Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Growing Catnip Grass

Nepeta cataria is the botanical name for catnip, the herb-like plant from the mint family that drives cats wild.
I bought a packet of seeds from the plant man in the market. The seeds say 'Hierba de Gato' which translates as cat grass, not cat herb as you might think it says.
It is clearly marked nepeta cataria which is the correct name for catnip, and the front of the packet shows a happy cat among a some greens.

However, down the bottom of the packet, underneath the growing instructions, is  a seed composition box explaining that the seeds are 80% Lolium perenne Belida, and 20% Lolium perenne Verna, both of which are varieties of ryegrass.

What grew in my pots this year has a strong resemblance to grass and look nothing like the nettle-like plant I was expecting.

I have yet to trying letting my cat near it, as this grass is struggling to grow as it is.

I did read on another site that this is a common mix for cat grass which although they call it nepeta cataria in't strictly speaking the catnip we have come to know, but there is supposed to be some nepeta cataria in the mix, even though my particular seed packet isn't telling you about it.

The idea with cat grass is that you only sow a few seeds at a time, and offer the whole pot to your cat beside his food dish when it grows, on the assumption that he will eat all the grass (as well as his dinner presumably), and you then simply sow a few more seeds for the next time.

Now seeing as nepeta cataria is considered to be a brilliant insecticide, I can see the point of using such a seed mix to sow a lawn seeing as the plant is perennial and will keep regrowing.

In countries such as Spain the insects in the grass are enough to put you off having a lawn, that and the watering they require. A catnip grass lawn sounds like an ideal solution!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Biting Insect Identified!

Thanks to Jan over at Mud, Gorse and Pines, I now know what the insect is that I am allergic to. It is called the mosca negra or in English, black fly.
  • The mosca negra is a recent introduction into Spain from Africa (10 - 15 years) and the two specific types that have been causing havoc are simulium intermedium and simulium ornatum.
  • In recent years, over 2000 people have been hospitalised due to suffering severe allergic reactions to the bite of the mosca negra in Catalunya alone.
  • Their breeding ground is in flowing clean water, unlike the mosquito which prefers stagnant water. 
  • After the larvae have hatched, they can spread out as far as up to 50 kms from the site they were born. There is a river in this village which I have not inspected as in recent years it has been re-routed away from the mills they used to feed. However, it is safe to say that my house is not more than 2/3 kms from the river.
In Catalunya is the River Ebro which scientists have now treated with Bacillin Thuringiensis which grows to produce spores that attack and kill the larvae of the simulium.

The Black Fly

The black fly is 2-3 mm across, much smaller than the mosquito and when they bite they draw blood. It is not uncommon to suffer extreme inflammation in the area of the bite, as well as a tremendous itch which can be relieved with a costi-steroid topical application.
mosca negra
They are diurnal and bite during the day, and like the mosquito, it is only the female of the species who needs a blood host.
Their danger cannot be underestimated - a swarm of them killed a calf in Switzerland in 2005.

Bite Prevention

It is recommended to wear light coloured clothes with long sleeves if you suspect they may be in your area, and to wear an insect repellent. There is some suggestion that DEET-based sprays do not deter them, and that wearing permethrin-soaked clothes might be a better alternative.
From reading several Spanish websites and blogs, it seems that the Spanish insecticide Autun (which contains icaridine) works well, as does a product called "locion hydratante de Natural Honey" which is a Honey Hydrating Lotion.

In America

The black fly is known to live in the US and Canada too, where it is known under various names including buffalo gnat, turkey gnat or white socks. There are very many different species of black fly under the umbrella of the giant Simulium family. They are a serious problem because they spread disease.
The Blandford Fly in England is actually a black fly named Simulium posticatum and the New Zealand Sandfly is actually a black fly fom the Simulium family.