Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In Further Praise of Domestic Poultry

I like gardening well enough, but I've never been able to work up much enthusiasm for dealing with common insect pests. I just don't like thinking about all the things that might go wrong, so I take a wing it sort of attitude. For the most part, this has worked well for me, which I suppose is why I still adhere to this way of thinking. Sure, not everything succeeds. But most of my gardening endeavors do, and I see acceptably good returns on my efforts.

My sugar pumpkins are pretty well done for the year. The leaves have been withering for several weeks now, and this rather unsavory looking bug has been conspicuously hanging about on the leaves and ripening pumpkins. I don't think they're squash bugs, unless I have a whole lot of young bugs that are going to change appearance as they grow. (Update: El from Fast Grow the Weeds confirms that these are, in fact, squash bugs.) Nor do they quite match the descriptions I've read of cucumber beetles, which will sometimes attack squash vines. Whatever they are, I figure if they're around in such numbers, they're up to no good.

Enter my frugal and very non-toxic solution. I walk around knocking these little critters into a wide plastic container, where they collect pretty easily. Then I dump a load of them straight into the chicken pen, where their life expectancy is roughly that of a tissue paper mouse being chased through hell by an asbestos cat. I don't know the name of these bugs, and neither do my hens. But they recognize them sure enough as snack food. It's frugal because I don't spend any money to deal with the insects, and because I reduce my feed costs for the girls, who then turn these bugs into eggs that I get to eat. I spent about 10 minutes this morning collecting the bugs, and plan to repeat this minor chore daily until the bugs are too few to collect. If I were able to keep my hens as free range birds, I wouldn't even have to make that much of an effort.

It's nice to use the chickens as pest control. My girls are getting older, and their egg output is becoming rather inconsistent. So it's gratifying to have them providing other services. Now someone please tell me what these bugs are. I really hope I'm not feeding the girls some beneficials.

Related Posts:
Going Mobile with a Backyard Flock
Putting the Livestock to Work
Meat Rabbits On Pasture


Anonymous said...

Those are *)%$#@ squash bugs. And yes, the adjective is needed. They move around a lot faster when they're older so it's good you have caught them when they were young. They will kill all your squash if you don't watch it; at my first sign of them I usually pull the plant and burn it, otherwise I will have no squash at all. Sorry to sound so dire but those things really are little *)$#@s.

Kate said...

Hiya, El. Thanks for the identification. I guess I'm "lucky" in the sense that the bugs haven't really affected my harvest. I got well over 20 sugar pumpkins this year. And they were all pretty well done by the time I started noticing the pests. So, if the pests are responsible for the deaths of my vines, at least they didn't rob me of my crop.

I will feel reassured though as I continue to feed the little $%^&*('s to the girls.

all the best,


BonzoGal said...

I've been reading about your chickens' usefulness with great interest. I have 3 cats, and I showed them your blog and urged them to pitch into the household chores, but they refused. My husband is constantly asking them to at least pick up a leaf or two in our yard. Sadly, I think their greatest use is as footwarmers during the winter. (They do this during the summer too, which isn't so useful.) ;)

Kate said...

Bonzogal, I too have a cat (until recently, cats) who doesn't contribute much, other than to increase the cuteness factor around the home. She's insanely jealous of both the garden and the chickens. The little prima donna will come out and caterwaul like anything whenever I'm out there working. What can be said about cats? They're freeloaders, and the specimen I'm saddled with simply must be the center of attention at all times, but we love them nonetheless.