Living in the Kootenays you can see fruit orchards all around, especially in people’s yards. For many people getting a good crop is a bit hit and miss, usually because they don’t use pesticides to control the bugs that ruin crops, or they just don’t have the experience to get the most out of their fruit trees. However, for many farmers out there, they know that to earn money from their crops, they need to minimize the risk of infestations that would destroy or blemish their crops, and for the non-organic set, that usually means pesticides. But for the organic farmer, or gardener for that matter, finding complimentary ways to deal with problems can be a challenge.
But thanks to recent research at the Michigan State University, one common pest may be curtailed with the use of pigs…
Beginning this spring, the proprietor of AlMar Orchards allowed pigs to graze on fallen apples as a way to control plum curculio — a common orchard pest usually corralled with pesticides. The results were so promising that experts plan to do a more detailed, long-term study with grant money earmarked for organic farming research.
“The early results are very encouraging,” said David Epstein, a tree fruit specialist with Michigan State University’s Integrated Pest Management Program. “We learned enough this year to be really excited about pursuing this in the next two to three years.”
Koan, a fifth-generation apple farmer who turned to organic farming about a decade ago, was looking for a way to control curculio without using the toxic chemicals needed to kill it. The small beetle inserts eggs into fruit in the spring, where the larvae develops, causing the tree to shed the fruit in June or July, Epstein said. The larvae tunnel into the soil before emerging as adults, he said.
The pigs interrupt that life cycle. “(Curculio) became a monster for us in the organic world,” said Koan, who tends 150 acres of apple trees at his orchard on S. Duffield Road. Working with MSU researchers, Koan first tried chickens and guinea hens in the orchard. The birds did a good job of finding beetles and keeping their numbers down but fell prey to owls, coyotes and hawks. “I decided I had to get (an animal) that predators weren’t going to carry away,” Koan said.
For three weeks in June, scientists counted the apples that fell to the orchard floor. Then the pigs were kept in part of the orchard to feed for two to three days. The apples then were counted again to see how many the pigs left behind. The hogs were very thorough — the researchers found very few apples. “Eighty to 90% of their food was apples, supplemented with organic corn,” Koan said. “They loved the June drops — the piglets liked them best. The hogs would lie around while the piglets would scurry from tree to tree as one group to feed.”
This raises another great reason why non-domesticated animals can play a vital complimentary role in organic farming or gardening practices. Recently I wrote how Seattle has lifted their ban on miniature goats, and has even found that they play a vital role in organic weed management at the University of Washington and Seattle City Light.
Should we be rethinking the distinction and separation we’ve placed on urban and rural areas? Is our distance from “the farm” healthy? Many cities have bylaws prohibiting such animals in all but areas zoned rural. What is the reasoning behind these laws? Was it noise? Smell? Property values? Perception? I figure if Seattle can get over these issues, just about any city should be able to as well.
Pigs in the orchards, and goats mowing the weeds.
Story via GroovyGreen