Batty infobytes for Halloween!

You know how bats are sometimes referred to as “Flying Mice”?  Bet you didn’t know that bats are more closely related to humans than to mice!!!  I have seen bat colonies in caves, and flying out over the open countryside in the evenings to hunt for insects to feed their families, but I have never seen any on my property.  I plan to rectify that by building some bat houses.
Bat houseThere are many free building plans available on the internet, and they can also be purchased ready-made.  A good resource for bat information is Bat Conservation International, https://www.batcon.org.

Contrary to popular opinion, bats are not blind – they have excellent vision, but they also use a biological sonar called echolocation to hunt fast-flying insects in total darkness!  Bats groom their fur like cats and kittens, which shows they are not “dirty”.  Only three of more than 1,250 bat species are vampire bats that feed on blood, and all of them are in Latin America.  Only one targets mammals, and it prefers domestic livestock.  So, you’re not likely to encounter any vampire bats this Halloween.

Bats pollinate bananas in the wild.  The modern-day banana that we find in our grocery stores are of the Cavendish variety which has no seeds and is propagated by suckers.  This sterility makes it difficult to breed new edible varieties. And new ones are needed because commercial bananas, such as the popular Cavendish, are so susceptible to disease that they now require more fungicide spraying than any other crop. Yet diseases are rare among wild bananas, in which the constant mixing of genes has evolved resistance to local pathogens.  Bats also pollinate cashews, dates, figs, peaches, avocados, agaves (think Tequila!!) and many other important plants.
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Bats are important insect hunters.  More than two-thirds of bat species feed on insects.  A mother bat can eat up to her body weight in insects every night, and a million bats can eat as much as 10 tons of bugs!  The millions of free-tailed bats in Central Texas’ Bracken Cave consume up to 200 tons of insects each summer night!
Pollinators.Bat.Street.BoysThanks to Batcon.org and unknown sources on the internet for much of the above information

Wildflower seed planting at Richard Carter Park, College Station, TX

Today, Saturday October 21st, A&M Garden Club members partnered with members of the local D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution), Butterflies  in the Brazos, City of College Station, Keep Brazos Beautiful, and students from Texas A&M Department of Entomology, to plant seeds of wildflowers springtime pollinators.   Richard Carter Park is a historical area park where A&M Garden Club has planted native plants and trees over the years, and performs twice yearly maintenance of the plantings.  Between 20 and 40 people from the above organizations came out for coffee and donuts at 9:30 am, and seed sowing started about 10:00 am.  The City of College Station has provided Monarch Way Station and No-Mow signs.  The sowing was completed before the expected rains came, and it is to be hoped that when the rain does start it won’t be so hard as to wash out all the seeds!  This was a great community project, and all participants had fun!!!  More photos are posted on our Facebook Page.

And here is the action record of the “Seed Spreaders and Stompers”

This was a great community collaboration, under the leadership of Jane C.,  which will hopefully produce flowers for pollinators for years to come!  We provided coffee and donuts, and everyone had loads of fun!

 

AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Nine

Sadly, our time has come to an end for this visit.  The suitcases were loaded into the truck, we loaded into the van, and we set off for Guatemala City and the airport.  Goodbyes were said to Jorge and Armando at the entrance to the airport (only travelers are allowed inside!); all the formalities were taken care of very quickly and without any problems, and soon we were shopping (again!) and sitting down to eating lunch.  The flight to Houston was clear and uneventful, taking a little over 2 hours, and once in the airport we scattered like cats in all directions heading for home, taking all our many memories with us!

Adios Guatemala!
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Adios Mexico!
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Hola Texas!

 

AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Eight

Our last full day of this trip started with no electricity, but that didn’t slow us down!  Early that morning we heard the rumble of the Electricity Company trucks rolling down the road – even more impressive since it was Sunday!  After breakfast we loaded up into the fourwheelers and set off for the area that had been chosen to plant our Macadamia trees.  That was a fun activity for we “adult kids”!  Each tree was given a number and plotted on a map, so we can receive updates as to its growth, health and wellbeing.

Next we went to see the buildings for the proposed learning center, a program to be implemented in the summer of next year.

and then took another trip “up the mountain” – our last for this visit!

Our final activity of the day was not for the faint-hearted!  While some took turns in enjoying a massage at the spa, others took to the treetops  by navigating the “Ropes” course and Zipline!

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As we were wrapping up before going to pack for our 8:00 am departure in the morning, the utility repairs trucks came down the mountain, having finished their job.  They said electricity would be back on in 2 hours; there was more than one Doubting Thomas in our group, but in fact the electricity was restored in about 2 1/2!!!   Kudos and thanks to the Guatemalan Utility Company!!!  So we packed (oh, that was a challenge to find space for all the things we had purchased, and some of the suitcase space had to be shared with other travelers)! and ate our last meal of this visit!

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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Seven

Out for breakfast this fine Saturday morning – to Valhalla Macadamia Farm, near San Miguel Dueñas.  Wikipedia states (and this I learned in school): In Norse mythology, Valhalla (from Old Norse Valhöll “hall of the slain”) is a majestic, enormous hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin. Chosen by Odin, half of those who die in combat travel to Valhalla upon death, led by valkyries, while the other half go to the goddess Freyja’s field Fólkvangr. In Valhalla, the dead join the masses of those who have died in combat known as Einherjar and various legendary Germanic heroes and kings, as they prepare to aid Odin during the events of Ragnarök. Before the hall stands the golden tree Glasir, and the hall’s ceiling is thatched with golden shields. Various creatures live around Valhalla, such as the stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún, both described as standing atop Valhalla and consuming the foliage of the tree Læraðr.  What has this to do with Guatemala and the Macadamia Farm? I would have liked to think that the founder was from Scandinavia, but nope!  He came from California, with a very Scandinavian or Germanic name!  I’m including the link to his webpage because there is so much of interest in the uses and benefits of the Macadamia Tree and it’s nut http://www.exvalhalla.net.  Breakfast is served outside, under the trees -most pleasant.  The Macadamia pancakes are to die for, made with macadamia flour and nuts, and go so well with that rich Guatemalan coffee!


After breakfast, and admiring the plant and flower filled restrooms, we took the tour.  We learned about the origin of the tree and it’s uses and saw the nut sorting and processing machines.  Some of our group took advantage of a free (tip appreciated) facial with macadamia oil, while others of us just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, and visited with a group of tourists on a cruise from Australia, whose ship berthed at Puerto Quetzal in the early morning and who arrived by coach.  We purchased enough Macadamia tree saplings for each of us to plant at the farm tomorrow, as well as some for family members.

Next we drove to La Azotea, Cultural Center and Coffee Farm.  Last time here, a year ago, I didn’t buy any of their Coffee Liqueur, but this year I had it on my list!  Mmmm,  mmm, good!  The tour took us through a series of dioramas showing all aspects of coffee production, from planting to harvesting.  We were told the history of the original owners, and admired displays of antique and vintage coffee pots, cups, and photos.  Then we went across the drying yards to the plantation itself, saw the wonderful composting operation, and the garden center.  And, of course, the gift shop!!!  That was good exercise to walk off the effects of the Macadamia Pancakes, but it was almost lunchtime already.


We ate a leisurely lunch in a beautiful setting at a restaurant in Antigua, Epicure, across from Mercado Artisanal de Carmen’s outdoor Saturday market!

Time to go home – while we were gone there had been a hail storm and a tree came down on the power lines – no electricity!  Supper and a family birthday party by lantern light – a perfect ending to another perfect day.
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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Six

Today, September 15, 2017,  marks 196 years of Independence from Spain.  It was great to share in the excitement of the Parade in Antigua!  The sun was shining and the streets were filled with music and color.  We found a perfect parking place and location from which to watch, a front row position!

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Parade-watching being thirsty work, we headed out to visit Casa Santo Domingo, once the largest monastery in Guatemala, now a hotel with historic ruins, museums and shops in the grounds.  There are Macaws in the trees, beautiful flowers and a wonderful volcano backdrop on a clear day.

Onward to Vivero Escalonia for lunch in a garden center!  Two favorite things!

After lunch paid a quick visit to Caoba Farms, an organic farm with a “destination” appeal.  Tours are available, lunch, shopping, and on weekends a lively farmers’ market.

Final stop was at the Mercado Artisanal for the final shopping session of the day!
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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Five

After all the hustle and bustle with the kids’ programs yesterday, we started a little later this morning.  First stop after breakfast was a visit to San Jose vegetable farm and greenhouses, next door to Xejuyu.   Acres of carrots were impressive, all in different growth stages.  The variety grown here is “Triton” which, after experimentation, has been the best performer.  No machinery is used to harvest any of the vegetables, which are all hand-washed.  This is not a certified organic operation, but chemicals are kept to a minimum.  20-20-20 granules are used in a drip system “fertigation”!!!  Beans were growing under tunnels, variety Serengeti.  Some of the problems they have there are whitefly, thrips, powdery mildew and rust.  They expect the workers to harvest 2 1/2 baskets of beans per tunnel, which takes half an hour.  Lovely bright orange sweet peppers (unable to read my notes for the variety) are grown for export to Germany, which owns the rights to this variety.  We were given a big box of them to take home for supper!

The plan for this farm is to go into full  time hydroponic operation; last year we saw the ground being prepared and this year the buildings are up but not yet functional.

Next on the agenda was a trip up the mountain on four wheelers to take in the wonderful views over the town and countryside (including looking down on San Jose greenhouses where we had been), to check on the new plantings of Cedar trees, and take pictures among the coffee plants.  The dogs love going on these excursions, running, running and running until they have to try to get in the vehicles for a rest!  While stopping for coffee pictures we met two local ladies loaded down with baskets on their heads carrying lunch to the farm workers.  They were gracious enough to stop and pose for pictures!

 

In the afternoon we went up the road again to visit with Tio Paul and tour his wonderful gardens.  All kinds of bromeliads and orchids grow in the trees, huge colorful blooming shrubs and small trees show off the under-plantings.  Fruit trees of every kind were loaded down with ripening fruit, as well as bananas, plantains, and even pineapples!  Vegetables were thriving in the rich volcanic soil, and the greenhouse contains a huge vanilla vine.  The beautiful view over the valley was a little obscured by cloud which just added to the mystique of the volcanoes!

Later we gathered in the kitchen back at the farm and “helped” prepare supper – well, we watched the preparation of a tasty dessert made from chayote.

Tomorrow would be Independence Day, and we were all looking forward to watching the parade in Antigua!