On a Dilemma of Ducks: Not All They’re “Quacked” Up to Be

duck

This week, I have my first guest blogger post. My husband, Ron Sands, agreed to write about our duck ducks for me. I’ve been wanting to devote a post to the ducks for months, but I’ve found myself unable to do the duck ducks justice. The duck ducks are really my husband’s babies. I think you’ll find his talent for duck-duck description quite enjoyable.

 

Ducks. As a matter of fact—ducks unlimited. No, not the wildlife, conservation organization, our fenced backyard. At least, at times, it seems so. We have six Indian Runners. They are the duck coterie, the crew, the collective—the Borg. We named one Seven; she is Seven of Six. She is Seven of Six because she is absolutely loud enough to be two ducks. She is also the smallest, which perhaps explains her emphatic and raucous need for attention.

This might be the point in the narration were the reader stops and asks, “Why in the world do you have six Indian Runner Ducks?” Believe me, I’m asking myself that at this point, too. According to the internet of all things, Indian Runner Ducks are excellent egg layers, compliment a garden well, and their antics are great fun to watch.

Well then, I thought maybe I’d get some eggs. That would be a great perk; I understand duck eggs are large and delicious. Rather than go online, we ordered the cheap ducks from a local Farmer’s Union—straight run only, minimum of six. I am always unrealistic about these things in that I always expect to lose a few birds. But, so far, out of 48 birds, counting chickens, we have lost just two—one was DOA, and the other died at around a year from being egg bound. That’s a 4% death ratio.

The ducks are showing no signs of ill health; four percent of six is roughly a quarter of a percent, which means their mortality, at best, likely will be limited to the loss of a few feathers. And the lottery gave us a 4-2 split that the house did not win. Four of those ducks are never going to lay anything but down. The only perk—males are far quieter than females.

Okay, so they will help control insects in the garden. Yes, well, Indian runners apparently do not have it in their DNA to “go around.” They are tramplers—single-minded, seemingly-oblivious tramplers. They recognize nothing as an obstacle that cannot be waddled, tripped, and flopped over. They do eat insects, however, and Japanese Beetles, for which our garden seems to be a destination resort, are a favorite. But vegetables in their path take a cumbrous and prolonged beating. I am amazed at how long it takes a duck to scramble, waddle, and quack through a bean plant.

Accordingly, I am now adept at catching Japanese Beetles. I’ve caught probably 200 this summer. Those ducks are eating right out of my hand. I guess it beats the beetle-drowning bucket.

baby duck
So, at first, there was nothing cuter in the world than one of our little Indian Runner ducks. But we should have known we were in trouble from the beginning. This little one is complaining on camera.

Well, they’ll be cute and the wife and the kid will enjoy them. That statement was rock-solid for the first month, mainly because the ducks were mostly too small to effectively express their ethnocentric-flavored xenophobia. (Their first swimming pool was a 9 x 6 baking dish.) While it is true, they will reliably show up for food—and eat beetles out of my hand—at any other time, they look at me as if I’m coming to collect the rent. Considering the 4-2 split, they might be on to something.

At the beginning of their second month, we turned them out; we also bought them a kiddie pool. I have since learned, it’s likely no accident the words foul and fowl are homonyms. Duck “tea” is not a pleasant liquid, and six ducks can brew it black, potent, and surprisingly quick. On the upside, it gets the compost pile “cooking,” and our corn is taller this year than it has ever been.

And, now, after three months and a recent pool-side exhibition worthy of a honeymoon hotel at Cabo, one that brought color to my somewhat worldly cheeks, I’m having to explain the farm facts of life to my seven-year-old. Indeed, the ducks are no longer cute.

Which brings me back to that rent. Just how delicious are recycled Japanese Beetles?

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On Learning Truths

early garden

This year’s going to be the fourth summer my husband and I do a big vegetable garden together. Right now, we have only the peas, carrots, potatoes, and onions in the ground, but in Maine, this is to be expected. It was pretty chilly until last week. Sometimes, I forget that growing up in Texas we were wearing shorts by May.

I’ve seen friends from other parts of the country post pictures on social media of food they’ve already grown in their gardens, and I feel confused at first because we just started planting. It’s almost surreal for me to see a fully-grown vegetable in May.

But I digress…

This post is supposed to be about my green thumb I thought I had.

The story goes like this.

Every year, even our first year of vegetable gardening, though we had some failures for sure, my husband I have had some pretty good successes growing food. We always have a good harvest, at least to me, and last year, we grew so much food that we were really able to see a cost savings on our grocery bills from late summer until early winter. That’s pretty good, right?

I post pictures to Facebook of our beautiful garden starting in early summer. The peas are ready to eat; the bean bushes look big and lush; the carrot and potato plants look big and healthy. I’m always so proud of this garden.

I do help my husband a lot. He definitely does the lion’s share of the work–tills by hand, gets the soil ready, fertilizes, waters, hoes weeds. Wait, why do I think I help a lot?

Well, I do plant, pull weeds, pick bugs off one at a time for hours on end, and help harvest. But as I write this down, I am realizing a deeper lesson I learned this week. I think my husband really is making all this good food happen. I thought I was helping more.

He has always had a green thumb and this love of plants that I didn’t understand until we had a garden. He’s got some real skill at making plants grow healthy and strong, and I envy it. I’ve always been horrible at plants. I’ve killed everything from roses to sunflowers to a wide variety of houseplants. I don’t think I’ve ever grown more than a weed successfully, and if I had tried to grow said weed, I probably would have killed said weed.

But, then, there was this beautiful garden. I thought I was helping to grow it. I thought my husband had somehow lifted the “curse” I had with plants. I thought I was becoming a good gardener, too.

early garden

This is a picture of one of our first gardens when it was first getting going. It’s so lovely. And, in case you’re wondering, that’s a gnome guarding the peas. It totally works!
However, I recently learned some truths about my newly-found “green thumb.” I started some seedlings this year in the house—without my husband’s help in any way—and I found out that maybe I still have a long way to go in terms of gardening.

So, I’m guessing you can imagine that things didn’t go so well.

We always do well in our garden starting most of our plants from seed, but I wanted to try to get a few starters going this season of things we sometimes buy as plants from the local nursery–peppers, tomatoes, and such. Unfortunately, pretty much everything I started died!

I planted like 25 broccoli starters and about 20 tomato starters. Not a single one of them made it. I also planted several kinds of peppers, about 30 plants total. I have 6 plants that made it.

I’m not sure what happened. Mostly, between part-time work, homeschooling, and feeding both people and creatures three times a day, I would somehow forget to water the little plants every day. It would seem like I just watered them, and then, sadly, some would die. Apparently, I had not just watered them. <sigh>

But my greatest mistake came when I put the plants out in the sunlight to grow stronger during the day; on the fourth day, I forgot to bring the plants in at night. I lost every tomato plant that night! I woke up at like 4:00 in the morning that chilly, fateful night, realized what I had done, and went back to sleep with sadness and disappointment in my heart.

pepper plant
This is one of my 6 survivors. I have no idea what kind of pepper plant it is, and I don’t even care. I’m just so glad it’s still alive!

So, yeah, now I have 6 plants left, and I’m hanging onto them for dear life!

Ironically, this year, my husband is putting up a fence around our property, and, when I say he’s putting up a fence, I mean he’s digging hundreds of holes through rocky earth with a shovel and putting up a fence the old-fashioned way. It’s pretty epic!

So I’m working to get the garden planted while he puts up the fence. After my little experience with the starters, this is making me really nervous. But, so far, so good. I have battled the black flies and mosquitoes, tilled that garden with a shovel (one slow row at a time), and we have a few things in the ground. The peas look great. Nothing else has had time to grow, but it’s still early.

I’m optimistic, but it’s a cautious optimism. I’ve learned a hard lesson of late.

baby duck in pool
This baby duck loved the new pool, and I loved watching those babies play! I need to do a whole blog on those duckies. They are way more interesting that I imagined they would be.

We still have the kale, red beans, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and corn to plant, but, this afternoon, we took a break from the tilling and the sowing and the fence making and had a late lunch at Jimmie’s, bought a kiddie pool for the baby ducks, and watched them have a blast in the pool. I think my husband and I are both a bit worn out this week, as living the simple life can be a lot of hard word, so taking the afternoon off seemed to be the best medicine.

This weekend, however, is Memorial Day weekend, which is always the weekend we finish planting our garden. After discovering some truths about my gardening skills, I hope you’ll wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

I’ll keep you posted…

On Growing Food

Three years ago, my husband and I started our first vegetable garden together, and it was a big deal for us. We had decided we wanted to eat more local and organic food, and with two growing boys, we soon realized that this endeavor was not exactly cheap.

The local and organic food was worth it, of course, but if we could grow on our food, then we would have the best of all worlds: We would be growing healthy food for our family, learning how to become more self sufficient, and saving money. As I have made the decision to work a lot less, the latter becomes increasingly more important. But I digress.

If you have never grown your own food, then I think you must try it, even on a small scale. I had never tasted food moments after it had been picked. There are no words for how good the food tastes. No words! If you’re already a gardener, then you know, but I didn’t.

garden picture
This was our garden from last year. We had a good year and saved a lot of money last fall during harvest season.

I grew up in a small town but had never gardened with my family. My idea of food as a child and young adult involved Hamburger Helper and cake mixes, but as an adult, I was changing all that. I wanted our family to eat really fresh food. Still, I felt nervous starting our garden. My husband had grown up with a vegetable garden and chickens, but I had no experience.

I remember my great grandfather had an amazing vegetable garden, but, apparently, when I went out to “help,” I did more talking than helping, and he would usually send me in the house pretty quickly to “help” my Grannie. That was the extent of my gardening experience.

So I was a novice. I mean really.

I watched the videos, read the books, and really couldn’t imagine what I was in for. I just remember planting the carrot seeds in the row my husband had tilled with the shovel (yes, he does it old school) and thinking, “This is never going to work.” Carrot seeds are tiny. I could not even begin to imagine that those tiny things would grow into food. Even when the tiny greens sprouted, I was still skeptical about the whole “This is going to turn into food” thing.

bowl of strawberries
This bowl of strawberries was an important symbol of success in gardening for me. I grew up loving strawberries but without a lot of access to fresh fruits. With the strawberry beds my husband built, we had so many strawberries that we had enough to share!

But, by the end of the first season, we had food, and it felt like a miracle, not just a miracle that we had done it but a miracle of nature. I was changed as a person, and I felt humbled. Of course, while you are gardening for the first time, I highly recommend reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. It will add to the spiritual experience of the whole thing, I think. I will write more about this experience in another blog, but I can tell you that our first garden really did help change me as a person.

By the time we made it to our third season of gardening, we actually noticed a big difference in our grocery bill, and with the whole deliciousness and healthiness perks as well, I was hooked. Despite the weeds and the bugs (and I am here to tell you Maine has A LOT of bugs), I was hooked.

This year, we’ll be planting our fourth garden, and we plan to expand it in a big way. I look forward to sharing our process in the coming months. I’m pretty sure it’s going to feel like a miracle to me all over again.