Rats! Bats…

“We need a bat house,” said my darling husband Jim. “Did you know that bats eat thousands of bugs every night?”

Now any creature that eats biting insects – oh, let’s face it, bugs generally – is a good creature in my book. As long as it doesn’t also eat me. So with a little investigation, I found a bat house on Amazon, made in the USA and stamped by the Audubon Society.

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The instructions said to hang it from a tree or pole, 8 feet from the ground, facing south, and near a water source. We had exactly one place that fit the bill – on the lattice fence around our “courtyard” off the bedroom. Since this is where the curious (stalker-ish) carpenter bees hang and hover, I wondered if bats would eat them.

One Google search later and I was much less certain about where we put the bat house.

Bat Conservation International suggested hanging the bat house where it would receive 6- 10 hours of sunlight. Check. The bat house faces south and is out of the way of the shadow of our house.

But BCI also suggested we hang the house higher than eight feel – more like 20. No check for us there although we followed the instructions that came with the house.

BCI also suggested we be within a quarter mile of water, preferably a stream, river, or lake. Well, we have ponds all over the neighborhood although none in our yard. The area where we attached the bat house is always wet, though, because that’s where the sump pump drains. So I gave it a check.

BCI continues by saying “Bat houses are most likely to succeed in regions where bats are already attempting to live in buildings.” So we had to think. Had we ever seen a bat? No check, at least not for certain. And this is where things get interesting.

The Miami County (Kansas) Extension Master Gardeners held their plant sale yesterday, a chance for me to connect with Lenora Larson, owner of Longlips Farm and bat guru extraordinaire. When I mentioned the bat house she gave me a look and said, “You should have checked with me first. Bats in Kansas don’t live in bat houses.”

Really? Well, rats!

But I had to check for myself, so off to Google I went. And what I found was not helpful in answering my particular question, although it was generally instructive.

I found a list of bats commonly found in Kansas (I’ve provided the link below). Interesting, but way more information than I wanted.

I learned that it can take up to five years for bats to find and inhabit a bat house. How sad. I need mosquito eaters sooner than that!

I learned that bat guano smeared on the house will probably not attract bats to live there. That made me happy.

And finally, I learned that if bats deigned to inhabit the house that we installed, we would probably have a pile of bug detritus under the house. So here we are back to the yuck factor involving bugs.

Meanwhile, we’re just going to leave the bat house where it is and see what happens next. My prediction? The carpenter bees just got themselves a fancy new home.

Bat Conservation International
Audubon Society
Mammals of Kansas

A Couple Experiements

When we moved here in 2000, the front landscaping was already planted. The previous owner put in what I think are yew shrubs, interspersed with dwarf Alberta spruce trees. Not what I would choose, but there they were and there they stay!

The front bed meanders and in one large half circle, I have a wonderful hydrangea bush with blossoms that start off green and turn pink, then white as summer progresses. The leaves turn burgundy in fall.

Around the hydrangea, I used to have five Stella Doro daylilies. What a mess! I cleaned up the spent leaves and blossoms, divided them, and finally, when they stopped producing flowers, I yanked them out. And I used mulch to fill in the large bare space. Big mistake.

Gardening with dogs, remember? Juno and Loki love to run through that bare space, kicking the mulch out of the garden bed. Then they started scratching their backs on the yew bushes. Now, the yews have lost needles and I wonder if they’ll survive much longer.

Meanwhile, what to do with the bare spot?

It’s a difficult area. The front bed sits in the shadow of the house until about 11am, and then, due to the western exposure, gets blistering sun for the rest of the day. After wandering around one of our local, large nurseries for about an hour, I decided on mixed sedum groundcover.

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So here’s the experiment part. The ground where I’ve planted is acidic. Will the sedum survive? And will they survive the dogs using that area as a short cut from the yard to the front door?

I also planted, right along the edge, three pink tickseed plants – Coreopsis rosea ‘Heaven’s Gate’ for the aficionados.

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I love the colors, which will match my “pink” garden theme in the front yard. When I went out this morning, after planting yesterday, they looked a bit peaked to me, but perked up after a watering.

And for the final experiment – hardy kiwi! They arrived today with instructions to pot them until the plants get stronger. Hardy kiwi are vines, and I have a nice long fence for them to grow along.

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I wonder what “stronger” means.

Gardening – it’s all one big experiment for me!

Glad I Waited on “Go”

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Snow today, with wild north winds and temps below freezing. Glad I waited to plant!

Gardening with Dogs

We’ve had three warm and sunny days in a row. While it most assuredly feels like spring, the weatherman says to expect a couple more nights with freezing temps. So instead of pushing the “Go” button, here’s a bit about the challenges of gardening with dogs. First, a couple of introductions.

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This is Loki. Back in spring 2012, I was reading local classifieds and found an ad for Vizsla-mix puppies. About two years before we had lost our old dogs to a variety of illnesses, one a Vizsla and the best, gentlest, smartest dog ever.

Once we met Loki, we had to adopt him. He was a gorgeous pup and so friendly. But we quickly learned he was stubborn, excitable, and well, to put it bluntly, just not the brightest bulb in the box.

Loki was so rambunctious, I thought it would be helpful for him to have a friend. Off we went to Kansas City’s Wayside Waifs – a wonderful place for rescue dogs and cats. There we found this dark beauty.

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Juno is a black lab mix. Super smart, she knows she’s the boss of Loki and herds him around the yard. Together, they get into a lot of trouble; she instigates, he follows.

Both dogs are diggers. They especially love holes started by their humans (us). Making big holes out of little holes delights them both. They also believe they can go anywhere we go unless stopped by the invisible fence that borders three of our four acres.

For example, here’s our most recent grass germination attempt near the pad where we keep the generator. When Jim first put this together, he fenced it off with stakes and string, then put up the flags, hoping that would keep them out.

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Soon we found stakes and string all over the yard and the not too surprising footprints of dog.

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They love to cut across my front bed, knocking bricks off as they go.

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Again, the suspicious paw prints in the newly scattered cotton burr mulch:

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And I’m missing ALL the hellebores I planted last fall and three Purple Emperor Sedum plants. Bad dogs! The words they’re hearing most these days are “off!” and “stay out!”

But on the plus side, they “scent mark” my trees, including one where I planted tulip bulbs last fall. What self-respecting deer would deign to eat those stinky bulbs?

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The challenge is to make them understand that even though we can dig holes and move plant material around, they can’t.

Sit! Stay! Good dog!

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Get Set…

This week I had five emails from five different nurseries that proclaimed it “potato planting time.” Okay then. I had my red, white, and blue potato eyes ready for planting. The problem was the weather. First we had rain. Then hail. Then freezing temperatures.

But this weekend dawned warmer and sunnier, almost spring-like. Jim and I went to buy mulch, both black mulch for the ornamental beds and cotton burr mulch for the “serious” beds.

I found black mulch last year and tried it around the deck where I have junipers planted. I liked the contrast of dark against light wood, and so this year expanded to almost all the established beds. Here it is with the bed of sedum in front of the barn.

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Amazing that it took us almost three hours to spread some mulch, but the yard is starting to look greener and less dead. Even the grass is starting to green-up. Jim spent some time filling in bare spots. Here he is spreading grass seed in front of the garden shed he built for me last year. Gotta love a man that builds stuff!

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We got out and raked the raised beds, and I planted four rows of potatoes – red, white, and blue, and red again. Not much to see yet, but here’s hoping we have better luck in the raised bed than we did in the depression-in-the-ground that we used to call a garden!

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And since I’ve been hardening off my kale and romaine, it seemed a good time to put them in the garden near the house. I have a lovely mini-greenhouse to put over them if things get too windy or too cold.

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I also received the strawberries I ordered. I debated planting them because it still seems early. We have at least another ten days of overnight frost danger, possibly more. But the strawberry farmer up the road from us planted his berries three weeks ago. He has them covered with cheese cloth and I suppose I can do the same if it looks like a freeze is imminent.

So here they are, looking like a big pile of dirt. I was amazed that they perked right up after planting.

Then I read the directions – disappointing!! This year we’re supposed to pull off the flowers to give the runners the energy they need to spread. Darn. No strawberries!

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So we’re getting set. I’m getting down the seed packets this afternoon to do some serious reading of directions.

Special note to Gordon Lamb: all these photos were taken with the new camera! Now if only I could get things in focus…