The Hooded Skunk makes its appearance on the Gulf Coast.


The other chilly evening, as I sat on my deck, contemplating the universe (and watching a satellite traverse the sky), a soft sound interrupted my reverie. I assumed it was the neighbor’s cat, who often visits me for a head scratch.

I looked down and froze. It wasn’t the cat at all, but a skunk…a weird-looking skunk. Having been raised on a farm in southwest Louisiana and having lived in the country, I have seen many skunks, but have never seen one like this. It stopped just a yard from my feet (which were propped up on a chair), I figured I was in trouble. I was too far from the backdoor, and the patio table blocked me from fleeing into the dark yard. My mind raced through the treatments for skunk spray, but at the moment, I couldn’t think of any.
Amazingly, the animal didn’t appear to see me. It stopped at the edge of the deck, still just a few feet away, looking around the edge of the deck into the darkness and seemed to be listening to some sound that it obviously heard, but I could not. Then it ambled away into the darkness, leaving me a little shaken. Worried that it might return and see me, I slowly arose and made my way back into the house.
Usually, the smell of a skunk precedes it, alerting other potential threats to stay away. But this time there was no scent.
Back in the house, the wife and I looked through out books and searched online for the animal. Instead of stripes, it had what looked like a pure white fright wig that extended from the nose to the tip of the tail, drooping down over its sides.

It was, we learned a hooded skunk – (Mephitis macroura) – translated to foul odorous, long tailed animal.

Mostly vegetarian, its preferred food is prickly pear,  but it will also eat insects, bird eggs and small vertebrates. Unlike our native skunks (Mephetis mephitis) which means foul-foul odorous animal – (notice that “foul” is used twice to describe the striped skunk with which we are more familiar), no record of rabies exists among the hooded skunk population, although their spray is just as horrid. They do however have parasites- nematodes, roundworms and fleas, which fairly well excludes them from human consumption.

We also discovered that my skunk was far out of its habitat range, which includes far southern New Mexico and Arizona, and near the Chisos Mountains in  west Texas. It’s range also continues on to most of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and northwest Costa Rica.

They tend to den near rocky areas, crevices or human-made objects with a permanent water source and plenty of plants. The, like most of the skunk family, are nocturnal and solitary.

Possible reasons for the hooded skunk to have extended its range to east Texas is increased population density, more land taken up for farming, and climate change. As I have mentioned before, we are seeing more and more animals move northward from more tropical and hotter climes. 

As you can see from the photo, it’s a rather interesting animal. I would warn against petting it, however. Since it’s nocturnal,you may want to leave yourself a quick exit path if you are caught unawares staring at the stars on your patio.

Lawns need little care now


With Christmas right around the corner and the National Weather Service predicting a cooler- and wetter-than-average winter for the Gulf Coast region, the next few months might be the perfect time to sit before the fire with a good book and a warm drink.

During the cooler weather, you might have to take some of your more subtropical and tropical potted plants indoors, but you shouldn’t have to worry about your lawn.

Lawn Dormancy

Warm season grass goes dormant during the cooler months.That doesn’t mean it is dead. It does mean that the grass blades turn yellowish or even brown during the winter months. That’s because the grass plants are shifting their growth from above to below the ground. This is when St. Augustine and other warm season turf grasses build their root systems. Good root systems built during the cooler months mean stronger and more disease and pest-resistant plants in the spring.

Good soil practices

Taking care of your lawn is a process. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t put a $10 plant into a $1 hole.” What that means is that for any plant – turf grass included – the soil must be fertile, full of beneficial microbes, and must provide a nutritious environment for plants to generate new roots and expand existing root systems. To create good soil conditions, homeowners must make sure that the soil beneath their lawn is healthy.

Since increased precipitation is expected, there should be little or no reason to water lawns during the winter and early spring (late February and early March along the Gulf Coast). In fact, last year, our systems indicated that lawns needed no irrigation during the entire winter period.

It’s not too late to start a winter herb garden


There’s nothing like the fragrance of rosemary in a warm kitchen during cold and dreary winter days. Or the taste of fresh chives chopped on a baked potato. Or cilantro in that salsa you’re making.  These herbs, as well as others, can be grown outside during the winter. B

Parsley

High in vitamins K, C and A, parsley’s spicy and slightly peppery taste pairs well with tomato-based sauces, potatoes, poultry,grain-based salads, seafood and egg dishes.

Parsley is very easy to grow. Spread the tiny seeds out in a pot, or into your garden bed. Cover the seeds lightly with some compost and press down to make sure the seeds are in contact with soil. Water gently every other day (unless of course it rains) until they sprout. Then continue watering as needed.

Although there are many cultivars of parsley, there are basically two types – flat leaf (also called Italian parsley) and curly leaf.  Originating in the Mediterranean area, people use it as a spice and a vegetable. The taproot is used as a food in European cuisines.

Parsley has high nutrient value, particularly in folates, iron, copper and many trace elements,  vitamin value, particularly in vitamins K, C and A.

Cilantro (Coriander)

Closely related to parsley, cilantro is also a great source of antioxidants. Using it to flavor food can also help to lower salt intake.Used for thousands of years, the dried leaves have been found in a cave in the Middle East dating back to 6,000 B.C. Cilantro has also been found in digs in ancient Egypt.


Some studies suggest that this herb may decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and, when used in cooking meat, can reduce heterocyclic amine (HCA), a chemical derived from meat cooked at a high heat. HCA has been associated with a higher risk of cancer.

The leaves of this plant are called cilantro, while the seeds are called coriander. Cilantro and its cousin are related to about 3,700 other plant species including carrots and celery.

Rosemary

This is a fragrant evergreen herb – also native to the Mediterranean. Part of the mint family, which includes oregano, thyme, basil and lavender and dozens of other plants, it’s a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin B-6.

Rosemary is best started from cuttings, although seeds work almost as well.  It likes dry,well-drained soil, and prefers sun, but it will do okay in partial shade. It is a perennial, and can live for many, many years. Not only is rosemary a great herb, but it also makes a very attractive accent plant in the garden, adding its fresh fragrance to the outdoors.

Studies indicate that rosemary also has some beneficial effects in slowing human and breast carcinoma cells and other studies concluded that it might be useful as an anti-inflammatory agent. Many people put rosemary in bath water to soothe aching joints. It is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.

Chives

Chives are close relatives of garlic, shallot, leeks and scallions. In colder climates, chives may freeze back, but in southeast Texas,they rarely do, especially if they are in a sheltered area. They can also thrive in partial shade.

Use chives as garnishes, salads, egg salad sandwiches,vegetable stocks, potato dishes, omelets, and really anything that meets your taste. They do not do very well when cooked too much, so if you use them in soups or omelets, introduce them just before serving.

Originating in China and Siberia, hardy and drought-tolerant, chives can grow up to one foot tall in closely grouped stalks. They sport attractive lavender flowers in mid-summer. Chives do exceptionally well in containers.

Chives are high in vitamins K and A and contains large amounts of flavonoid antioxidants. They are high in calcium, iron, magnesium,potassium, copper and manganese and provide large amounts of thiamin, niacin, zinc and other beneficial minerals and acids. There is also some evidence that chives can inhibit salmonella populations.

Indoor herbs

Most herbs can be grown indoors, although parsley and cilantro thrive in cold weather. Oregano, mint, thyme, rosemary, chives and most other herbs do as well indoors as outdoors. However, all of them require some light.

Herbs in containers

Whether you plant herbs indoors or outdoors, remember that herbs in containers require different treatment than herbs grown in the ground.Container-grown herbs, like any other potted plant, need good potting soil,instead of garden soil.  While garden soil is suited for herbs grown in the ground, where water and air can move around easily, and nutrients are readily available, the same isn’t so for container plants. Potting soil is generally made up of composted bark and leaves, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite. They generally need more water than herbs in the ground.

Planting in the ground

Plant herbs in gardens using a good lawn and garden mix and add organic compost as well. Make sure it is well drained. In fact, you can plant most herbs in among your vegetables. Don’t crowd them though. Since good garden soil should be alive with microorganisms, worms and tiny insects which aerate the soil, and mycorrhizal fungi which helps herbs obtain nutrients from the soil, the herbs in the garden probably won’t require as much care as those indoors.

General rules for herbs

  • Harvest regularly.
  • Don’t overcrowd.
  • Don’t allow the plants to flower early in the season. Keep pinching off flowers that are forming. Some plants, like cilantro,are annuals, and, once they form seeds, they die. Keeping the plant from forming flowers (and thus seeds) is a way of prolonging the life of herbs.
  • Be sure to check the labels of any chemicals placed on herbs. Look for the words “safe for edibles” on the label. This goes for both fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Water properly. Herbs don’t need a lot of care.  Water them in the morning when they need it. Put down some good mulch but leave some space between the mulch and the plant’s stem. Water the soil around the plant not the leaves. Watering the leaves will only produce mildew and disease.
  • Choose healthy plants. Or plant them from seed
  • Don’t be afraid to prune or cut back herbs. This makes them hardier, thicker and better tasting.