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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A safe, inexpensive fire ant killer that you'll need real soon!


As I write this, there is a crust of ice and sleet on the landscape. Birds eat anxiously, and hardly a thought is given to the regular spring happenings. Spring will be here very soon, however. It’ll bring the nice stuff like flowers and warm days. But it will also bring fire ants.

Fire ant mounds erupt in unexpected and inconvenient places each spring. So, many homeowners rush to a store and buy anything that promises to kill fire ants, not realizing that it also damages/kills pets, children and wildlife (including birds). It’s poison!!

Instead, I mix up a natural mixture - one that’s very effective, safe and inexpensive. I make a batch of the ”base” every year or so from ingredients at most hardware stores. The cost is about a tenth of the poisonous commercial stuff.

I suggest a mixture of about 40% compost tea, 30% orange oil and 30% liquid horticultural molasses (mixed thoroughly). You can mix up a batch of this “base” now and keep it ready. When the time comes to eradicate a mound I take half a cup of this mixture, mix with one gallon of water, and saturate the fire ant mound with it. Pour slowly to saturate the mound, and let it soak in – not run off. (I use a stick to quickly break through the mound’s crust.)

This doesn’t poison anything. It instantly dissolves insects’
 exoskeletons. In about 5 minutes there’s no ant activity at all. A few days later, I’ll add beneficial nematodes to the soil to control fire ants long term.

 

 

 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What's a "pile" of chickadees, and why should you care?


Carolina Chickadee
On cool nights, chickadees (the ones in north Texas are Carolina Chickadees) sleep together in a pile to conserve and share body heat. This way, they stay alive to propogate. Normally this takes place in a hollowed tree, or brushpile, but could be in an artificial “roost” you set up (a roost could be a variety of cozy places, such as an unused birdhouse or any other place that offers some protection from the winds, weather and predators). Other birds seek out roosts too - but chickadees are known for “piling” in the winter and cool spring nights.
 

You’ll probably never see a true Black-capped Chickadee here. Ours is a
Carolina Chickadee
slightly different species called Carolina Chickadee. It has a black cap too – hence the confusing names. The term ‘Carolina’ stems from the late 1700s when everything west of each of the original states was informally earmarked for that state’s future expansion. So things in north Texas were ‘Carolina’.

 

 

Insect eaters like good fruit, too

Many insect-eating birds (in north Texas that’s Robins, Mockingbirds, Kinglets, Orioles, Thrashers etc.) will turn into fruit eaters whenever insects aren’t abundant. Insects aren’t around in cooler weather, and fruit (typically in the form of berries) gives them the energy they need. They may even try fresh seeds when they’re really hungry.

 

 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.