Handmade Feed

Using microbat roosting boxes to manage mozzies

Microbat_roost_box_milkwood

The mosquito season is about to begin. I'm one of those fortunate people that mosquitoes don’t like the taste of. My husband isn't so lucky. A husband bothered by mozzies isn't much fun – so I'm preparing our natural mosquito control arsenal.

Mosquito coils aren't part of our mozzie control kit.

Smoke from mosquito coils contains carcinogens and fine particles that can damage your lungs.

Studies investigating the harmful components of mosquito coil smoke suggest that sitting in a closed room with a burning mosquito coil is equivalent to smoking anywhere from 51 to 137 cigarettes.

Popping a mosquito coil by your table while enjoying a barbecue is as hazardous as having a chain smoker sit at your table.

Thankfully there’s a less toxic way to reduce mosquito numbers – tiny, cute microbats.

In contrast to their larger fruit-eating cousins (flying foxes or fruit bats), microbats eat only insects.

They have a voracious appetite.

One microbat can eat thousands of mosquitoes in a night.

The benefit of microbats doesn’t stop at mosquito control – they also eat many garden pests including moths, beetles, aphids, weevils and crickets.

You can encourage microbats by providing them with roosting habitat.

Most microbats roost in trees – in cracks, fissures, hollows and under bark.

Trees with cavities suitable for microbat roosts are typically old or dead.

If you have an old hollow-bearing tree in your neighbourhood consider yourself fortunate because it’s likely to house any one of Australia’s 80 species of microbats.

The trouble is, old or dead trees are often removed from residential areas for safety and aesthetic reasons.

Combine targeted tree removal with large-scale clearing of native vegetation, and microbats are running out of places to roost.

Thankfully, many microbats don’t mind living in artificial roost boxes.

How_to_Build_a_bat_box_Milkwood

We've made one roost box so far and plan to make many more.

It’s a good idea to install multiple boxes because microbats prefer to move between multiple roosts to confuse predators.

Microbat_roost_box_entrance_Milkwood

If you want to specifically encourage mosquito-eating microbats (rather than larger microbats that eat larger insects like moths), you need to ensure the entrance to your microbat box is no more than 12 millimetres wide.

Microbats prefer entrances that are only just big enough for them to squeeze through – larger entrances are also likely to let predators inside.

Different-sized entrances will attract different species. The smaller microbat species are more likely to feed on mosquitoes – whereas larger species feed on larger insects like moths.

 

Microbat roost boxes are relatively easy to make for someone with a little woodworking experience.

I share how we made our microbat box over on the Milkwood blog. 

They can also be purchased. But a word of caution – some commercially available bat boxes are simply ornamental and are not suitable as microbat roosts. Typical faults include being too small, not being made of durable timber or hardware, and having entrances that are too large. I share links to a few suitable commercially available microbat boxes in the Milkwood article

There are three things that can potentially undo all your good work encouraging microbats: pesticides, electric insect buzzers and cats.

Pesticides and electric insect buzzers don’t just kill annoying mosquitoes or garden pests – they also kill beneficial insects and leave microbats with little to eat.

Microbats are easy prey for household cats. They are stationary during the day and in winter they can go into torpor (like mini-hibernation). Even those cats that owners claim "could never catch a thing" can easily catch a microbat in torpor. Keeping your cat inside night and day, or in an outdoor cat run, will help protect microbats and other wildlife.

More information on microbats and building a microbat box.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 26th October 2015.

 


How to make natural citrus and beeswax firelighters

Natural citrus peel and wax fire starters. Little eco footprints

Searching for creative alternatives to toxic and non-renewable products is something I enjoy. The research and experimentation is part of the fun. I recently explored alternatives to commercial firelighters and ended up creating sweet-smelling natural citrus and beeswax fire starters.

Not only do these natural firelighters work far better than their toxic and highly packaged counterparts, they cost nothing and are made entirely from natural and renewable ingredients.

My husband snuck a box of fire starters into our home. I had a little grumble about them being a waste of money and resources – and then started looking for alternatives. I've used dried citrus peel to start fires as its high oil content makes it flammable. I dry the peel on a tray in the sun or by the fire and a few weeks later have a pile of sweet smelling fire starters. But they aren't as effective as commercial firelighters – so I continued my search.

I discovered tutorials for firelighters made from candle wax, dryer lint and egg cartons. I loved the idea, but I don’t have a clothes dryer and I rarely have spare egg cartons. But the idea was a good one and I started thinking about making something similar using waste materials I had in abundance.

Then I stumbled across a bucket of dried peel from last winter. The peel cups (left over from juicing) looked like a perfect alternative to the egg carton mould.

Searching for an alternative to the clothes dryer lint – I considered hay, dried leaf litter, shredded paper – then settled on wood shavings.

As a bee keeper, I have an abundance of bees wax, so used that instead of candle wax.

How to make natural citrus and beeswax firelighters. Little eco footprints

To make the firelighters, I melted the wax in an old pot.

I poured a little wax over each peel cup filled with shavings. The hot wax bubbled up when it came into contact with the shavings – ensuring only a little wax was needed to coat the shavings. The wax doesn't need to fill the mould. It simply needs to coat the shavings, preventing them from burning too quickly.

A natural citrus peel and beeswax fire starterlighter. Little eco footprints

I lit one the following day, expecting it to burn for a minute or so. It burnt brightly for 20 minutes.

The packet of fire starters is long gone. And my husband hasn't considered buying more because there’s now a basket of even better firelighters sitting by the fire.

How to make your own firelighters from waste

To make your own fire starter you need a mould, wax and kindling.

Rather than rush out and buy something, look at what you have on hand.

  • For the mould you could use toilet rolls, egg shells, egg cartons – or citrus peel like I have.
  • Instead of beeswax you could use old candles or broken crayons.
  • For the kindling you could use sawdust, shredded paper, rags, peanut shells or dried herbs (how good would that smell).

Fill your mould with kindling. Pour in a little melted wax. It's as simple as that. 

Experiment and have fun.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 8th June 2015.


10 creative weekend family projects

One of my favourite ways to spend time as a family is to create something useful or learn a new skill.

Our family projects often go unfinished and sometimes fail. For me, the creative process and time together is whats important, regardless of the outcome. 

Here are a few creative weekend family projects ideas: 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-cubby-house-little eco footprints.

1. Build a cubby house (Look at what you have available or visit your local tip shop/building salvage yard and simply start creating). 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-bee-hotel-little eco footprints.

2. Build a bee hotel

Weekend-family-projects-make-a-bow-and-arrow-little eco footprints.

3. Make a bow and arrow.

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-wildlife-nest-box-little eco footprints.

4. Build a wildlife nest box.

Weekend-family-projects-learn-how-to-play-a-new-card-game-little eco footprints.

5. Learn how to play a new card game

Weekend-family-projects-learn-how-to-forage-little eco footprints.

6. Learn how to forage (here's a few leafy greens to get you started). 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-worm-farm-little eco footprints.

7. Build a worm farm

Weekend-family-projects-make-a-campfire-and-cook-damer-twirls-little eco footprints.

8. Make a campfire and cook damper twirls

Weekend-family-projects-sow-seeds-little eco footprints.

9. Grab an egg carton or make newspaper pots and sow some seeds. 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-five-minute-instant-raised-vegetable-garden-little eco footprints.

10. Build a 5 minute instant raised vegetable garden

What is your most memorable family project?

I especially love the projects that fail for some reason. They often involve problem solving and a good dose of giggles. Our tepee in the first picture repeatedly blew over in the wind. We loved it so much that we stubbornly put it up again and again, each-time trying to reinforce it. In the end we gave up. But I don't remember the failure. I remember the hours we spent working together. 

Wishing you a creative weekend with plenty of family time. 


Bee friendly to native bees: how to build a solitary bee hotel

Native-solitary-bee-hotel-made-from-recycled-materials. Little eco footprints

I’ve fallen in love with Australian native bees. A brief encounter with a beautiful Blue Banded Bee has me wanting to encourage these helpful insects into my garden. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to welcome native bees into our backyards.

The benefits of Australian native bees

When most people think of bees, they think of the introduced European honeybee, but Australia actually has more than 1,600 species of native bees.

Australian bees play a vital role in pollinating our native flora and are also increasingly being valued as a pollinator for agricultural crops. Their small size allows them to easily negotiate small flowers and in many cases they are more effective pollinators than honeybees.

Native bees are harmless. Some can’t sting and those that can are typically too small to deliver an effective sting and are unlikely to sting unless picked up. Their non-aggressive nature and ability to thrive in urban areas makes them a safe option for people wanting to enjoy the pollination benefits of bees without the hassle of keeping honeybees.

Australian native bee habitat

Most Australian native bees are solitary. They live alone or in small groups and nest in burrows in the ground, hollow stems of dead plants, or tunnels bored into dead wood by other insects. There are also a handful of social species that live in colonies and build nests in tree cavities and hollow logs.

How to encourage native bees into your backyard

To attract native bees into your garden, plant a diversity of flowering plants, steer clear of pesticides, retain dead wood and provide a source of water. It’s a good idea to set aside a small untidy ‘wild’ area where you leave dead stems and branches. Provide flowers of various sizes and colours and ensure that something is in bloom all year round so that the bees have a continuous supply of nectar and pollen.

Handmade-native-solitary-bee-hotel. Little eco footprints

Solitary native bees can be encouraged by providing nesting habitats. Little Eco and I created a bee hotel (also known as trap nests and bee condos) out of old concrete blocks filled with nesting material. We included bamboo canes, making sure to leave a joint to close the back of the stem; a piece of hardwood with holes drilled in it, each 3 – 9 mm wide and at least 80 mm deep; and naturally holey bits of rotten timber. There’s a roof to protect the nests from rain and it’s placed against a tree to protect the rear. 

Baby-bees-are- growing-our-bee-hotel. Little eco footprints

Much to our amazement the hotel was occupied almost as soon as it was opened. Six holes in the hardwood are now home to bee larvae. The visible plugs of mud indicate that a female bee has deposited eggs before sealing off the chamber.

Enthused by our initial success we’re creating more nesting habitats. We’ll be hanging bundles of hollow stems to attract Reed Bees; creating mud blocks to attract Blue Banded Bees; and drilling holes in some of our old tree stumps and blocks of timber to attract Resin Bees and Leafcutter Bees.

You can increase native bee numbers in your backyard even further by introducing a colony of stingless bees. Native stingless bee hives can be purchased or you can build your own hive and get a colony from another native beekeeper that has split their hive.

If you are interested in keeping stingless bees, native bee expert Tim Heard delivers regular workshops (including one here in Newcastle in October).

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 5th May 2014.


A DIY worm farm and a Stinging Nettle frittata recipe

A DIY worm farm made from recycled materials. Little eco footprints.

Making a worm farm using free and recycled materials is easy – easy enough that children can do it themselves with just a little help. I'm sharing how to make a worm farm over at Childhood 101

A Winter foraging feast. Stinging Nettle frittata with a side of Chickweed. Little eco footprints.

As you may have noticed, I'm a little obsessed with foraging. I recently shared a recipe for a Winter foraging feast over at the 1 Million Women blog. Can I tempt you to try Stinging Nettle frittata with a side of Chickweed?