The Corner Chronicle
Chimacum, Washington, Wednesday September 19, 2018
Ducks to the Rescue at Finnriver!
August 30th, 2011 by Katy McCoy
photo of purposeful looking duck at Finnriver farm

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.”

photo of plump Finnriver blueberries for sale

‘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.

photo of healthy blueberries at Finnriver

photo of Finnriver blueberry bush with brown leaves and shriveled whitish berries

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:

  • Ducks will eat snails, slugs and grub as well as fallen berries and weeds (they require less feeding than chickens)
  • The berry field will get fertilized ‘for free’
  • New farm products will be created for Finnriver’s enterprise; duck meat and eggs
  • The moist conditions of the river bottom land will be harnessed and put to good use, supporting livestock in their natural habitat
  • Who wants to visit the ducks on this year’s Jefferson County Farm Tour?

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.

7 Responses

  1. Andrew Rushmere says:

    Hi all, I work at an organic research and teaching farm in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. I’m looking into grazing chickens (or perhaps ducks) in our organic blueberries to reduce mummy berry innoculum present in fallen berries. I’ve heard conflicting reports about chickens: some say they do eat mummy berries, some say they don’t. I’m curious in your situation- did you actually regularly and reliably see the ducks eating infected berries over a long period of time?

    Many thanks for your assistance, Andrew

    • Katy McCoy says:

      I’ll ask Janet and Jeff (the farmers) to get back to you. I do know that they fed the baby ducks mummy berries so they would acquire the taste. I do believe they would see the ducks eating the mummy berries, and I know that their crop of blueberries the following year was fabulous.

      • Hi Andrew,
        We’ve had great results with ducks in the blueberries. We did not do a truly scientific study with a control, but we did have a decrease in mummy berry following the introduction of ducks. I’ve seen both ducks and chickens eating the shriveled berries off the ground. We have used chickens as well, but you have to be very careful with chickens disrupting the shallow roots. Ducks don’t scratch the soil surface with their feet so they’re much more gentle and can be left on the bushes for longer. Good luck!

  2. Daryl Stuart says:

    We have had many berries partially shrivel after they seem to be ripe and they don’t taste very good. The leaves have not turned brown and the berries aren’t getting white like mummy berry so we aren’t convinced that is the issue. Any ideas?

  3. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. many thanks

    • admin says:

      Sorry to respond so late. Just found your comment in my spam folder. The blog is a custom wordpress site. Workin Man Creative build the site for me around a design I gave him, but all of the graphics and management I’ve been doing myself. It’s a fair amount of work. Good luck!

  4. Thank you for this excellent article Camille. I really appreciate you took the time to understand and present the story. Power to the ducks! And to the Chimacum Corner Farmstand for supporting local ag and being such great advocates for us all!