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Meet Laser Tag: My Urban Wildlife Manager

Laser Tag hanging out at the back door.

Laser Tag hanging out at the back door.

I started trapping and releasing the neighborhood feral cats a few years ago. It was important to me to stop the cycle of kittens I was seeing every six months or so. In fact, my cat Nomark is from a litter born in my garden shed. I was able to get his brothers and sister adopted and his mother was the first cat I had spayed (the current total is five, plus Nomark, his two brothers, and his sister).

I choose to take a certain level of responsibility for these cats afterwards — partially for their benefit, partially for mine. By encouraging them to stick around, they fill a niche by retaining their territory and keeping other, intact cats away. They also continue to do a great job of keeping the rodent population in check.

Laser Tag has taken advantage of this beneficial relationship more than any of the other cats; she spends 90% of her time in my yard now. I feed her and have built her a cat house so that she has a warm, dry place to sleep, and she repays me with mouse management. On more than one occasion, I’ve looked out on the back patio to see her playing with her latest catch.

She also seems to have a special relationship with another cat that we trapped, fixed, and adopted, Crouching Tiger. They spent time together when they were both roaming the streets and now they cuddle and rub through the glass door. Unlike Crouching Tiger, Laser Tag does not have a personality suited to being an indoor cat, so this is the compromise we’ve all worked out.

Laser Tag spending time with my boy cats.

Laser Tag spending time with Nomark and Crouching Tiger.

Special thanks to Lake Austin Boulevard Animal Hospital. They always take such great care of us and these, often less-than-cooperative cats.

November Austin Urban Beekeeping Meetup

I officially joined the Austin Urban Beekeeping group! I went to my first meeting this month and really enjoyed it. There was a large group (50 or so people) of all ages and experience levels. I learned a lot just listening to the casual conversations that were happening around me.

The main topic was “Winter Hive Preparation and Care”, but the meeting itself was broken into three parts: Introductions, Topic Discussion, and General Q&A.

Listening to the introductions was eye-opening — lots and lots of people have lost their bees. Suddenly buying bees didn’t seem like such a good idea and it made a lot of sense why, when asked for future meeting topics, most folks wanted to learn more about catching swarms and dividing hives.

In regards to wintering bees, I learned a lot about the winter cluster, and there was a lot of discussion about whether, when, and how to feed them if necessary.

I also learned that, since the bees are keeping the climate inside of the hive tropical-subtropical, ventilation and condensation management is important throughout Winter. The bees can keep warm as long as they stay dry.

There’s no December Meetup because of the holidays but I’ve already registered for the January meeting on the 18th which is a 3 hour Beekeeping 101 class.

I’m so excited to get started but I can’t get bees until April, and so, until then, I am going to attempt to build my own top bar hive.

Know Your Allies: Beneficial Insects with Jeff Ferris

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an hour-long beneficial insect lecture at the Natural Gardener. The talk was given by staff horticulturist, Jeff Ferris (who I found out afterwards is also a permaculturist). I really enjoyed Jeff’s presentation style, he repeatedly reminded us that most horror movie plots come from the insect world.

Green Lacewing's lifecycle

Jeff Ferris explains the Green Lacewing’s lifecycle

I went into this not really knowing anything about the beneficial insects of Texas so it was definitely time well spent. Here’s some of what I took away from this talk:

  • The juvenile (teenager) beneficial insects are what you want in your garden, they eat most of the harmful insects. You want the adults around mainly to reproduce.
  • Harmful insects tend to be in groups, beneficials are often alone.
  • Beneficials are omnivores for the most part so pollen and nectar sources will attract them as well.
  • If the plant looks good, don’t worry about the bug on it. If the plant looks bad, worry about the bug.
  • Of the 980 species of spiders recorded in Texas, there are only two groups to worry about: the recluse and widow spiders.
  • To control Root Knot nematodes he recommended growing Elbon cereal rye as a “trap-crop” over the winter and turning it in one month prior to Spring planting. He also recommended spreading peel-and-eat shrimp shells. The introduction of the chitinous shells stimulates soil-dwelling fungi that feed on chitin. The fungi then feeds upon the chitin in the nematode eggs, killing them before they hatch.
  • I need to get a handheld blacklight. In addition to scorpions, tomato hornworms will also glow.

I plan on covering species specifics in more detail when I write about what I’ve seen in my yard so far and what I hope to attract in the future.