”˜Tis the season for Bela Lugosi impressions, fake blood, and rubber bats dangling from doorways. But The FruitGuys has real bats on its mind. On behalf of our vespertilian friends, this week The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program installed bat boxes at the historic Jelich Ranch in Portola Valley, Ca. FruitGuys Bridget Meigs and Dan Lemley built and painted two houses, and Skip Parody, the foreman at Jelich, installed them. Jelich Ranch grows the wonderful organic Bartlett Pears and some of the apples in our west coast crates.
The goal of The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program is “to help the farmers we work with achieve sustainable farming practices,” says program manager Bridget Meigs. Supporting organic farmers benefits everyone from the grower to the customer. “Our farm steward program is one part of our approach to wellness that stretches from where and how things are grown to the people and communities we serve,” said FruitGuys CEO Chris Mittelstaedt.
Bats are important predators for insects that can harm fruit trees and the boxes on the Jelich property will provide additional roosts. Farmers Cindie and Phillip White and their staff have worked hard to maintain their historic ranch poised on the edge of the pacific coast wilds and the metropolis of Silicon Valley. Since buying the 100-year-old orchard from the Jelich family in 2000, the Whites have restored buildings and re-planted orchards. They installed water-saving drip irrigation and qualified for organic certification. They've also registered 12 of their 14 acres under the Williamson Act, a legal instrument for conserving agricultural land for future generations.
Preserving open space is key to conservation. So much habitat has been converted to housing that creatures like bats and owls need new homes to survive. Bats normally roost in hollows of old trees, or under bridges, or eaves. They prefer quiet caves or mines for hibernation—if they awake too soon they become too weak to breed.
The bats around Jelich ranch are probably Little Brown Bats, or Myotis lucifugus, one of the most common species in North America. The hope is that the new boxes will encourage the bats to stay, multiply, and vociferously eat mosquitoes and especially the Cottling Moth—a devastating pest to apple growers. The FruitGuys bat boxes were placed high on poles, near water, facing southeast for warm morning sun. Bridget and Dan carefully painted them black with non-toxic paint. Not just to be chic, but to absorb heat. The ideal bat condo is 85 degrees. It may take the bats a few seasons to decide to move into the new digs—but since the Little Browns live up to 34 years, they have time to shop around.
Making a home for bats is a fun and rewarding project. There are many national and local organizations with information on how you could do it. The FruitGuys got kits from the Organization for Bat Conservation . The farmer and author Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about watching the bats near his house in upstate New York return home from their work just before dawn.
“Their flight is less erratic just before roosting, no longer distracted by an insect in the air. It’s as though each bat brings a scrap of night’s darkness home with it, leaving the sky pale and brightening. It’s as though night itself were being stored in the bat house till dusk.”