The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener

useful animals

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Animals are very useful in organic farming, in more ways than one.

In Parana district in Brazil, an intrepid Mayor, Jaime Lerner, used sheep to trim the lawns of gardens and the sheep’s wool was used for funding children’s schooling.  A totally win win situation!

My Uncle who used to run an organic farm in the Himalayas used geese to do the same plus geese are effective burglar deterrents!

unnamed (Photo from BBC)

Goats are being now used in the USA to fight invasive weeds and plants.  One of the reasons they are more effective than weedkillers and chemicals is that plant seeds rarely survive the grinding motion of their mouths and their multi-chambered stomachs – this is not always the case with other techniques which leave seeds in the soil to spring back.

Also, unlike machinery, they can access steep and wooded areas with tall goats able to access plants more than eight feet high (smaller goats can climb trees as I have seen in India). A herd of 35 goats can go through half an acre of dense vegetation in about four days which is the same amount of time it takes them to become bored with eating the same thing.

From the BBC magazine, January 2015- “At Duke University in North Carolina, marine biologist Brian Silliman has spent 20 years working on understanding and eradicating the invasive species phragmites. This reed, which thrives in salt marshes, can grow up to 10 feet tall, pushing out native species and blocking bay and sea views for coastal residents. One way of tackling phragmites is to burn it.  Silliman says at first he tried insects and other forms of “bio control” to tackle the plant, but nothing worked.

“Then I took a holiday to the Netherlands, where the plant comes from, and saw it wasn’t a problem there because it was constantly being grazed by animals,” he says.  In studies, Silliman found that goats were very effective – in one trial, 90% of the test area was left phragmites-free. “I think all wetland managers should take up this method,” he says. “It’s cheaper, less polluting, better for the environment and goat farmers get paid.” One plant goats are increasingly being used to clear is kudzu. This fast-growing vine, native to east Asia, was first introduced into the US in 1876, as a ornamental plant that could shade porches and prevent soil erosion.

However, this technique is not good for African countries where livestock, especially goats, have eaten useful plants and decimated the land of plants, leading to erosion.  So other means have to be employed there.

To be a canny gardener, one must find the best animals for the job and use them effectively.

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Author: Sumita

Sumita works as a teacher and practitioner in the field of sustainable design. Her interests include designing, making, gardening, use of waste and found materials, community and inclusive design.

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