Carpenter bees are here. May 11, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: carpenter bees, controlling carpenter bees
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Shriek! Silence Dogood here. I was having lunch at a nice restaurant yesterday with a dear friend who insisted that we enjoy the warm spring weather by eating outside on the terrace. Unfortunately, we were dive-bombed by so many carpenter bees that I ultimately insisted that we eat in the indoor section of the restaurant.
Carpenter bees are harmless to people: They’re not going to sting you. But they’re as big as bumblebees (you can tell the difference because bumblebees are furry and nest in the ground while carpenter bees are smooth and prefer wooden structures), and they’ll definitely buzz you incessantly as they go about their business. They’ll also chew through your wooden walls to nest inside. If you don’t want your wooden walls and other structures to be destroyed by them, you have to stop them.
Sure, you could call a pest-control company and have them blitz them with toxic pesticides. But I wouldn’t recommend it, since you and your family will be blitzed with the pesticides, too.
Instead, as the University of Kentucky’s website notes, carpenter bees tend to be drawn to wood that is bare, weathered and unpainted. To protect your wood siding from invasion, make sure it is regularly painted. If anyone out there in the blogosphere has discovered your own method of nontoxic treatment, please let us know!
‘Til next time,
Can you vanquish fleas? May 4, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dogs and fleas, flea controls, fleas, fleas in history
Silence Dogood here. I expect all pet owners share with me a horror of flea infestations. A single flea and its offspring can apparently produce 8 million fleas in a single season. Yowie kazowie!
Our black German shepherd, Shiloh, receives her dose of Frontline, or poison as I call it, the first Sunday of every month to keep fleas and ticks at bay. I hate poisoning our best-beloved dog, but having experienced a flea infestation before, I know that I must subject her to this treatment. And by giving her Frontline, I don’t have to douse her two indoor companion cats with toxic chemicals every month, too.
I learned my lesson the hard way. When I bought this house years ago, the previous owners had a flea-infested indoor-outdoor cat, something they neglected to mention. I moved my two indoor-only cats in, and didn’t think a thing about it. Until they began scratching uncontrollably and my legs became covered with red lesions.
I tried spraying the house with organic controls. I took the poor cats in for flea shampoos, which almost killed one of them. The only thing that ultimately worked was the Frontline-like fluid that emulsified on their skin and killed adult fleas and kept juveniles from maturing. I can’t now remember what that pre-Frontline product was called, but it did do the trick. The cats, the house, and I were finally flea-free.
As an amateur historian, I’ve of course wondered about the flea situation in pre-Frontline generations. How did the courts of the kings of old, who allowed dogs into their great rooms, deal with the flea issue? How did the sentimental, pet-owning Victorians deal with fleas? Just this morning, I read that even the dinosaurs were infested with fleas, giant fleas with sharp, rasping mouthparts and clinging legs.
We now believe that we can vanquish fleas with our Frontline-like products, which keep juvenile fleas from maturing, making it impossible for them to breed new generations. Perhaps we can use these techniques to vanquish recurrent scourges like bedbugs as well. I’d just love to think that these toxic products wouldn’t have to be doused on our pets or us.
‘Til next time,
Robins in the ‘hood. April 18, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: robin nest, robins
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Silence Dogood here. Living in a cold-winter climate as we do, one of the weatherizing steps our friend Ben and I take every fall is to put a cover over the outside portion of our one pitiful window air conditioner. We tie its fasteners to snug the cover against the a/c, but we also put a brick on top, just in case. This past fall, we added a log from our woodpile, since winds here can get rough and we wanted to make sure the cover didn’t budge.
With temperatures continuing to fall into the 30s and 40s here at night (in mid-April, yikes), we haven’t yet removed the a/c cover or the log. Apparently, this was a big mistake.
I guess the space between the log and my office window looked cozy and inviting to a pair of robins, since all morning, I’ve watched them bringing straw, leaves, twigs and the like and tossing them in the empty space. Not even our dino-sized cat, Linus, repeatedly launching himself against the window, has deterred them.
Now, we’ve had robins nest in some unusual locations here before, most notably in a nest built in a wreath we’d hung on the front of our house. But I’ve never had such an up-close view of their nest-building process. However, with the process going on a couple of feet from my computer, it’s impossible to ignore.
Prior to this backyard science experiment, I’d have assumed that when a robin appeared at the nest site with a beakful of nesting materials, he or she would have carefully added them to the nest and packed them in place before flying off to get more. However, it appears that robins actually operate more like human builders, assembling all the materials at the site before beginning construction.
I guess this is a lucky break for me. I can’t afford to let our pair nest on top of the a/c cover—I’m going to need that air conditioner!—and I’d have hated to move a nest, in case the parents abandoned it.
Instead, in an hour, when I go out to get the mail and put out the recycling, I’ll head to the side of the house, remove the log and cover, take the log to the fire pit, and bring the cover inside. I’ll leave the robins’ carefully accumulated nesting materials on the ground beneath the a/c. If they want to nest on top of the a/c itself, that’s their business. I can only hope that the nestlings will be big enough to fly before I have to turn the damn thing on!
‘Til next time,
The upside to a cold spring. March 27, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: cold spring, spring birds, spring bulbs, winter birds
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Yuck, it’s almost April, and the temperatures here in our part of scenic PA are still dropping into the 20s every night. Brrr!!! What happened to global warming?!
However, as all gardeners know, there’s one great thing about cold spring weather, even if it makes you want to hide indoors: It makes the blooms of spring bulbs and flowers last longer. Our snowdrops and crocuses are still in bloom; our hellebore flowers are still pristine. We’re hoping to see a long daffodil, tulip, and grape hyacinth season, as well as a fabulous year for our chionodoxas (glories-of-the-snow), Spanish squill, and windflowers (Grecian anemones).
Bulb blooms can wither in a day if the temperatures are unusually hot, and seldom last more than a week in normal weather. But cold, for whatever reason, keeps them vibrant, and we appreciate that.
The cold has also kept our winter birds here. We still have juncos, chickadees, and titmice, along with our year-round residents, the woodpeckers, wrens, goldfinches, cardinals, mockingbirds, and the like. (Sadly, I think our bluejays have left us.) And we also have the spring arrivals, robins, starlings, and grackles. I can’t recall a time when I’ve seen juncos and robins together on the ground!
So, despite the cold, this spring has its own gifts for those who have eyes to see. Now, if we could just persuade the juncos to stay year-round…
March madness. March 16, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening.
Tags: March snow, spring snow
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Silence Dogood here. It’s March 16th, and it’s snowing steadily outside Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. This is causing something of a sense of unreality, since I’m watching the snow fall through the vibrant red and green of a still-flourishing poinsettia in my home office, and our evergreen wreath is still up on our outside front wall. (We’re going to recycle it on Monday. Really.)
I’d moved the poinsettia from our kitchen table before Valentine’s Day, replacing it with a pot of cheerful daffodils, but of course couldn’t bear to toss it when it was thriving. I’ll put it out on our deck to add a touch of color with all our other plants when the time comes. (And of course plant out the potted daffodils as I always do.)
Meanwhile, it’s a warm and welcoming 40 degrees outside as the snow continues to fall and cover the footprints our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and I have made on our trips to the backyard. And it’s covering the blooming crocuses, snowdrops, winter aconites, and hellebores that OFB and I have been enjoying, as well as all the emerging bulbs we hope to enjoy in turn. Not to mention the earthworms, which the first robins, who arrived the same day our crocuses bloomed, were furiously hunting for amid the decayed fallen leaves.
What the birds, bugs, squirrels, and other critters who share the land with us are making of this snow, I can’t imagine. At least it isn’t cold, so the ground won’t freeze and presumably the next sunny day will melt all this. Meanwhile, I’m just hoping the crocuses will make it through. Hurry spring!
‘Til next time,
Keep your fish alive. March 15, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: aquariums, prolonging tropical fish life, simple aquarium tips, tropical fish
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Silence Dogood here. Tropical fish are notoriously short-lived, seldom lasting more than a few months in an aquarium environment. And if you love and have an aquarium, or would love to have one, this is very sad news.
But folks, it ain’t necessarily so. Without all the fancy, exorbitantly expensive equipment—the CO2 injectors, the undergravel filters, the halogen lights, the aerators—you can enjoy your tropicals for a decade or so, and revel in the tranquillity and beauty of your tank.
I know whereof I speak. I had aquariums at home and in my office for many years, and our friend Ben and I have one now at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. The secret to beauty and longevity is balance. Let’s take a look at what you need to have the perfect aquarium:
* Don’t forget the plants. Live plants are the secret to a healthy, beautiful, algae-free, balanced tank. Plenty of pants give the fish places to hide, so they feel safe, and oxygenate the tank so the fish can breathe. They also use fish excrement as fertilizer, which makes them healthy and removes potential toxins from the aquarium. When choosing plants, make sure they’re actual aquatics rather than land plants like “lucky bamboo” and the like that can live underwater for a short time before dying.
* Add a rock or two. Rocks provide additional hiding places for fish, as well as adding height and beauty to an aquarium landscape. And they’re far more attractive and natural than Disney-style castles and sunken ships!
* Don’t heat your tank. Shocking! This goes against conventional wisdom, but keeping the tank cool is what’s kept my fish alive long past their sell-by date. Tropicals don’t need a heated tank, but they (and their plants) do need light during the day. Make sure your aquarium hood is fitted with the appropriate lights for both fish and plants.
* Choose compatible tank companions. I like to think of an aquarium as a multistoried structure. Freshwater clams flourish buried in the gravel at the bottom, taking in nutrients and filtering out pollutants. Corydoras catfish, those comical, lovable characters, perform garbage-collecting duties on the floor of the tank, helping it stay sparkling clean. Ghost shrimp and other algae-eating shrimp patrol the gravel and the plants, removing algae from the plants, gravel, and even the sides of the aquarium before it becomes a problem. So do a number of snails, including the beautiful golden snails that add such cachet to a tank. For the upper levels, I enjoy tetras, with their numerous colorful variations: Neon and cardinal tetras, bloodfin tetras, golden white clouds. But whatever you choose, make sure they’ll be compatible and won’t attack one another. Even some tetras will attack other tetras, as I’ve learned to my sorrow, and you never want to mix cichlids in with any other fish.
* Landscape your tank. Having plants in your tank fights algae buildup, too, since plants use up the nutrients that algae would otherwise feed on. And a landscaped tank, like a landscaped yard, can be beautiful, as long as you follow standard landscaping rules: Put the tallest plants in the back and progress to the shortest in the front. You can vary this by having “runs” of midsize or tall plants coming into the shorter ones, but never put a taller plant in front of a shorter one. Do the same with rocks and driftwood: Tall in the back, shorter in front. Use neutral-colored gravel rather than bizarre, brilliantly dyed choices. Eeeewwww!!!! And vary your plantings between grass-leaved specimens, those with spear-shaped leaves, moss balls, and floating plants like anacharis (which are perfect for fish and shrimp to hide in). And make sure you follow the ultimate landscaping rule: Plant in groups and in odd numbers. Plant three of this, five of that: never one of everything or in twos or fours.
* Put your fish on a diet. Overfeeding is a good way to kill fish fast. I feed very moderately during the week, and skip feeding altogether on Saturday, then feed a frozen spirulina block on Sunday before beginning regular daily feedings again dring the week. This weekend fasting routine has kept my fish strong and vibrant for years and years. Overfeeding pollutes the tank and kills fish prematurely, much as gorging on McDonald’s burgers and fries kills us. Undereating, however unnatural it seems to us, has repeatedly been shown to be the way to long life.
So give my techniques a try and let me know how they work for you. It’s a lovely thing to have a vibrant, colorful, diverse tank and to reduce tank maintenance and expense at the same time!
‘Til next time,
What’s your favorite winter bird? December 8, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: favorite birds, feeder birds, winter birds
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Your faithful bloggers—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—love to watch the birds that come to our feeders each winter. And we all have our favorites. We bet you do, too. So please choose your fave(s) from our list below, or add your own. We’d love to know which birds you love!
Our favorite feeder birds (in no particular order):
* blue jay
* red-bellied woodpecker
* downy woodpecker
* hairy woodpecker
* purple finch
* house finch
* mourning dove
We think that about covers what comes to our winter feeders. (We love our little Carolina wrens, but we’ve never seen one at a feeder. And we’re not counting hawks and crows.) If we haven’t named your favorite, please let us know what it is! (In Arizona, it might be hummingbirds; in Australia, parakeets and rosellas.) Cast your vote and let’s see which birds end up topping the list.
Feeding the birds of winter. December 6, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: bird feeding, birds, birdseed, choosing birdseed, feeder birds, winter birds
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All three of your bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—have a soft spot for the birds that visit our feeders each winter. Silence and I like to take computer breaks by standing at our back deck door or front windows and watching the variety and interplay of birds. We think Richard has arranged a feeder view out of every one of his windows!
Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home Silence and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, our feeder setup is pretty straightforward, and so is our seed selection. We have a cabin feeder in the front yard (the kind that’s shaped like a cabin—ours is wood—with clear panels in front to check the seed level and a roof that lifts up for refilling). In the back, we have a suet feeder with a squirrel guard that holds preformed suet blocks; two tube feeders, one the classic clear plastic Droll Yankees tube with steel perches and opening guards (no squirrel has managed to destroy it in umpteen years) and one wire mesh tube with a lift-up top for refilling; and one dome feeder with a tray under a large plastic dome.
Our seed selection is equally straightforward. We do enjoy choosing the “flavors” of suet blocks we set out for our woodpeckers and chickadees, but from our observations, they’re not picky when it comes to suet. We abandoned expensive Nyger when we a) discovered that finches seemed to love black sunflower seed every bit as much and b) found that Nyger was super-susceptible to clumping and molding when it rained, however we tried to protect it. So now we feed black sunflower seed with a portion of white millet mixed in, and have not had a bird turn its beak up so far.
We did agree to provide one extra indulgence this year: a mix of the larger grey-striped sunflower seed and (eeeewwww!!!!) dehydrated mealworms in the dome feeder. (But we assure you we’ve always had tons of birds without this “extra.”) And we do think it’s essential to sprinkle some seed on the ground under the feeders for ground-feeding birds like juncos, cardinals and mourning doves; other birds and #$!@%!! squirrels will make sure more falls to the ground as they feed.
If you love winter birds as we do, it can be tempting to blow your budget on the many “gourmet” bird-seed blends available. Packed with berries, nuts, and other high-end ingredients, they look good enough to eat: trail mix for birds! But, as is the case with so many dog and cat foods, savvy marketers are appealing to us, not to the birds (do dogs really care if they’re eating filet mignon?).
Silence and I like to use the cheese comparison when shopping for birdseed. We love cheese, and are magnetically drawn to the most expensive cheeses in any store: the artisanal cheeses, the creamy Bries and Camemberts, the wine-soaked Drunken Goat, the ones encrusted with herbs or spices, the flaky, aged parmesans, the British Cheddars, a wedge of Roquefort. But if we actually bought these cheeses, our budget would be blown skyhigh before we ever reached for an actual grocery item. What to do?
Well, here’s what we do: We buy Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve New York Cheddar as our go-to cheese, and the best crumbled blue, Gorgonzola, and feta we can find for our salads. We’ll choose one cheese indulgence a week: a wedge of Jarlsberg, Asiago, or Maytag blue; a block of fresh feta in brine; a block of Black Diamond Cheddar; a wedge or wheel of Brie. This allows us to enjoy a feeling of decadence while staying on-budget.
We suggest that you adopt this policy, as we have, to keep your birdfeeding expenses under control. Our indulgence this year was the striped sunflower and mealworm combo. Yours could be the occasional bag of gourmet birdseed. But the basis of your feeder program, in our opinion, should be black oil sunflower seed, enhanced with millet and supplemented with suet blocks. This will both keep your costs down and your birds happy.
The birds are back! November 6, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: backyard birdfeeding, birdfeeding, birds, feeder birds, feeding birds, wild birds
And so are we, finally, here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. Hurricane Sandy has restored our power at last. What a relief! What a relief to have running hot and cold water, plumbing, showers, light, heat, cooking, refrigeration, internet access, television, you name it. But the most amazing thing has been the return of the feeder birds.
Sandy apparently blew in all our typical winter feeder birds: the juncos, titmice, chickadees, bluejays, cardinals, house finches, goldfinches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and so on, along with the residual robins, Canada geese, snow geese, and other migrants.
Given how cold it is, we’ve been setting out plenty of food for the travelers: black oil sunflower seeds in our tube feeder, mesh feeder, and cabin feeder; peanut-suet blocks in the squirrelproof suet feeder; striped sunflower seeds and mealworms in our tray feeder. It is simply astonishing to see the birds gathering ’round for the morning buffet.
But the other surprise was the birds’ enthusiasm for the English ivy. When we bought Hawk’s Haven, English ivy covered many of the mature trees on the property. It actually flowered and set seed, something few of us have ever seen, something that our feeder birds relished. But this year, we saw the birds take full advantage of the ivy, not just as a food source but as cover from predators. to see the small feeder birds dart into the ivy to take cover from hawks and other predators was simply amazing. Forget ripping out this invasive species! Let’s give it a chance to save our beloved native birds.
Are your feeder birds back?
To feed, or not to feed? That is the question. October 5, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets.
Tags: outdoor cats, stray cats
Silence Dogood here. It’s been several years since an outdoor cat showed up here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But yesterday, as OFB was taking our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, for a walk in the backyard, an orange cat shot out from under our studio, raced across to the deck, ran across the deck, and vanished under it. (OFB managed to dissuade Shiloh from following suit.)
For the cat to make directly for the deck, rather than fleeing across the yard, indicates a familiarity with our property and suggests that it must have been hanging around here for some time. Which of course brings up the old question, should we feed it or not?
Here at Hawk’s Haven, we appreciate the work outdoor cats do to keep the local mouse population down. The fewer mice in the yard, the fewer will try to flee to the (comparative) warmth and shelter of the house when cold weather sets in. But as we’ve discovered, setting out bowls of catfood and water can attract other critters, including more cats, ‘possums, skunks, and raccoons. Nothing like looking out on the deck and seeing a giant ‘possum or pair of baby skunks eating the catfood!
So we’re torn. To feed, or not to feed? That is the question. What would you do?
‘Til next time,