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Pests Aplenty and Bald Chickens April 30, 2006

Posted by Joe in Uncategorized.

Here, on the cusp of May, we are off to a good start in the vegetable patch. The weather has been very cooperative. Lots of sunshine, occasional rain, and no frost for about 20 days now.

The sweet peas are starting to vine and flower. The radishes have already plumped up and a few have even begun to bolt (flower and then set seed, not run away). We have almost everything already planted in the “main garden,” with the exception of the melons. J says that you are supposed to put those in before sun-up on the first day of May, no matter what the weather. Guess I’ll be up early tomorrow morning!

I say “main garden” to differentiate from the “auxiliary garden” a.k.a. “dove field.” After getting the veggie garden started last year, we put in a ¾ acre patch in one of the pastures near the ponds. It should have been a dove’s dream come true with lots of corn and sunflowers, but alas, they didn’t come. All it actually drew was deer, raccoons, and some big fat crows. This year it really will draw the migrating doves, Joe hopes, but also be the overflow spot for what we can’t fit in the main acre garden. I also hope to try some grains –quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth- and some sugarbeets called mangels to feed our livestock for the winter.

The potatoes are also doing quite nicely this year. The first three rows we put in are quite large and we’ve pulled the dirt to them twice now to keep the developing ‘taters
covered. (J noted that the last 2 rows were a little sparse and wobbly. When I told them that we had let our kids and their friends- Mary Margaret, Sarah Beth, and Lily Kate Richards- plant them, he said that was a relief. He thought maybe we’d been drunk when we put those in!).

We are really looking forward to a bumper crop of spuds and are pleased to see them take off. Unfortunately, the Colorado potato beetles arrived early and also think they are wonderful. Last year, they reduced our crop to nothing but skeletonized leaves in just a couple of days. This year, we were determined not to give them to the bugs, but yet, I really didn’t want to use a chemical pesticide on food we will eat. We decided to try a natural remedy first. This picture was taken 2 days after that remedy (agricultural sulphur). Notice the hole chewed in the leaf. If I’d turned the leaf over, there probably would have been bright orange eggs stuck there too. Apparently, the beetles don’t know they are repelled by sulphur.

Our potatoes aren’t the only ones suffering from pests. We have an absolute plethora of these caterpillars this year. They seem to be everywhere and the chickens don’t have a taste for them, I’m guessing because they are a little fuzzy. (But what do I know? I wouldn’t eat most anything that a chicken finds quite palatable!).

I’m not sure if these caterpillars are the culprits, but our plums are almost all spoiled already. They have been “stung” (as J calls it) by some insect. I looked up a picture of this problem in a gardening book I have. The book said it was due to Curculio and recommended a pesticide to solve all my every problem. Again, I don’t want to spray chemicals on fruit we plan to harvest, but we’ve been looking forward to fresh plums and plum jelly. Next year, I guess we will see if we can find something organic to save the fruit.

As annoying as the insects are, they aren’t the only critters that have made pests of themselves. The deer have also been a real nuisance. Our fruit trees valiantly survived the drought last summer just to be nibbled off by the deer! We are planning to put tomato-type cages around them to protect them from now on, just as soon as we get them made. Last year, we planted about 30 melon hills and ate about 5 melons all summer. Just as they got ripe, the deer would punch as hole in them with their hooves and eat out the centers and then move to the next one. It was infuriating. The electric fence will hopefully help with that this year.

We also hope the fence may deter the chickens. We are working on getting “chicken tractors” (see earlier posting) for the majority of them so they can fertilize the pasture and be safe from predators. We plan to leave a dozen or so birds loose around the house to control the ticks, though. The problem with that is that chickens LOVE tomatoes. We had 70 tomato plants last year and still only had about enough at any given time for our own use (very few to give away or can). The reason? The beautiful red color would beckon you into the garden to pick it. You would reach in and grasp it, but just as you began to gently squeeze and turn, tomato juice and seeds would squirt out onto your shoes. A chicken had been beckoned first! But it had only wanted one bite of each fruit!

This very morning, I saw the electric fence in action for the first time. A chicken that had escaped and was hungry was following me around. I had turned the corner at the garden outside the fence, so the chicken decided to cut the corner and catch up. Bad idea. This particular hen was one that was bald from aggressive suitors. (The eager young roosters grab their women by the “hair” and accidentally pull out the feathers leaving them bald and sunburned. We need to “process” some more roosters!). It had also been raining. When her bald damp head touched the low wire as she walked through the wet grass, she received a zap. She squawked and hightailed it back to the henhouse she had earlier been so eager to leave. Bet she won’t be back to rob the garden anytime soon! Joe got into the electric fence twice today, but he didn’t run to the henhouse- just went to change his pants. Hee hee.



1. Anonymous - May 9, 2006

Oh, that would be so infuriating to have one bite take from each tomato instead of 5 bites taken out of 2!!! I don’t know about chicken nuisances, but aren’t there books out there for chemical free gardening? I feel like there are tricks the pros know, like plant jalepeno bushes around your melons and the deer will not bother them (or something). Or put a few over-ripe watermelons in the garden every day and the beetles will leave your potatoes alone (or something).
Better luck this year. I don’t have to keep deer and chickens out of my plants. Just vandals and thugs.

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