How Chickens Let Me Down

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Today I was weeding around my butternuts and found one scaled with brown, diamond-shaped squash bugs that terrorize most plants in the cucurbit family every summer.

They are the size of your thumb nail, clumsy, and  relatively easy to pick off by hand.

So, being the organic grower that I am, I ran for a pair of gloves and a container of water. I don’t like touching them with bare hands, they are pointy and pokey and when scared or crushed, they release a scent that is nothing short of foul sourness.

I also heard  that the scent they release attracts more of their kind, like a pheromone, which is another reason I don’t squish them, just pick them off whole and drop them into a jar of vinegar or water.

Today  they got me by surprise on a weeding frenzy and all I  had was water (no vinegar) but I went for it anyway.  I picked them off, one by one and two by two (many were stuck together busy making thousands of squash bug babies *yikes*)  about 15 or so by the time I was done–into an old paint bucket.  Some of them sank to the bottom right away, but many of them floated and kicked.

When I couldn’t find any more I took off my gloves and stood there and thought, What now? The water was in no way killing them, and it was only a matter of time before they dragged their angular bodies out and up the side of the bucket and right back onto my squash plants to suck the life out of them.

I was rapidly trying to think of a way to annihilate them as fast as possible (storm drain? fire?) when I suddenly remembered the chickens! Chickens eat bugs! Chickens eat just about anything that is smaller than them!

So I went into the coop and poured the contents of the bucket into a shallow  dish. The chickens were mostly roosted for the evening but they flew down to see what I brought them. I was patting myself on the back for my genius plan.

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But what happened next took me by surprise. The chickens tilted their head and eyed the  bugs, like chickens do, but they did not touch them. A hen pecked one out, knocked it against the ground a couple times and them shook her head violently as if trying to shake the taste out of her mouth. And that was that.

From the shallow dish, each of the bugs crawled out onto the floor of the coop. And as the evening  light was getting too dim to see, I watched as they all got away, slipping onto the floor and disappearing into the bedding of the coop.

So today is the day I was outsmarted by squash bugs (or I should say,  let down by chickens).

Spraying Sevin or another type of deadly pesticide would have been so easy. I grew up on a non-organic farm and it really takes out so much of the work. But I used to get headaches and rashes after applying the fertilizers and the pesticides. That’s what inspired me to go organic as an adult running my own farm site.

In my personal opinion, there’s something counterintuitive about donning a hazmat suit to put something on your food, even though technically the pesticides these days are engineered to wear off before consumption. Not passing judgement on those who chose not to go organic, I have friends and family members who grow conventional and respect them. But it really is a luxury and a privilege  to have access to organic products, and to be in a position to grow them in a world where many don’t have a choice.

I might add that, yes, there is also something wrong with catching 15+ squash bugs and having them get away (never again!), but at least I could do it in a T-shirt and flip flops!

-Minni

Buffalo Street Farm/Farnsworth Garden

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