admin posted on April 24, 2010 23:51
Keeping Ducks and Geese

No hiding it, at least three of my ten acres are weed fields. Actually, it's been interesting to view the progression of weeds, to see each season which has managed to crowd out the previous ones and dominate. And sometimes it seems like science fiction when you see weeds allowed their full growth! It's a relief this year to see that johnson grass seems to have succumbed to honeysuckle and a couple of types of weeds I need now to identify. Well, in any case: habitat, right? because I provide fresh water sources, and there are a lot of creatures that make their home in these fallow fields. Rabbits, of course. Lots of quail, which you can tell by the calls of "bob-white." When mowing recently, a handsome plover came out and looked at me directly as if to ask, "What are you doing? We'd really like this left alone." And who can resist a handsome plover? I do leave large patches alone and am glad to see the life so fostered. This property is the "old farmhouse" - 1940, so such a funny thing to say in Virginia! - surrounded by mature trees that shade the house and yard, border the barn and fields, and so on. And I've been doing lots of planting all round, one acre for orchards, another for berries and asparagus as well as annual planting, and the lilac-rose-peony gardens. The rest, that I keep trying to get more of a grip on, is former soybean and corn fields, now frankly weed fields. Such a contrast to the neighbors: the association that rules the houses built on this farm's former fields allows no crops, no animal husbandry, really nothing but closely-mown grass. Imagine my good kind neighbor, more land than my ten acres, and not allowed to have a horse on it. I look at those lawns that support no life but human, with dogs controlled by electric fences, and take comfort in seeing the increasing wildlife around my own house. I feel very strongly that our land should be stewarded as habitat for as wide a variety of life as possible.

Still, there's a lot to keep up and mow, and a lot of area that could be better kept. How to battle the weeds as a green property? Well, I came across an article on weeder geese, and that was just too intriguing.

Unlike ducks, geese feed by choice on grasses. Seems hungry geese will settle for weeds, and even eat johnson grass! Reportedly, the best weed-eaters are the smaller, noisier Chinese geese (by name, nothing to do with China in fact). So I decided to read about their care and see if I thought I could manage it.

Geese don't settle down at night, don't look to get into their house like chickens, so you need to get them into their shelter, and should keep light and moonlight out of it, to not disturb them. Then out in the morning. So far, so good. I cleaned up one elevated room in the barn, could get the geese up there with a simple ramp, and could shade the windows.

As with any creature, you have to consider predators. Acquaintances have reported their birds - ducks and chickens - killed by foxes and hawks. Baby geese would surely be at risk. What about grown geese? I have no answer, would love to hear. And snakes will take eggs and small birds. The barn room is nearly protected with hardware cloth, and it wouldn't be a big job to finish that. Outdoors, people use different sorts of pens. I started imagining a rectangular structure of pvc with hardware cloth wrapped around it, that I could locate in each day's chosen spot without too much trouble, that would protect from hawks and foxes. Seems do-able.

And how to acquire the geese? Found a website that ships newborn birds and that seems possible but hate the idea; biggest danger is injuring their feet; and it would have to be accomplished before warm weather sets in. Looked on the net for area farms with geese and struck out.

But the key issue that's got me holding off for now is water management. Found good articles on providing water and keeping food dry (yes, supplements to grass - and weeds). The thing is, geese love to play in water, and it should be fairly deep for them; but playing in it, they'll also poop in it, and so you have to have a way to pump the pond (or other container) out from time to time. You can provide a kids' wading pool, dump it out and clean it, and that might be how I'd eventually start off. Read about pond construction and pipelines and pumpouts and decided it's too much to take on right now. You can have geese and they'll get by without a play pool, but why acquire any sort of creature and not give it the environment it loves? So I'll try to find geese owners in the region and see how they manage, get more ideas, and consider geese for next year instead.

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Posted in: Garden , Wildlife  Tags:
admin posted on April 13, 2010 09:41

You'll have realized that massive applications of herbicide are not my approach to gardening. What organic gardening means to me, in 25 words or less: Weeding with a shovel. (Are you old enough to remember cereal-box contests?) Pokeweed and pigweed, bane of my existence. After johnson grass, that is. And ragweed! Less numerous are jimson weed and lamb's quarters.

But other common "weeds" I can easily live with. I don't mow the field north of the barn when the buttercups are in bloom: I think they're a lovely sight. I like the spreading violets and the white clover is actually good butterfly habitat. I tried to remove oxalis when I first came here, but that turned into my first "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" response, as it's so persistent, and actually pretty. I moved oxalis plants to ring the fountain, and let them grow alongside the back sidewalk. But last year, the funniest one came along: great mullein (Verbascum) in the front yard; and it so amused me, I left it. After all, it's grown in England for herbal remedies, or so I read, so I consider appropriate to herb gardens. This year Rudbeckia is popping up in that same yard, and as my mother loves daisy-type flowers, and these black-eyed susans are also good butterfly habitat plants, they're being left alone as well. I had tried moving them a couple of years ago, to make a patch out by the locust trees, but they didn't survive transplanting, so now I'll try letting them spread where they are.

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