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Road Salt Alternatives: Non-Clumping Cat Litter

With environmental sustainability in mind, many people are looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional products.

For many years salt has been used to melt ice on sidewalks, driveways and public roads however salt is not only hazardous to the environment and animals but also to vehicles, concrete and asphalt surfaces. Salt can harm vegetation and water supplies, it may attract animals to busy and dangerous roadways, burn the paws of pets, leaves salt residue on driveways and sidewalks and rust vehicles and other equipment. The active ingredient in most ice melt products is salt. It can be either sodium chloride, like table salt, or calcium chloride, which will melt ice at lower temperatures and is more harmful to the environment. Often ice melt products will contain both sodium and calcium based salts.

Experimenting with alternative products, it has been found that natural, non-clumping cat litters, such as Special Kitty, WC Cat and Cattitudes, are great eco-friendly substitutes to salt. These products can be sprinkled on driveways and walkways to provide traction in icy conditions. It has also been highly recommended that these products be kept in the trunk of a vehicle while traveling. Not only will a bag of Special Kitty, WC Cat or Cattitudes add weight to the rear of the vehicle to increase traction on ice and snow but it can also be used in the case that the vehicle becomes stuck. In this event, the non-clumping cat litter can be sprinkled under the tires for extra traction.

Special Kitty, WC Cat and Cattitudes cat litters are natural, environmentally friendly alternatives to salt that will not harm vegetation, animals, vehicles, cement or paved surfaces.

**Please Note: do not use clumping cat litter for this purpose, as it becomes slippery when wet and can cause accidents.

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Diatomaceous Earth and Chickens: Common Uses and Application Methods

Mother hen with baby chicks

With so much information available on the web it can be hard to get a concise answer as to how diatomaceous earth products are commonly used with chickens. This article encompasses the most common uses of diatomaceous earth for chickens, providing a guide to help you discover new possible ways to use DE.

In Chicken Feed

The Benefits: Red Lake Earth Diatomaceous Earth is meant to be mixed in livestock feed as an anti-caking agent and flow aid. What this means is that the product prevents grain and feed from clumping together, as well as helping to lubricate feed materials being compressed into pellets.

Application: Red Lake Earth Diatomaceous Earth can be mixed into feed (on a daily basis) at a rate of 2% of the animals’ total diet.

As a Dust Bath

The Benefits: Many people find that food grade diatomaceous earth dust bath materials, such as Fresh Coop Dust Bath, create the perfect dust bath for their backyard birds. The DE absorbs excess oils in the feathers and helps to keep a flock happy and healthy.

Application: Most commonly, individuals spread the Fresh Coop Dust Bath powder in areas where their chickens naturally dust themselves. However, the product may also be dumped into a tub or other container and set out for the birds to use as a dust bath.

In the Coop

The Benefits: Diatomaceous Earth, specifically Fresh Coop Odor Control, is often sprinkled around chicken coops to help reduce moisture and odors, as well as dangerous ammonia levels that build up.

Application: Spread the Fresh Coop Odor Control powder around the perimeter of your coop using your hands, a small scoop or other application device. As well, apply the product in any cracks or crevices throughout the coop.

If you have any suggested uses or application methods we would love to hear from you! Share your ideas with us on facebook or contact us directly

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What to Compost: Interesting Things You Can Compost

Interesting things to compost

Does your compost consist of common waste including the usual fruit and vegetable peels, leaves, grass clippings, etc.? Consult the list below to make the most out of your compost bin and start composting some of these surprising items!

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Paper napkins
  • Crumbs from the counters and floors
  • Plain cooked pasta and rice
  • Bread
  • Olive pits
  • Cereals, crackers, chips, cookies, etc.
  • Nut shells (except walnut shells, which contain a chemical that can be toxic to plants)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Pretzels
  • Pizza crusts
  • Cereal boxes (torn into small pieces)
  • Wine corks
  • Moldy cheese
  • Melted ice cream
  • Old jelly, jam, or preserves
  • Beer and wine
  • Cardboard and paper egg cartons
  • Toothpicks
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Facial tissues
  • Human and pet hair
  • Nail clippings
  • 100% cotton balls
  • Dryer lint
  • 100 % cotton or wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces)
  • Pencil shavings
  • Paper business cards (as long as they aren’t glossy)
  • Receipts
  • Newspapers (shredded or torn into small pieces)
  • Ashes from the fireplace, barbecue grill, or outdoor fire pit
  • Latex balloons
  • Feathers
  • Dry dog or cat food
  • Wood chips and sawdust
  • Fabric sheets from the dryer
  • Paper bags (ripped or balled up)
  • Post-it notes
  • Pizza boxes (ripped into small pieces)
  • Paper plates (as long as they don’t have a waxy coating)
  • Paper envelopes, bills and other documents (make sure not to compost envelopes with
  • plastic windows and that the paper has been shredded)
  • Paper or wood-based matches
  • Paper towel/ toilet paper/ wrapping paper rolls
  • Leather belts, shoes, wallets, gloves (it is best if the leather is fairly old)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Masking tape
  • Jell-O (gelatin)
  • Paper muffin and cupcake cups
  • Price tags
  • Candy (with the wrapper removed)
  • Chewing gum
  • Old rope
  • Dead houseplants
  • Halloween pumpkins
  • Rawhide dog chews

Please note that not all of these items are organic and therefore should not be added to your compost if it will be used in an organic garden.

Image by Becky F

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Crazy Ants

Raspberry crazy ants are named after Tom Raspberry, an exterminator who first discovered them in Texas in 2002. Originating in South America, Raspberry crazy ants are also known as tawny ants or Nylanderia fulva. The species is referred to as “crazy ant” due to their quick, erratic and somewhat psychotic behavior. Raspberry crazy ants are reddish-brown in color. Colonies do not have centralized nests or mounds but, rather, live under stones or piles. Large colonies can have numbers in the billions and, in some cases, they may be so tightly packed together that they are mistaken for dirt. Crazy ants do not fly and therefore only move, on average, 200 meters per year. However, they are spread via humans in abandoned boxes, potted plants, vehicles, etc. Crazy ant colonies have established themselves throughout the states along the Gulf Coast of the United States as well as in at least 27 counties in Texas. They have also been seen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia.

Crazy ants have the ability to harm the environment, effecting ecosystems by reducing the number of other invertebrates, including spiders and centipedes, which are staples for species like birds. As well, crazy ants may cause property damage and are commonly known for destroying electrical equipment including car stereos, circuit boxes, laptops, water pumps, gas meters, machinery and apparently have even temporarily shut down chemical plants. So many ants will gather inside of a device that they form a single mass that shorts the circuit. While crazy ants do not sting, they are capable of killing animals through asphyxiation. They may smother chicks as they are hatching, obstruct the nasal cavities of chickens, causing asphyxiation, and even swarm into cows’ eyes.

Crazy ants are the first known insect species with the ability to protect themselves from another insect’s poison. The ants cover themselves with formic acid which protects them from being affected by the venom of their close relative the fire ant. This acid is exuded from where a stinger would normally be located on other ant species. This area also allows crazy ants to spray their enemies, contributing to their survival by allowing them to eliminate competing species that would usually keep them at bay. In fact, crazy ant colonies have the ability to take over active nests from other ant species as well as overtake beehives. They will infiltrate any cavity available, including pipes, fuse boxes and even the inner-workings of a car.

Crazy ants are very difficult to exterminate. With one colony having multiple queens, they reproduce quickly and can easily rebound even after an extermination. In the fall, a colony may experience a large loss of worker ants due to a drop in temperature however, the queens survive and come spring an even larger population may emerge.

It is suggested, by Paul Nester, a program specialist with Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension Services, that individuals modify their homes and gardens to help protect their property from crazy ants. It is suggested that homeowners remove mulch, potted plants and wood piles, fallen tree limbs, rocks, and other objects sitting directly on the ground to eliminate areas where crazy ants may thrive. Crazy ants prefer humid, wet conditions therefore it is advised that individuals reduce the amount of irrigation, repair leaks and improve drainage to help prevent infestations. It is also important to inspect anything being moved from an infested area in order to avoid the transfer of crazy ants to a new location.

Please note: If you suspect that your house or property is infested with crazy ants it is important to call a pest control professional.

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Turf Pests: The European Chafer

What is a European Chafer?

The European chafer (Rhizotrogus majalis) was first discovered in the United States in 1940 when a grub was found in a nursery near Rochester, New York. European chafers are native to western and central Europe but have been reported in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Michigan, Delaware, southern Ontario and British Columbia.

The European chafer is a very serious pest that affects turf, horticulture, and field crops. In fact, the European chafer is more damaging to home lawns and turf than the Japanese beetle. Unlike the Japanese beetle, however, the European chafer is not a problem in daily irrigated turf.

Adult European chafer beetles are tan in color and resemble a small June beetle. The larvae, or grubs, have C-shaped bodies and brown heads and can reach up to 1 inch (25 mm) long, when mature.

European chafer eggs hatch in mid-July. Mature grubs feed during the fall and are well adapted to the cool moist conditions. The grub remain within 2 inches (5 cm) of the surface of the turf, except when freezing conditions exist in which case they dig down further into the soil. The grubs feed throughout the spring until approximately April when they become pupae. In May, they emerge from the turf as adults and fly to nearby deciduous trees to mate and feed. Adult beetles are active at dusk and can be seen in groups in deciduous trees. They, however, do not cause any damage.

It is the European chafer grubs that cause damage. The grubs feed most heavily on grass roots from August to November and from March to early May. Even during the winter months, grubs may resume feeding during warm spells. They feed on all types of grass and may move into vegetable plantings and other crops, if they are in large numbers and food is scarce. The grubs prefer to feed on fibrous roots, and can damage ornamental and nursery plants by reducing their fibrous root system. While most of the damage is done by the grubs in the fall and early spring, it may not be noticed until drier weather results in the appearance of brown, dying patches of turf or other crops. In addition to the damage caused by the grubs themselves, further damage may be caused in the fall and winter by animals, such as skunks and birds, which will dig up the grass to feed on the grubs. While animals feeding on larvae may damage turf, it is also beneficial in that it helps to decrease the pest population.

How Can I Check for an Infestation?

In order to check for grubs, cut 3 sides of a 12 x 12 inch (30 x 30 cm) piece of sod to a depth of 2 inches (5 cm), and fold it back to count the grubs. Healthy, well-irrigated turf can withstand low levels of grub feeding however, in the case that more than 20 grubs are found, control may be warranted.

How Can I Protect My Yard and Garden?

In order to help protect your lawn mow it at approximately 2-4 inches (6- 9 cm) in height, as taller turf is less preferred by egg-laying female beetles, and is more drought tolerant. Do not re-seed until feeding is completed and grubs have pupated. Do not remove soil from infested areas and do not import plants form infested areas, as European chafers can be spread to new areas by movement of infested soil.

How Can I Eliminate an Infestation?

If an infestation occurs, certain pesticides are often helpful in eliminating the problem. These pesticides are best applied to non-frozen turf in the fall and early spring. Before applying, remove excessive thatch and irrigate the soil (if it is dry) to bring the grubs to the surface. After a treatment has been applied, water the treated area to move the product into the root zone.

Food grade diatomaceous earth is often used for insect control and can be an effective alternative to chemical pesticides. While the product is not registered for use against European chafer grubs, and has not been tested against them, pests with similar body types are often eradicated using DE. Last Crawl Insect DEstroyer Insecticide , when in direct contact with pests such as caterpillars and slugs will work to kill them by lacerating their bodies and dehydrating them. By applying DE under your turf or watering it into the lawn, you may be able to help kill European chafer grubs.

If your infestation is large or the problem persists, the help of a pest control professional may be the best solution.

Have you used Last Crawl Insect DEstroyer Insecticide to help eliminate a European chafer grub infestation? We would love to hear your story!

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The Bed Bug Epidemic

For almost sixty years the developed world has lived in peace from bed bugs. In fact, bed bugs were almost non-existent in countries like Canada and the United States after WWII. However, in the last few years bed bug infestations have risen by approximately 500%. These infestations have affected homes, hotels and other public places including movie theaters and clothing stores.

Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. The species that we most commonly refer to, and those that are found in homes, hotels, and other public places, prefer to feed on human blood.

Bed bugs do not spread disease but do leave large, painful welts where they have bit their victim. As well, the saliva of bed bugs has been known to cause allergic reactions in people. In some cases individuals may even develop asthma or (although very rarely) life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

A baby bed bug is the size of a pinhead while a full-grown adult is about the size of an apple seed. These insects are nocturnal and wait for night to come out and feed on bare patches of skin. A person experiencing a severe infestation can get up to 500 bites per night!

Beg bugs like to hide in dark spots, as they do not like light and are less likely to be disturbed here. It may be difficult to find a live bed bug when searching your room so be sure to look for the signs of bed bugs including rust-colored spots (blood stains), eggs, molted skins and black specks.

Despite their name, bed bugs do not just live in mattresses and bedding in fact, the insects can live in anything from couches to luggage to clothing. Beg bugs are most commonly found in the following places:

  • Box springs: bed bugs love the wood frame of a box spring so be sure to look underneath, in any cracks or crevices and even inside.
  • Furniture: bed bugs may hide in the cracks and crevices of sofas, behind headboards, and the backs and undersides of night stands.
  • Wall: bed bugs can be found behind pictures, paintings and wallpaper.
  • Theaters: bed bugs can be found on the seats at the movie theatre and may climb onto your clothing or even into your belongings. When looking for bed bugs check the cracks and crevices of the seat and under the armrests.
  • Malls: clothing stores are most at risk as many people try on, take home and return the same piece of clothing before it permanently leaves the store. Be sure to check the clothing under the arms, behind the collar, inside cuffs and at the seams, as this is where bed bugs may hide.

There are various methods of getting rid of bedbugs and some are more effective and economical than others.

For more information on bed bugs and how to get rid of them check out: Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs

Image by Medill DC – Courtesy of the National Pest Management Association

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Fall Gardening: Tips and Ideas

Squirrel in the Fall Leaves

Fall is here and winter is fast approaching! In order to keep your garden healthy and prepare it for the spring there are some crucial steps you should take. Here are some fall gardening tips to help keep your flowers flourishing and prepare your garden for next year.

  • Remove any dead heads (dead flowers).
  • Regularly water your plants and provide them with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Cut back annuals and diseased plants to half their height and they will rebound. Perennials can be cut back too but make sure not to do this too early.
  • Do not dispose of any plant until you are sure it’s dead and can not be revived. To test to see if the plant is dead give it a gentle tug, if its roots hold then it is still alive.
  • Remove the leaves from any grassy areas that you have as it is crucial for the grass to get sunlight during the fall months. As well, remove any diseased leaves from under your plants as they will spread disease spores to your plants in the spring if they are left on the soil all winter.
  • Use winter mulch to help keep your plants at an even temperature as they may die during periods of irregular temperature conditions.
  • Protect your newly planted bulbs from squirrels by planting the bulbs in large groups, flooding the soil above them with water and covering them with leaves. Squirrels are able to locate bulbs by detecting disturbed soil. By creating these diversions you can outwit them and protect your garden.
  • Don’t wrap you’re your plants too tightly in burlap, as this can do more harm than good by holding ice against their tissues.

Image by FilippoD

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Spring Vegetables

Spring has sprung! And it’s time to start planting your garden!

Early spring is a great time to start growing hardy vegetables like kale, spinach and collards. These veggies are able to withstand hard frost and, in fact, taste best when they mature in cool weather.

However, there are many more vegetables that are suitable for your spring garden! These include:

  • Spinach – depending on the weather, and the variety of spinach that you’ve planted, your spinach can begin to be harvested within three weeks of planting!
  • Swiss chard – while the Swiss chard leaves may take up to 50 days to reach their full size, some varieties of Swiss chard can be harvested as baby greens in as little as 25 days.
  • Peas – depending on the variety, peas may take from 50 to 65 days to mature
  • Brussel sprouts – Brussel sprouts may take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to mature.
  • Onions – from seed onions can take 3 to 5 months to mature. Planting onion ‘sets’ or small bulbs however, can shorten this maturity time to 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Cauliflower – cauliflower can be harvested 30 to 80 days after being planted.
  • Beets – on average, beets can be harvested within 50 to 70 days.
  • Carrots – carrots take approximately 2.5 months to mature.
  • Radishes – many varieties of radishes can be harvested in as little as 3 weeks.
  • Lettuce – while it may take approximately 55 to 75 days for the leaves to be fully grown depending on the variety), baby greens may be harvested in as little as 2 weeks.
  • Cabbage – for most green cabbage varieties, harvesting can occur approximately 70 days after planting.
  • Broccoli – broccoli may take anywhere from 45 to 60 days before it can be harvested.
  • Celery – some varieties of celery may be as little as 60 days to grow to maturity.
  • Potatoes – depending on the variety, potatoes may take 90 – 110 (or more) days to mature. Early varieties including ‘Irish Cobbler’, ‘Caribe’, ‘Red Norland’ and ‘King Harry’ mature in less than 90 days.

Full sized kale leaves can mature in 40 to 60 days, however baby kale leaves may be harvested in as little as 3 weeks. Both spinach and collard can be harvested approximately 4 to 6 weeks after being planted.

Please note: Lettuce and Swiss chard should to be covered if temperatures drop below freezing.

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Poultry Mites

One of the most common problems that is faced when raising poultry is that of mites. There are several different types of mites that can infest flocks and poultry housing. These mites can result in production and economic losses as well as eventual death if the problem goes unresolved.

These mites can come from many different sources. Wild birds and rodents entering the coop may bring them in or they may be picked up at sales, auctions or shows where many birds are in close contact.

Chicken mites are the most common type that may infest your flock. Chicken mites are nocturnal and feed on the bird’s blood while they sleep at night. They are tiny and yellow or gray in color however they get darker as they feed. Chicken mites live on the skin of birds as well as in nest boxes and bedding. While they prefer chickens as their host, chicken mites may also infest turkeys, pigeons, canaries as well as wild birds. Chicken mites are also known as red mites, gray mites and roost mites. They are a particular problem in warmer climates and in poultry houses that contain wooden roosts. An infestation may cause your birds to become anemic and lethargic with pale comb and wattles.

Chicken mites are considered to be members of the spider family. They are very quick runners and live in the cracks and crevices of poultry houses, on the roosts, walls, ceiling, and floors. The spring, summer and fall months are when these mites are most active.

The most effective way to get rid of these mites is to treat the coop rather than the birds themselves. In fact, you may never see these mites on your birds unless they are examined at night.

Northern fowl mites are another common type of mite. These parasites infect many types of birds including chickens, turkeys and game birds and are thought to be carried by English sparrows. They live directly on the birds and will feed at all times. They are red/brown in color and will cause discoloration of a birds’ feathers. This discoloration is due to the eggs and waste that is left by the mite. If a flock is highly infested the birds may experience anemia leading to decreased egg production, decreased immune functioning, weight loss and many other negative side effects. Infestations may be found to be more severe during the winter months.

Treatment of the birds themselves is most effective for getting rid of these types of mites.

Scaly leg mites may also pose a threat to your poultry. These mites live on the scales of a chickens legs and feet. The scales will begin to lift and separate from the skin. The chickens legs and feet may become swollen and tender and discharge may form under the scales.

Another problem that is faced by poultry farmers is lice. Unlike mites, lice do not feed on blood but rather on dry skin scales and feathers. They have chewing mouth parts rather than the sucking mouth parts possessed by mites. Lice can be found on the skin of a bird, especially on the head, under the wings and around the vent. The chewing action of the lice as well as their movement on the skin will irritate the bird and can result in loss of appetite, weakness, lowered egg production, and susceptibility to illness.

In the case of both lice and mites, untreated birds may exhibit symptoms such as weakening, loss of appetite, emaciation, lowered egg production, lethargy, and even eventually death. It is therefore important to constantly monitor your flock and to immediately treat your birds as soon as signs of an infestation occur.

A minimum of 10 randomly selected birds should be examined for mites weekly. You can estimate the infestation level by blowing on the bird’s feathers and counting the mites you see.

If there are:

  • 5 mites counted = bird may be carrying from 100 to 300 mites
  • 6 mites counted = bird may be carrying from 300 to 1,000 mites (light infestation)
  • 7 mites counted = bird may be carrying from 1,000 to 3,000 mites – small clumps of mites seen on skin and feathers (moderate infestation)
  • 8 mites counted = bird may be carrying from 3,000 to 10,000 mites – accumulation of mites on skin and feathers (moderate to heavy infestation)
  • 9 mites counted = bird may be carrying 10,000 to 32,000 or more mites – numerous large clumps of mites seen on skin and feathers; skin pocketed with scabs (heavy infestation)

When treating for mites it is important to apply treatment to both the coop and the birds themselves. This is due to the fact that, unlike lice, some mites are able to live both on and off of their host.

A variety of treatments and preventative measures are currently available. Pesticides are a common method of treatment however mites and lice can become immune to these pesticides and therefore the technique will no longer be effective. Diatomaceous earth (such as DE-cide) may be a solution that will not become ineffective over time.

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Backyard Chickens: Winter Tips

Chicken outside in the snow

Caring for backyard chickens during the winter months will require some additional work on your part, as cold weather can produce many challenges.

Here are some tips to consider to help keep your chickens happy and healthy during the winter season:

  • Ensure that your coop has sufficient ventilation in order to prevent moisture from building up. A damp coop during cold weather can lead to frost bite on your chickens’ feet, combs and wattles. Some people will also cover their birds’ combs and wattles with petroleum jelly to help prevent frost bite during very cold weather.
  • Don’t use a heater! This could cause a fire! Rather, provide your chickens with a thick layer of bedding to help keep them warm. Roosts are also helpful in keeping your chickens warm during the winter by keeping them off of the ground. Be sure that there is enough space for all of your birds to roost.
  • Provide your birds with an additional light source, especially during short, dark days. Providing a light source for a few extra hours per day will help to keep your hens laying throughout the winter.
  • Feed your chickens cracked corn. The addition of cracked corn will help your chickens to produce body heat. (As their body’s digest the corn, body heat is generated.)
  • Watch for freezing water! Many individuals will use electric water heaters in very cold climates. If you are not using a water heater, be sure to check and change water buckets regularly to prevent freezing. Providing warm water will also help.
  • The same is true for eggs! Be sure to collect eggs from the coop several times a day to ensure that they do not freeze.

Please note: While it is important to help your chickens stay warm during the winter, it is not necessary to entirely seal up the coop. Chickens will follow their natural instincts and will know whether they want to be inside or out. Providing your birds with an access door so that they can move in and out of the coop freely may be a good idea.

Image by n0rthw1nd