Cricket-eating chickens make fine lawn partners

Published Nov. 14, 1997|Updated Oct. 2, 2005

Talking with other gardeners is a great way of expanding our gardening knowledge. You may learn about a completely new plant, new methods to save time and energy, or come away with the feeling "If that gardener can do it, so can I."

Gleaning bits and pieces of information and putting them together in my garden has always been a hobby of mine, so I thought I'd share a few bits with you. I still remember some of the sources of a few of the suggestions, but many have been incorporated into my gardening repertoire for so long that I think of them as mine.

+ D.J. Dymond in Lutz has an unusual way of taking care of mole crickets in his yard. He has introduced chickens as his primary means of pest control. "I have a big lawn," Dymond said. "Almost an acre in grass, so chemical control of the mole crickets was too expensive."

Dymond says the chickens control all of his bug problems. "The chickens will eat all bugs," he said. "I started with a half dozen. When they got big we got rid of them but brought two more. Friends gave us some and now we have 11."

Dymond is used to chickens. He was raised on a farm with 2,000. "It just seemed to be the natural thing to do when we had the mole cricket problem," he said.

No special chickens are needed. "Any old type of chicken will do," Dymond said. "They naturally scratch and look for bugs to eat. That's what they do all day."

A housing development is closing in around the Dymonds and to be a good neighbor he thinks he'll get rid of the roosters. "You know they crow every morning at 4 or 4:30," he said.

Dymond said he uses no other unusual gardening techniques but he had a friend up north who trained a crow to walk up and down the rows of tomatoes and eat the tomato worms. "The crow would sit on his shoulder, then hop down and start down the row of tomatoes."

+ Brandon gardener Trish Montesano grows more than 50 antique roses in her yard. She is committed to using organic methods; she uses soapy water to control pests and organic fertilizers including alfalfa pellets from the feed store. "There are as many recommendations for feeding roses as there are rose growers," she said. "A close friend of mine buries banana peels around her roses and won't use anything else. She has wonderful roses."

+ Through the years I've gleaned a number of methods for dealing with weeds. The secret to weed control is to get them while they're little. The larger the root network, the harder to pull. And if they flower and go to seed, your problem is multiplied.

Use mulch to keep weeds down. Mulch also conserves moisture, reduces compaction of soil, helps prevent erosion and encourages earthworms.

Keep your plants healthy. This will help them compete better with weeds. Just as insects and disease strike weaker plants, weeds gain a better foothold if the plants are weaker.

Use the "walk around" method. When I tour my garden, if I see a weed, I pick it right then and just let it lie in the garden on top of the soil. This is easier than trying to set aside special times to weed.

+ Jim McGowan, gardening in Valrico, uses perennials instead of annuals. "It saves me time and money," he said. He doesn't have to replant each season but still enjoys blooms.

In his vegetable garden he is careful to plant just what his family enjoys. "It's easier to take care of something you know you will enjoy eating," McGowan said. "We eat lots of strawberries and asparagus, and they don't have to be replanted each year."

+ Local garden writer Monica Moran Brandies is a firm believer in slow-release fertilizer. "It costs more initially but it means I fertilize only every eight or nine months." She has found the fertilizer works on most of what she grows. "Plants have to prove they're hardy in my yard," she said. "There's not a lot of individual attention given." + Carrollwood gardener Lisa Toro believes "less grass is better." She has included many ground covers other than grass in her yard. "It's a sense of relief each time I replace an area of grass with a ground cover." She uses ferns, ajuga, and vinca in her shady areas, and ivy and juniper where there is more sun. "I'm looking for some different ground covers now," she said. "I want a ground cover that provides flowers along with replacing the grass."

+ I grow just a few vegetables now so I don't use chemicals. I check my tomatoes, peppers and squash after the sun goes down or early in the morning using a flashlight. I handpick the large pests such as tomato hornworms and cut off any foliage that looks unhealthy. Since I check the plants on a regular basis, this gives me the opportunity to pick the produce at its peak.

If you have tips that help make your gardening less labor-intensive, or just more fun, let me know and I'll share them in this column.