Happy Mother Nature’s Day

I think that Mother’s Day could only be in spring!

Spring is the season when nature blossoms and the earth becomes a colorful carpet full of flowers, smells and beautiful bugs. Spring is also the season of the first sunny days, first tan (especially when you work in the farm), lighter and colorful clothes and a more feminine mood.

For a farm, though, spring also means a lot of work! Pruning, weeding, planting, watering… I shouldn’t complain, that’s a great awakening from the winter rest.

So working in the field during Mother’s Day, somehow inspired me to write a post about how we deal with Mother Nature and how we get all of the most valuable answers from her!

 

Ducks and geese: the natural guards against the grasshoppers

For years we were struggling with the summer vegetables because they are threatened by the grasshoppers. The grasshoppers pop out of their eggs in April like Nymphs that are black small and have no wings. During this time, they form small round circles in the farm and they are unable jump or move in long distances. In just 25-30 days, though, they become adults – grey or green and with long wings that allows them to cover huge distances in one jump. They live their adult life for a month and then in early-summer they lay their eggs and die. The disaster they leave behind though is huge for the crops! They devour every green plant in their path, and the fresher the better for them.

So imagine that we start planting the summer seedlings in April and in June we are about to harvest our first vegetables and overnight 50 tomato plants are gone! And then the next night another 50. And then dozens of cucumbers and zucchinis and so on! So frustrating!

What we have tried so far was to spray the plants with a fermented garlic preparation. Crush about a kilo of garlic in a bucket, add water just to cover the garlic and close the lid of the bucket. Leave it closed under the sun for a week and then (run away) dilute a cup of filtered garlic juice to 5 liters of water or less if you need a stronger preparation.

The truth is that preparation works but you have to spray every single day and it works only during the first stages of grasshopper’s life cycle. When they become adults, big and hungry, nothing can keep them away from your fresh tomato leaves!

We also tried to spray our plants and the soil underneath with zeolite powder. Zeolite is a natural super porous mineral that provides an ideal trap for positive cations like nitrogen rich ammonium and potassium which are then released when demanded by plants.

Zeolite can be also found as powder and the idea was that it could kill the grasshoppers that are breathing from breathing holes found on their Thorax. The powder would get into the breathing holes and suffocate the insect. The theory was good but the practice didn’t work…

One thing we have also tried that did work was to not plant during the adult phase of the grasshoppers. In other words, we were waiting until they die naturally and then we were planting our vegetables. But, this practice deprived us of vegetables throughout all of the summer. We started getting our crops in September!

Last year, we addressed Mother Nature. We observed her trying to understand how we could protect our plants from grasshoppers, without their population going extinct. How could we limit their presence naturally in our garden, but in a sustainable way (which sometimes is translated as “the least possible effort from me”). The answer was simple: by introducing in the ecosystem their natural predator who are birds. What is better for a farm than to have poultry anyway!?

We immediately got to work: we fenced the area of the vegetable gardens, we created a safe and cozy coop and we bought chickens, ducks and geese. Not only had this measure worked from the first moment, (because it seems that ducks especially love the grasshoppers) but after a couple of weeks we also started to have 8 eggs per day! What is more? We didn’t have to do anything apart from feeding them twice per day and make sure to close their coop at night, so that they are not eaten by their predators – foxes. By the day, they were free, running in the garden, chasing grasshoppers and eating the grass from the ground. Luckily, grasshoppers are such a nice “meze” for them that they didn’t care about our plants. When their mission was complete, and the grasshoppers disappeared, the chickens started turning to our juicy tomatoes. Then it was time to separate them from the vegetables and create another place for them only. That was a piece of cake.

Overall, last summer we enjoyed many many juicy tomatoes and intensely flavored peppers and many more seasonal vegetables. The ones planted outside the fence unfortunately didn’t make it, apart from the melons. Our watermelons and pumpkins were gorged by the grasshoppers.

 

The next generation

The next step was of course to multiply our poultry so that we have for the next year’s planting. To be honest, we also loved eating fresh eggs every morning, they taste so different from the ones in the super market. Their meat is also amazing, but I should get back to the topic – which is the fight against grasshoppers.

And that’s what we did! We bought an incubator and incubated the next generation of our garden’s guards. The process is not as simple as it sounds, though. You need a lot of patience and time to get to grow baby duckies. First of all you need to recognize which eggs are fertilized and which not. Then, during the incubation period, you need to pay attention to the humidity and the temperature of the eggs and aerate them from time to time with no negligence. When they crack the shell and come to our world, they also need much attention for at least a month. Seeing the results three months later and especially now that grasshoppers are back, I think they are totally worth every second taking care of them.

Ducks are also very independent animals. We trained them to feed themselves free in the farm and then to come back to their coop in the evening. That’s the nature of ducks and geese anyway. They all move in a group and the geese protects them from predators. Luckily, our dogs accepted the new members peacefully. Thus, the ducks and geese are wondering around the farm every day from early in the morning and come back by themselves in the evening. The only thing that we need to do is to open and close the doors and provide them with water. Also, they discovered where the grasshoppers’ nests are and they get to work early, before the grasshoppers get bigger and spread all around the farm.

We also grew a new generation of chickens. These are still very young, about one month old. These will be set free in the vegetable garden to eat the grasshoppers that will make it inside the garden. So we have built a double defense: ducks and geese out balancing the population of the grasshoppers and chickens in cleaning the main area.

Our benefits? Multiple!

  • Natural defense for our summer vegetables
  • Ducks and geese eating the grass saving our time from grass cutting
  • Poultries’ poop  is very valuable for the soil
  • Balance of the grasshoppers’ population
  • Fresh eggs daily
  • Organic free range meat from ducks and chicken
  • A more complete ecosystem for our farm
  • A lot of joy to the kids visiting our farm
  • All of the above with almost zero cost!

 

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