens in late December.)

NOTE: If you want to lure/trap Japanese Beetles and don't have anyone to feed them to... DON'T seal the bag and throw it in the trash (as most trap packaging directs you to do)! Freeze them for at LEAST 2 weeks at 10 degrees Fahrenheit and then use them as compost. As soon as you remove them from the freezer, they start to decay. So you can add them to your compost pile, spread them around your plants... put them where the smell of decaying bugs won't bother you. LOL

Storage:

Here you can see the last few bags of beetles waiting in the freezer.

Those are umbrella bags (you usually find them in offices or conference centers, etc. where they don't want you to leave your rained on umbrella dripping on their nice, dry carpet/floors). Those bags turn out to be a pretty good size when you fill them up.

FYI: I like to find inexpensive alternatives and that means thinking outside the box... in this case, find a cheap, lightweight plastic bag without holes.

I forgot to write down how many bags I collected during the summer of 2013... but I think there were 15.

I use a small bucket (a repurposed container from a kelp product I purchase) that probably measures one gallon.

It's pretty easy to dump a measure of beetles into it... I simply untwist the twist-tie and holding the plastic open, pour the beetles into the bucket. I've gotten to where I can tell that about a hands-width (measured with my fingers spread a bit along the side of the bag) fills the bucket about 1/3 of the way. There are about four (4) of those measures per bag.

As the contents of the bag gets lower, I can pinch off the amount I want (above my hand) and dump that in very easily.

1/3 of that bucket works nicely for the 60 chickens. I alternate beetles with roasted cracked navy beans.

Feeding:

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of me feeding the beetles to the chickens. But believe me when I tell you they COME RUNNING for them! I can't just put out a bowl (or even several bowls) because they fight over those beetles! So, instead, I cast out handfuls in all directions so that everyone has a shot at getting some. (Similarly, I spread the navy beans out in lots of small piles because I can't cast them like I do the beetles.) **NOTE-November 2014: I now have photos of the chickens eating beetles! Here is the link to that page/section.**

So as you can see, the time it takes me to collect the beetles in the summer helps to lower my feed bill in addition to providing some variety to the chickens' diet during the winter.

Truly a blessing.

Oh, in case any of you were wondering about my neighbor's crops... they are modern ag-folk. I can't say for certain that they do or don't use GMO seed, but I highly suspect they do... it's the norm, unfortunately. One of my neighbors was using a crop duster to spread insecticide and that is devastating to my setup. I'm TRULY hoping that by luring and trapping, he won't need to do that any more... that the number of beetles he sees is not high enough to make him pay for insecticides and especially not a crop duster. One of these days, I'm going to get up the courage to talk to them about this and maybe expand my traps along more of their fields... to help them AND me.

UPDATE: August 4, 2015

Japanese Beetle season is going hot and heavy (as of July 3). It started about 2 weeks earlier than last year. Today only 5 out of 17 traps were not full to overflowing. The hubby has been walking the traps with me in the evenings so he can hold a bucket with one of the freezer bags in it while I dumped the excess beetles into it so as to twist tie closed the regular bag.
I sure hated to leave all those beetles hanging out around the trap, but hopefully they will make their way into the fresh bag on the morrow.

The birds are happy, the freezer is officially full (as of July 19) and the chickens and turkeys are getting the excess beetles! There is a video on the Facebook page. I'm working on getting a YouTube account so I can link videos directly from this website.

It's a good thing that we have filled up the 22 cubic foot freezer with Japanese Beetles already (yes, there is a BIT of sarcasm there --- a very HEAVY year for the nasty critters) because the crop duster showed up on Thursday (July 16) to our north and this evening has been busy on the fields to our south. Fortunately, the winds have been light and from the direction that moves the residue away from our acreage.
I had thought that the peak time of beetles had passed (a week or two early) but it may just be dusting of pesticides that have reduced the population. Not to mention the population of any beneficial insects in the area. 
The last time they dusted around us, we were without wild birds for two years... nothing for them to eat. Hopefully, our little farm was spared and the bird population will find lots to eat here.
Anyway, it makes me sad.

So far (8-4-15), I haven't noticed any reduction of insects or birds on the property due to the crop duster. I registered us on the DriftWatch website because of the honeybees... perhaps that is why. I certainly hope so.

UPDATE: August 3, 2016

From the June 23 Status Report: The Japanese Beetles (JB) are back with a vengeance! The early hot weather brought them out a couple of weeks early and I appear to have missed the slow build up period and got the traps/bags out just in time. Hopefully, this will get them out of the way a few weeks early as well. I can dream, can't I? LOL

Since I don't have chickens to feed the beetles to and my freezer is FULL of beef FOR SALE... I'm working out how to dispose of the things. My most recent thoughts are to stun them in the freezer for a couple of days and then pour them into a bucket and put neem oil/soapy water over them and cover that for a day or two. It SHOULD drown the hungry critters. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm also planning to use some to make a "tea" to spray on plants as a repellant, will also let you know how THAT goes.

New Routine: I should also share with you that some critter (raccoon, opossum... your guess is as good as mine) really ticked me off by shredding several of the bags that I left on overnight. Brand new bags! Grrr. They were obviously going for the beetles which is great, but don't ruin my traps! Since I couldn't do anything about the critter, I had to change my routine regarding collecting bagged beetles.

Every evening once the shadows were long and the air cooler (less JB active and flying), I made the rounds and took off the bags no matter how many JB were in them... leaving just the yellow vanes with the lure (ouch -- but remember the JB is not active in the dark, so not likely to be lured during that time). In the morning, early, while the air was still cool and shadows long, I put up empty bags. This meant instead of walking my traps once a day, I got to walk them twice a day.
I left the full bags in the freezer overnight and dumped them into the umbrella bags in the morning and then washed those newly emptied bags and left them drying on the clothes line to be used the next day (like usual).

To Lure/Trap or Not? I started out this year putting up lure/traps JUST on the acreage around the fruit crops. I debated about putting them up at all and here's why I decided to put them up: you can only trap 50 to 60 percent of the beetles that come up out of the ground (or that are lured from somewhere else) and that means there would be lots of beetles already in the ground from 2015 on my farm.

I ended up with 17 lure/traps and probably because I missed the initial build up, the traps were overflowing almost immediately. I have discovered new research that discusses the signal chemicals/pheronomes that early beetles leave on the plants they find so that other beetles can easily find the food source. By trapping the EARLY beetles (or picking them off the plants or however you remove them), you minimize the mass migration later. Or conversely, if you DON'T remove those early beetles, be ready for the mass migration to visit your plants. And so now I know why, even WITH the traps, the mass migrations of Japanese Beetles inundated my plants. AAGGGHHH!

The stream of consciousness that went through my mind went something like this....

The number of JB coming from elsewhere is probably much higher than the number that are coming out of the ground around my plants. Which SHOULD mean that if I take down the lure/traps, the number of JB ON my plants SHOULD be reduced. BUT, the call of the JB that there is food here is ALREADY on my plants, so I really need to trap as many of them as possible. How can I trap them without luring more? Would the traps work without the lures? Can I take that chance? I am running out of space in the freezer to kill the JB and don't know any other way to kill them once they are trapped.

Ultimately, I decided that if my fruit plants all die because of JB... then I will simply be out of the fruit farming business. What will be, will be. Which is why during the 2nd week of July (the JB having been around for about 6 weeks and some reduction of numbers in the traps) I took the LURES out of the traps and left the yellow vanes with the bags in place (still walking the traps at night to remove the bags and again in the morning to put out new bags). Surprisingly (or maybe not if the yellow plastic vanes had picked up some of the floral/pheronome lure chemicals), there were JB in the bags everyday for the next week. Not very many, but still, better than none.

Experimental "Tea" Repellent: During this week of no lure traps, I started removing JB from the freezer to make the experimental "tea" to use (hopefully) as a repellant. I left those JB in a bucket of water for three (3) days to "steep". I covered the bucket at night to reduce the possibility of a critter dumping it over. That "tea" certainly did attract flies and American Carrion Beetles! The decomp smell was obvious. I strained the beetles from the "tea" and put the liquid into the sprayer. I added a small amount of Basic H, some neem oil and some of the orchard nutrient mix I had made in the Spring (a little boost of enzymes surely couldn't hurt).

The strawberry plants and rhubarb were all but gone by this time, so since I obviously wouldn't be getting any more harvests from them this year, I used that bed as one of the test sites for the "tea". I also used a decorative bush that was inundated and the Basswood sapling closest to the house. I did the spraying very early in the morning for two (2) reasons: 1) the summer temps have been EXTREMELY HIGH and it's been HUMID as usual, so early morning was the lowest temps of the day and 2) the wind is usually at its calmest close to dawn.

That stuff smelled horrible!! I did my best to keep the spray off me. But the smell lingered in my sinuses even after my thorough shower and I was thankful to have incense to burn in the house.

I saturated the test sites and saw that the force of the spray did knock some of the JB off the plants, but not all of them. I continued to make the rounds of the test sites until the sprayer was empty. So basically, the "tea" had a chance to dry and then another spray was applied.

Once the sprayer was empty and as I was attempting to clean it out, I realized that there was still quite a bit of soap (Basic H) in it. So I simply filled the sprayer with water and used the soapy water on some additional plants as a second test. Those plants were: one of the Aronia berry bushes, a PawPaw tree, and the worst hit Gala Apple tree (only the Aronia berry had fruit). Is it possible there was still some "tea" in this mix? Of course, but it would have been such a small amount of residue.

Once again, I saturated the 2nd test sites and saw the same force of spray knock some of the JB off the plants. (I will admit to shaking these plants in an effort to remove the JB.) I also continued to make the rounds as before until the sprayer was empty.

This time, when I went to clean the sprayer, there was relatively no soap left. I used the handy, dandy Sals Suds to clean it and, yes, I did spray the soapy water on some other plants while getting it out of the the sprayer hose etc.

Here is what I learned from these sprayings: initially the number of JB on the "tea" test sites that were not shaken or sprayed off continued to eat. But after a couple of days, I noticed no NEW damage. And the number of JB did not increase on those plants.

I found the same to be true of the soapy water test sites.

So, was it the decomp tea? or was it the Basic H? Or was there just enough residue from the decomp tea in the Basic H?

Regardless, it occurs to me that I should make up a batch of the decomp tea before the 2017 season and spray strips of cloth to hang AROUND my plants (so as not to get it ON the plants) to use as a deterrent for those "scout" beetles. Then, I can use the Basic H alone to spray the plants during the first couple of weeks of the season as an additional deterrent.

How to Dispose without Freezing? The next thing I was experimenting with was how to dispose of JB using a minimum amount of freezer space (or none at all). I had some JB that had been in the freezer about seven (7) days (which is three (3) days shy of what the bug guys at Lincoln University say takes to kill them). Using 5-gal buckets with lids, I put a tablespoon of Basic H in, dumped the frozen JB in (about 3/4 full) and then filled the bucket with water. Because the JB were frozen, they did not initially float and the soapy water enveloped them. I put the lids on and left the sealed buckets outside for several days. When I removed the lids, the JB had floated to the top and there was NO movement. I put the lids back on and agitated the buckets to swish the soapy water over even the floating beetles and left them for another day or so. After about a week total, I was absolutely sure they were dead.

I already knew that the dead JB make excellent fertilizer. So I spent one morning hauling (in my 2-wheel cart) the buckets of JB and the soapy tea around my Aronia berry bushes and the big Crab Apple tree, spreading both the beetles and the soapy tea at the base and out to the drip lines.

I figure the JB eat my bushes etc, they can feed them as well!

The future and how to reduce the JB numbers for 2017: Research is very helpful. I already knew that moles feed on JB larvae. Well, surprise, surprise, there are LOTS of moles in the ground on my farm. I welcome them in moderation, but come on! Too much of anything is a problem. So I discovered that there are nematodes that ALSO feed on JB larvae and are beneficial additions to the soil. So, I am ordering enough to spray into the ground around all my fruit plants, trees, etc. and the nearby pastures. This is done during late August, early September to get the larvae at the appropriately yummy point of development.

Spring repellent and Fall nematodes appear to be my next best chance at controlling Japanese Beetles without poison and without poultry.

I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: October 1, 2020

As I was updating this page about other things, I realized I have not updated you on how the Spring repellent and Fall nematodes worked out.

Japanese Beetle (JB) Tea: In the Spring of 2017, about a week before the Summer Solstice, I applied my JB "tea" in a water/Basic H (biodegradable soap - we used it for fly control on/in the cattle) combination from my large 24 gallon sprayer (it pulls behind the lawn mower and is powered by the battery) on the strawberries, the pawpaws, and the new trees in the orchard. Then I did a second spray using just the water/Basic H mixture without the JB tea on the elderberries, a double viburnam (gets eaten horribly) and the crab apple tree as a test to see if adding the JB tea makes any difference.

What I found was the water/Basic H mixture performed BETTER than the JB tea. I guess even rotted JB contain the pheronome to attract other JB.

The experiment wasn't a complete loss though. What I discovered was that the early strawberry plants, even though they were decimated every year after I had harvested the berries waited until the JB were gone and then put out fresh leaves and runners throughout the fall. They came back stronger and produced the following Spring as well as they had before the JB found them. And, when I paid attention to the other plants being decimated by the JB, I found the SAME THING on the perennials. Every bush, tree and perennial plant waited until the JB were gone (about six (6) weeks after then arrived en masse) and produced new leaves! Some even flowered again.

In 2020, the neighboring farmer hired a crop duster and we ended up with the pesticide overspray/drift which really messed up my integrated approach to pest control -- as it killed all the beneficial insects that had started to eat the JB. Luckily, the drift did not cover our entire farm and we realized this when what JB were left alive descended on our blackberries and two (2) Basswood trees. One of the trees had been decimated before and it came back with gusto! The other had been only minorly affected over the last several years and while more affected than usual, there were still mature older/tough leaves on the tree and it looks really bad even now in October. I'm hoping that it will adapt the way the other one has. Fingers crossed.

Nematodes: In the Fall of 2016, I spent a TON of money on nematodes. Using the same 24 gallon pull-behind sprayer, I mixed the packages per the instructions in water and sprayed the soil first under the crab apple tree and then under the plants that I had seen the most JB on that year.

The lesson I learned from this was... DO SMALL BATCHES, not one big batch. Looking at the patterns of mole mounds and trails over the past several years SINCE I sprayed, it is VERY apparent that all my expensive nematodes made their way into the first part of the spraying under the crab apple tree. Which is GREAT because the crab apple is a HUGE draw for the JB and even 4 years later, there must be enough in the soil under that tree to eat the JB larvae so that the moles don't find any larvae to hoard and therefore, don't make mole mounds. Result: nematodes when applied correctly (in small batches - so you don't get a ton of them sprayed in one spot and then just water everywhere else) are highly effective.

I have decided that while moles and their mounds/trails are a real pain, they are a whole lot less expensive (at this point in time) than nematodes.



Buffy, the Stealth Cat (January 2016)

One thing you learn to get used to on a farm is keeping company with mice. It doesn't really matter what you think going into this venture of farming... that your grain supply will be air tight, that there won't be a food supply for the critters, that you are encouraging natural predators to feast on the little buggers, and the list goes on. When you have a farm, you WILL have mice living somewhere on your farm.

Most people are OK with using poison and traps to control a mouse population, but I am not one of those people. And while I'm not OK with it, even I resort to traps in my house if I find evidence of a mouse. (This is one of those jobs that the hubby handles.)

So, how do I control the inevitable mouse population on my farm? Well, at first I ignored it. I said to myself, that where there is a supply of food, something will show up to eat the food. And low and behold, a black snake moved into the garage.

As you may have learned, I am afraid of snakes, therefore, this particular predator of mice was extremely low on my list of things that I can tolerate. Besides which, it did not keep up the population from expanding. Granted, I have become somewhat desensitized to seeing the thing, but that does not mean I want it around.

I was hesitant to bring a cat into the picture because of the chickens and especially since the brooder for the chicks is in the garage, upstairs. Then a couple of years ago, we discovered a feral cat was living in the hay for the cattle (stacked on pallets and covered with a great big tarp, it looked very much like a house). When we used up the hay, the cat appeared to have moved into the garage and so the hubby and I built a cover for the brooder so we could protect the chicks and still keep the cat around. With this brooder cover in place I was happy to have a cat live on the farm.

But alas, that cat decided we didn't really need it, or that there were better/easier pickings elsewhere. I still see it around hanging around the road several houses away from our farm from time to time.

Then I learned about "Barn Cat Adoption". In urban areas, feral cats can get to be a BIG problem. If they are caught very young, the kittens can be taught to be house cats, but the older cats do not make good house cats. Most communities have cat rescue programs that work with the powers that be (government) to capture, spay/neuter, tag and release back to where the animal was caught. Because cats are territorial, new cats don't generally move into a location where there is an established cat colony. In this way, the population is controlled and can be managed. They don't want to remove all the cats because that would just encourage new cats to take over the area.

However, there are times when the feral colony needs to be reduced and the rescue people don't want to have to kill the cats. So they make the cats available for adoption to people like me who want a cat that is used to being independent and also used to finding their own food (catching mice).

Let me introduce you to Buffy. (She was already named and I like the name, it reminds me of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer").

I've taken to calling her Buffy, the Stealth Kitty.

Buffy came to us the end of December 2015. We had hoped to get two (2) cats from the same colony so they would have a friend, but the rescue group was only able to capture Buffy this time. I'm hoping they are able to bring the other cat out once the weather gets a little warmer and the cats are more likely to venture out and about.

This beautiful cat is all black with green eyes and has longish fur.

We were advised to keep her contained for at least two (2) weeks to minimize her deciding to go off on her own when let her free.


Can you see her? Her eyes are reflecting the flash from the camera. She is on the left side of the picture, laying on the comforter beyond the food and water bowls.

Luckily, since we have Newfoundland Dogs, we have HUGE crates for when we travel. This allowed Buffy to have full sight of the upstairs in the garage to watch the coming and goings of the mice. The blue barrels hold the seed I used for chicken feed; because of that, we put the crate by them. Buffy spent most of the time flattened into the comforter ready to pounce on any mouse that was stupid enough to try to snatch some of her catfood. And from cleaning the litterbox, I can tell you that there definitely WERE some stupid mice... at least to start with, LOL.

After two (2) weeks, Buffy was given full freedom. Since then, I have not seen her, BUT I know she is still around because she is using the litterbox and eating the catfood.

Since it gets REALLY cold here during the winter, I made one of the feral cat shelters pictured at left for her.

I also changed out her water bowl for one of the heated, metal poultry waterers that holds five (5) gallons of water.

Either my hubby or I check on her daily to be sure she has food and clean the litterbox.

Come summer, I'm hoping she will not need or want the litterbox any longer.

And YES, the mouse population has gotten smaller. Hopefully, she (and her future friend) will keep it small enough that the black snake will go elsewhere for food.

UPDDATE (March 16, 2016): I am sad to tell you that Buffy has left the farm. I have suspected as much for several weeks because while the catfood was disappearing, the litter box was not disturbed. When I actually SAW a mouse on the edge of the food bowl and not much later another on the waterer, I knew for sure. It's a shame the organization wasn't able to bring us both cats at the same time because I truly think she was lonely.

I'm hoping with the warmer weather, I will have better luck with the new cats... I'm trying to decide if I go back to the feral cat program or just adopt a couple of kittens from the local vet or out of the local sales flyer. I'll let you know when I know.

Gus and Rueben (August 2016)

From the May Status Report: I received a call from the feral cat rehome organization. They have two (2) adult males who are buddies and they want to place them together. This should be perfect for our needs. Cross your fingers and toes for me that they decide to stay. (By the way, I think I saw Buffy a few miles down the road yesterday. She may have found a friend. I certainly hope so.)

The cats that are described above are from a farm. So why do they need a new one? Well, that farm is located just close enough to the city that people often leave their unwanted pet cats... assuming that because it's a farm, their cats will be welcome there. Little do they know about territorial animals. However, some of those abandoned cats get accepted into the cat community and survive. The nice lady whose farm it is finally contacted the organization about 4 years ago when the population reached over 100 cats. At that time, the organization trapped as many cats as they could, vetted, neutered, etc. and placed about a quarter of them, returning the rest to the farm. Then 2 years ago, they did this again. This process helps keep the cat community to a manageable number. Well, the lady is getting older and the organization is helping her to reduce the community again.

This works ideally for my farm because I won't have to worry about the adult male cats (Gus and Rueben) taking care of themselves against raccoons or other critters that might be too much for a kitten or unexperienced city cat.

The organization had trouble trapping BOTH of these cats at the same time. Rueben seems to be more trusting and was trapped right away. It took several days before they were able to trap Gus as well. We had some very interesting conversations about ideas to lure Gus and then get him into a cat carrier. The things that worked might be useful to you...

Rueben and Gus are bonded and sleep together. So when Rueben was caught, they put a crated Rueben back into the shed (as a lure) where the two (2) cats were known to sleep. Gus was seen trying to get into the crate with Rueben, but avoided the trap. In the meantime, Rueben was transported (during the day) to the vet and returned for the night. The lady was able to capture Gus after a couple of days, but he escaped in the split second time it took to put him into a second carrier and remove her hand to close the door. What ended up succeeding was when she was able to capture him a second time, she had a towel in her hands and wrapped it around him so that he had to figure out how to get out of it while she was closing the door to the carrier.

Phew! Worried about Rueben in the carrier all that time? No need, he is much more people friendly than Gus and spent his days hanging out with the lady who delivered the cats to me.

Perhaps surprisingly, we had no trouble getting the cats into the big dog crate where I had already put several big towels for them to lay on, snuggle into, or whatever. They were happy to be together and we quickly added the litter box, food and water bowls before shutting the door. The organization recommends leaving them in the crate for two (2) weeks, but that was too long, so we took a chance and opened the door after about a week. The weather was rainy and I think that helped them decide to hang out in the barn/garage. I also kept bringing them wet/canned cat food as a bribe.

From the June Status Report: Hurray! The two barn cats LIKE IT HERE! Rueben and Gus are settled in and we even see them from time to time. The hubby sees Gus (the black shorthair) outside of the building occasionally, but so far we have only seen Rueben (the ginger tabby) inside the building. Once, I left the door open and happend on Rueben as he made his way down the stairs and apparently heading for the open door; when WHOOSH! he turned right around and went straight back the way he came. Startled me (in a good way) and made me laugh.

Gus and Rueben are here to stay. HURRAY! They are doing an excellent job of mouse control and I am hoping that means they are a deterrent to the black snake that had been seen in the barn/garage more often than I would like. We even see them out and about on the farm.

Early in the morning recently, I was able to snap this photo while they investigated the fire pit in the front yard.

Now, too, we see them during the day lounging on an old door that is sitting on a couple of 2x4s on the gravel floor of the barn/garage. They can see all around and are right there for any mice that venture out from under it.

They are getting used to us a bit. Just yesterday, as I came down from the 2nd floor after finishing with filling their food and water, etc.; they just sat and looked at me and then both did that cat "blink" thing which is code for: I see you and know you are not a threat (where you are... don't come any closer).


Onyx and Athena (October 2020)

A few months after the information about Rueben and Gus we had a terrible morning. The hubby found Gus had died. It was a sad surprise and I couldn't bring myself to write about it at the time. Unfortunately, we don't know why he died. Because of the trouble trapping him, he didn't get to the vet for a check up the way Rueben had... so it is very possible that he was not well when he arrived. We will never know. It doesn't really matter though... what matters is that he spent the rest of his short life with his buddy free to do as he liked.

Rueben mourned the loss of his friend. I don't know how to explain how I knew that... I just knew. He didn't suddenly want our attention or anything to do with us. He just seemed lonely. So I contacted the same organization hoping they could bring us a cat that would keep Rueben company.

We figured that a young female or a couple of young females would be the least jarring to introduce to an adult male (albeit neutered). And so a few weeks later, Athena (grey tabby manx) came to us. We did the introductions via putting Athena into one of our big Newfoundland size crates (with litter box, food/water, bedding) upstairs in the garage. This way the two (2) cats could meet without danger to either through the wires.

Then the cat people asked if we would take a very young, female who wasn't feral, just VERY active and not really appropriate for an inside only family. Of course! That sounded ideal. And Onyx (black tabby) arrived... what a lover! It seemed ideal for us to put Onyx in with Athena since Onyx was SO friendly - the girls could bond while Rueben got used to them (and vice versa).

Well, best laid plans (as they say)... it turned out that Athena had been beaten up too many times where she came from to trust ANY cat or human. She was so frightened of Onyx that she lashed out at her (the old, attack before you are attacked defense mechanism) and that ended the opportunity for a friendship. We removed Onyx to her own crate as soon as we discovered this problem. And, we didn't keep them crated for more than a couple of days. We figured Onyx liked us and would stay and if Athena left, well maybe she would find a nice secluded home. But Athena stayed and we would see her occasionally on the ground floor of the garage.

I made three (3) feral cat homes from coolers so that each cat would have one without having to compete (and then we added another at the back door to the house once Onyx made it clear she preferred to live by the house). All three were on the upper floor of the garage as where three (3) separate food bowls, the large chicken waterer (which could be warmed for the winter), and two (2) litter boxes.

Unfortunately, the cats have never bonded to each other. They kept away from each other as much as possible and did the hiss/spit thing from a distance.

As you can see from this image, Rueben eventually learned that we were not only tolerable, but he enjoyed our company and liked us to pet him.

It took a year or so and it was a gradual thing. First I'd sit on a bench in the upstairs of the garage and hold out my hand and he'd sniff it. Eventually, he would let me pet him from that location but no other.

And then one day, we were his family. He would follow us around the farm and hang out where we were working.

He was a sweet cat to us -- but he was very obnoxious to Athena and Onyx. For example, he marked each cooler/bed as his own (except for the one by the house).

At some point after he let us touch him, I discovered he had a growth on his belly that would sometimes burst and bleed.

It may seem cruel, but I did not take him to the vet. The trauma of travelling and then the possibility of treatment and being caged during it seemed more cruel to me than leaving this big, sweet ginger boy to live his life the way he wanted to.

And he did have a great life until in he started breathing funny and we knew whatever his health challenge was, it was time to set him free of it. (Summer 2019)

He was so weak, he didn't fight us putting him in the carrier. We took him to the local vet and they gave him a sedative and he fell asleep for the last time while I held him. I still cry thinking about it. This part of animal care is the hardest and we owe it to them to ease their passing. We loved that big ginger cat.

Here is Athena. We discovered she had claimed the ground floor of the garage as her domain. LOTS of places to hide. Lots of places to climb up and be safe. The picture is of her on the 3rd shelf up behind a tent.

For the first year, we hardly saw her and weren't even sure she was eating cat food (it was upstairs and Rueben guarded it). But we did know she was there because she created her own litter box. She must have lived on mice and such.

Once we were sure she was staying with us, I started leaving a little food for her and figured even it if ended up only feeding mice, at least that would make them an easy target.

Eventually, she started eating the cat food and even left her mouse kills near the food bowl (indicating she felt safe to cache them there).

It took her longer than Rueben, but she too eventually has let us approach her, pet her, and even pick her up to cuddle.

She is a tiny thing and SO SOFT. Her memory isn't good though. If either of us doesn't interact with her daily, she forgets that person is safe and runs from them. That is AOK, we don't mind.

She even got comfortable enough with Rueben to let me pet each of them at the same time (one on either side of my body while I bent over).

After Rueben left, she became Queen of the Garage and seems to really enjoy that. We are happy she feels safe, finally.

She even comes to us outside of the garage now. That is progress!

Last, but certainly not least, is Onyx.

Onyx has been a cuddle kitty from the get go. She started out as a barn cat, became an outside house cat and finally, she made friends with our Newfoundland Dog and made her way into our family as an indoor/outdoor house cat. (This was over a 2-year period.)

She is firmly entrenched as Queen of the House with the hubby her Favorite Person and me as her Acceptable Housemaid.

Onyx is quite a hunter and still enjoys spending part of most nights outside hunting.

She is also rather photogenic.

She never did get along with Rueben and she still keeps a wary eye out for Athena. (ah well).

And so, we have a barn cat (Athena) and a house cat (Onyx). Both do what cats do best... whatever they want.


Barred Owl (September 2016)

It keeps amazing me that it wasn't until after I got rid of poultry that I have seen or (more accurately in this case) heard more predatory birds. Not that I'm complaining... didn't really want them around to eat the chickens; but now I LOVE that the wild birds are enjoying this little piece of Earth as much as we are.

On August 13th, the hubby spotted the newest edition... a Barred Owl. And soon after, we discovered there are a PAIR! He has been having much greater success seeing them perched, he even has gotten a few photos (from quite a ways away). I have only seen one perched a couple of times on a post of the front yard fence, but I have been seeing them fly because I have ventured too near (for their comfort that is, not because I knew they were there). Once I was lucky enough to see one pounce from the fence post to the ground and leave with a mouse or vole or something.

I am so grateful that these beautiful birds have joined our family and are assisting the cats with pest control. Once again my conjecture that a predator will arrive because it finds a food source is proven correct.

Below are the photos the hubby was able to capture (as always, images on this website are copyright protected; please contact Bobbi if you want permission to use any of them).

I'm copying information from the Audubon website next to the images. For complete info here is the link to the Audubon website: www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/barred-owl

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Habitat -- Woodlands, wooded river bottoms, wooded swamps. Favors mostly dense and thick woods with only scattered clearings, especially in low-lying and swampy areas. Most common in deciduous or mixed woods in southeast, but in north and northwest may be found in mature coniferous trees.

The rich baritone hooting of the Barred Owl is a characteristic sound in southern swamps, where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is markedly less aggressive, and competition with its tough cousin may keep the Barred out of more open woods.

 

Feeding Behavior -- Hunts by night or day, perhaps most at dawn and dusk. Seeks prey by watching from perch, also by flying low through forest; may hover before dropping to clutch prey in talons.

Diet -- Mostly small mammals. Eats many mice and other small rodents, also squirrels (including flying squirrels), rabbits, opossums, shrews, other small mammals. Also eats various birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, some insects. May take aquatic creatures such as crayfish, crabs, fish.

Nesting -- Courtship involves both male and female bobbing and bowing heads, raising wings, and calling while perched close together. Male may feed female in courtship. Members of pair often call in duet. Nest site is in large natural hollow in tree, broken-off snag, or on old nest of hawk, crow, or squirrel. Rarely nests on ground. In east, often uses old Red-shouldered Hawk nest; hawk and owl may use same nest in alternate years.


Nematodes (September 2016)

If you have been reading this page from top to bottom, you will know about Japanese Beetles and my love/hate relationship with them. Honestly, I think they are beautiful and I could live with them in moderation. (Don't tell them, but they kind of help me out with the Aronia berry plants by making the leaves lacy after the berries have set... makes it really easier to see the berries at harvest time. But I digress.)

The trouble is getting the number down to moderate. The assassin bugs have started in on the adult beetles which is great! But the eggs are the problem in that they lay SO MANY which just increases the number of adults the next year.

Yes, the moles do eat the larvae and then they make these long tunnels and great big mounds of soil and eventually other things use the tunnels and the ground settles and makes holes to trip in and... oh, it's just not pleasant.

So, what's a sustainably minded farmer to do? Beneficial Insects (or in this case, micro organisms) called Nematodes (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora). Here is some information from the site where I purchased them: Arbico Organics (www.arbico-organics.com)

"Seeks Out Stationary Pests including Grubs, root zone weevils, citrus weevils, Japanese beetles, black vine weevils, ticks, queen ants/termites and more. Great for gardens, lawns, fields, pastures and orchards.

NemaSeek Hb (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora) Beneficial Nematodes seek out pests living in the soil. Beneficial Nematodes are live microscopic organisms (non-segmented round worms) that occur naturally in soil throughout the world. They are parasitic to insect pests that typically have a developing (larval or pupal) stage of life in the soil; however, they have been known to also parasitize above ground stages of adults, nymphs and larvae. They are completely safe to use and will not affect mammals, aquatic life, birds, reptiles or amphibians. After application, the nematodes immediately get to work. Upon finding a pest, they can enter it through various body openings or directly through the body wall. Once inside, it is not the nematode that actually kills the pest, but the toxic bacteria inside the nematode's gut that is the real weapon - symbiotic bacterial.

These nematodes are adapted to all climates but should not be applied until after the last threat of frost. Prefers a soil temperature of 65° F.

This Product Controls These Pests or Diseases: 
This product works as a beneficial insect for control of the following: Asparagus Beetles (Crioceris asparagi (common); Crioceris duodecimpunctata (spotted)), Carrot Weevil (Listronotus oregonensis), Citrus Weevil, Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), Cucumber Beetle (Spotted) (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi), European Chafer (Rhizotrogus majalis), Grubs (Mult), Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica Newman), June Bugs (Phyllophaga sp.), Oriental Beetle (Anomala orientalis), Strawberry Root Weevil (Otiorhynchus ovatus)"

Sounds pretty good, eh? Sure, I think so. Trouble is I have a small farm... which translates to LOTS OF AREA TO APPLY THEM. So, since they recommend two applications (7 to 10 days apart), it cost me $270 to purchase enough to cover 5-acres of area. (Yes, I did look for the best price, this was it.) AND, you have to use a sprayer to apply them. Sure, I already have a 4-gallon backpack sprayer... which is great for spraying my 5 fruit trees and spot spraying other small areas with the microbial teas. But this is 5-acres of spraying the ground first with the nematodes in water and then again with just water to push them down past the grass/plants to the soil. And then doing the same thing a week (or so) later. OY VEY, my back hurts just thinking about it!

I bit the bullet and bought a 31 gallon, tow-behind boom broadcast and spot sprayer with an electric pump (that connects to my riding lawn mower) which I happily found on sale at Northern Tool for a mere $279.99. (And may I say this? WORTH EVERY ----ING PENNY!)

*If you follow the farm on Facebook, you can skip this next bit (LOL).* On September 1st, I spent 3 hours applying nematodes in and around the plants that drew the most Japanese Beetles. Thankfully, the farm was able to afford a 31-gallon electric pump sprayer that is towed behind the riding mower. It has boom sprayers in addition to a wand. I hate to think how many hours over how many days using the 4 gallon backpack sprayer would have taken.  Between applying the nematodes and then watering them in took about 80 gallons of water. I get to do this all again in 7 to 10 days (as recommended). Sure hope it reduces the Japanese Beetle population next year. 
Fingers crossed. A nice side effect will be moles leaving to find a food source.

Please share this with the next person who complains to you about the high cost of healthy food that is grown WITHOUT the "icides". I don't sell enough berries/fruits to be able to pass the one-year application of nematodes on to my customers and only a portion of the sprayer cost (which I can amortize over several years), and lest we forget the price of water and fuel and wear/tear on equipment and my time.

Cross your fingers and toes for me and my berry customers, will you? Hurray for you my nematode friends, I hope you enjoy the feast and PLEASE feast! Thank You.

UPDATE: October 2020. As you know, in the Fall of 2016, I spent a TON of money on nematodes.

The lesson I learned from this was... DO SMALL BATCHES, not one big batch. Looking at the patterns of mole mounds and trails over the past several years SINCE I sprayed, it is VERY apparent that all my expensive nematodes made their way into the first part of the spraying under the crab apple tree. Which is GREAT because the crab apple is a HUGE draw for the JB and even 4 years later, there must be enough in the soil under that tree to eat the JB larvae so that the moles don't find any larvae to hoard and therefore, don't make mole mounds. Result: nematodes when applied correctly (in small batches - so you don't get a ton of them sprayed in one spot and then just water everywhere else) are highly effective.

I have decided that while moles and their mounds/trails are a real pain, they are a whole lot less expensive (at this point in time) than nematodes.


BugOff Screen (October 2020)

When we purchased the house, there were screen versions at both the front door and back patio door.

Unfortunately, the front door's screen door was really just decorative in that it did not have a latch to keep it closed and it had a 2 inch gap at the bottom which would have allowed ANYTHING to wiggle or crawl it's way into the house should the front door be left open. Seeing that it was completely ineffective for our purposes, I did not put it back up after taking it down to paint around the door. This was not a problem, because we hardly ever use that door. So I just put a curtain over the glass and that was enough to minimize insects at the door due to light showing through. Plus the light for the front porch is positioned above and away from the door.

We use the patio door as our primary entry and exit. It is a french, double door inswing style where one door is secured closed using an astragal until you want to open up the entire space. It had a sliding screen like you find for a sliding glass door. And, granted, it was fine if the door wasn't opened and closed multiple times a day; but that was not our situation because we specifically fenced the back yard so we could let our dogs out as needed. The dogs did not respect the flimsy sliding screen door. And so we opted to remove it and store it in the basement. This left our primary entry/exit vulnerable to insects congregating on the glass of the door in the evenings because the light from the house shone out. The porch light was also directly next to the door, making it impossible for us to use without a flurry of insects entering the house every time we opened the door.

My solution for the patio door was to put a curtain rod on the outside of the door (since it is an inswing) and put heavy woven curtains on it that we closed just before dusk to minimize the light coming through to attract insects. The door could be opened enough for the dog(s) and they quickly figured out how to find the opening in the curtains. They would even put just their head through the curtain opening and bark when they wanted back in. It worked quite well... most of the time.

In 2020, we finally were able to replace the patio french doors (click here to go there). We debated about getting the screen sliding door attachment and opted not to. BUT, we saved the track from the previous door frame and it is stored with the screen doors in the basement in case we decide to sell at some point and want to put it in place.

We also took down the exterior curtain rod because of the door replacement and decided to take a different approach to controlling the whole insects at the door problem: BugOff Screen.

This is a temporary solution that doesn't keep keep things from passing underneath, but since we are accustomed to NOT leaving our doors open, this is not a problem for us.

It uses pressure rods to hold the curtains at the top, velcro attachments on the sides to make a "seal" on either side and magnets at the middle and bottom to keep them closed.

Above is the outside view of the front door. I didn't take a pic from the inside since I have curtains over the glass.

At left is the outside view of the patio french doors.

This double screen version is also two (2) curtain panels: a long one in front of the stationary door making the opening in the middle of the operational door.

I'm hoping that the screen is visible enough that the birds see it and don't fly into the glass (which started happening when we replaced the door -- I guess the new glass is more reflective than the old glass was).

And a pic from the inside. The screen doesn't inhibit the view at all but I have noticed it diffuses the early morning sun that peaks in for a short time (this is a good thing) without making the room darker.

We are also changing the way the porches are lit... that will be a different page once it is finished.




| Home | Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs | Raw Honey | Merchandise | Events |
| Green Building Project | Sponsors | Projects | Resources/Links | Testimonials | Bobbi's Blog |
     
copyright © 2021 PlayHaven Farm LLC