Monday, October 26, 2015

Batty for Bats

People generally like “all creatures great and small,” at least the ones that include puppies, kittens and butterflies. A much smaller percentage includes bats in their "creature" affection. If the mere mention of them makes you wince or hide, then perhaps learning about their good nature might ease your mind. I had a bit of bat fear myself until I attended a bat presentation by Rob Mies from the Organization for Bat Conservation at Denver Botanic Gardens a few years ago.

I volunteered as the room assistant for his show and tell program, and of course it was in October. Once everyone was seated I scanned the faces of the packed room (young to old) awaiting their reaction to Rob and his bat tales. The outcome... in a word captivated. In another word, no fear, okay that’s two words. No one not the five or fifty-year-olds seemed afraid of the dozen bats Rob wheeled out for viewing while they calmly hung upside down on a bat coat rack waiting their stage debut. The audience listened and watched with focused awe then admiration as Rob took each bat from the rack and told their story. You can guess what happened to my bat apprehension after that night.
It’s true, many people in the Western World equate bats to evil spirits, attic invasions, or carriers of rabies. Conversely in the Far East bats are highly regarded as signs of good luck, happiness, fertility and long life. The facts speak for themselves; bats are extremely important to humans and our worldwide natural communities for both pollination and preying on insect pests. For more than 60 million years they have co-evolved with plants they pollinate, who in turn provide many fruits and nuts we enjoy today.   

Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats. Bananas, mangos, avocados, dates, figs, and cashews rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. Several products were, or currently are derived from bat pollinated plants – kapok plant fibers used in surgical bandages and life preservers, sisal fibers for rope and until the 1960s, chicle latex from the sapodilla tree (Central America) for chewing gum. And next time you raise your margarita or tequila sunrise glass, thank a long-nosed bat (Genus Leptonycteris) for pollinating the white tubular flowers of century plants (Agave sp.) growing in the southwestern U.S.

Bat guano pile
Insect eating bats consume large quantities of backyard pests (mosquitoes, moths, gnats, wasps and midges). A single little brown bat can eat 1,200 mosquitoes an hour, plus consume their body weight in insects every night. 

Bats control harmful forest and agricultural pests including cucumber beetles, June bugs, leafhoppers, and stinkbugs.  Scientists from the United States Geological Survey suggest the value of bat pest control for agriculture is anywhere between $3.7 billion and $53 billion a year. 

Bat poo is valuable too. As a fertilizer, bat guano is a good source of nitrogen and phosphorous. In a tiny region of Malaysia the total black and white pepper crop (about a third of the world’s supply) is fertilized with bat guano. Organic Fertilizers 

Eighteen species of bats live in Colorado. Bats of Colorado. Sixteen of these are considered common bats (Vespertilionidae) which are insect eaters, most are cave dwellers and roost by day in rock fissures, loose tree bark or hollows and mines. The short list includes the Pallid BatBig Brown Bat, Silver-Haired Bat, Hoary Bat, Western Small Footed Bat, Western Long-Eared Bat, Little Brown Bat, Long-Legged Bat, Yuma Bat, and the Western Canyon Bat. The other family (Molossidae) are the free-tailed bats – Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat and Big-Free Tailed Bat, both insect eaters.  

Bats hibernate or migrate in the winter. Some remain in Colorado, but their habitats are not completely known. Some will fly far distances, while others like a Big Brown bat may fly from one building to another, only a short distance each fall season. They are very loyal to their hibernating and roosting sites, returning each year to the same location.   

Bats are the only mammals on earth that fly. Squirrels, Australian possums and colugos from Southeast Asia just glide, they don’t actually take flight.  And because bats are so special they have their own scientific order, called Chiroptera which in Latin means “hand-wing.” Up close a bat’s wing looks like four very elongated fingers and a thumb all connected by a membrane of skin. They come in a variety of sizes and weights, the smallest, close to bumblebee size, weighs less than a penny (hog-nosed bat of Thailand). Our own western canyon bat (formally western pipistrelle) weighs less than a nickel. Large, fruit-eating bats of the tropics may weigh up to two pounds with a wing span of six feet. All bats roost upside down and it remains a mystery to scientists why they do so.   

Bat flight agility skills are remarkable. Wings of various sizes between bat species determines if they are better at hovering (short wings) to glean insects off the ground or fly for longer distances (long narrow wings) to catch insects midair.  Fruit eating bats in the tropics use their sight and smell senses to find food, but insectivore bats use echolocation, or biological sonar to detect insects and prey.   

Basically they see with their ears, and the same is true for dolphins, some whale species and birds. As a bat flies searching for food it emits a frequency per second, and the frequency increases as it figures out what insect lays ahead along with the insects flight pattern, speed and size.  They call this high-rate vocalization their “feeding buzz.”  And it’s a good thing we can’t hear it, several bats in a chorus of echolocation cacophony might sound to us like scores of smoke detectors gone wild. The normal chattering squeaks we hear are from bats in roost, though some bats in Colorado have audible calls that we can hear as they fly. Once an insect is found bats knock them off balance with their wing tips, and then transfer it to their mouth, while other bats catch insects directly in their mouths.

Bat faces are very distinctive and often describe their common name (tunnel-eared, leaf-nosed, etc). For most of the insect eating bats their unusual facial features aid them in sending and receiving ultrasonic signals.  

Bat House, Central Denver, East Facing
Just like all mammals, bats breed and produce young, nurturing them with milk.  Mating occurs in the fall, near their time for hibernation. Females store the sperm over the winter until spring. Young are born after a 30 to 60 day gestation period, usually in the late spring in Colorado. Most females have just one “pup,” but some species have twins up to quadruplets. Females form maternity colonies with focused care on their own pup. 

Pups are nursed until they are able to fly by themselves, roughly 3-5 weeks, but will remain with their mother as they learn the ropes of night foraging. Mortality is high while pups learn to fly; many will give up on their first flights and just walk or climb back to their roost. During this development stage they are easy prey to skunks, raccoon, coyotes, hawks and domestic cats or dogs. 

A bat can live over twenty years. Six species in the United States are considered endangered, and another twenty are threatened, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bat populations are declining due to habitat destruction of summer and winter roosting areas, fear of bats and disturbance by cave explorers, and chemical poisoning by pesticide use.

Bats are exceptionally beneficial animals many gardeners encourage them to live in their yards. First, they need the basics of life – food, water and shelter.  Maintain a natural landscape with live trees and dead snags (careful if they become hazards and need to be removed). Plant night-blooming plants plus flowering annuals, perennials, fragrant plants, herbs and shrubs.  The choices are many Nicotiana, Evening Primrose, French Marigolds, Four O'Clocks, Asters, Heliotrope, Butterfly Bush, Salvia, Phlox, Soapwort, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm and Honeysuckle. 

Bats like to have a water source too, so a pond, water feature or close by stream is ideal. Put up bat houses for female colonies or general roosting. Design plans are available online, or purchase from bird shops and garden centers. Your bat house should be fifteen feet off the ground or higher on the south or east side of a house or barn, or a free-standing pole works too.  

They need an open area below, and 15 – 20 feet of clearance in front of the house to give them room to come and go. The ground below the bat house will collect bat guano so site it properly for collection. Bat houses mounted on trees don’t work as well as houses, they tend to block views and aren’t as warm. Three or more houses in one area will increase the chance of attracting bats.  It may take up to two years for bats to find their new house. Once occupied expect the bats to return year after year.

Homemade Bat House

If bats are occupying an unwanted space in your home be sure to allow them time and opportunity to leave on their own (at least 45 minutes after sunset) before sealing up their entrance. This is called a humane exclusion. Provide an alternative bat house nearby if possible and construct a one-way device that won’t allow them to return, but lets them exit, more - bat exclusion. Keep in mind that new pups generally won’t be leaving the roost until sometime in the summer so exclusion is best done in the fall to early spring.  

Bat Facts and Misconceptions:

  • “All Bats carry rabies.”  All mammals can contract rabies, but less than 0.5 percent of bats ever do. The chances of coming in contact with a rabid bat are rare. Never touch any wild animal.  
  • “Bats are blind.”  Bats cannot see color, but their vision is better than ours.  Echolocation helps them see in the dark, so no worries that they’ll get tangled in your hair
  • “Bats attack people.”  They are small and gentle; we are large to them so they are afraid of us. 
  • “Bats drink human blood.”  Vampire bats live in South and Central America and southern Mexico. They prefer the blood of birds, cattle and horses. And they don’t suck blood; they lap up blood after making a slit with their sharp teeth.
  • “Bat guano is dangerous.” Histoplasmosis is a fungal disease that develops from bird or bat droppings that have sat in moist, humid conditions for a period of time. Always wear a mask to prevent inhaling fungal spores if you’re in an enclosed area with animal droppings.
  • “Bats try to attack you if caught in your house.”  If this happens, bats are simply looking for a way out. They fly in a figure eight pattern to gain clearance and make turns, so just open doors and windows and quietly sit down so the bat finds its way outdoors.  

Bat Resources:

FYI - this essay is the longer version that was published in The Denver Post in early August of 2015.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Swoon Time

When was the last time you swooned over a homemade meal? I mean actually enjoyed and experienced all the fresh ingredients down to the last morsel of garlic?  For me it was last night.

Here's what happened. The squash, peppers and eggplant were done for the season - either eaten, shared or processed for winter use. What's left? Tomatoes, basil and garlic - a delicious trio to make pasta pomodoro, that's Italian for tomato. This dish is made for end of the season tomatoes when they are at their peak of sugary ripeness.  

I didn't grow 'San Marzano' tomatoes this year, they would be a good choice for this dish (less juicy). But the hybrid 'early doll' and sweeter than sweet 'sun gold' tomatoes were perfectly ripe and tasted great together.  The container basil was still growing strong and the garlic...oh...there is lots of garlic in the Cahill house this season!!  It was harvested over the 4th of July and tastes so smooth with a mild, pleasing bite...and fresher than fresh.

This recipe takes about thirty minutes to prepare (any dinner that can be made in under an hour gets extra points in my book). All you need to do is boil the pasta of your choice (we used quinoa spaghetti noodles) and be sure to time it correctly to add to the sauce. The noodles can be al dente because they'll cook a bit when added to the sauce. Thinly slice your garlic, next peel (not the cherry tomatoes) and chop your tomatoes.  Follow the rest of the recipe below from PBS Food.

This recipe is easy to tweak, add more ingredients like toasted pine nuts, kalamata olives, parmesan cheese, prosciutto or sliced chicken.  Keep in mind however, the more you add, the less the simple ingredients will be tasted. 

Gorgeous and Delish!

  • 12-16 ounces pasta, boiled according to package directions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 medium cloves of garlic smashed and roughly chopped
  • 4 large vine ripened tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • basil leaves, julienned 



  1. The sauce should take about 5 minutes to cook, so time your pasta accordingly. Use the boiling water for the pasta to parboil the tomatoes for about 30 seconds to make them easy to peel.
  2. Add the oil and garlic to a large frying pan and heat over high heat. Fry until the garlic is fragrant, but don’t let it brown. Add the tomatoes and sauté until the liquid left in the pan isn’t watery anymore. Add salt to taste.
  3. When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the frying pan along with the basil. Toss to coat and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Snow Way, it's 80 Degrees Outside!

Summer Container in October!
Gardener's pay as much attention to the weather forecast as Peyton does watching the next competitor's football film footage.  Be it weather or sports - forecasts and injuries matter.  I'm talking about possible storm injury to the landscape.  Let's hope the leaves are down and temperatures have cooled off several days if not weeks prior to an abrupt change (please, not another November flash freeze)! 

Weather experts are calling for an El Niño this fall through winter. And it's supposed to be a whopper - beginning the end of this month (October) in Colorado. Check out this article in The Denver Post - El-nino-weather-phenomenon-could-deliver-early-snow. 

So what's a gardener to do? Not much except to finish the fall chores. Then tune in to the next Bronco, Avalanche or Nuggets game.  Oh, better find your snow shovel too.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Japanese Beetle Fall Focus

As you clean up and prepare your landscape for fall and a long winter's nap don't forget about Japanese beetles and what they are doing right now.  What are they doing?  If they were in your garden damaging your plants this past summer, then they've laid eggs in your turf grass or turf grass next door, up and down and street and pretty much everywhere grass is growing. Their eggs are probably in the first stage of larvae growth by now (they have three stages).  Although larvae are out of sight, they are spending the next nine to ten months living, growing and dining on turf roots. As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, they will live in the turf soil all winter (going deeper when temperatures get colder) and emerge as adults next June or July.  

I won't repeat all the protocols in this blog to treat the larvae growing in turf since I covered them earlier, click here to read - Japanese Beetle Blues Part III.  Let me add however, if you are going to use the organic product grubHALT!™ only available from Gardens Alive (as of this writing), then you should apply it when temperatures are above 50 degrees. The protein in the product needs to be 50 degrees or warmer to be active for the larvae to eat and be effective.  It is okay to apply after aerating the lawn. Just be sure to water the product in right away. Wait several days after applying grubHALT!™ to fertilize the lawn for the final time of the season.

Fall applications to kill the larvae are recommended because as winter progresses and soils get colder, the larvae move deeper into the lawn. So hit them early when they are closer to the surface. Plus they pupate before emerging as adults in the spring and they won't be eating turf roots while in this stage.  

Read all of my Japanese Beetle Blogs:

Japanese Beetle Blues 2016 

Japanese Beetle Blues 

Japanese Beetle Blues Part II 

Japanese Beetle Blues Part III 

If neighborhoods collectively treated and killed the larvae each fall, adult numbers would be reduced, i.e. less JB beetle blues!

October 2016 - Please note this blog was written a year ago about this time, but is still applicable. The only change is the organic product Btg is not available to purchase on line (as of this writing), so you will have to use other turf products for larvae control as outlined in Dr. Cranshaw's fact sheet.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Plant Garlic Now

The word is out about home grown garlic. And the word is flavor. Go ahead and ask… doesn’t all garlic taste like…well… garlic?  Not even. Think about buying garlic at the supermarket, what’s the selection like? Hmm...if you answer there’s just one choice, ding, ding, ding you are correct!  How’s that for flavor and variety…not!  You’re given just one type of garlic bulb from a grocery store dusty basket to bring home to finish your special sauce. Really? Imagine if you could only buy one type of pepper or apple for the rest of your life…no jalapeno, no honeycrisp are you kidding!!

Garlic Selection at a Farmer's Market, Provence, France
The only way you’ll have a wider selection of garlic, which means a broader range of taste and flavor characteristics is to grow your own and fall planting is the best time to plant garlic. Garlic likes a long growing season to establish deep roots and form large bulbs, bigger than you’ll ever buy in the produce aisle. And the range of garlic flavors is broad and varies whether you’re eating it raw, roasted or baked. Wines can be dry, oaky, or fruity.  Garlic taste  add your adjective to the list subtle, mellow, earthy, rich, strong, mild, spicy, sweet, lasting, explosive, nutty, hot, full and fiery hot! Or in one word, GREAT!

How much do you need?
I grow a lot of garlic for a home gardener. I mail order anywhere from 3 to 8 pounds of planting stock each year (I share). Plus I purchase additional planting bulbs from local garden centers (I like to support the home team). They have gotten the memo that home grown garlic is super easy to grow and people want variety. Plus it’s a no brainer for folks to buy garlic planting stock right along with their ornamental bulbs since they can be planted all fall until the ground freezes. Keep in mind that once you grow your own garlic, you can use some your harvest as planting stock the same fall season, how’s that for sustainability! Just be sure to save the largest, healthiest bulbs.

Mail order planting garlic can be purchased in quantities of one or two bulbs up to one half to one pound or more per variety. Garden centers sell in smaller quantities - one to three bulbs. Depending on variety, ordering one pound of garlic can be anywhere from 3 to 6 garlic bulbs. Each individual clove on the bulb is planted, which will grow into one full bulb when harvested next spring in late June or early July. Keep this easy math in mind when you order or purchase bulbs. If you only want a few plants, then you’ll only need a bulb or two.    

You can also check local farmer’s markets for planting garlic stock. Keep in mind that mail order availability decreases in the fall, so next year order early in the summer or as soon as you get a catalog in the mail. They’ll ship when it’s time to plant anytime from September through October. Just get them in the ground before the ground freezes, just like ornamental bulbs. 

What to Buy
It’s a must to use quality planting stock instead of buying grocery store garlic. You don’t know if the grocery store garlic was treated to prevent sprouting or how it was stored. You’ll notice that some sellers are offering virus-free or nematode free planting bulbs. Garlic can carry some of the onion related ails like fusarium and onion yellow dwarf virus. From my experience using quality planting stock (not listed as virus-fee) from a trusted mail order or local garden center will grow just fine. 

Hardneck Garlic w/Scapes, June before Harvest
Garlic is in the allium genus, same as onions. There are two subgroups of garlic, commonly called hardneck and softneck. You’ll want to plant some of both. Hardnecks will send up an impressive flower stock which is called a scape next spring. I’ll write more about scapes in a spring posting. 

Hardnecks have outstanding flavor, and highly recommended for making salad dressings and pressed fresh over vegetables. They are also delicious when baked or eaten raw for health benefits. Hardneck bulbs have fewer cloves (4-12 or so) and are easy to peel (much appreciated by gourmets including you once you try them). Hardnecks have a much shorter shelf life than softnecks, ranging from 3 to 6 months or so after harvest and curing. Use them first. 

Softneck Garlic, Early May
Indoor Garlic Chives
Softnecks do not flower, which makes them better for braiding. Bulbs produce several cloves per bulb (up to 20 in some cases) and tightly wrapped which gives them a longer storage period than hardnecks, up to 9 or 10 months (this is the type you find in grocery stores). Softnecks can be mild in taste or have quite a bite.  Just as hardneck types there is a range of flavors with softnecks. There can be numerous cloves in softneck bulbs, so when planting use the largest cloves. Save the smaller ones for eating/cooking or plant them in a pot indoors and grow garlic chives (snip off the greens to use in dishes).  

Planting Basics
I plant in raised beds in a sunny location.  In-ground beds work well too. Sun is important.  You can plant cloves in part shade right now, just as long as after the winter solstice the area starts getting more sun, then full sun by the June or July harvest. Tuck them through the landscape if you have good soil, sun and no competition from other plant roots. Just remember where they are planted so you can water them through the winter if moisture is scarce.

Soil should be amended and have good drainage, never plant in wet soil. Garlic doesn’t grow well in compacted soil or heavy clay. Add a balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10 a few weeks before planting.  Garlic isn’t a super high nitrogen feeder, but it does need nitrogen. Too little nitrogen may produce yellow plants, less vigor and smaller bulbs. 

Gather your materials prior to planting - bulbs, planting labels, trowel, box or tray to hold separated bulbs, and mulch. Remember that one bulb will grow from one clove so plan accordingly. And use the largest cloves to plant, they grow into large bulbs.

On planting day I carefully open the bulb and separate the cloves, no worry if the papery sheath falls off.  I place the cloves (pointed side up) on top of the soil spaced 4 to 6 inches apart with the rows 8 to 12 inches apart. After placing, plant each clove 2-3 each inches deep. Often the soil is so workable that you can just push the clove down into the soil.  

OR dig a 3-inch trench and place the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart, then cover with soil. Be sure to label each row. This is shown on the video. 

After planting place a 2-3 inch layer of mulch over the bed and water it well.  Through the winter I will renew the mulch and water once or twice a month if it’s been dry.  If spring is very rainy I’ll remove the mulch so the growing bulbs won’t risk getting mold. Check back next year for more growing tips and harvest information.

Pointed side up cloves 4-6 inches apart
Time is slipping by quickly so get out to your garden center and purchase some garlic planting stock. The selection is very good right now.  You can plant this weekend!

Leaf mulch over newly planted garlic cloves

"Stop and smell the garlic! That's all you have to do." - William Shatner