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Neglected Rocky Nightmare Transformation

Loretta LiefveldWe recently moved to North Central Idaho, and I have absolutely no idea how potatoes or any other root crops are ever grown here! Around our home, we have about 6 to 8 inches of topsoil. Under that is a 3- to 4-inch layer of hardpan clay. Honestly, at first, I thought it was leftover concrete from building the house. When I was finally able to break through and get a few chunks out, I found that it was red, and I could break it. Beneath the clay are rocks. Ranging from egg-sized to fist-sized, and sometimes even larger, the basalt rocks are something to be reckoned with.

No one has worked the garden area in over 20 years. The front "lawn" is mostly just mowed weeds with a border garden of white rock over heavy-duty landscape fabric, and a few flamingo statues.

Original front lawn_resized

The backyard also consists of weeds, growing in between 2-to 3-inch flat rocks that have been placed there in a single layer. I discovered that under the flat rocks is a layer of soil about 3 inches deep and then black plastic. All of this in rock-hard soil.

Original backlawn _resized

I have my work cut out for me. I don’t want a lawn. Period. Full-stop. A lawn wastes water and has to be maintained.  I’m going to transform this area from mowed weeds to an oasis of bushes and herbal ground covers. This is such an onerous task that I can’t do it all at once. I hope to share some insight with all of you as I struggle to transform this nightmare.

I started with three blueberry bushes that I bought from Costco. It took a full day to dig a hole big enough for each plant. This is how I discovered what the soil was like. I can normally dig several in one day.  These are good-sized plants, so for each one I dug a hole that was about 2 feet wide at the top and about 2 feet deep. There are ponderosa pine and red fir trees all around, so several inches of fallen pine needles went in the bottom of the hole. Once the blueberry bush was put in the hole, I back-filled with a mixture of dirt and pine needles, topping it off with 2 inches of pine needles and pine cones.  Next, I planted a few plants that I brought with me: lemon grass, lion’s tail, Mexican verbena, and peppermint.

I started to lay out a path using a garden hose. Once I had the basic path outlined, I filled it in with cardboard boxes. The cardboard should smother the grass, making it easier to remove the grass later.

 Front lawn blueberries and plants from 3R cropped_resized

Three blueberries and a path_resized

It doesn’t look like much yet, but one step at a time. 

Bat Box for Babies

Loretta LiefveldNow that we’ve excluded the bats from our home, we need to give them some new housing. We wanted to get it done before maternity season. But it’s been triple digit heat for 4 weeks, so I could only work on it a couple of hours a day.

There are many plans available online. I chose the Four-chamber Nursery House from The Bat House Builder's Handbook. You can make two houses out of 1/2 sheet of 1/2-inch plywood, 1/2 sheet of 3/8-inch plywood, and 2 pieces of 1x6x8 pine or cedar. If you don’t have the tools to cut the wood yourself, or you don’t trust your ability, many lumber yards and big-box home improvement stores will make the cuts for you, for a small fee. I’m lucky to have a husband that does all that stuff, so I asked him to help. Here are all the pieces, all cut out.

Pieces cut and laid out

Pieces stained

I think the hardest part of cutting it is the bevel. I can’t imagine doing this without a table saw.

Bevel cut with table saw

We cut horizontal grooves on the interior and landing surfaces, so the bats can grab hold. The instructions said you can do it with a sharp object or a saw, so I chose to use a screwdriver, since I’m not very handy with a saw. But that took a long time, and they didn’t look very good. So my husband, Robbie, did it on the table saw. He did the cutting and I handed him pieces, and we whipped through all of it in no time, and the cuts were beautiful.

Grooves made with screwdriver

Loretta helps

The partitions need holes so the bats can pass through from one cubby to another, the sides need a slot for a vent, and since we’re putting 2 houses back-to-back, we need a slot in the back of each, so they can go from one house to the other.

Cutting pass-through holes

Drilling holes to make slot or vent

To make the slot (or the side vent), the easy way is to drill two 1/2-inch holes the correct distance apart. Cut between the holes, then cut from the hole to the edge of the board.

Cutting between holes on table saw

Final cuts for slot

Final slot

Now we can assemble it. Put caulk on the side pieces and fasten to the back panel with screws. The back is longer than the rest, and should be several inches below the rest of the house. Next, attach the spacers to the inside corners from the back, screwing through the back panel and into the spacers. Place one of the partitions on the spacers and put spacers on top of that. Screw through the spacer and partition, into the spacer below. It will look like this.

Sides and spacers on partition

Continue with the remaining partitions and spacers, ending with the 20-inch spacers. Each partition will sit lower and lower at the same angle as the top of the side. Here it is, ready for the front piece.

Caulk front panel

The front piece consists of two pieces, to allow for a vent in the front. Put caulk around the edges of the sides and attach front pieces. Put top piece on first, lining it up with the lowest point of the angle. Leave 1/2 inch vent space between the top and bottom pieces. We used a 1/2-inch board to line up the bottom piece with the correct spacing.

Top piece of front added

Bottom piece of front added

Attach spacers to the top inside of front and back as roof supports. Caulk all around the top surface, and attach roof with screws. We put 2 houses back-to-back, joining them with 1x4 pieces of wood, so we left 3/4 inch between the front and back, and put the roof over them both. Here are the two houses back-to-back, without the roof yet.

Two houses without roof

Check one side of roof

Checking roof both sides

Above, we’re checking to see if the roof fits, and below shows the caulking. We put it on really thick like this, so it oozes out. Then we wipe off the excess. That way we know it’s completely sealed.

Caulk roof peak

Bats like high places, so the house should be 15-20 feet from the ground. We decided galvanized steel poles would be best, because this is a lot heavier than we thought it would be. We bought two 1-1/2-inch x 10-foot poles and two 1-inch x 10-foot poles. We slid the smaller pole into the larger pole, and then welded them together. We put caps on both ends so no water could get in.

Pipe joint

Pipes ready to weld

Caps on pipes

We fastened each pole to a 2x6 with U-bolts, and then fastened the 2x6 to the sides of the bat house. A little paint to protect them and for aesthetic purposes, and we’re all set.

After considering no less than 5 different locations, we finally decided to put them up at the end of the chicken coops. A little coop reinforcement, a couple of more U-bolts, and we now have our Bat Box for Babies. This should be able to accommodate about 1,000 bats.

How did we get it up there??? You can see the rope that we fastened onto it. I climbed on top of the chicken coop and pulled on the rope while Robbie and our son Tommy ‘walked’ it up. They started by lifting the bat house up as high as they could. Then they used a long wood pole to push it up farther, and walked forward with it, until they could go no further. I pulled it up the rest of the way. The legs are in the ground, with cement around them, and the poles are fastened to the side of the chicken coop with U-bolts.

Here it is, completely finished.

Completed and installed

Final update: A week later, the bats had already found it!

Bat Man and Bat Woman

Loretta LiefveldOh me, oh my. So much to learn about bats, and so little time to do it.

We’ve scoured the Internet for our bat education. We learned that, contrary to what we had always thought, not all bats migrate. Most bats in our area hibernate ‘in place’, which is why we saw no bats during the winter. When the weather cooled down, and days got shorter, we saw fewer bats. By November 1st, they will all be hibernating – presumably inside our insulation, according to the bat specialists that gave us a $12,000 estimate for bat remediation. We didn’t get the estimate until mid-September, and it took a couple of weeks to do our research, so we have only one month to do our own bat eradication, with just ourselves and a couple of friends.

But where do we start?

There are 3 different species of bats in our area. Most of the bats that chose to grace us with their presence are small Mexican brown bats. They can enter through cracks that are about the size of your little finger (depending on how big your fingers are); about 3/8 of an inch. You can see how small they are, compared to a quarter (these are already dead and dried out).

Compare the size of these bats to a quarter

Bats just love log homes. Each intersection where ‘round meets flat’ (the trim on the logs, for instance) results in a small gap for a bat to get some rest. At the eaves, window trim, doors and roof peaks, they can not only find a niche, but also a ‘runway’ to scramble along the back of the trim. You can walk underneath, looking upward, and see little pairs of eyes looking down at you. Peer into the cracks along the window trim, and you can see a small body blocking the light.

Gaps between covered eaves and logs

Gap between logs and trim

They usually like to roost on the hottest side of the house, up high. It sometimes gets to be 108 degrees in the summer here. With our metal roof, it could probably get to at least 130 degrees. Just think about how hot it gets inside a closed car in the summer. Our wood deck reflects heat upwards at the end of the day, maintaining that heat level for our dear friends. The large amounts of small bat feces (they look like rat feces, actually) on the deck confirm that the south side has the largest congregation. But the bats initially made their home on the east side of the house, and we can see that they have also made the north side their home as well. We wonder why we saw no evidence of them on the west side, which gets the most heat during the afternoon until the sun settles. Perhaps even bats have a top-end of their tolerance for heat?

We inspected every part that we could see and reach. But, knowing they were behind the fascia, probably inside the covered eaves, and possibly in the insulation, we knew the hardest part was yet to come. After gathering our tallest ladders (including a ‘Little Giant’), we bravely removed the fascia. Good news! A rafter ran parallel to the fascia, and it was perfectly sealed. The bats couldn’t get into the insulation from this direction! Whew! We really weren’t sure what we would do if we had to remove all the insulation and then re-install it. However, we could also see that the bats had made themselves right at home in the soffit (enclosed eaves).

It turns out that it really isn’t all that difficult to do your own bat remediation.

The coolest part is the one-way bat doors. No kidding. Seal all openings except where you install the bat doors, and the bats can come out, but they can’t get back in. There are a number of different kinds. The kind we chose look like a smooth plastic ‘tube’ with a flange that fastens over the crack. Since we have a very long space where the bats could enter, we also installed 1/4-inch hardware cloth where the soffit meets the house.

One-way bat door installed

Since the fascia boards had warped and pulled loose over the years, my husband, Rob, used a little persuasion in the form of K-clamps, then used large washers and screws to make sure they don’t pull loose again.

Rob fixes the facia

Even with tall ladders, it's a reach

All in all, the hardest part was working on tall (20-foot) ladders. But with a little ingenuity, fortitude and some help from our friends, it cost us only $$ instead of $12,000.

One last note: Not all the bats leave every night, so it may take a week or two before they all leave. Ideally, before you begin, install a ‘bat house’, so they will have somewhere to go. If you want to build your own bat house, you can download The Bat House Builder’s Handbook.

Bats in the Belfry

Loretta LiefveldIt’s so much fun having bats.

We first found out about our bats before we ever moved in. My husband, Rob, was showing his latest firearm purchase to the foreman building our log home, and the sound of the shot startled some bats that had discovered the small (very, very small) opening between the logs and the fascia board at the very top of the front porch. It startled both of them, and they called me over to watch. As they took another shot, even more bats flew out.

I had never seen bats flying up close, although I had seen them at a distance at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.  I really wasn’t sure these were actually bats. They sort of look like small birds when they’re flying.  But we looked up and we could see ‘shadows’ of their little bodies in that crack, moving upward toward the top of the peaked porch roof.  When they got to the top, they would pause for a minute and then swoop out and down, before flying off in the dusk.

Once we moved in, they never failed us. You could almost set your clock by them. At 8 p.m., they would make that same little daredevil trip, diving out to feed on insects. I was fascinated by them. We moved here from a Southern California suburb, where there were NO bats.  Because I had seen them at Carlsbad Caverns, I had somehow assumed that they just lived in caves – not houses!

As the number of bats grew, they started bedding down in the fascia over our bedroom doors. It didn’t matter whether it was still quite light, or if darkness had started creeping in. At 8 p.m., we could see them start their nightly journey while we were watching TV. At first, there were 25, then 50 bats. Later, we estimated at least 100, if not more. Rob grew concerned that there might be some kind of health issue with the bats. So I started researching them. It seemed that there could be a health problem with their feces, but since they weren’t IN the house, and we don’t have an attic, it seemed harmless to let them live there.

Not only was it great fun to watch them ourselves, but they provided wonderful ‘entertainment’ to our guests. On a warm summer evening, we always opened all of the doors and windows, so the night air could cool off the house. Occasionally, a bat would get misdirected into our house.  It would fly around near the top of our vaulted ceiling, looking for a way to get out. Sometimes, they would make their way into our bedroom, flying frantically in a circle, into the master bath, and then out into the living room.  We made a ‘bat net’, and Rob got very good at capturing the bat, so we could release it back where it belonged.

Sometimes we find dehydrated bats on our deck or in our basement.

Yep, bats were a lot of fun.  Until one summer, after our guests had left and I was changing the sheets on the bed, I noticed an odor in the bedroom. Our young granddaughter had stayed in the room, and I assumed she had had an accident. I stripped the bed completely and sprayed the mattress with pet odor removal spray. Fortunately, it was near the end of the summer, and we had no more guests that year.  In a month, the smell was gone. But it returned the next summer. Summer after summer, it was the same pattern. I began to suspect the bats. My suspicions were confirmed while I was talking with the builder of our home. I mentioned the bats, and he made the comment that ‘the only reason you really need to get rid of them is the smell’.

It was July. We called several pest extermination companies, and they all referred us to the same bat removal company. When we called the bat removal company, they had us describe the house and send pictures. Based on that, they gave us a ‘ball-park’ estimate of around $3,000 - $5,000. They couldn’t come out to give a more definitive estimate until after the middle of August, because it was currently bat maternity season. But when they did, they examined every nook and cranny they could find (which, in a log home, is plenty) and gave us an estimate of $12,000! That was JUST the bat removal/exclusion part and didn’t include any remediation (think ‘hundreds of bats living in the insulation’ – I could probably have had a business selling bat guano). After thinking about it long and hard, and doing tons of research on the Internet, we decided to do it ourselves.

My next blog will be about our journey educating ourselves and then actually performing bat removal, exclusion and remediation.