Two Easy, Inexpensive Organic Solutions to Pest Control

Pest control is the vein of every organic gardener’s existence.  At some point we all recognize that there is a small portion of our garden we must be willing to share with nature. Although I must admit, I am much more willing to share with the birds (please stop taking a bite out of each berry; have a whole one, on me) than I am to insects (gross).

As my poor eggplants can attest to, I have been neglecting pest control in my garden. The heavy spring rains we’ve had lately has been a big deterrent to treating the garden, but it looks like we’re in for a hot, dry week, so no more excuses! Seriously, WHAT IS EATING MY EGGPLANT?

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One of the keys to appropriate pest control is treating early… oopps. A few bites out of a well established plant is not a big deal; I would concede to consider that “sharing,” but leaves that appear laced with holes, particularly on young plants need to be dealt with immediately.

The second is to retreat as needed.

But the most important, is to apply treatments judiciously. Like “conventional” chemical pesticides or insecticides, organic pest control is unscrupulous. Any time you apply a product, organic or not, it will affect good insects as well as bad.

Often, the solution to getting rid of a pest depends on what kind of insect is eating your _____ (fill in the blank).  The problem is you and I don’t always know who the culprit is. Don’t worry. I still have a couple solutions for you.

1. COFFEE GROUNDS

Coffee is an excellent all around insect deterrent. It is also extremely cost effective – you can use the used ground from your morning brew, or you can swing by your local coffee shop and ask to take their used grounds. What is better than free?

Coffee grounds deter a wide variety of pests, including deer, cats, slugs and insects. The scent of caffeine can be detected by most insects, even at very low levels, causing them to steer clear of the treated area all together. Simply sprinkle used grounds around the base of the afflicted plant to keep pests from coming back. Avoid getting grounds on the leaves or near the flowers, as that may deter pollinators as well.

Coffee also acts as an excellent fertilizer for nitrogen loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn and berries! That’s a great two-for-one deal! Note that plants can get “burnt” from over fertilization, so do give the plant a health drink of water with this treatment and monitor the color or the leaves. If they start to yellow or brown you may be over doing it.

2. DIATOMACEOUS EARTH  (DE)

This is a naturally occurring siliceous rock that is crushed into a powder and can be found inexpensively at just about any farm store. We get “food grade” DE that can be mixed (in very small amounts) into our chicken’s feed, acting as an organic de-wormer. DE can also be sprinkled safely onto pets’ coats to eliminate lice, ticks, or mites.

Additionally, DE can be used to eliminate ants (indoors or out), aphids and any other insect. It works really well, but it will also harm beneficial insects! So, again, use judiciously and try to spot treat so that you’re not spreading this broad spectrum organic insecticide all over your garden or property.

To treat the afflicted area, sprinkle the powder directly on the insects, on the leaves where they are snacking or on the ground around the plant where they may be walking. DE works by creating microscopic cuts in the insects’ exoskeletons that causes them to dehydrate and die.

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Water Therapy, the Escape and the Return to the Pond

It has been a crazy few weeks here since I posted about the ducks being afraid of the water. The ducks still abhor the pond, although they cannot remember why. So the Handy Man and I began an intensive duck version of “water therapy,” hoping to lure them back to their once beloved water.

First, we began treat training, as we needed some leverage against the ducks to get them to do our bidding…or to perform the few simple tasks we required of them, like put themselves to bed at night and swim in the pond. This was a fiasco in and of itself. Although Peanut ‘n’ Butter came to love peas quickly, they would not do anything to get them. More so, we were permitted to toss them peas from afar. And that was about the extent of the success of that. The dog on the other hand, loved pea-training.

Peas, Ducks and the dog

The second step to water therapy was to get the ducks back into the water. Any water. Placing them in the pond was not an option, as they jumped out before their feet even hit the water. So, back to the bathtub it was. We made daily trips in the house, up the stairs to the tub. They loved this.  We fed them peas as they splashed and played boisterously for hours each day, but they would not return to the pond once back outside. Peanut ‘n’ Butter were content to watch us toss handfuls of peas into the pond from across the yard.

Peas in the Bathtub

Now confident they were comfortable in the bathtub, we introduced the gold fish to the situation in the third phase of water therapy. We allowed Peanut ‘n’ Butter to observe the fish through a clear container before releasing it (and some peas) into the tub. Please, take a moment to picture this in your mind – two grown adults, with full sized ducks in their bathroom, putting a goldfish in the bathtub. What have we come to?

Ducks vs. Fish The Hunt

Much to our surprise, Peanut ‘n’ Butter loved the fish. And by loved, I mean ate. They even did a celebratory dance in the tub about it. (Not pictured, as I was too busy shielding the camera from the excessive water splash-age.)

SUCCESS, we thought. Surely we had done it. The ducks (re)discovered that they loved water AND that they liked eating fish.

In the supposed final stage of water therapy, we set a fish, in a clear container, on the edge of the pond. We carried the ducks from the bathtub to the pond, showed them the fish, and set them in the pond, hoping they would make the mental correlation. But no. Before their feet hit the water, they were gone.

In the days that followed our failed attempts, we gave them space. Other than bedtime. Bedtime has also been a situation in and of itself. It has taken them TWO MONTHS to figure out how to get into the coop to go to bed on their own. The Handy Man and I have had to corral Peanut ‘n’ Butter to the ramp and guide them up it to tuck them in each night. Every night. For two months. Last night was only the third night they were able to accomplish the task completely unassisted. For comparison, we only had to show the much younger, smaller chicks how to get into the coop twice before they were completely self-sufficient at the task.

But at least there had been some progress, albeit, painfully slow progress. The other night the Handy Man and I went to bed with some small satisfaction that the ducks were finally starting to “get it.” Maybe they’d never get back in their pond, but at least they would be able to put themselves to bed.

I know now that this was just an attempt to lure us into a false sense of security.

Early the next morning Peanut ‘n’ Butter, two breeds of ducks that supposedly cannot fly, were found in the front yard.

The Handy Man heard them quietly talking amongst themselves when he crouched down to pull some weeds before heading off to work…and there they were, proudly sitting in the front yard; probably plotting our demise. Sometime between sunrise and 6:30am they took flight, making it over the 6’ privacy fence, and decided to hang out in the lawn for all of the neighbors to see on their way to work.

How long had they been planning this escape??? When did they learn to fly???

Handy Man corralled them back through the fence, hoping it was a fluke, as we cannot have our animals escaping in a residential area to face dogs, cats, or the dreaded HOA. However, in the days that followed, we watched Peanut ‘n’ Butter conduct flight training before our very eyes. Peanut would sound “take off” with a single quack, and both would take off into the wind reaching heights of 7 to 8 feet and traveling 20 yards, stopping just before the fence.

Peanut 'n' Butter feigning innocence but looking quite suspicious post-escape.

Peanut ‘n’ Butter feigning innocence but looking quite suspicious post-escape.

We concluded that Peanut ‘n’ Butter weren’t happy here and needed to be re-homed, freed or for their primary feathers to be clipped. I really couldn’t bear the thought of any of those options. Searching for answers, I stumbled upon an ad for 3 week old Blue Swedish ducklings up the road. A last ditch effort to “fix” our ducks. I convinced the Handy Man that the babies would love the water, having never been traumatized by it and that Peanut ‘n’ Butter get back in the pond, seeing that it was safe and that they would be happy and stop trying to escape. Although, I had to agree that if it didn’t work we would re-home the unhappy pair, I was willing to take the gamble.

Impulsively, we brought the babies home and placed them directly in the pond. They had never experienced water before and loved it. They splashed, played, preened and even chased fish while the rest of the farm looked on in aw.

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Peanut ‘n’ Butter drew closer and closer, watched tentatively from the bank for nearly an hour before it happened. First Peanut, then Butter returned to the pond.

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Today, just two days later, it is how it always should have been. Peanut ‘n’ Butter seem to have forgotten they were ever afraid of their pond. There have been no further escape attempts, and the only flights taking place are short bursts of play in the pond.

Happy Ducks

There is finally peace on the farm and the whole flock is content…

Ducks

The whole flock

Thanks to Sifl and Olly.

Sifl and Olly

Strawberry Rhubarb Wine Icecream

Let me start by saying, you need this icecream in your life. Need. It is everything delicious and lovely and spring, and is a little evil. But sometimes, that’s ok. This is one of those times.

Strawberry Rhubarb Icecream

Rhubarb, strawberries, honey, wine, heavy cream… this is all I need in life.

Rhubarb & his accomplices

The beautiful rhubarb in my garden was the inspiration for this endeavor. It really is one of my favorite perennials. Although I also have strawberries in the garden, we never seem to have enough to make something out of. Actually, we never have enough for them to even make it inside the house, despite having six very healthy, productive plants. How do you say ‘no’ to a ripe, sun-warmed berry? They’re consumed just as soon as they’re picked. So, to insure that next spring we would produce enough organic strawberries to make it in the house, we planted over 60 baby strawberries in the front yard as attractive edible groundcover in the flower beds. The manual labor eliminated any guilt from this indulgence.

Strawberry plants

I used to think that making icecream from scratch was excessive; that it was one of those things that is ok to just buy…but then the Handy Man surprised me with an icecream attachment for my Kitchenaid and I learned that I had been so misguided. Homemade icecream is just divine and superior in every way to that stuff at the grocery store labeled “icecream.” This is one of the few items that really isn’t cheaper to make than buy, but the price is comparable, and the quality superior. I like that it also gives you the ability to control the ingredients by using organic dairy, seasonal, local, organic fruit and less sugar.

On that note, this icecream has much less sugar than typical icecream recipes. If you like it sweeter, by all means add more honey, but we really like it this way! It allows all of the flavors to come out, particularly the tartness of the rhubarb, as well as the subtleties of the red wine. These are some pretty adult-flavors, but they also pleased the pallet of our youngest dinner guest at three years old.

And speaking of adult flavors – let’s talk about wine! Wine selection is important because the reduction imparts a surprising amount of flavor, so be sure to pick something you like! I selected a blend that is a little bit fruity, but not sweet, with a Pino Noir-like finish. Merlot would work nicely as well. But the type of wine is much less important than simply selecting something you like. Just try not to eat it all at this state, when it starts to smell really delicious…

Rhubarb-Wine reduction

I wait to churn the icecream until just before it’s time to serve dessert. Mostly because I love to serve it straight out of the icecream machine, while it has that thick, creamy, soft-serve consistency. It’s also a fun party-trick and only takes 10 minutes. Our very wonderful friends baked a strawberry rhubarb pie to pair with the icecream… it was heaven. HEAVEN, I tell you.

Strawberry Rhubarb Wine Icecream

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream

1 ¼ cup half-and-half

½ cup sugar

½ cup raw, local honey

3 egg yolks

2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (4-5 stalks)

3 cups chopped fresh strawberries (1 pound)

¾ cup red wine (reserve the rest of the bottle for drinking)

1 heaping tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. To make the custard base, combine ½ cup sugar and egg yolks in a large bowl. Whisk until pale yellow and set aside. Combine heavy cream and half-and-half in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until scalding (180°F), or until tiny bubbles start to form around the edge. Do not boil. Slowly add ½ cup of the hot dairy mixture to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. Gradually add the rest of the dairy mixture, stirring continuously. Pour dairy and yolk mixture back into saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until mixture reaches 160°F, stirring constantly. Pour mixture back into the large bowl, and place bowl in an ice-filled bowl until custard cools completely, stirring occasionally (about 20-30 minutes).
  2. While that cools, combine ½ cup honey, rhubarb and wine in a saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a soft boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let wine reduce for 10 minutes, or until rhubarb is tender and the liquid has a more syrup-like consistency. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
  3. In food processor, combine strawberries, wine-rhubarb reduction, cinnamon and vanilla; process until smooth. Fold rhubarb mixture into custard base and refrigerate until cold (at least 2 hours, or overnight).
  4. Freeze icecream according to your icecream-maker’s directions. Eat immediately for soft-serve consistency, or freeze for 2 hours, if firm consistency is desired.
  5. ENJOY!