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Bat Hampers, At Last

Sunday, March 12, 2023


 Although I've been taking bats in for 13 years, I still consider myself a newcomer to them. There are people who know ever so much more than I do. Amanda Lollar is one of them. She wrote this amazing book which should be required reading for anyone wanting to care for bats. It's so well-written and thorough, informative and clear. 

I also follow a couple of great accounts on Instagram: pabatrescue and azbatrescue. I have immense respect for these women and their volunteers. They take in an awful lot of bats, and do vet care as well. Way beyond my level, but they've been kind and encouraging. As a result of what I've learned from this wonderful book and my Instapals, I knew I had to give my bat housing an overhaul. I've ditched the individual critter keepers lined with rubber drawer liner and toweling for a whole new system, one that is more in tune with bat needs for socialization and softness.

Behold the new bat habitats! They're soft nylon laundry hampers that I bought at Wal-Mart. I can access the interior through two large zippered doors. 

The flooring is soft mattress foam, wrapped in a plastic garbage bag which is taped tightly, then put in a washable pillowcase. Any bat that falls is not going to be injured in the least.

Each hamper has two places to roost: the made-to-order black bat roosting pouch from (Amanda Lollar's incredible bat conservation organization) and a double folded length of plushy fleece they can crawl up inside. I've got a little plastic water container zip-tied near the top of the enclosure, and a worm dish for self-feeding. 

There is one hamper for Carmelo, and one for all the girls. Males must be separated or they will be males, and will molest the females all winter long. These two hampers should be able to accommodate as many bats as I get, boys with boys and girls with girls. There's plenty of room to scuttle around, climb, groom, socialize, and flap wings.

Their first hour in the hamper together, the females gathered under the pink fleece. Jolie Blonde wanted a little separation at first. 

Fuchsia, Poppy and Laura cuddled right up. It made me so happy to see the bats able to do what they do in the wild, and to know they were cuddled in warm fleece (I have draped another double layer over the outside of the hamper, too, to protect them from drafts).

By the next morning, there were four in a neat row. Isn't that dear? One is hanging with her dark brown back to us; the rest are showing their paler bellies.

Keeping these bats at the proper temperature (between 35 and 55 degrees) is an interesting exercise.  Most of the time, my unheated detached garage is ideal. But when temperatures dip into the 20's, I bring them into my basement and put them right next to a cold door, where temperatures hover in the 40's on a very cold night. I swaddle them to protect them from drafts but it does stay cold by that door.

Ideally, they sleep most of the winter. Initial intake involves getting them up to proper weight (17-22 gm for a big brown) with intensive feeding for each bat for a week or more, and making sure they were strong and well-hydrated. Then I put them to bed in cold temperatures on Jan. 25.  I  took them out and fed them for the first time on Feb. 9 and 10, after three weeks in cold storage. Now that all are in good weight, I plan to stretch that to 4 or even 6 weeks in hibernation. Not gonna lie--I miss them when they're tucked away! As I update this post, they've been asleep for five weeks. I check on them daily. Temperatures have settled down at night, and the garage maintains nearly ideal conditions. Lovely!

When you think about it, these animals in natural conditions probably have no opportunity to eat and drink all winter long, since they don't fly on nights below 50 degrees. And if they were to fly on the occasional balmy night, there aren't any insects out for them to catch, anyway. So I've little doubt that a winter in Zick's Bat Hostel is a fat winter for these bats. And it sure beats wasting away in a heated space with your metabolism all revved up, but without food or water. Or worse, being caught and put outside to die in freezing temperatures, which is what happens to most bats that are found inside a home. I don't know what people think they're doing when they do that. It's not "letting it go." It's a death sentence for the bat. 

I make these posts so people will understand that bats are very much worth cherishing and caring for. When they get into homes, they need help. To find a bat rehabilitator near you, go to and click on "I Found a Bat."

Chances are, it'll be someone a lot like me, who is willing to care for these incredible little animals in their home, because they are endearing and special creatures. Bottom line for me: Yes, it's a ton of work. But the alternative to offering these refugees a safe winter home is too sad to contemplate. If you find a bat in your home, do the right thing and call a bat rehabilitator. Put on leather gloves, pick it up gently with a hand towel around it, and put the bat in a box with the cloth. Make sure the box is SECURELY taped up with a couple small air holes, because bats can get out of the most amazingly tight spaces. Don't try what I'm doing--feeding and watering and handling-- without training and rabies vaccination. These are not pets--they're destined for release. They are going back to the sky!

                                                Carmelo says thank you for the warm fleece and tasty worms.  

Laura says thank you very much for listening.  

Meet Laura and Fuchsia, Big Brown Bats

Monday, March 6, 2023


 When I finally thought to check, I found out that my last rabies booster was in 2013. Wow, ten years can sure fly by! I dithered a bit and then set out in earnest, looking for someone who'd do an antibody titer for me. Finally, my new nurse and doctor at WVU Medicine came through. And I found out I'm still making sufficient antibodies to the rabies virus to be protected. That made me really happy--a lot of bats have gone through my winter hostel since 2013. Glad I don't have to drop $680 on the booster shots.

It's a privilege to care for these bats and learn from them, too. In my last post, we met Jolie Blonde, Poppy and Carmelo. There are two more females this year.


Laura came to me a real spitfire--musking (a skunky smell from their facial glands); chittering, sometimes biting a little (but nothing like Drusilla of Old, the Worst Bat Ever). Now she's my best, most eager eater and not too tough to handle. She has an endearing way of gaping between worms, literally like a baby bird. We are pals now, and she hardly cusses at all. She was found on Christmas Eve 2022, hanging under a utility table in an unheated outbuilding. The naturalists who found her would have been delighted to let her stay, but with the Arctic cold blast of single digit temperatures, we think she might have died out there. Especially since her weight on admission was only 11 grams. She's between 17 and 19 gm now! She'll eat 20 or more worms if I let her, and I'll have to cut her back to a dozen as spring nears...a girl has to watch her weight if she's going to fly!

Fuchsia has been a special little bat from the get go. She was found in the same tattoo parlor as Carmelo on Jan. 28. Skinny and wasted at 11 gm,  Fuchsia had to eat bird formula from a syringe for six nights until she was able to chew mealworms. That last night, I added Delectables Lickable Treat for cats to her formula, and it woke her UP. She was chewing mealworms like she was paid to do it that same evening. 

She did something I've never had a bat do. They all arrive like this--huddled like a tiny mouse.

But when I picked her up, she was so terrified she threw out her wings and opened her mouth! Which gave me a fabulous look at her impressive dentition, a definitive look at her female bits, a beautiful view of her long tail and tail membrane...this is the basket in which bats catch their food! See how the tail tip extends beyond the membrane? One of the hallmarks of a big brown bat.  For big brown bats, the food that ends up in that tail basket is mostly flying beetles, and some moths. That's why they've got great big teeth--so they can crunch down beetles. The bite of a big brown bat--or any bat, for that matter-- is unbelievably strong. I wear deerskin on my handling hand (left) and more pliable goatskin on my feeding hand (right). Deerskin has proven more puncture-resistant than other leathers in a study designed to determine which gloves are best for handling bats.
I can tell you that deerskin outperforms all other leathers in the Multiflora Rose Test to which I put my gloves every morning. Puncture-resistant to the max! If a thorn goes through deerskin, it's time to replace that glove, for it's worn too thin.

The perfection of Fuchsia's architecture was unbelievable. 

She clung, wings still spread, for that whole first feeding. I couldn't get her to relax but I eventually worked her around to a more comfortable pose. But gentle talking and grooming with a mascara brush has calmed her down nicely. This series of photos are all by Liam Thompson, my most invaluable bat helper.

It's hard to believe this is the same bat, but here's Fuchsia eating on February 9.  Amazing what good food and gentle handling will do for a frightened little bat. 

Live and Learn--Salvia Seeds and the USPS

Friday, February 24, 2023


 Dearest readers and supporters,

I never dreamt I'd have to write this post, but I've received two photos from people who ordered the Salvia patens seeds from my last post, and in both of them, the seeds have been crushed. In one case, to an absolute powder.

Below is how the seeds looked when I packed them. There is a piece of card stock behind them, and I double-wrapped the plastic baggies in corrugated kraft paper to protect them. 

I bought stamps and put them on by hand so they wouldn't go through a postage meter. 

What I didn't know is that each envelope would still go through a machine that flattened it and crushed the seeds.

These seeds, in another photo from a customer, aren't as badly crushed, but I still see debris that shouldn't be there.

Just goes to show you that the sweetest dreams can always be crushed, when you don't know what happens after something leaves your hands. My friend Cynni, who used to work at my local post office, explained to me that I should have put two first class stamps on each envelope, and asked that they be hand-canceled, not sent through the machine. She would have been happy to help, but she doesn't work there any more. Oh, how I miss Cynni.

If only I'd known. I don't even want to think about the disappointment of seeds, so lovingly gathered and packed and received by you, that won't be coming up. For you, and for me. 

I could grow more this summer, collect them next fall, and send replacements to anyone whose seeds were crushed in this shipment. But life is so short.

 Better: I can try to get my hands on some replacement seeds, and send them out as soon as I can, so you can still start them this winter. I'm leaning toward that solution, but it depends on how many packets arrived crushed. If your seeds arrived crushed, broken, or otherwise not perfect,

please send your request for replacement to 


 WITH YOUR MAILING ADDRESS, and I will start a list to replace the seeds. I really want you to get them started as soon as possible,  so I'm going to make that happen.

I repeat: PLEASE SEND YOUR ADDRESS with your replacement request.

If your seeds arrived intact, please email me anyway and let me know! I need to know how many 
of the envelopes got crushed, and whether any viable (i.e. intact) seeds survived the postal machinery.

Live and learn. And if you screw up, make good on it.


The Bluest Flower: Salvia patens SOLD OUT

Monday, February 20, 2023


In September of 2018, I fell back in love with a plant I had grown way back in the early 1990's, when there were a couple of great greenhouses still operating in my area and more cool plants were available. Salvia patens, or Gentian Sage, or Salvia "Blue Angel" it what you will; this plant has The Blue of All Blues in the largest Salvia flowers I know of. Gentian blue, delphinium blue, royal, true BLUE.

Native to Mexico, its species name, patens, means "spreading." And it does spread, sending up multiple stalks on a semi-prostrate central stem, to form a delicious mound. 
It blooms more or less continuously throughout late summer, right up to frost. 

Hazelhurst's Salvia patens plants, 09/2018

Here I was in a garden at an estate called Hazelhurst north of Wausau, Wisconsin in late September 2018, beholding this treasured plant once again. My heart beating almost out of my chest, I peeked into the leafy calyx of a spent blossom. And there beheld four seeds! Carefully, I extracted them, then two more, and folded them into a bit of paper in my pocket to carry home.

Being excited, I planted them too early that winter, and I got one plant in my greenhouse that lived through in a spindly way until the spring. I set it out and it made some seeds in the fall of 2019. I've been collecting seeds and growing Salvia patens since then. For the last three winters, I've made sure to dig up some plants to bring into the greenhouse, to overwinter on its cold, but not freezing, floor. Here's a winter rosette that came up from some roots I dug. It'll just perk along like this all winter until it warms up enough to be planted out. I'm so glad I saved a rootball over; that'll jumpstart my flowers come spring. Note that it is on the floor of the greenhouse, which keeps it from trying to grow very much. I need to keep it semi-dormant until closer to the time I can plant it out (mid-May). 

I'm hooked on that blue. Overwintered roots; seeds; I want all the insurance I can get, that I'll have this plant in my garden from here on out. AND--they are highly deer-resistant! Yep, one more reason to love them. The four maurauding deer who have invaded my gardens actually ate around them last fall! The foliage is strongly scented, being in the mint family, and both hairy and sticky, and those three things tend to deter deer from eating them.

I suspect their primary pollinator is bumblebees, though there were always hummingbirds hanging around that bed, too.

Last summer of 2022, I got serious about collecting seeds from my plants.  The plants didn't even begin to set seed until September. I suspect they tired of me poking around in their ovaries, but it was hard to wait until they were ripe! Here's a split calyx with four ripening seeds inside. They're big, like the flowers.

Ripe seeds turn black. Notice the size of that flower! Just huge.

Generally, you'll get two seeds per fertilized flower. Four if you're really lucky.

Gentian sage is the definition of precious and rare, at least to me. I so enjoyed harvesting the seeds, checking every day to see which ones had ripened.

I planted some seeds on January 13, and they started coming up about 7-10 days later. They have two large heart-shaped cotyledons. Between those two hearts springs a little plant with opposite leaves. I should have nice little plants to set out by mid-May. 

These are three-week-old plants. They're very satisfying to plant and grow from seed.

You really don't need a greenhouse. They'll sprout from seed on a sunny windowsill. When it warms up real good and they're big and strong, plant them out in sun or part shade and keep them moist until they're well-established. I'm sure they'd grow in containers as well. The mature plant should be about 2' high by 2-3' across by September, so space accordingly! It lives over the winter in zone 8-10, but should be treated as an annual (whose roots you can overwinter in the pot in a bright cool spot) anywhere else.

I love this plant so much I want to share it. BUT I AM SOLD OUT as of 7:40 pm Feb. 20 2023.  I am offering a set of six seeds for $20. Which includes shipping. This is steep, I know, but they're rare; I am not a professional producer, and these plants are durn stingy with their seeds! I'll gather more this coming fall if there seems to be demand for them. I don't know about you, but I NEED these huge lippy blue flowers in my garden. 

If you'd like to buy a packet, please go to  and make your payment of $20 via the PayPal link there. 

Where it says "Add a Message," please provide your mailing address!
If you don't give me your address I can't send the seeds.

If you run into problems, please email me at juliezickefooseATgmailDOTcom and provide your mailing address.   I'll send the seeds by US mail. 

I'm sorry, I won't be accepting checks by mail for this offer; I suspect they're going to go too fast.

Again, you must provide me your MAILING ADDRESS in the "Add a Message" section on Paypal.
 I can't send you the seeds without that. If you miss the "Add a Message" notice on Paypal as you make your payment, email me at juliezickefooseATgmailDOTcom with your address, and you'll get your seeds.

When they're gone,  and I suspect they will go fast, I'll immediately update the blogpost to indicate that and put a note in the comments.  SOLD OUT Evening Feb. 20. And I'll grow more this summer. :) Those wee seedlings have some work to do!

 I'll put the proceeds toward the glass lean-to greenhouse I've been dreaming about for, well, all my life. :)

The Groanhouse has had a ten-year run, and it's served me well, but it is disintegrating.
Time to think bigger and much, much better. 

I'm still trying to wrangle people to come together to dig footers, pour a new pad, build the foundation, and assemble the glass, which will be delivered in a kit from Botanical Greenhouse Builders LLC, out of Rocky River, Ohio. The goal is to have a real greenhouse by frost time (Halloween) 2023.  Being my own general contractor for this project been a big learning experience, and I won't lie, it's been very frustrating to try to line up so many different crafstpeople, but I am nothing if not determined.  I am still trying to get this thing pulled together and rolling, after two months of steady pressure. 

If, being optimistic, I've got twenty more years to live in this wonderful house, I want to walk out of my bedroom and into a real greenhouse, one that's insulated and sturdy and won't need to be held together with ten rolls of Gorilla Tape, applied each fall. This, I have earned. 


A Batty Winter is 2023

Saturday, February 11, 2023


It's time for a bat update. It's a bit much for Instagram and Facebook, and besides, I want the good stuff to go on the blog which is searchable and expandable. 2023 has been a surprisingly batty winter, with five clients coming in since right before Christmas. The weather has been pretty mild, save for a weeklong cold snap that sent night temperatures into the single digits. I emptied the Groanhouse, as is my wont, brought everything into the house, and hunkered down for the duration, only putting the plants back when it had warmed up considerably. And then the bats started coming into heated spaces around Marietta, and the pleas for help started, and I had to answer.

Jolie Blonde is possibly the cutest of the five (a dead heat, really, since they're all cute in their own ways) and she's also very calm and wicked smart. So far she's the only self-feeder I have, but I haven't really given them all ample chances to learn, to be truthful. She was seen clinging for days to an exposed brick wall behind People's Bank in Marietta, Ohio, and taken in on December 9. It took five days to get her to take mealworms. I gave her nestling bird formula until she was strong enough to chew. She came in at 17 gm, which is low normal for a big brown bat.  She weighs 19 with an empty tank now, so I have to watch  that she doesn't overeat and get too fat to fly. I can tell the second I pick a bat up whether it's in good weight or not. Kinda cool. I have marked the inside of each bat's right ear with a different color of acrylic paint. Jolie is orange. After three weeks in hibernation, she was not hungry, because she had eaten all the worms in her dish when the weather warmed up! 

This is Poppy. Pale pink in her ear marks her. She was found sleeping peacefully in an attic on January 21. Homeowners said nope so she was brought to me. Sigh. I wish they would have just let her leave come spring. But say "bat" and 99.99 percent of people say, "Not in my house/attic/basement/chimney!" She was in good shape at 17 gm, hibernating normally.

Carmelo is my only male. He's also the darkest, a deep espresso brown. And he's a sweetheart. He was found inside, hanging over the door at a local tattoo parlor. People who create tattoo art are generally very sympathetic toward bats, snakes, spiders and other fauna from which many people recoil. I like that about tattoo artists. Maybe it's because they wind up drawing a lot of those kinds of creatures in their work; maybe it's a more accepting and open state of mind. I love the way Carmelo snuffles around looking for another worm at the end of this clip.

These clips are very short because I am feeding the bats and making the videos all with my right hand while holding the animal in my left. I can only make a short clip because I have to pull my tight leather glove off my right hand with my teeth to make the video. I pull the glove off, give the bat a worm on tweezers, and then I have maybe ten seconds to make a video before the bat wants another worm. Then I pull the glove back on with my teeth. This is difficult to do through a surgical mask, but I have perfected the move. Haha! Needless to say I much prefer having Liam make the videos. 

More bats and some good news in my next post!

From Bird to Borb

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


I like to look at the individual birds who come to my feeders, to tell them apart from each other. This is my oldest female red-bellied woodpecker. See how she has a brilliant red forecrown (nares) and a rather narrow gray forehead? 

She also has a red V poking down into the gray forehead over on the right. I wonder if she got old enough, if the bright red would spread up from her forecrown and meet the red coming from her hindcrown?
Older females have more testosterone which makes for brighter coloration. Think of red feathering as warpaint. Brighter birds do better in conflicts. Older females can hold their own against rivals better than younger females. 

Right after she left, another female redbelly came. This one is younger, with a limited amount of golden orange, not red, in the nares and a very wide gray crown band. Almost like she's got a really receding hairline, right? 

A starling plumped down on the hook over her head and she underwent a startling transformation.
The bird became...

a borb.

I am not one to use cute names for birds, but THIS is a BORB.

Only when the starling turned its pointy end away did she relax a bit into a birdier shape.

Maybe I can eat a little more, he's busy...

Better keep the blimp going in case he tries to come over here.

Just another gray morning, gazing out at the feeders. I eat my Cheerios first thing, take Curtis on a good hike, fill the feeders, and race into the studio to watch the first flurry of activity as everybody descends and the titmice and jays bear off the peanuts in the shell first.

Fourteen cardinals in a steady count; here are half of them.

The next day there were 26. Exponential cardinal proliferation.
I wonder how they all get the idea at the same time to come to my feeders. Snow smokes out the flame.

This is the time of year I can't do without my bird feeders. I buy six pounds 
of raw suet at a time, slice it up to the right thickness to fit in the Lifelong Suet Feeder, and store it in baggies in the freezer.


The Six Hundred Dollar Stinkbug

Saturday, January 21, 2023


 The brown marmorated stinkbug, Halyomorpha halys, has been in America since it was accidentally introduced from China or elsewhere in Asia to Allentown, PA in 1998. That is not very far from me as the stinkbug flies. The blasted things have spread like wildfire. I saw my first one while visiting a friend in Loudon Co. Virginia maybe 10 years ago. I took a hand towel out of the linen closet and this big gross stinkbug fell out of it. There were more. They were everywhere. He said the side of his house had seethed with them that fall. It wasn't long before they started coming to spend the winter in my house in Ohio. 

I had to laugh the other day when someone asked me on Facebook what I do with stinkbugs in my house. Do I rescue them, take them outside? Should she?  I was like, man, I kill those things any way I can. I can't even count the ways I hate them. I was bemused that she seemed to want someone's permission to kill them. 

I have a favorite orchid that I've been propagating since 2005. Encyclia cordigera has not looked this good in my windows for many a year. This orchid can perfume the entire back of the house when it's in bloom.

These photos are from 2018. I haven't seen blossoms like this for at least five years. 

All because of stinkbugs.

You see, when brown marmorated stinkbugs invade your house in winter, they need to eat, so they look for tender young plant sprouts to sink their needle-sharp snoots into. After a couple years of utter mystery as to why the bloom spikes of my precious orchids always turned black and withered away, I finally caught a brown marmorated stinkbug red-footed, sucking the life out of a new bloom spike. 

So that's all I need now, with deer suddenly eating everything outside, is to have stinkbugs IN MY HOUSE ruining my houseplants, sucking the life from new unfolding leaves as well as flower stalks. 

The little spikes Encyclia cordigera sends out start out tiny and lengthen daily. It takes them weeks to mature, weeks in which the stinkbugs are free to plunder them and ensure that I get no beautiful purple blossoms to perfume my rooms.

I've tried so many times to cover them in netting but the stinkbugs almost always get in and kill them. 
I can't even describe how depressing it is to nurture plants for a year, waiting for that ONE SPIKE, and have it end up like this. No, the plant won't make a replacement spike. It's done until this time next year.

Last year I managed to save one spike, but I had to look at this for about eight weeks.

Only when the flowers unfurl and harden off completely is it safe to unwrap them.

This year I have wrapped the growing points in several layers of Saran and taped them up as securely as I can, given that they're still growing. We'll see how that works. When the spikes get too long to wrap like this, I'm planning to use nylon mesh paint strainers (the same ones I use on milkweed plants to protect monarch caterpillars from predatory, uh, STINKBUGS in late summer.

Like this one, genus Podisus, which I found last summer with a last-instar monarch caterpillar hanging dead from its piercing strawlike mouthpart. It looks strikingly similar to a brown marmorated stinkbug. It met the same fate. Growl.

My plastic-wrapped Encyclias. The fun never stops. Seems like everything I love to grow has its own wrecking crew, even inside my home.

It gets worse. Last summer my not-spectacularly-trusty John Deere x300 lawn tractor started having a new problem. It would run OK for a little while, then start to surge, and suddenly die, just like it was running out of gas. I'd have to leave it until it cooled down, and most of the time I could get it started and running long enough to get it back to the garage, but whatever I needed it for was off the day's To Do list.
 It was Not Convenient. 

My dear neighbor Bill W. helped me. He put a new fuel filter on it, and then a new fuel pump. Each time we put a new part on it, we thought we had it covered. But then it did it again a couple weeks ago while I was happily hauling winter brush. Just up and quit way out the meadow. 

I let it sit, used starting fluid on it the next morning in a light snowfall, and when it roared back to life, I just barely limped back to the garage before it surged, weakened and quit for good, dead as a donut.

It was time to call Bridgeport Equipment, bite the bullet, and pay through the nose to have them come out and pick up the tractor and finally diagnose what was wrong with it.

Days went by. Almost a week. I knew they didn't have many tractors in for repair. I started to lose hope.
And finally I got a call. 
They'd set my tractor up with what they called a "donor tank."

I loved that. Like dialysis for a tractor. 
And it ran fine. Then they knew there was something wrong in the fuel tank or line.
And guess what that something was. 
Being a Science Chimp, I appreciated the little baggie stapled to the invoice.

There was a stinkbug IN MY FUEL TANK.
Blocking the fuel line to a trickle. 
Making my life even more beautiful.

For those who wonder, "Misc" is what they charged me to come out and get my tractor, and drop it off, because I don't have a truck to haul it myself. 

Now you've seen a 632 dollar stinkbug. Isn't that special?

They make it mighty hard to have nice things.

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