Dawn and dusk are beautiful times to be at the farm. Things are peaceful and even through the recent abnormal heat wave, there tends to be a strand of cool air here and there, and a little bit of dew collects on my shoes and ankles.
Another special part of being outside during those crepuscular times, is the chance of seeing bats. I think of bats as our “night crew.” They excel at pest management, which benefits us (fewer mosquitoes) and our crops (fewer crop pests). Quiet little volunteers.
Bats are as much a superhero as Batman, but without the $250 million production costs, multiplex surround sound, jumbo GMO popcorn or bladder-challenging soda. To me, their fantastic flying ability, excellent prey capture skills, incomprehensible sonar location ability, and quiet, mysterious life is far more exciting than anyone’s cinematic creation.
Unfortunately, little brown bats are challenged by a fungal disease called white nose syndrome that has spread through their population and is causing tremendous decline (some reports are up to 90% mortality for our Northeast population of little brown bats). Besides natural ecosystem disruption, this could significantly affect agriculture over the next few years, as bats play a huge influence on insect pest management, decreasing the need for quantities of pest control. Sadly, WNS is fatal.
Please report any dead bats, any bats you see out during the middle of the day or behaving abnormally to your area Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. If you see a live bat, feel thankful, and wish it wellness! They are amazing little winged mammals, and they are doing a significant amount of pest management work for you!
To encourage bats to reside at your farm, build a few bat boxes. They are easy to make and a great project for a helper of any age. Here are a few specs to keep in mind:
• Bat box plans are available for free online through National Wildlife Federation (nwf.org), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov), and Bat Conservation (batcon.org).
• Make the box tight and narrow.
• Place in full sun (for growers in the Northeast, North-Central, Northwest and Rockies). The rest of the U.S., besides southern Arizona and central and southern Texas, should put their bat boxes in medium shade. Southern Arizona and central and southern Texas should put their bat boxes in full shade and paint the boxes with a light color.
• Mounting one box on the north side of the pole, and one on the south side of the pole is the best.
• Put on a post 12-15 feet off the ground (to keep predators out). Boxes mounted in trees tend not to work.
• Use water-based paints (or none at all).
• Do not put near bright lights.
Register now for the Growers’ School in November! It will be a great way to celebrate the year with ASCFG friends, learn from the best of the best (REALLY! The Best of the BEST!) and prepare for your farm’s future. A strong and profitable 2014 begins in November, at the ASCFG Grower’s Business School. See you there!
Wishing you all a great growing season—and lots of bat-helpers too!