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Cockatoos, mud and grubs

I can see our garlic patch from my office window. It sits there at the top of a small paddock, besides what will hopefully one day be a mini food forest. The thirty odd fruit trees we planted in this space are at present almost floating! So much rain, so much water! When will it stop?! A small consolation is that most of the trees are slightly raised in their individual spots. Before planting them we added a good amount of rough compost and manure into each hole to increase the soil biology. The clay soil around the hole should hopefully become more absorbent. So we cross our fingers and hope that the trees will survive the soggy conditions. Winter is not over yet… We've had an amazingly we September. Our dam is overflowing, and the paddocks have turned to mush.

Something odd has also started to happen under the trees. For the past two weeks or so, flocks of cockatoos have spent a lot of time on the ground. The grass that was there is gone. I’ve kept an eye on these destroyers from my window, all the time thinking that they are eating bugs and doing what is needed in the food forest, and staying away from the garlic. Stupid me.

A few days ago, Frans went to have a look at the garlic. He called me from his phone (as you do! Why shout?!) and said ‘you’d better get out here and see what these bastard birds are doing to our garlic!’ I’ve not been up close to the garlic for a couple of weeks. It’s been wet and rainy and it looked ok from the warmth and comfort of the house.

I tugged on my work boots at the back door and made for the paddock. I didn’t know where to put my feet. There were pools of water everywhere. Setting a foot down was a considered step. Mud sucked onto my boots and lifting my foot from the ground left me with a socked limb dangling precariously in the air, whilst my boot remained firmly glued to the paddock. A balancing act ensued and putting my hands on the ground to steady myself left me with more trouble! Now I had cold and muddy hands and pulling my boot back on transferred more mud to my once clean sock. Wiping my hands on wet grass I continued navigating my way around the sodden ground to get to the garlic.

The cows were grazing next to where I wanted to go and I hesitantly slid along the fence to the gate, facing them. They are friendly enough, but I didn’t need one nudging me. I prefer to keep some voltage between us! Inspecting the damage to the green garlic shoots, we decided that we’d better spread some netting over the small crop. Threading out a long white tail of net between the garlic rows, we dragged the net across the baby plants. To anchor the nets down, we placed bricks along the net edges. I should rephrase that. We threw the bricks onto the edges. There was my next mistake. A brick landing on a patch of sodden earth makes a significant splash, a splash that reaches from feet to face and glasses! The day was not improving for me at all.

Once the garlic was netted, we traipsed back through the food forest with a spade to do some investigation. Digging a small test hole in a muddy barren patch of dirt we found the problem. Cock shafers. Lots of them. They're those little white grubs that live below the ground, chomping their way through the roots of crops and grass. In other words, we don't like them very much! The birds have been feasting on these grubs as they in turn have been feeding on the roots of the grass. Is this a natural form of pest control? I’m not sure. It’s going to be another ‘Google’ activity to find the answer. If anyone reading this has a chemical free solution to get rid of these grubs, we’d gratefully take any advice! But in the mean time we’ve learned another lesson. Net the garlic when we plant it! Who’d want to be a farmer!

Till next time,


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