Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Few of Nature's creatures strike such fear in the hearts of both men and women. Centuries-old legends and myths have nurtured fears and horrified hatred of this wondrous and furry little insect-eater.
Contrary to the myths promulgated by Hollywood, bats have no interest in human blood, very rarely become entangled in ladies' hair, have absolutely nothing to do with the spread or transmission of tuberculosis and would certainly prefer not to be trapped indoors in someone's boudoir, kitchen or bath! They can, however, transmit rabies, and although the incidence is very low (probably less than 1% of bats ever contract the disease), you should assume that all could be carriers and avoid touching them with all diligence.
There are about 900 species of bats, members of 18 distinct families. Yet less than half the total number of species in just three families live north of the Mexican/US border. They fly, of course, at night, being the after-dark equivalent of birds. Bats are the only mammal that can sustain true flight, although other mammals, notably the flying squirrel, can glide and appear to fly.
The "little brown bat" (Myotis lucifugus) is a very common, mouse-eared animal that inhabits man-made structures, like house attics and barns, in colonies ranging from a few members to hundreds. They are most commonly seen within about 1000 feet of a lake, stream or marsh. And, best of all, when actively feeding they can consume over 500 mosquitoes and other pesky insects an hour!
So now that we've established that healthy bats are almost totally harmless and greatly beneficial in the control of hoards of bugs, wouldn't it make better sense to encourage this very effective form of insect control and lessen the need for dangerous and largely ineffective chemicals? Who knows, you might even begin to enjoy having these cute little guys and gals around. I can assure you that your insecticide and repellent budget will enjoy the break!
But before you encourage hundreds of bats around your place, you should know that they can become a serious pest themselves. Bat-boxes out of doors are one thing, but bats in your belfry (attic) are something else! So an important first step is to seal up every opening to your attic, closed-in porch or garage, so they can't get in. That's called bat-proofing.
Use caulk to seal any crack or opening larger than 1/2 inch. Look around windows, under eaves and at roof corners, especially on older houses with wooden gutters. Closely check all attic vents and the flashing where the chimney comes through the roof, at the joint between the house and your foundation and where any pipe, wire or vent breaks the integrity of exterior walls. If you already have bats in your attic, it would be wise to seal up all but one entrance hole, then wait until an hour or so after dark to close up the last one.
In the event one manages to blunder into your home, a few simple steps should solve the problem and preserve the poor creature's valuable life (remember - it eats 500 mosquitoes an hour!). Calmly close all doors so it is confined to just one room. Tell everyone in that room to be calm and sit quietly near the wall opposite a window. Open that window, and turn out all but one small light (so you can tell when your little bat friend flies out). Bats will fly toward fresh air usually within a few moments, mostly because they would really rather be outside.
Above all, don't scream and jump around frantically waving a broom or wet towel. Quite enough of these beneficial little animals have already been needlessly slaughtered, and all the commotion will only serve to frighten and disorient the bat. Besides, you could end up with a nasty little nip. If the bat doesn't fly out, approach it slowly and quietly with a net or something like a shoe-box, capture it gently, and release it outside.
Beneficial insect-devouring bats can be encouraged near your home or garden by the installation of properly constructed or located "bat-boxes." I've seen a number of well-made bat homes for sale here and there in this area. You might try a hardware store or one of the larger garden centers within a few minutes drive of Augusta. Perhaps a local carpenter could be enticed to make a few up for you in his or her spare time. Plans you can use yourself also frequently show up in home-improvement and wood-working magazines.
Here's the response to a recent (5/1/07) email asking when bats would move into the bat house they'd put up last year:'Morning, Pat....Thanks for your question.
The rather brutal truth is that in temperament and willingness to accommodate our wants and goals, bats are a lot like cats — there's little you can do to direct the actions of either.
When a bat-looking-for-a-new-home spots your bat house (assuming you put it up at the right height and in a favorable location) it will take up residence on its own schedule with absolutely no regard to the desires of others (least of all humans).
One possibility — if you could locate an old farmhouse or country church with bats in its attic or belfry (and, of course, a cooperative homeowner or pastor), you could scrape up a double handful of droppings and spread them on the ground directly below your bat house. That might give any passing bats the hint. They might at least circle around a few more passes than otherwise. Might. Bat guano can be found in abundance directly below where they routinely roost — it's what gives off the disagreeably pungent odor in an old, bat-infested home or church.
One quick note: before you invite bats into your yard, be dead-certain that every (even tiny) entrance to your own attic has been plugged...and stays that way.
Be patient. It could take years...eventually they'll move in....and resist the temptation to discourage or poison their food source - mosquitoes, moths and other night-flying insects.
Have a great time in your spring garden!
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