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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nectar concentrate for hummingbirds may save you time

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
     To make it easier to fill your hummingbird feeders with the correct percentages of water and sugar [4:1], try using a pre-made nectar "concentrate":
     To make the concentrate, boil one part (cup, pint, gallon ??) of water, then stir in an equal volume of plain table sugar until it’s dissolved. Simply store the clear nectar concentrate in a jar in your refrigerator. (the mixture is now 1:1)
       When it comes time to fill a nectar feeder, pour one part of the concentrate into the feeder. Then add, to the feeder, three equal parts of plain, clear water. (sorry, this takes a little basic math)   Then just hang the feeder in its usual place.

White-eared Hummingbird
     It's OK to freeze either the concentrate or the 4:1 nectar; just make sure the frozen "cube" or whatever will fit into your feeder. The outside air temperature will thaw it out quickly.


”I forgot to fill the feeder” insurance        A mass of native grass is an ideal back-up food source for when you go on vacation, or any other time when your feeder’s empty.

Indian grass

There are many kinds of native grasses to choose from, such as little bluestem, sideoats grama, Lindheimer muhly, Indian grass, gulf muhly, eastern gamagrass - with heights anywhere from 5 inches to 6 feet.  The native prairie grasses are almost maintenance free, needing only to be cut down to about one-fifth of its mature height late each winter. Birds will flock to it, often favoring it over the seed in your feeder.  In north Texas, late winter / early spring is the best time to plant it.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Safely control insects, and keep birds happy, with beneficial insects

The vast majority of insects in this world are harmless to humans; about 97 or 98% are “beneficial insects”. Only about 2 or 3 percent of all insects are actually pests! Yet artificial pesticides indiscriminately kill everything: whether good, bad or just passing through. Beneficial insects, on the other hand, attack only the insects that are our enemies. Over the ages, Mother Nature has worked it all out.
 Kill every bug in sight and you’ll leave the door open for millions of bad bugs, which now have no natural enemies and will multiply rapidly.  These “bad” bugs can cause direct damage (cutworms munching on your lettuce or termites munching on your house, for instance), or they can be bothersome (as with aphids’ “honeydew” dripping on your car). A wide diversity of plants is a key step toward safe, natural insect control.
Beneficial insects won't totally eradicate every insect pest; that's not the point. But they'll keep them down to controllable numbers. The most common beneficial insect is the ladybird beetle or ladybug. Ladybugs come in several colors (red, yellow, orange), and feed mostly on aphids – but frequently on thrips, scale insects, mealybugs, whiteflies and mites. Make sure they’re “domestic” ladybugs – some imported ones can become pests. Also, spraying a chemical pesticide while they’re in your yard will surely kill them.

Maybe there are little bugs on the leaves of your roses, but do you really know if they’re vital to the plant’s health? Perhaps they help the plant grow. Maybe they attract hungry birds, maybe they’re just lunching on some evil insects, or maybe they’re spreading pollen around. Know, before you kill!
Not only is natural insect control safer – It’s a lot cheaper!  In such a natural garden you’ll witness nature doing her best work. Ladybugs and lacewings are eating aphids by the thousands, birds are eating grasshoppers, and microscopic wasps are killing borers. Nematode worms in the soil kill termites, fire ants and help plants grow.

These beneficial insects work cheap, and birds love to have them around. One of my favorites is beneficial nematodes. They’re microscopic worms that live out-of-sight in the soil and attack soil-borne pests such as fleas, grubs, cutworms, ants, and termites. That includes fire ants! Almost all soils have a few already (unless you use a lot of pesticides), but you can also buy them in many stores. Lots of people keep dog areas flea-free with them.
              Green lacewings are another popular beneficial insect.  They’ll consume huge quantities of spider mites, aphids, thrips, corn earworms and other soft-bodied insects.  Trichogramma wasps are also very popular for insect control. They’re very tiny (4 or 5 will fit on the head of a pin) and harmless to humans. They’ll lay eggs in (and therefore kill) the eggs of webworms, hornworms, cutworms and many others.
              There are many other beneficial insects around. Ground beetles eat flea beetles, slugs, cutworms and leafhoppers. Mud daubers eat lots of spiders, crickets, flies and cicadas. Centipedes eat spiders and snails. Braconid wasps are tiny black wasps that parasitize tomato hornworms, armyworms and cabbageworms. Damselflies and dragonflies stick close to water features and eat lots of mosquitoes, gnats and aphids. 

 Give beneficial insects a try. One thing's certain; if you don't have bugs around, birds will quickly go elsewhere. Bugs were doing their job safely and efficiently long before any chemical companies opened for business. They’re a lot cheaper and far more effective than indiscriminate, artificial pesticides which can harm anything that dares to visit your yard, including kids, pets, butterflies and birds.