Steinernema, My Steinernema

October 18th, 2013

Daisy, my American Quarter Horse mare, is very susceptible to becoming infected with internal parasites, especially a class of parasites called strongyles.  Strongyles, often referred to as roundworms, can cause damage to her digestive tract and blood vessels, so it’s very important to try to keep Daisy Strongyle-free.

These nasty bugs are resistant to deworming medicines and infect horses frequently–Strongyles are in almost every pasture and are the most common internal parasite found in horses.

Most horses can fend off Strongyles through a strong response from their immune systems, but a certain percentage of horses aren’t able to shake these bugs.  Daisy is one of those horses.

How do we know that she’s such a premium lunch ticket for Stronglyes?  We keep tabs on them by testing her manure frequently,  sending off samples to a lab for testing every couple of months.

I asked the vet what we should do to try to lower Daisy’s parasite load, and she recommended a Panacur Power Pack–a double dose of Fenbendazole dewormer every day for five days.  I gave Daisy the Power Pack according to directions and submitted a manure sample to the lab three weeks after the deworming, per the vet’s instructions.

Unfortunately, the deworming was only moderately effective, lowering Daisy’s parasite burden by about twenty percent.

So, I am trying to come up with alternate solutions.  One of them is to change the location where I feed them their hay in order to keep them from eating straight off of the ground.  Now I feed them on rubber stall mats that I clean regularly.

Another solution that I had never heard of anyone trying also popped into my brain:  what if we could find a beneficial insect that would either eat the Strongyles or drive them out of the horses’ pasture?

I called my buddy Eric Acosta at Bioncontrol.net and picked his brain for a few minutes.  After explaining the scenario to him, he recommended that I should apply some predatory nematodes to the pasture in order to see if they will be voracious enough to put a cramp the Strongyles’ style, either by eating some of them or crowding them out of town.

He recommended a species of nematode called Steinernema feltiae, a hungry type of nematode that cruises around looking for things to eat but also has the capacity to pick a target (their favorite food) and attack it.

Since this species of nematode also like to eat fly eggs, I figured that applying them to the pasture was a no lose scenario:  even if they don’t get rid of the Strongyles, they might help decrease our fly population.  I placed an order for fifty million of the little guys.

The nematodes arrived in the mail yesterday, and I put them out on the pasture within an hour or their arrival.  I mixed a teaspoon of them into a gallon of water in my watering can and watered a small section of the pasture with them.  I repeated this process about 30 times until all of the nematodes had been set free in their new home.  I wish them luck!

The Veggie Awards

October 14th, 2013

Most of us are familiar with the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammies–awards given to movies, TV shows and music, respectively.

I am giving out my own awards this year: The Veggies. These awards go to the most remarkable plants in my garden this year. Without further ado, I’m going to let ‘em rip.

Best melon variety (I use the term “Veggie” loosely): Sugar Baby. Runner up: Pony

Best Blueberry variety: Tiftblue

Best Squash Variety: Supersett. Runner up: Gentry

Best bean variety: Red Noodle. Runner up: Tamara (I did grow runner beans, but their tough pods prevented them from winning the runner up in this category, though they did runner up profusely).

Best tomato variety: mountain magic–these golf ball sized beauties are prolific, taste great and are resistant to fruit drop and cracking. Runner up: Sun Gold–these are still the best tasting tomatoes that I have ever had. Nothing even comes close. However, the fruits crack so easily that most of the crop is lost if we have a couple of days of rain–a common occurrence here in central NC. Sun Gold is just too fussy a variety to be the winner this time around. Better luck next year!

Best Cucumber variety: Tasty King.

Best lettuce: Red Sails

Best Asian-style green: Kilo Asian Cabbage

Tallest vegetable: Jerusalem Artichoke (over 15 feet)

Best tasting vegetable (tie): Sun Gold tomato and Sugar Baby watermelon

Most prolific vegetable (tie): Tamara pole bean and collards–I’ll have to get back to you with that variety name.

Best flower variety: year after year, the Benary’s Giant Zinnias are the most gorgeous and trouble free cut flowers that I can come up with.

Glow in the Dark Farm

September 28th, 2013

This evening, I saw one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen on the farm here.

I was taking an evening trail ride and as the sun set completely, I noticed that the trail and fields had “points of light” by the hundreds: glow worms.

As it got completely dark, Pony and I made our way down trails that were lit by constellations of glow worms. In the darkness, Pony and I navigated our way home by the light of the glow worms. It was simply gorgeous.

The Horse Guards are Here

September 16th, 2013

A few days ago, I mentioned the infestation of horse flies that we have been having here for the past few weeks.  The horses have been absolutely tormented by these flies, which are about as big as a half-dollar coin and bite viciously, drawing lots of blood in the process.

Unfortunately, the flies are still going strong.  The horses are fully swathed in mesh fly sheets and fly masks, but those can offer only a moderate amount of protection from the hungry hordes of flies who do their best to bit through the fabric or to fly under the sheets.

However, a few days ago, I started noticing another huge flying insect around the horses, a really big and mean looking one.  I was too scared to smash it, thinking that it would probably sting me several times in retaliation.  So, instead of crushing it, I just kept an eye on it.

I soon noticed that the insect was picking up the carcasses of the horseflies that I had just swatted off of the horses as I was grooming them.  It would pick up the carcass and fly off with it, then seemed to return moments later to pick up another one.

After watching carefully for a few minutes, it seemed to me that there were actually several of these insects taking action at the same time:  one was busily gnawing the heads off of the horses flies before hauling their bodies away, while another one occupied itself with chasing living horseflies, wrestling them dramatically while in flight.

Once I had finished up with the horses, I went to work figuring out what these insects were up to.  From what I gathered (thanks Wikipedia!), they are called horse guard wasps and they were gathering horse flies to stuff their brood’s nest with.

Amazing!