If you’ve been following my chicken journey from the beginning, you’ll know why I got chickens. If you haven’t been, let me get you up to speed. The short version is that we live in a place overrun with ticks, and wanted to control them in a way that didn’t involve spraying poison all over everything. We live out in nature, and we’d like to keep it as natural as possible. Chickens, who are voracious tick eaters, seemed to be the way to do this. Guinea fowl are apparently slightly more effective at eating ticks than chickens, but they also roam a lot more, and we’re trying to stay on the good side of the neighbors. Letting your weird dinosaur-like bird wander into someone else’s yard is frowned upon in some communities, ticks or no ticks.
Knowing this about me will allow you to understand my thought processes when it comes to pests. We currently have a plum tree that has been besieged by aphids for the past two years. I could, I suppose, go out and get some highly effective, if highly poisonous, spray to put on the tree, and that would be the end of that. But if I didn’t want to do that to the yard, do you think I’d want to do it to a source of my food? If you answered “no,” you’re correct. I tried releasing ladybugs on the tree last year, but they didn’t stick around for very long. I had a landlord who used them quite effectively once, but her batch must have been more attentive than mine, because mine flew away without eating a thing, and I had an aphid smorgasbord right there ready to go. I’m trying the ladybugs again this year, but also some bigger guns.
Last year I bought some praying mantis egg pods, but I think I got them too late in the Spring, so by the time the mantises hatched, they didn’t have enough time to get to the size where they could eat anything we needed them to eat. We have something that comes through and shreds the leaves of any leafy green we plant right about the time it’s ready to pick. I figured mantises would be the right bug for the job, so this year I ordered them very early. They need warm weather to hatch, and of course, this Spring has been ridiculously cold. It was 45 recently. In June. June! In spite of this, the mantises hatched anyway, and it was very cool to see how tiny they were, and to watch them fan out all over the trees I had put the eggs in. Ants tried to eat one of the pods, but it was too late. The mantises were already on the loose, and while tiny, hopefully they were eating whatever they could get. If that meant ants, good. The ants are adding to the aphid issue, as ants like the nectar aphids leak out, and actually “farm” aphids for this.
As I watched the mantises drop from the eggs into the tree, I noticed the grass was also covered in them. It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to let the chickens out. I looked at the hundreds of tiny mantises and realized this was an all-you-can-eat mantis buffet right here, and decided, as much as it pained me, to leave the chickens in for the day. Once my little friends had some time to find their way to safer havens, the chickens could roam free again. I figured maybe a day or two would do it.
The next morning I took my son to baseball, which is absurdly early. When we came home, my mother-in-law was mowing the lawn. As I pulled up the driveway, she was right where all the mantises had been under the tree. I had thought to leave her a note not to mow, but figured we’d be home so early no one would dare to mow before then. I was wrong. I had saved the mantises from the chickens, but had the mower gotten them, or had they found safety overnight? I suppose I can only wait and see if any show up once they’re larger, and easier to spot. I hope they lived, because I’d really like some kale from my garden this year. A cruel irony would be if the thing that eats my greens is the one thing mantises don’t eat. If so, I will buy more beneficial bugs, and I will win this battle. No one eats my plants but me. And maybe the chickens, when I have a surplus.