By Camille Cody
It’s not breaking news that we had lots of rain last spring and early summer, but we’re now seeing its sad effect at Finnriver Farm. This is the time Finnriver is normally flush with delicious plump blueberries, blueberries being one of Finnriver’s biggest cash crops. But as Finnriver watched and waited all summer for evidence of a fruitful crop, most of what they have held out for is shriveling up and falling to the ground, never to be harvested for market or CSA shares, or to be available for the much-anticipated U-pick.
“People might see us with 100 pounds of berries at market and think we have plenty,” say farmers Janet Aubin and Jeff Horwath. “But compared to 10,000 pounds, that’s nothing.”
‘Mummy berry’ is the result of a fungus that runs amuck in moist conditions and causes blueberries to shrivel and take on a dull, white tinge, falling to the ground before ripeness can ever set in. Normal measures of protection against mummy berry include removing fallen berries and mulching with an absorbent material to at least 2 inches thick to bury the fungus and prevent it from fruiting and sending out spores to the wind. The amount of rain Chimacum received this spring kept much of the farmland in damp, bog-like conditions — ideal fungal weather, especially since much of the routine maintenance/mulching,etc had to be delayed.
But a new plan is in the works to save the blueberries: bring in ducks to the rescue! Ducks thrive in wet and moist conditions and introducing them into the fenced-in blueberry field will create a symbiosis of farm life; the ducks will eat the fallen mummy berries, thereby cleaning up next year’s potential damage, and their feces will fertilize the field. This symbiotic method is a tribute to permaculture, an eco-systematic, sustainable approach to food production through edible landscaping that was developed in Australia. One of the tenets of the philosophy is that the ‘farm’ operates on a closed-loop system; bringing as little outside influence in as possible and losing or wasting as little as possible.
The breeds, Rouens and Khaki Campbells, are the newest additions to take up residence at Finnriver. Rouens are a French breed known for their meat quality and Khaki Campells are a breed developed in England, descended from a Rouen ancestor, with ability to be more prolific egg-layers than some of the best chicken breeds (and a note to you cooks out there: duck eggs are richer in fat and calories than average chicken eggs, making them especially good in cakes!) Bringing ducks into the equation at Finnriver will have many positive benefits, capitalizing on the ducks’ nature as well as the unique needs of the farm:
One of the neat things about permaculture is that it can be adapted to most any operation – farm, garden or landscape – in steps. Many home gardeners can draw from permaculture’s principles and apply them to an area or two of their own back yard. If you’re interested in introducing ducks into your operation, especially if you have some way of harnessing water run-off or can offer even a child’s pool of water for the ducks to bathe in, why not consider it as a way to ‘close the loop’ a little more? One note of warning though: ducks are best put to free range use in an orchard or established berry patch instead of your annual vegetable garden – though less destructive than chickens when it comes to digging up mulches and soil, their preference for tender new growth could destroy your beds of seedlings, but with larger, more woody stems and canes they’ll stick to the unwanted weeds and grasses.