Ignore the Large Glowing Orb in the Sky!

Are you a Believer?

Ignore the large glowing orb in the sky! Dismiss historical factoids like the Thames Frost Fairs (Little Ice Age) or Vikings growing barley in Greenland (Medieval Warming Period). That is just recent history in geological terms. 

Frost Fair on Thames 1814

Frost Fair on Thames 1814

Go further back and you’ll find the Sahara was green or that my hometown (Swansboro, NC) was once at the bottom of the ocean as evidenced by the fossilized sea life in the marl beds.  What’s the point?  The point is that the climate changes, sometimes radically, and has done so since the beginning of time.  Some people might argue about the ‘rate of change’.  Just so you know, the average global temperature has not changed in the last 10 years. Yes, I know, in geological times 10 years is as insignificant as 100 years. Never the less, my opinion is that the Sun’s energy output has much more to do with climate than .03% of the atmosphere.  Others tend to agree.  Maybe you don’t.  That’s OK but before you banish me to the outer reaches of the Internet…Think about This.

Before I am Banished…

Let’s skip the politics and philosophy (neither allowed on my property).  I believe in conservation. My wife and I took a leap and purchased a forest back in the 80’s. Why? because I have always enjoyed forests and all of the benefits they provide: clean air, water and wildlife habitat.  Slowly, but steadily development is encircling our little forest.  As this development grows closer the importance of our forest grows correspondingly.  Likewise it is a scientific fact that our forest is a carbon sink.  So, if C02 sequestration is something that you are interested in pursuing…why not buy offsets from someone you can actually talk to who has land you can actually walk on?

You’ve Got to Be Frick’n Kidding Me!

Well as an active small landowner conservationist, I can sell you carbon offsets (yes, I am serious).  Our little 45 acre pine forest was purchased in 1987. The forest sequesters about 270 metric tons of C02 per year.  This makes my family carbon negative meaning that we sequester more C02 than we emit.  Also, guests who stay at our guest house, La Casita, enjoy carbon neutral travel. Both of our homes and our lifestyle emits about 50 tons of C02 per year.  Guest travel averages about 40 tons per year.  This leaves us an excess of, very conservatively, 180 tons of C02 sequestration per year.  What do you get.  Fresh air and if your in Swansboro, a tour of our family forest.  You also get discounted rates on our vacation house!

Got C02 Offsets?

Got C02 Offsets?

Got C02 Offsets?

Use the calculators at Native Energy to calculate your offset.  Like Native Energy, we will charge you $14 per ton of C02 offset.

Individual 6 Ton C02 Offset $84

48 Ton Household C02 Offset $672

So calculate your C02 emissions and decide how you’ll offset. The Paypal buttons provide an option of selecting Individual (6 ton C02 Offset @ $84) or a Household Offset (48 ton C02 Offset @ $672).  If you would like to purchase another amount please contact me.  Once you make your purchase don’t forget to start planning your trip to Swansboro!

A C02 Offset with a Difference

The difference we offer is that you can come and visit your Carbon Offset. Starting in 2018 you’ll be able to walk on the woodland trails, observe wildlife and walk through a forest that ranges in age between 25 and 100 years in age.  It’s hard to do that when you send your money to some nameless faceless corporation planting trees in South America or Africa. Plus when you purchase at least 6 offsets (enough to make most individuals carbon neutral) you will get a 10% discount when they stay with us at La Casita or our soon to be available rustic camp cabin, La Paranza. Read our reviews.
So buy a C02 offset from a real life forest owner.  When you visit I promise not to call you a poopy head and I expect the same from you…after all, there are birds to watch, wildlife to watch, and fresh air to breathe; all with the trees silently and majestically looking on.
Special thanks to Dr. Booker T. Whatley.  I never met him but his little book, “How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres” has always been an inspiration and guide. (You’ll find the book on the shelf at La Casita.

Water Gardens: Lure and Kill Mosquitoes!

mosquito2

Mosquito Anatomy – Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats – Self made based on this websites between others: [1], [2], [3], [4].


Water gardens: Lure and kill mosquitoes? Huh? Yes, build a small water garden for mosquito control. Why not attract the little pest to a lovely little water garden that is also the home to hungry mosquito predators? Building a small water garden is a way to introduce a low or no cost natural mosquito killing ecosystem in a yard, on a patio or even on a balcony. Interested? Read on about creating a water garden to lure and kill mosquitoes by attracting dragonflies, damselflies and creating a home for mosquito fish.

First a little info about mosquitoes

zika

CDC Map of the Range of the two mosquito species which carry the Zika virus.

Mosquitoes are a problem in many parts of the world.  Mosquitoes carry many diseases that are deadly and/or debilitating.  Certain mosquitoes can spread specific human diseases. In some areas of the world mosquitoes and the diseases they carry are such a problem that they significantly impact settlement or development. For example in the early 1900’s the Panama Canal project was nearly derailed because of mosquito borne diseases. During the early days of colonization and exploration places like the Panama and even Eastern NC, where I live, were slow to be colonized and developed because of mosquito borne diseases. The Zika virus is the most recent example of a mosquito borne disease. The CDC map shows the range of the two mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus.

We certainly don’t want to catch a mosquito borne disease. So how about enlisting the support of three new friends: the mosquito fish, dragonflies and damselflies.  Each of these creatures can be quickly introduced into your back yard with minimal effort and at a low cost. How? Construct a small water garden!

Next let’s get to know the Mosquito Killers (your water garden will be their home)

FIrst, The mosquito fish:

mosquitofish1

Mosquito Fish – Clinton & Charles Robertson from RAF Lakenheath, UK & San Marcos, TX, USA & UK

These hearty fish can survive in a wide range of temperatures from near freezing to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Additionally the fish can survive in low oxygen environments. The fish are a bit larger than guppies.  The large females eat up to 100 mosquito larvae a day. If you look in a ditch and see a small fish swimming there there is a good chance that it is a mosquito fish.  I have mosquito fish thriving in Dragonfly Pond behind La Casita.

Second, Dragonflies and damselflies:

greendarner

Dragonfly – HaleYadthore, KRNagar, Mysore India, on 13 Oct 2007.

800px-Damselfly_01_(MK)

Damselfly – Mathias Krumbholz

There are many species of dragonflies around the world and they all love to eat insects. The dragonflies can eat the insects on the fly. That’s right, they catch a mosquito or gnat and dine on the little pest while flying.  An adult dragonfly is a vicious predator of mosquitoes, gnats, flies and almost any other flying insect it can catch. More diminutive but no less ruthless are the damselflies. These flying jewels are smaller than dragonflies and eat smaller insects like mosquitoes and gnats. However, unlike dragonflies, damselflies usually ambush their prey from a perch rather than catching and eating their prey on the fly.  So, if you were unfamiliar with dragonflies and damselflies, now when you see these creatures flying you’ll have a better appreciation of these the airborne and waterborne insect assassins. That’s right dragonfly and damselfly nymphs attack mosquito larvae in the water.   For more information, pictures and video I recommend reading 10 Surprisingly Brutal Facts About Dragonflies .

If you build a water garden they (dragonflies and damselflies) will come (the mosquito fish will need your help).

An article from the National Wildlife Federation, Attracting Aerial Acrobats to Your Yard A small pond, coupled with the right habitat conditions, will help you attract dragonflies and damselflies to your garden, provides a good primer for establishing a dragonfly pond.  If you live in an apartment, a condo or don’t want to dig a large pond you might be saying … oh,  just another idea I can’t use.  Don’t distress there are right sized solutions that can be adapted to your patio, balcony or yard!

Use Water Gardens to Kill Mosquitoes!

So, you have a condo in the city and you have a mosquito problem.  What can you do? Simple.  Build a micro environment for your mosquito predators…a pond in a pot.  Two of the predators will love the new habitat while one may just come to visit.

What you will need:

1 – A sunny spot on your porch, patio, balcony or yard.

2- A container that has sloping sides like a birdbath or even a child’s plastic pool.

3- Rainwater, well water or spring water that is chlorine free.

4- Water plants like iris, pickerel weed, water weed, water hyacinth etc.

5- Mosquito fish

Assembling water gardens

1- Find and place your container in the sunlit location. Be creative.  Use what you have. Here are some container ideas: an old cooler, a birdbath, an old bathtub, a small children’s plastic pool, a half barrel… even a milk jug with the top cut off could be your micro environment (the smaller the container the less likely it will be to attract dragonflies).

2- Place some structure like rocks or sticks in the container where mosquito fish the nymphs of the dragonflies and damsel flies can hide.

3- Fill the container with water.  If you are using chlorinated water wait about a week before moving to the next steps.

4- If your container has steep sides consider placing a stick or rock in the container to simulate a sloping edge.

5- Find some native aquatic plants. Plants that you see growing in ditches and ponds in your area are what you are looking for.  Plants like cattails (for larger containers), water lilies or even water hyacinth are good easy to find plants that grow in many locations. Plants that are native to your area may be more likely to attract local dragonflies and damselflies.

Need more ideas?

pondinapot

Water gardens come in all shapes and sizes

Just do an image search on Google.  I searched for “pond in a pot” Here’s a picture of my search results.  As you can see there are innumerable ideas out there to help you build your small water garden which will host three new friends…mosquito fish, dragonflies and damselflies.

Build a Small Water Garden

Build a Small Water Garden

Need even more instructions? Ok, read this nice detailed article from Deep Green Permaculture . Now go and build some small water gardens to construct your own beautiful and elegant solution for controlling mosquitoes.

I’ll be building some small water gardens like these for both La Casita and my home next door.  I already have one…for my Facgardenebook Fans that visit my page La Casita in Swansboro…it is the birdbath to which I added water hyacinth and mosquito fish. Presto…an elegant solution for mosquito control in minutes

A final note: Sanitize, Sanitize

Standing water in gutters, children’s toys, swimming pools, ditches, trash cans, old tires etc can harbor mosquitoes.  Look around your home to sanitize those potential mosquito breeding areas.  Read University of Florida publication Tips for Mosquito Control for more detail on the importance of sanitation in controlling mosquitoes. Sanitation is a top priority! Even a hollow tree can be a mosquito breeding ground. Do you have standing water around your air conditioner?  Just check your yard, neighborhood, gardens etc for anyplace that has stagnant standing water for long periods after a rainstorm.  If those places seem to have water in them for long periods of time consider introducing mosquito fish. Eliminate problem areas and provide small water gardens as described above.  Use your imagination to create your water gardens and let them grow.  Soon you’ll enjoy an environment around your home that is healthy, natural and nearly free from mosquitoes!

 

All the Best,

Jim Hamrick

Travel Destination Suggestions!

 

Martinn Provides Links to many different travel destinations!

Martinn Provides Links to many different travel destinations!

I’m sharing a link to a website designed and maintained by my online friend Martinn from Paris, France.  Martinn has been associated with operatting and owning Bed and Breakfast homes for many years.  She has collected from online friends a group of destinations from around the world that you might want to consider as you plan trips for business or leisure.  Martinn is very selective about the accommodations she lists on her site.

 

If you like to travel…anywhere from the US to South Africa please take a look at her site at  Key2Paris.com .  At her site you will find something for every taste…from humble self catered cottages like our La Casita in Swansboro to luxurious Bed and Breakfasts in large cities.

Of course if you’re destination is Paris I recommend contacting Martinn…she is an expert on the city and provides a wonderful place to stay!  The pictures below are of Martinn’s B&B.

In the heart of Paris, in the Halles district, Montorgueil, Place des Victoires.

In the heart of Paris, in the Halles district, Montorgueil, Place des Victoires.

Tips to Protect Your Chickens!

About 10 years ago I bought a little house in a development that adjoins my 38 acre forested property called Redbay Farm.  One day my Dad asked if I wanted some

Our first chickens

chickens.  I said yes.  Thus began my often times painful journey in raising chickens. The crux of this article is to provide information that will help new chicken owners from repeating the many mistakes I made.  The number one point I’d like to make is that If you don’t protect your chickens your chicken coop will become a predator buffet.

Protecting your chickens is a full time 24/7 365 day a year job.  There are no exceptions. Sure you might get away with leaving the coop open for maybe a night, or two or even a week or more but soon enough a predator will be dining on your chickens.  I have lost chickens to raccoon, opossums, foxes, owls, hawks, snakes and probably coyotes (yes, we have coyotes in Swansboro).  These predators are common in almost every suburban, urban and country setting.  For example, coyotes have even been seen in Manhattan. The predators are always watching and waiting for a delicious chicken dinner.

The most effective means that I have found for protecting chickens is a chicken tractor made with a hardware cloth enclosed chicken run and a secure nesting/roosting area. The chicken tractor gives the chickens a semblance of free range living.  To remain effective and for hygiene, the chicken tractor must be moved regularly. Moving a chicken tractor around everyday is a chore that requires discipline and time. Chicken tractors are a great tool for raising chickens in a suburban yard or garden.  I still have the old “doghouse chicken tractor” I made several years ago.  I never lost a chicken that has stayed inside this nice secure chicken tractor. The doghouse is long gone and is replaced by a little chicken house made of plastic barrel pieces, trash can pieces and some scrap tin. You can purchase expensive versions of this type of chicken tractor or make one yourself. The key feature of the doghouse chicken tractor are hardware cloth which even keeps snakes out and a small roosting/nesting area suitable for about two regular sized hens.  Chicken tractos are only good for level ground otherwise there

Dog House Chicken Tractor

will be large gaps under the rails which will allow predator access.  If you do want to make a “doghouse chicken tractor” just visit my chicken tractor page which also has a materials list and plan I put together years ago.

The next level for raising chickens is the chicken coop with an attached run.  Most folks who have more than one or two hens probably gravitate toward a chicken coop with a run that is permanently sited in their yard or garden. Since chickens don’t enjoy being cooped up even with a nice run or even in a chicken tractor most chicken owners are inclined to let the chickens free range at least a little bit before sundown.  This is great for the chickens and the owner because the chickens become somewhat self sufficient and really help to keep insect control around the yard. But, letting chickens free range is dangerous for the chickens.

If you are not going to keep your chickens locked up in a chicken tractor or secured in their coop you need to be aware of the different ways chickens are susceptible to being eaten. I’ve put together four scenarios based on personal experience that will give you an idea of what can happen.

Scenario one: “Look at the chickens going after the bugs in the yard.” said my wife.  “That hen is so cute!”, she said as we shared a bottle of wine on the patio.  Later that night we heard chickens making all kinds of racket.  I ran out to the coop with a flashlight. I had left the door open on the coop.  There on the ground, laying headless, was the cute little hen. I got to sleep on the couch.

Lesson  #1 – Always shut and lock the door of the coop.

Scenario two: I put together a makeshift chicken pen for the chickens using a dog kennel with a tarp over the top held down with bungee cords.  Inside the dog kennel was a small chicken house.  It was a bit difficult to access the nest for egg collection but other than that the improvised chicken pen seemed to work ok protecting the chickens from hawks and other predators.  One night as we slept soundly a raccoon family climbed the chain linked fence and worked their way under the tarp into the pen. All of the chickens were dead.  I slept on the couch again.

Lesson #2 – Build a secure coop.

Scenario Three: We were eating Thanksgiving dinner.  We looked outside and found that a hawk was also celebrating Thanksgiving by eating one of our pullets! It seems cockrells are just not as tasty. Ah, Thanksgiving day memories.

Lesson #3 – Protect chickens from hawks and owls (yes, I have also lost chickens to Great Horned owls)

Rat snake eating a baby squirrel.

Rat snake (AKA chicken snake) eating a baby squirrel.

Scenario Four: I went to the coop to take a look at our young chickens.  Of course all of the cockrells are accounted for…but the one pullet was now a lump in a snakes belly. Chickens attract some varieties of snakes.  My career raising chickens was beginning to look more dubious by the day.

Lesson #4 – Young chickens require protection from snakes

Integrating the my lessons learned into your chicken defenses

Aerial photo of Redbay Farm and La Casita

Upper Left hand corner shows Redbay Farm and La Casita

If you are new to raising chickens I recommend that you carefully plan how you are going to secure and protect your flock.  If you already own chickens you might find some of my recommendations helpful to mitigate any predator problems you might have. As you plan your chicken defenses evaluate what predators and pest will be trying to eat your chickens. The list varies by geography.  Here in NC our main predators are raccoon, opossums, hawks (various types and at various times of years), Great Horned owls, foxes (red and gray), domestic dogs, bobcats and rat snakes (commonly called chicken snakes).  You can do a search for the internet for how to identify the predators in your area…better yet go talk to some folks who raise chickens in your local area. Predator activity can vary greatly from location to location.  My chicken coop is surrounded by over 100 acres of forest and swamp habitat…perfect habitat for a thriving predator population. In the aerial photo above, you’ll find La Casita and Redbay Farm in the upper left hand corner. As you can see our place is nearly surrounded by forest.  Our chickens are kept behind La Casita.  If you live in the city or suburbia then your predator population may not be as active or as large as it is here at Redbay Farm and La Casita. What ever your situation try to follow my painfully learned chicken protection tips. I think you will dramatically minimize the possibility that predators will kill your hens. My chicken protection tips follow:

Tip # 1 – Build or buy a Strong Coop with fully enclosed run AND install an Automatic Door (This is the minimum your chickens deserve)

This could be a chicken tractor or permanently sited coop.  It is very likely are not going to keep your chickens cooped up at all times so you’ll need to build or buy a strong predator proof Chickenhousecollagecoop. My predator resistant coop has a covered run (protection from hawks/owls) and is surrounded by electric fence. I installed an automatic door for the chickens.  No matter how diligent you are you or someone in your family will forget to close the chicken coop door for the night. I strongly recommend an automatic light actuated door for your stationary coop or chicken tractor. I purchased a VSB  Electronic Door Keeper on Amazon. The device costs about $240.  Sounds like a lot money but the cost to replace a laying hen is about $20 dollars and a predator can wipe Covered chicken runout your whole flock in one night. The door is powered by 4 AA batteries. The collage shows my coop.  The vents at the top of the coop are secured with hardware cloth. Also, I also have electric fencing on the outside of my coop as an added incentive for predators to not mess with my chickens. The electric fencing on the coop is secondary to the electric fence on the perimeter of the field where I let my chickens “free range”.  My combination chicken coop and goat shed won’t win any beauty contest but it is very effective doing the job of protecting my chickens.

Tip # 2 – Fence the Perimeter of the Area Where Your Chickens will Range

Good fences help keep predators out.  Chickens that free range in an unfenced area are just fast food for predators. Permanent non electrified fencing is merely a Billyjungle gym for most predators.  A raccoon or opossum will climb almost any fence with ease.  Snakes will go through most yard fences.  Foxes (gray foxes will climb), coyotes and other predators will go under the fence.  Perimeter fences are inconsequential to hawks and owls.  In a suburban or city setting a yard fence will help to keep your chickens safe from domestic dogs.

The best fencing option I can recommend for the perimeter of  a yard or garden is an electric fence about 4 inches off of the ground with another strand at about 12 inches and another at about 24 to 36 inches.  I use an intermittent pulsing electric fence since I have lost chickens to a continuously pulsing electric fence in the past.  Pulsing electric fences shock the predator and create a psychological barrier.  An electric fence, if you can install one, will be a great step forward in saving chickens. Please check with your HOA, town or city to ensure that you can have an electric fence.  If you can that is great and you’ll have a ring of defense around your chicken coop.  Make sure your neighbors know you have an electric fence.  You don’t want them to be shocked when they find out about your new electric fence.

Grazing behind La Casita

The goats and chickens at the back yard fence of La Casita

Pulsing electric fences are of little danger to people.  In fact I have had guests staying at La Casita accidentally touch my well marked electric fence.  I have been shocked on more times than I can count. If you have an electric fence you will get shocked. You’ll find the shock of the electric fence is much more invigorating than a cup of coffee! It is unpleasant but if intermittent the danger to you or your animals is low.  If you install an electric fence install it right.  Visit my Electric Fence Installation page for installation tips. Correct installation is very important. Additionally, an electric fence requires line maintenance.  I walk my roughly quarter mile of electric fence every couple of weeks checking for breaks, limbs lying on the line and to trim grass/weeds.  Many fence controllers or fencers have an indicator to show if the fence is shorted out.  My fence controller is a Fi-shock 1000SX AC current powered 20 mile fence controller. I have a backup 12 volt battery powered DC fencer just in case of an extended power outage.

Tip #3 – Use Visual deterrents, alarms and provide good cover:

streamer

Close up of the scare tape. Note the duct tape used for reinforcement

The last recommendation is to utilize visual deterrents and audible alarms.  Visual deterrents are overhead streamers, pulsing lights and perhaps a predator decoy (owl decoys seem to work for some people).  I use a streamer made by predator guard that is suspended on a cord about 8 ft high between my shed and coop and the coop and a tree. I place about a 3 to 5 ft long streamer about every 2 or 3 paces along the overhead cord. The purpose of the string of streamers is to physically block flying predators and confuse them with reflections and noise.  I use Predatorguard “Scare Tape” which is a foil product that makes a lot of noise, reflects a lot of light and moves easily in the wind.

Predatorguard Deterrent Light

Predatorguard Deterrent Light at work

Predator Guard Scare Tape streamers

Streamers made with Predator Guard Scare Tape strung between buildings and trees.

For nighttime defense I use solar powered Predatorguard Deterrent Lights which flash a pair of red “eyes” intermittently throughout the night.  I place these on the coop. One up high to deter owls and one down low to deter four legged predators.  Lastly, I keep a rooster.  My rooster, One Eyed Willy is the survivor of a coop attack by a raccoon.  Despite being blind in one eye he is alert and devoted to keeping his 11 girls safe.  If anything looks out of place he sounds the alarm and the hens run for cover. The hens stay close to treed areas, under equipment, under their coop, or under the shed when resting or taking a dust bath.  My coop was intentionally built elevated to provide a hiding place for my hens in addition to being a great place for a dust bath or resting out of the hot sun.

hens at dragonfly pond

My flock of chickens at Dragonfly pond behind La Casita

Another physical deterrent and alarm you may want to consider are crows.  Crows will drive off hawks and Great Horned owls.  If you have crows in your area and you raise chickens thing carefully before trying to drive them off.  While the crows may eat some pecans, corn or even raid bird nests for eggs and chicks (even in the hen house) I believe that generally their faults are outweighed by there predator deterrent benefits.  Put a little corn out for the crows every once in a while.  They are great watchers, alarms and will drive off a hawk or owl.

Enjoy your flock!

I hope my tips have been useful to both current and future chicken keepers.  So, far after several months of operation I have lost 1 bantam hen to a hawk.  After which I put up the scare tape streamers.  Since then each morning after the door of the coop opens One Eyed Willy leads his girls out to forage.  I enjoy watching them in the morning as I drink my coffee.  As I watch I know that just outside the wire of the electric fence the predators are watching and waiting!  The job of protecting chickens is never done.  Good luck protecting your flock!

All the Best,

Jim Hamrick

Next Article: Making Your Own Charcoal

Dragonflies for Mosquito Control

***Update…with the threat of the Zika virus looming any natural method for keeping the mosquito population in check should be considered as a first choice.  Consider attracting dragonflies and damselflies to your yard and garden.  Additionally, enhance the habitat for small birds and consider fish ponds.  Make sure gutters are clean and the yard is picked up so that no water is collected for mosquito breeding.  Mosquito borne illnesses are serious business and the Zika virus is just the newest illness on the block.***

A decade ago I started a dragonfly pond behind the home we now call La Casita. My inspiration for building a dragonfly pond came from an observation I made one day while working to clear my lot.  I happened on a swarm of termites flying up from a rotting log. I was marveling at the swarm of termites flying up and out of the ground when all of the

dragonfly

Common Green Darner

sudden right in front of my face flew a dragonfly.  I stood motionless and watched as large common green darners flew back and forth mere inches from my face snatching the swarming termites and gobbling them up in mid-flight.  It was as if the eagles had arrived to battle the forces of darkness in Lord of the Rings. At that moment I became a friend of dragonflies.

Why not be friendly to a beautiful creature that eats all sorts of malevolent airborne pestilence…what’s not to like? Here are some quick dragonfly facts collected from the internet in various locations.  Dragonflies….

  • Are among the first winged insects known to have existed.  Some fossilized remains have been found of dragonflies with two foot wing spans! (how big were the mosquitoes?)
  • Belong to the order Odonata which means “toothed one” in Greek because dragonflies have serrated teeth.
  • Eat almost anything in their during their larvae stage when they live in water…mosquito larvae, other insects, fish, tadpoles and they are even cannibals.
  • Are amazing fliers…they do everything on wing except rest.  As when I observed the Green Darners they eat mid-flight.  While flying a dragonfly catches its prey with its feet and then eats the prey mid-flight. Dragonflies only eat while flying. If a dragonfly can’t fly it will starve.
  •   A dragonflies head is almost all eye.  With their amazing vision they can see almost everywhere except right behind them.
  • (A.K.A. mosquito hawks) are serious mosquito eater…one dragonfly can eat up to hundreds of mosquitoes per day!

Are you interested in witnessing the effectiveness of dragonflies?  Try this.  Find a lawn chair.  Find an area where dragonflies can be seen darting about next to a pond, in a park…where ever.  Don’t put on any mosquito repellent (be advised that mosquitoes do carry diseases but you’re a risk taker…right?).  Now, take your lawn chair and find a nice sunny spot and sit perfectly still.  Wait.  I bet that in a bit you’ll notice a dragonfly or two that keeps flying around you.  Guess what?  You have your own personal natural mosquito defense system coming to your rescue.  As the dragonfly flits back and forth it is eating mosquitoes and gnats that are attracted to you.  There is no better mosquito repellent.  However, some of us are more susceptible to mosquitoes.  I just recently had one guest who was eaten up with mosquitoes but no one else in the family was.  Hmmm…I found this interesting article on WebMD, “Are You a Mosquito Magnet?”, which indicates that about 10% of the population is very very attractive to mosquitoes. If you are a “mosquito magnet” and you are visiting La Casita please bring the bug spray that you like to use.  But just think how much worse it could be without the dragonflies!

I use dragonflies and their smaller cousins, damselflies, as a pretty effective natural biological mosquito control.  The focal point for this mosquito and gnat defense is Dragonfly Pond which is about 50 yards from La Casita in the pasture.  At La Casita except on the coldest days of winter on a bright sunny warm day you’ll see dragonflies.  In the summer you’ll see squadrons of my friends flitting back and forth through the yard and gardens.  The result? Even in the evenings on the back porch at La Casita it is rare to see many mosquitoes.  But as mentioned in the previous paragraph if you are a “mosiquito magnet” then I guess mosquitoes will run through any defenses to get to you.  Sorry.

Are you interested in having your own squadrons of dragonflies and or damselflies protecting your back yard?  If your answer is yes there are two options you can explore. You can build a dragonfly pond or even scale down and make a damselfly habitat. First, let’s explore building a dragonfly pond.  Step one is determining the dimensions of the pond you want to build. The ideal dragonfly pond is at least 20′ (~6 meters) in diameter and at least 2′ (~.75 meters) deep and has sloping sides. Visit this “How to Build a Dragonfly Pond” article for additional instructions.

To construct my dragonfly pond I used my two wheel drive Farmtrac 60 tractor, a plow, my front end loader and a pond scoop.  You tractor driving types will know what kind of equipment I’m talking about.  If you aren’t a farmer or don’t have access to heavy equipment you may

need to scale back the size of your pond but don’t worry, there are other options available to you. If you don’t have room or equipment to build a dragonfly pond why not build a barrel pond to attract dragonflies, damselflies and other creatures. 

farmtrac1

Dragonfly Pond after construction.

Anyway, during the droughts we had in North Carolina a few years ago I first plowed the sunny low area where I wanted to dig my pond. Then I followed that step and dug out the loosened soil with my front end loader and pond scoop.  I kept repeating these steps until I had created a pond that is about 20′ (~6 meters) x 30′ (~9 meters) and 4′ (~1.2 meters) deep.  I have clay subsoil so I simply kept driving my tractor through the dry pond to create a natural pond liner.  Since completion the pond has never completely dried up.  My homes all drain into the pond so each rainfall helps keep the water level sustained. Bull rushes and other aquatic plants naturally began to grow on the banks of the pond.  Mosquito fish were introduced during a flood.  To jump start the pond I put some pond water and mud in the pond (contains bacteria, larvae and eggs of pond life). Frogs found and love the pond as does Mango the snapping turtle (the turtle loves mango peels) and innumerable crayfish.  The pond may not look like much but it is teeming with life.  In the spring and summer the frogs singing is amazing!

There are numerous methods for digging ponds and techniques for lining the pond so that it holds water.  What ever method you use remember for a dragonfly pond you want to site it in a sunny area, it should have sloping sides and it should be at least two feet deep. I recommend you consider diverting the water from the roof of your home to the pond. This way you’ll not only be keeping your pond full but you’ll be helping to control suburban water run off which is a contributor to the pollution of our waterways.  Your dragonfly pond could sit adjacent to a wetland bog/rain garden that is flooded during periods of heavy rainfall. The picture titled “How does a rain garden work” is from The Tipp of the Mitt Watershed website Rain Gardens page.

chickens at dragonfly pond

Our flock of chickens at Dragonfly pond

A dragonfly pond is more than just a bare pond…it is a habitat.  To optimize the environment for dragonflies you need vertical plants or poles for dragonflies to roost, different colored stones or logs for dragonflies (they are cold blooded creatures) to sit and warm themselves and nearby bushes/grasses for insect habitat.  Ideally your little pond will, like mine, become a magnet for wildlife that will attract the flying jewels we call dragonflies and damselflies.  Attracting dragonflies for mosquito control may not be 100% effective but believe me dragonflies make a big difference in how much you will enjoy your yard.  So, make a dragonfly habitat, keep some mosquito repellent around for the 10% of people who are mosquito magnets and enjoy watching your new friends as the fly through air eating hundreds of insects which would like to be eating you! Please remember that dragonflies are only one aspect of controlling mosquitoes.  Another key part of your anti-mosquito regime is to keep you yard and garden sanitary. Don’t forget to make sure gutters don’t hold any standing water, that you keep the bird bath water changed and that you make sure there are no other places which hold standing water in which mosquitoes can breed.  Dragonflies, damselfies and eliminating standing water are just the tip of the iceberg for mosquito control.  I recommend reading this Mother Earth News article, “How to Keep Mosquitoes Away” by Barbara Pleasant, to learn about a broad array of things that can be done to mitigate the dangers of mosquitoes. Here at La Casita and Redbay Farm we have instituted many of the ideas mentioned in the article.

I wish you the best of luck with your project and hope that in the near future you can sit on your own back porch and watch the acrobatics of dragonflies as they make your yard and garden a more enjoyable place to be.

References:

McGuigan, Tony – Ribbit’s Time of Year

Miller, Elizabeth – Mosquitoes Have Natural Enemies: Some Predators work Better than Others for Mosquito Control

Pleasant, Babara – Mother Earth News, How to Keep Mosqitoes Away

Orkin article – Mosquito Predators

Smithsonian.com – 14 Fun Facts about Dragonflies

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council – Rain Gardens

WebMD – Are You a Mosquito Magnet?

Wikihow.com – How to Attract Dragonflies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our New Solar Shower

There are few things more relaxing than taking a shower au naturel  in an out door shower. I had wanted an outdoor shower for years especially since I live near the beach, do a lot of heavy outdoor work, and have received constant “encouragement” from my who tired of me trudging through the house in my dirty clothes to the shower.

I thought about hooking into house hot and cold water supplies but I was intrigued by setting up a solar shower. Originally I was going to build the solar shower like the one Kurt Anderson describes in his article How to Build & Enjoy An Outdoor Solar Shower. I really liked the plan but after I tallied up all the expenses I decided to look at other alternatives.

I googled solar showers and found all sorts of iterations of the idea. Most commercially developed solar showers are a 6″ to 8″ diameter PVC pipe that is vertical and contains many of the components shown in the illustration from Cabinlife.com . I purchased one of these solar showers from Best pools.com via Ebay.

Best Pools sent the solar shower promptly but without directions and without a complete hose adapter. I had to jury rig the adapter to a piece of hose to complete the water connection. Best Pools sent an adapter but it didn’t work so I just double hose clamped the jury rigged connection which stopped all leaking. Our newly installed solar shower is already being used by guests at La Casita…and they love it!

La Casita's solar shower

Ourdoor solar shower with La Choza de Caza (The Hunting Shack) and Redbay Farm in the distant background.

I installed the solar shower along side an existing fence. First I dug a trench to install a 3/4″ water line from an outside spigot to where I wanted the solar shower would be installed. Then I built a partition about 6′ high and 6′ by 8′ for the enclosure. The solar shower is mounted on the stringers for the partition. For the floor I decided to build platforms on about a 3″ gravel bed spread over a weed barrier. The shower drains from the shower via a French drain into a drywell.

Solar shower exterior

The solar shower showing the nice privacy wall. The top of Redbay Cottage is in the background.

If you plan to build a solar shower like this plan to spend about $500.  The shower costs about $180. The rest of the materials included 3/4″ PVC waterline, pea gravel, treated lumber and fasteners.

I’ve used the solar shower several times as have my guests.  Very enjoyable! Hopefully my guests and my family will enjoy this solar shower for years to come.

Hammocks Beach State Park

Going to Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island is the top thing to do fHammocks Beachor people vacationing in Swansboro (according to Trip Advisor reviews).  Our La Casita guests agree! This article provides a bit of information on how to get to the park and some history on how the park was established.

How to get to the park: Hammocks Beach State Park is about 3 miles from La Casita. The park is on the right near the end of Hammocks Beach Road at 1572 Hammocks Beach Road, Swansboro, NC 28584. At the park you’ll take the ferry over to Bear Island (a Southern Outer Banks barrier island).  Bear Island is undeveloped and can only be reached by boat.  We have had guests stay at La Casita for a week and they have gone to Hammocks Beach State Park every day. Guests routinely tell me that Bear Island is among the best beaches they have ever visited.

Then take the ferry to Bear Island: To get to Bear Island you will have to take the ferry or a private boat. The park ferry is a large passenger only pontoon boat. It is wheel chair accessible. The ferry makes runs to the island starting at 9:30 AM every day in the summer. There is more limited service in the Spring and Fall.  There is no ferry service in the winter.  Throughout the year Bear Island is always accessible by private boat.

Ferry Fees

  • Adult roundtrip — $5
  • Senior Citizen (62 or older) roundtrip — $3
  • Children ages 6-12 roundtrip — $3
  • Annual Ferry Pass — $50
Aerial View of Hammocks Beach State Park

NC Coastal Federation photo

On Bear Island you will find a Beach Pavilion which has showers, bathrooms and a concession stand. There is a life guard at the beach.

For more information on Hammocks Beach State Park schedules and amenities visit the park website.

Hammocks Beach State Park has an interesting history: The park is much more than the beach at Bear Island. For more information about the park history and a recent land acquisition I recommend the reading the articles found at the links listed below:

 

Mark Simmerson’s History of Bear Island, 2004 which provides a wealth of information about Dr. Sharpe and John Hurst and how those names are entwined in the history of Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island

More about Huggins Island…another part of Hammocks Beach State Park and location of the only remaining intact Confederate earthworks fort. – Swansboro History Website

Jones Island (the island you see in the middle of the White Oak River north of the bridges) … yet another part of Hammocks Beach State Park – North Carolina Coastal Federation

$10 million sale adds 290 acres to Onslow County coastal park – Raleigh News and Observer

Deal Could Add Land to Hammocks Beach (pre land deal agreement but provides useful background information on the park) NC Coastal Federation

Visit Hammocks Beach State Park: Hammocks Beach State Park is a great destination that is enjoyed by many people who visit Swansboro.  You, your family and your friends will have a great time!

 

Redbay Farm Chicken Update

Willy and his hens at dragonfly pond

The Redbay Farm Chickens at Dragonfly Pond

I took this photo earlier today of Willy the One Eyed Rooster and his hens at Dragonfly Pond.  All of the Buff Orpingtons (the blonde chickens) are beginning to lay.  The little Barred Rocks are a couple of months younger.  Nice photo of our chicken flock with the reflection on the pond.

New Yard Features coming to La Casita

Around the 4th of July I will be adding two new features to the back yard of La Casita.  I’ll be adding a water well and a outdoor solar shower.

Solar Shower to be installed at La Casita

Solar Shower that I’ll be installing at La Casita

I just recently completed a water well project for the gardens at Redbay Cottage.  The well is a double well with a total of about 8 ft of well screen on 1 1/4 inch galvanized pipe.  The wells are about 18 ft deep.  The draw on the well is superb.  You can pump water from that well using one finger.  The well in the back yard or as some say the back garden will be used to provide water for the flowers and trees as well as to provide a supply of fresh water for a small dragon fly pond.  If you want learn about ‘washing’ down a well I recommend visiting the Drill Your Own Well website. I constructed a drill head and drill pipe using the directions found on the website.  The device works great in my clay/sand soil.  The La Casita well will be dug using many of the techniques discussed on the Drill Your Own Well Website.

New Water well

Our new well at Redbay Cottage

For the solar shower I was set on making the solar shower myself but after I priced out materials I decided to order this solar shower off of Ebay.  The solar shower will allow for guests to take a warm shower in a private shower area after they return from the beach.

Children will love pumping water if I can get the same ease of pumping I achieved on my well next door.  In the summer they will be astonished at how cold the water is.  In the winter they will be astonished at how warm the water is.  A simple water well provides a great lesson in the value of geothermal energy.  The temperature of well water averages just over 60 degrees F here in Eastern North Carolina.  The attached video is focused on promoting geothermal heating and cooling…maybe one day we’ll install such a system at La Casita.

Great Guests at La Casita

LaCasitaVistorsWe’ve hosted people from far and wide at La Casita.  We’re lucky to be hosting another great family from the Midwest of the United States. They’re  having a great time at La Casita and enjoying the local area and all of the amenities that come with a stay at our little 5-star destination.  About a fifth of our visitors come from the Midwest of the United States.  The chart shows where all of our visitors come from.  While we thought we would host some folks from around the country we never

Eastern North Carolina

La Casita is located in Swansboro which is in Onslow County, NC.

expected to host European visitors.  I don’t know why we didn’t…anyway, now, for example, I know the difference between a tea pot and a tea kettle.  I learn something new with every guest.  It has just been a real pleasure being a host and introducing our guests to all of the natural beauty and history to be found here in Eastern North Carolina.