gardenWith all the chemical-laden products marketed to folks planting their gardens this time of year, it takes a real commitment to stick to the ways of the organic gardener when it comes to pest control phoenix project. Blasting bugs with chemicals and powdering pests with deadly substances may be quick and convenient, but let’s face it: it’s just wrong. It’s not all hard work, though; organic gardeners have some secrets that can lighten the extra effort required by the principles of permaculture. Here’s my favorite secret weapon: enlist the aid of other species.

Get By with a Little Help from (Feathered) Friends

I have about a dozen chickens and another half a dozen ducks that free-range all over my yard. I consider them my secret weapon in the war against bugs and weeds. Best of all, the bird eats the bugs and weed seeds and turns them into delicious fresh eggs. Chickens are extremely surface-oriented. Being naturally quite short, they have their beady little eyes continuously wide open for anything moving on the ground. Spiders, beetles, cockroaches, crippled wasps: you name it, they’ll peck it up in an instant with their sharp little beaks.

Chicken feet are extremely well-adapted to scraping things up from just under the surface of the soil; they function rather like tiny rototillers. The wise organic gardener will make use of these qualities by letting the chickens into the space designated for flowers or vegetables before planting but after doing a little surface spading. The chickens will scratch through the soil in a very workmanlike way, removing grubs, larvae, and weed seeds from the plot.

Ducks lack the sharp eyes and beaks of chickens, but they do love the bugs that live in the soil. When you’re spading, let your ducks help you out. They use their beaks like little trowels, scooping up bits of earth to find something underneath and tunneling down into the dirt to see if there is anything tasty lurking there. They are quick to soften up even the most impacted and dried-out soil, making it really receptive to seeding.

duckNot all of us are able to let poultry free-range. Thank goodness for poultry tractors. These are small “runs” fenced all around and over the top with poultry netting; they are usually equipped with at least one door. Place the tractor over the soil that you want the birds to clean up, add the birds, and let them go to work. Tractors are easy to move, so you can place them around your garden space as needed.