Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fruit and Chickens: Birds of a Feather?

This spring we planted a very ambitious orchard of twenty-two conventional fruit trees, including apple, peach, cherry, and nectarine.  I was all about ordering off-the-wall varieties such as persimmon, mulberry, and nut trees, but we had to think aesthetics and economics.  We may actually sell some of the fruit someday, and let's face it: the market for funky fruit may be a bit narrow; even I didn't know what to do with a persimmon up until a year ago!  (Click here to read more about persimmons.)

In all this, we're attempting to use only organic sprays on the trees, and so this summer has been trying as far as keeping them bug-free.  I've spent time hand-picking caterpillar-like creatures off the apple leaves, as well as trying different sprays to keep the Japanese Beetles from decimating the cherry tree leaves. 

One of our apple trees, looking a little abused.
The good news is that all the trees have survived, but I did a little comparison a few weeks ago and have been thinking that we need to put some of the animals to work up in the orchard; namely, the chickens!  We have four fruit trees planted close to the house that have suffered almost no insect damage, and you know what?  Our five laying hens (and their new man, The Rooster) have been wandering around there all season!  Compare this photo to the one above:

A lush pear tree we planted last fall...with pears!
Since the big orchard is close to the road and Byron is still working hard on the perimeter fence, we haven't moved any animals up that way.  But comparing the trees is very telling!  Next spring, the chickens will have no clue that they're earning their keep as they (hopefully) enjoy a buffet of pests.

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