Wildlife

Newly acquainted pest patrol team

I made a few friends last few weekend!

First is the elusive “Eastern Pretzel Snake”:

In all seriousness, it is an Eastern Milk snake on the verge of shedding its skin. I find milk snakes to be especially pretty but I realize I am in a minority, possibly due to 40+ million years of evolution.

Whether humans are instinctively fearful of of creepy crawlies is an area of active research that has been finding some conflicting results!

Regardless, milk snakes are in the king snake genus meaning their diet includes other snakes, even venomous ones. Logic indicates that those who fear snakes should be internally conflicted at that fact, but phobias rarely allow rational thought; especially if it is literally in our DNA.

Acquaintance 2:

There used to be a large, white and orange-tabby cat that patrolled the barn and surrounding area. I have not seen that individual in some time but now there is this white cat. It appears even larger, but it has fluffier fur so a true size comparison is hard to make.

I’m conflicted about outdoor cats, both domestic and feral. One study estimates 1.4 to 6.9 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals are killed by cats just in the US. Additionally, an increasing amount of video documentation is capturing a sport hunting behavior where cats kill other animals for amusement rather than sustenance.

While I assume feral and strays are most responsible, there are products available to keep domestic pets from contributing to the statistics. Although the product basically makes your cat look like a clown, it is affordable ($10) and fairly effective. This study found effectiveness at reducing bird kills, but not mammals.

 

Mostly because I anticipate lacking the fortitude to address the moral hazard presented by the cat but also because I have no scientific way to measure the effect it has on local wildlife, the cat will remain unmolested and considered a pest suppressant with full awareness that the latter point is likely delusional.

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Garden

What poop can tell you about wildlife

As promised, I can present my evidence that it was racoons that ate my corn.

The first clue was that overnight the stalks were ripped down and only a few bites were taken from each of the ears now at ground level. The next day however, the ears were picked clean which leads me to believe the groundhog worked in tandem with the racoon.

However I was working on my apple seedlings about 300 yards from the garden and came across this:

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Corn filled raccoon scat!

Furthermore, my next door neighbor is growing soybeans this year and not corn. Unless his personal garden got raided as well, mine appears to be the only source of maize.

Raccoons have been recorded to have a home range of up to 20 square miles so it is no surprise that they will travel to raid my corn. Something also carried a small pumpkin I harvested about 20 yards before abandoning it sans stem.

Regardless, I am not too worried about raccoons as garden pests. However I will rest a bit easier when my fence is installed.

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Garden

Persicaria (?spp.?), my Savior weed: organic control Japanese Beetles

 

The japanese beetles decimated my young grape plants by eating most every leaf in the week I was gone for a wedding. So I set out to find a biological solution to combat these pests.

Chickens and other fowl will eat the larvae from the ground decimating the adult population of beetles preemptively. But this is not much help in my current situation!

Another common solution is good old fashioned hand removal of beetles into a bucket of soapy water. If you have chickens, just drop the beetles into the bucket of water and use them as treats for the chickens once the beetles drown. This has been my course of action.

Beetle traps are not recommended because they attract more beetles from far away leaving the gardener to deal with the beetles widely surrounding the garden instead of only those in close proximity of the garden itself. Plus some research has shown that beetles deploy pheromones to attract others when an individual finds a food source. Certainly not ideal!

Yet I was surprised not to find any documented plants that trap or at least attract japanese beetles away from the harvestable crops. Again, simple observation has proven its power.

This plant has drawn all the beetles in the garden to it. Clearly they are heavily feeding on the leaves and clearly they are making the next generation of beetles atop this plant. Instead of many many beetles on the remaining 10% of my grapes leaves (decimate is to be taken literally both times in this post), there is usually one every few days. This plant is drawing them away from the valuable crops allowing me to focus my soapy water removal strategy on the two places where this plant grows opposed to every grape and hop plant in the garden.

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I’ve been trying the key this plant and figured out the genus: Persicaria. I will have to wait until it flowers and maybe fruits to find the genus. Needless to say, this plant will be in my garden every year!

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