Taming our wild side

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I’ve never understood (or admittedly bothered to research) how other gardeners manage to have their ducks live in harmony with the precious fruits and veg of their labour. When we first introduced our five eager quackers to our gardens, we were pleased with the efficiency with which they hoovered up slugs and bugs. Oh, how quickly these feelings changed. The sight of our steamrolled lettuces and carrots soon saw them evicted from the gardens, separated by a chicken wire covered wooden post fence.

A stone wall that parallels the fence is lined with wild blackberry and fuchsia bushes and their wee pond sits at the entrance. It’s a long, rectangular space near double the size of what’s pictured above. When not exploring the areas surrounding the house, the ducks relish the security and privacy of the tall, wild, grassy weeds that we let overgrow between the wall, the fence and the pond.

I always envisioned transforming this area into something more colourful with a look that’s still carefree without the current look of neglect. With this idea, I did some research and over the years have purchased packets and boxes of seeds to plant here. However, when faced with the task of preparing the soil, armed with the knowledge of how much heartier weeds are compared to wildflower seeds, I turn my back to it and instead toil on the tame side of the fence.

I don’t want to spend an enormous (meaning ‘any’) amount of time weeding this field; my gut feeling is that it would be a constant and futile effort. So each spring I do nothing but watch the grassy weeds regrow and put it off yet again.

My dear friend Sandra, aka Wild Daffodil, recently quoted Bill Mollison’s permaculture principle, “The problem is the solution” and this week I put this thought into practice. Perhaps it was more a challenge than a problem, but either way, it became the solution I was looking for.

Last year I successfully grew a half-dozen verbena plants and, to quote my ten-year-old son Adrien, “Who knew seeds so tiny could turn into things so big”. He was talking about tomato plants, not verbena, and I would have known their ultimate size had I read the package more carefully, but anyway, they grew to be three feet tall and unsuitable for the forever home I chose to plant them in as young seedlings. Teasel is another, grown from seed and now five feet tall and no longer fit for their placement in the garden. And there you have it– the problem plants became the wild field solution. Some of the plants are lining the fence in the photo above and this week I transplanted them into the duck field.

Lesson learned. I’ll gradually add more plants but will grow them separately first, then transplant to the field rather than spread seed. That way I’m optimistic they’ll live in synthesis with the existing grasses and create something that we and the ducks will all be content to live with.

49 Comments

  1. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    Good plan. Our ducks only spend the winter in the veg plot then they are moved out. What variety do you have? Some ducks eat more vegetation and some eat a more carnivorous diet. Ours eat both – so tender lettuce would never survive!

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    • They’re Khaki Campbells, great egg layers. They didn’t so much eat as flatten everything. I let them in the garden now and then when I’m working about but they definitely can’t be left unattended. We have to supervise otherwise the chickens enter also and they enjoy the brassicas, Swiss chard, and other veg that overwinters. Just love them all so much. If only they were cuddlier, definitely not ‘huggers’ though! 😀

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  2. We have the same issue with our chickens! They free range but are often kept in a long and large run during the growing season. Why? because they become little rototillers when the garden is planted with rows of tender lettuce, chard, and spinach. They seem to think “Oh, for us”? Have fun with the meadow and the choosing of plants…maybe a little orchard? Some native woodies? I know what you mean about creating another space that needs lots of attention, we are always trying to be mindful of creating more areas to tend and the work in entails. Still a ways to go before we are digging in the dirt here…but soon!
    best to all, denise

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    • We considered fruit trees but they would eventually rob precious sunlight so we’ve been planting them at the opposite end of the gardens, in the last field down. Next trip home I will have to make time to visit you and see your garden spread.
      On another note, do you know much about fiddlehead? Would any fern frond do? I saw some on the island and want to pick them. My daughter adored the jar you gifted us and I always enjoyed them growing up. Thinking steamed with butter, and blanch and freeze. Fermented too of course. I’ll research if you don’t know, but I suspect you do. Hope you don’t mind me picking your brain a little Denise.

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      • Fiddleheads are from the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and they are the edible ones. They prefer moist rich soil, often we forage for them along riverbanks and streams. They do spread rapidly and they are chosen because the crozier ( the curled top of a fern) that comes up is smooth and clean lacking the hairs that other ferns have. We gather them alongside a nearby stream..we steam them and eat them fresh, we freeze them, pickle them, and use them in soup. Yum!We grow them here at the nursery and sell the plants as well. Good luck with the meadow…choosing plants that are wild ( and medicinal)…a great idea!! Would love, love, for you to visit!!!

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        • I don’t remember if the ferns I’ve seen are smooth or not and obviously have some homework to do. Thanks for your detailed answer and I’ll let you know if they are here or not; ferns are everywhere. They just fascinate me. I definitely didn’t appreciate them as a child like I do now. Thank you again and talk soon!

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  3. The permaculture farm that I go to also have the same issue = free range only under supervision. Someone else has written about overcoming problems with wild deer at their farm by creating a space just for them, full of the kinds of food they like, and they stay away from the human consumption crops.

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  4. gaiainaction says:

    Sounding good Melissa….”the problem is the solution” – love it! Reading about your ducks and slugs has me thinking of my own garden in West Cork and in April we will be back there and it will be gardening full blast! Slugs and all – memories! Love the idea of duck eggs 🙂

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  5. Roz Hill says:

    We decided no ducks, for this very reason. Our geese however are caged in the orchard most of the time and they sometimes destroy the trees , when we let them out during the mating season they chase around flattening the crocuses! The chickens, we love them, but they destroy any hope of growing garden flowers.

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  6. Pingback: Photo Challenge Round-Up:February | Wild Daffodil

  7. I love your garden…. can I admit to a little bit of garden envy? One day I would love to have a ‘proper’ garden again with grass and everything. For now we content ourselves with a balcony with a glorious view and a small concrete patio which is rare in Gibraltar, but it doesn’t stop me longing for a lawn to mow and a veg patch again… maybe one day!

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  8. What a beautiful space! I have the same sentiments with wildflower seeds! I put it off again and again out of fear of “wasting” seeds to only be consumed by grass and weeds. I like your idea of using established transplants to start!

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