I’ve been a little obsessed with brush turkeys lately, in case you haven’t noticed. As yet I haven’t set up a nanotechnology lab to investigate the remarkable hydrophobic properties of their eggs but perhaps that’s only a matter of time. In the interests of keeping them from scratching everything up, the garden is an “homage de Christo” at the moment, swathed in vege nets and scraps of daggy horticultural fleece. That’s in addition to chicken wire hoops over my garlic, rocks and tiles around the baby citrus, and a trellis trapdoor over germinating sweet peas. And my new strategy: distraction. The brush turkeys have been having a grand time digging through a recently applied layer of wood chip mulch on the garden paths. Since “tidy” is not my watchword this is all to the good, keep them from pondering on what mysteries might lurk under the sugar cane mulch elsewhere.
However, while I’ve been congratulating myself on my success, other produce snackers have been at work. A few weeks ago I put in a couple of patches of broad beans, and for good measure some lupins as green manure. I spent some time fretting that lupins could become a garden escape, spreading through the sclerophyll forest of the Hawkesbury sandstone like the blue carpeted uplands of New Zealand’s South Island.
I really shouldn’t have bothered. A week or so later I peeped under the fleece to find a neat sequence of holes in the loam. I actually wondered if I’d forgotten to fill in the divots I’d made with my dibber, but no. Apparently lupins make a fine high-protein rodent snack. Sadly broad beans seem to be haute cuisine too – though they weren’t nibbled til they had sprouted. It seems the local rats are health food freaks. Mental note: don’t bother planting quinoa or a goji vine.
There’s a lot in the permaculture literature about the virtual cycles of animal-botanical interactions. Your chickens in their upcycled chook tractor convert scrap to crap, dig up your weeds and move on to clear pastures new. They are a serious danger to your slug population and their bedding makes a fabulous mulch.
Not so much lyrical celebration of the rats that come to eat those scraps and also make short work of your seedlings.
It is particularly irking when these inconvenient animals deploy a pincer movement, the sad story of last year’s voluptuous TropicSnow peaches being a case in point. Protected by mesh exclusion bags, they were safe from fruit fly, or so I thought. But the bags were short work for the local rat pack, and once they’d had the pick of the ripe fruit, the fruit fly came in to clean up the rest.
This is where the food web shows its grimmer side, at least from the human harvester’s perspective. We could put out poison for the rats. But what if bandicoots are also fond of RatSak? And when the rats pop their clogs unobserved, what if the tawny frogmouth or Snakey the diamond python decide groggy and voraciously thirsty rodents or still warm corpses are an easy snack? The poison’s up the food chain and the next thing you know a White Bellied Sea Eagle has carked it on top of your washing line.
Snakey has made inroads on what I should perhaps refer to as our “organic” rodent population.
Unfortunately with that slow reptilian metabolism one rat a fortnight is the best you can hope for. I like to think that Grandpa’s chook feeder with its foot pedal operation has made things a bit more difficult for the rodents, since I’ve not yet seen them jumping up and down en masse to access the delights inside.
So, over the last month I’ve managed to raise my first green (and purple) bean crop for years. I’m not quite sure why the critters left them alone. There seems to be an element of the stochastic in all this. Things emerge and grow peaceably and then, bang, the satin bower birds have macerated your greenery. Are the beasties lulling us into a false sense of security? Waiting for the precise moment when everything tastes its best? Or are they just a bit flakey and take a while to figure out that beans are once again on offer down the bottom of the yard? For all I might be a bit skeptical about the “we sow the seeds, nature grows the seeds, we eat the seeds” hippie vibe of permaculture, there is a lot to be said for stealing a march on the predators by simply baffling them with a jumble of plants: an odd collection of survivors and accidental successes.