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Catnip — It’s Pretty Awesome

Dried catnip (Nepeta cataria).

Dried catnip (Nepeta cataria).

I’ve been geeking out on catnip (Nepeta cataria) lately — learning about it, growing it, drying it, and trying it. A good choice since growing it is almost fool-proof and the plant itself is super useful.

For the Garden

Catnip attracts beneficial insects that eat aphids, repels cockroaches and mosquitoes, and honey bees love it!

For Humans

The tea has so many purported health benefits (sleep aid, migraine relief, anxiety reduction) that I had to make some on the spot.

From The Canadian Veterinary Journal: “Other uses for catnip have been as a cold remedy, for hives, as a diaphoretic (induces sweating), a refrigerant (cools the body), and an anodyne (relieves pain).”

For Cats

Cats are attracted to the organic compound, Nepetalactone, found in catnip. When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems, they start rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, pawing at it, licking it, and chewing it.

My interest in catnip started with the refillable catnip pillows that I make for my cats. It’s been a goal of mine to sell them somewhere in town, so, as an extension of that, I decided to grow the catnip for them as well.

I currently have four plants in my greenhouse and I’ve harvested from them twice. The first time I bundled and hung the catnip upside-down to dry it. That bunch took two months to dry, way too long. The second time, I removed the leaves from the stems, placed them flat on paper towels (stacked about five layers high), and put them onto the rack in my gas oven, letting the low heat of the pilot light dry the leaves. That batch dried in 48 hours, much better.

Once dry, I gave some of the homegrown catnip to my quality control team. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at their testing process:

Cash, Grass or…Cows?

We have a new lessee running cattle out at the farm. He has, what I think are, very aggressive ideas about what “improvements” need to be made to our property (hybrid grasses, city water piped to troughs, spraying the weeds).

Calves with loblolly pines.

America’s. Next. Top. Moo-del is…

We told him upfront that spraying was not an option, but already, he’s tilled up tens of acres and planted annual rye grass, with the intention of planting Coastal bermudagrass this Spring. Since minimizing property taxes is the main reason we currently have a lessee, I think we need to look at other alternatives that are more in-line with our long-term goals.

The alternative I’m currently researching is converting our current tax valuation from “traditional” agricultural practices to “wildlife management” practices. Doing this would mean that we wouldn’t have to have a lessee in order to keep the taxes low. “Traditional” agricultural practices require that we stock cattle based on income derived from stocking at traditional intensity rates, meaning you have to keep as many cattle on your land as all the other guys who are trying to make money from it and it alone. Changing to “wildlife management” practices mainly means not having to keep the land available to that one “traditional” income source. Instead, we could have some cattle, some timber stands, and some orchards — none of which would need to support us on its own in order to maintain the tax valuation.

From the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guide:

“The Texas Constitution and the legislature provides those landowners with a current 1-d-1 Agricultural Valuation (often known as an Ag Exemption) an opportunity to change from a traditional qualifying agricultural practice to wildlife management as a qualifying agricultural practice while maintaining the current valuation. HB 1358 by Representative Clyde Alexander provided that the landowner must implement and complete at least one management practice from at least three of the seven wildlife management activities listed in Appendix A. Most landowners interested in wildlife can meet this requirement, and implement several practices beyond the minimum required.”

We would definitely be able to “implement several practices beyond the minimum required” — the practices include activities like pond construction, gully shaping, plant establishment in critical areas, and grazing management. I have contacted a Bastrop County TP&WD Wildlife biologist to schedule an evaluation and start moving forward with a management plan.

In the meantime, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s private land website has an unbelievable amount of useful information on this subject. I’ve only linked to a small portion of what’s available below:

Some of My Backyard Buddies

Inspired by the beneficial insect talk I attended at the Natural Gardener, I wanted to learn more about the creatures I have seen in my own yard.

The resident Anole saying hello from atop one of my citrus trees.

The resident Anole saying hello from atop one of my citrus trees.

Below is a list of some of my garden helpers and some reasons why they’re good to have around.

Anole

From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “There’s no need to worry about this lizard as it is not harmful to humans or your pets. In fact, if you’ve seen these lizards in your yard or home, it most likely means you’re not using pesticides that could harm it. In fact, these lizards are beneficial, as they do feed on a wide variety of small insects such as crickets, cockroaches, moths, grubs, beetles, flies and grasshoppers.”

Black-and-yellow Argiope

From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “They are carnivorous predators, attacking flying insects that get trapped in its web. Their orb web captures aphids, flies, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, wasps and bees.”

Butterflies (Monarch, Viceroy, Queen)

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed. Adults feed on nectar from numerous wild flowers. The monarch butterflies are distasteful to birds because of chemicals obtained from caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves.”

Dragonflies

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Nymphs can be found in vegetation and hiding around underwater structures. Adults feed on insects such as mosquitoes, midges, flies and winged ants. They often follow the same path and return to a familiar perch.”

Earthworms

From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “Earthworms ingest soil and digest the organic matter as they tunnel, producing castings. The castings increase the nutrient level and organic level of the soil. Nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other nutrients are produced daily for the use of plants. The equivalent of about 1/3 lb. of top grade fertilizer is produced per worm each year.”

Fireflies

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Immature stages of lightning beetles are predatory on other small insects, earthworms, slugs and snails. Adults of some species are also predatory. Larvae and adults are active at night (they are nocturnal), and immobilize their prey by injecting them with inject toxic digestive enzymes before sucking out the liquefied body contents.”

Geckos

From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “[T]he Mediterranean gecko helps provide year-round insect pest control in our landscapes and homes by feeding on cockroaches and a wide variety of other insects.”

Green Lacewings

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Adults are poor fliers, active at night and feed on pollen, nectar and honeydew (the exudate of aphids and other sucking insects). Some species are predaceous as adults to a limited extent. The larvae, called “aphid lions”, are extremely carnivorous and predaceous on many soft-bodied insects and mites, including insect eggs, thrips, mealybugs, immature whiteflies and small caterpillars. Larvae have sickle-shaped jaws that contain tubes with which they can inject prey with a paralyzing venom and then suck out the body fluids. They can consume over 200 aphids or other prey per week.”

Ground Beetles

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Ground beetles are commonly encountered under stones, bark, logs and other debris laying on the ground. When disturbed, they run rapidly. At night they seek prey and some species are attracted to lights. Larvae are also encountered under objects or in burrows in the soil or under bark of trees. They feed on other insects both as larvae and adults. One group of species feeds on snails.”

Honeybees

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Mostly considered beneficial because they pollinate many fruits, vegetables and ornamental flowers; they produce honey, beeswax, pollen and royal jelly.”

Hover flies

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Adult flies can be found hovering around flowers, feeding on nectar and pollen. They are often attracted to honeydew covered leaves characteristic of infestations of sucking insects such as aphids. Legless larvae of these (Syrphinae) species are slug-like, adhering to leaf surfaces of infested plants while searching for aphids and other suitable prey (small caterpillars, thrips, etc.). Each larva can consume up to 400 aphids during development. Larvae of other species feed in the nests of ants, termites or bees, and others live in decaying vegetation and wood.”

Lady Beetles

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Larvae and adults feed primarily on aphids, but they will also feed on scales, eggs of caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects and mites. Adults occasionally feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew (exudate of aphids and other sucking insects).”

Paper Wasps

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Paper wasps prey on insects such as caterpillars, flies and beetle larvae which they feed to larvae. They actively forage during the day and all colony members rest on the nest at night.”

Praying mantis

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Wingless nymphs and adults feed actively on many pest and beneficial insects, including each other! Older mantids can feed on flies, honey bees, crickets and moths. They are not effective for the control of aphids, mites or caterpillars.”

Texas Toads

From herpsoftexas.org, “Bufo speciosus is nocturnal and burrows in the loose soil. It feeds on insects and other invertebrates.”