Opossum Visit/Honeybee Update

Our chicken coop was built to keep out predators. We used hardware mesh rather than chicken wire, because the holes in the mesh are so small no rodent can slide through. We buried the mesh a foot underground, then gave it a 90 degree fold to foil predators who dig. Mesh covers the top of the coop, under the roof, so that no hawk can fly in from above. We have not had one predator kill in our flock, and we intend never to have one.

That doesn't mean that predators don't come sniffing around. I've written about our friend, the early morning coyote, who frequently comes in the yard at dawn to puzzle out a way to get to those delicious birds. We have regular raccoon and skunk visitors. Hawks still hang out in our larger trees, watching (though of course they are also after small songbirds). We've never seen an owl, but I often hear them at night, so I know they are here. 

But, we had a new visitor the other night, and it surprised us! Tom went out to lock up the coop (we use a lock because we've known so many folks who haven't and the raccoons have gotten in, despite intricate latches) and saw this guy right out in front of the coop door. 

This is a terrible picture, but it was fully dark, and the flash made this guy look fiercer than he was. He was only about ten inches long, definitely a juvenile, and he was very frightened of us. We could get very close and he didn't move. Of course we didn't want to harass him, so we left him there after taking his picture. That night, and all the nights since, we have made sure to contain the cat and the dog before full dark. I've never seen an opossum in our garden before (usually I see them on the road, oftentimes as roadkill, but sometimes slinking around) and it prompted me to do some research. 

Opossums are the only native American marsupial. They are not native to California but were introduced in 1910 from the east coast, and now they are well-established. They do not tend to live long, three years is old in opossum years. Their habit of feeding on roadkill is what kills them most often, as they get run over by cars. 

Adult opossums are the size of a house cat and weigh about 15 pounds. (The one we found was pretty small, so definitely not an adult yet.) They eat fruit, vegetables, mice, rats, frogs, snails, and birds. Several of the things on that list are things I don't want in my garden, so it's nice that the opossum feeds on those. They can really damage crops, though. It's possible that what I've been blaming on squirrels is really opossum damage (sorry, Nutkin). They live in compost piles, brush piles, and under porches.

We don't have a raised porch, but we certainly have brush piles...

My intent with this was to attract snakes...

My intent with this was to attract snakes...

... and we have Adam's train shed, which is raised on blocks. I've seen rats living under the shed, and most recently lizards, but I've also noticed some digging in places around the shed and it could be the opossums.

I'm not inclined to try to eradicate this little opossum, or any other ones, unless I start to notice that they are becoming a big problem. It sounds like opossums can be quite a nuisance, fighting with dogs and cats, and they can carry a lot of frightening diseases, but I don't have little kids running around here in the dark, and as long as we keep the pets safe, I don't see any harm in letting this guy live.  I will be on the lookout for older, meaner opossums, though.

I wanted to let you know that the bees are doing fine. No sign of mites, wax moths, or ant problems this year. They are bringing in an awful lot of nectar; they are constantly foraging in the plants in my garden as well as some in the neighbor's yards (one of our neighbors has the most attractive dahlia and I never see a blossom without a bee on it, and another neighbor has some very appealing blue salvias that are always mobbed). I also have noticed that our privet is blooming.

Now, I must be clear, I am not a fan of privet. I have removed six from this property already. I find them boring to look at, they are bullies in the garden, they reseed annoyingly regularly, and their pollen is an allergen to many folks I know. But we have one privet which started off as a bush in our yard when we first moved in, maybe three feet high. I decided to try to prune it as a tree, and let it grow to shade the patio. And it has done that.

As you can see, it shades the grill and smoker, so Tom has a comfortable place to cook outside. But it is still a pain - it needs pruning at least twice a year, and heavily, or it overwhelms everything (it's due for a trimming now in fact), The only reason I keep it (besides the shade) is that is blooms this time of year, when not a whole lot else does.

And the bees LOVE IT. Stand underneath it, and you will be surrounded by humming. 

The bees don't collect any pollen from this tree, but they are certainly collecting nectar. And the bars in the hive reflect this - bar after bar is filled with shiny uncapped nectar and capped honey.

The bees are still bringing in pollen (mostly a dark orange color) because the queen will lay eggs for another month or two. But she is slowing down, and the forager bees are mainly bringing in any nectar they can find, to prepare for winter.  We could probably take a bar of honey if we wished, but we have enough in the cupboard, and the bees will need it come colder weather. If there is a surplus in spring, we'll take some then.