When Life Gives You Japanese Beetles, Make Duck Eggs

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An Effective Organic Control Method For Japanese Beetles…That Makes Eggs!

Years ago, we got a yard. As a result, we inevitably had to figure out what management approach we wanted to take with our little slice of earth. Since we love fresh, local organic produce and organic, free-range duck eggs, we’ve long-since decided that we’d just grow those things right out the front door. As such, we now have about a .5 acre edible organic landscape and a flock of Welsh Harlequin ducks that tell us what to do on a daily basis.

#Yarrow, #garlic and #daffodils: the perfect spot for a #duck nap. 😛 #ducks #welshharlequins #ducksofinstagram

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Our ducks also enjoy eating some of the produce we grow, since their mischievous bird brains believe that the edible landscape was created solely for their foraging and dining pleasure. Thankfully, they don’t like much of the fruit we grow (melons, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, etc.). They’re fond of insects, worms, greens, and—their absolute favorite—tomatoes. If there was a bald eagle holding a shotgun while standing atop an angry wolf, our flock would murder them both, if they got between them and a good, vine-ripened tomato.

Paul Robeson heirloom tomato. Do not get between these and a duck or you will be trampled.

Paul Robeson heirloom tomato. Do not get between these and a duck or you will be trampled.

Over the years, what started as a hobby has turned into an obsession. As such, we’ve read hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers on agriculture, plant productivity, etc., and enjoyed thousands of hours of hands-on education practicing “permaculture,” a systems-based approach to food production (and life). What we’ve learned through the combination of those two activities has been completely transformative. One small output is that we don’t use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. on our lawn, er, “farm.” Instead of using those short-sighted methods, which cause all sorts of negative downstream problems, we focus on improving the health and resilience of our ecosystem. What insects or birds do we need to attract to deal with a particular pest insect problem? What plants do we need to put together into a guild system so that they’ll all grow better together and stack functions? How can we improve our soil health and feed the beneficial microorganisms in our soil? What impact will our actions have on the team of other microscopic and macroscopic species that share our yard with us? This approach has yielded wonderful results, and we’re continuing to learn more each year. However, there are certain “enemies” that come along that can make a person want to drop a nuclear bomb on their own front lawn in order to end all the suffering…

Japanese Beetles: The Mother Of All Evil

One such pest insect is the Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica), an insect so sinister that they’d give Vlad Putin nightmares. From June-July (in our Ag zone) Japanese Beetles can cover some of our food crops like locusts, skeletonizing leaves and defoliating plants as they go. Their favorite food in our lawn seems to be the leaves on our cane berries, grapes, cherries, elderberries, rosa rugosas, paw-paws and aronias. Since Japanese Beetles are a non-native invasive species that have been here for less than a century, there aren’t very many native predators that can keep their populations in check. (As you can see from the photo below, there are indeed some native predatory insects that enjoy snacking on Japanese Beetles.)

Organic Control For Japanese Beetles

You can read more about how to control Japanese Beetles in this Mother Earth News article. We’ve had good success with the methods mentioned in that article. However, what we wanted to do is figure out how we could go to the next level: take a problem and turn it into a solution. As the saying goes, “if life give you lemons, make lemonade!” So our lemons are Japanese Beetles. How do we turn those into lemonade (or something edible)? Well, as previously mentioned, we happen to have a flock of spoiled, ravenous, egg-laying waterfowl in our backyard. They love eating insects, including Japanese Beetles, but since Japanese Beetles typically fly and set upon leaves well above the beak-snapping range of our ground-dwelling ducks, they aren’t able to eat the beetles without our assistance.

(Photo: Welsh Harlequins are a flightless duck breed. Not even the powerful SuperDuck can fly.)

Japanese Beetle Traps

It’s oft repeated that Japanese beetle traps don’t work, or even worse, actually attract more Japanese Beetles to your property. However, the research is actually mixed on the subject. Some research has shown that when used properly, Japanese Beetle traps can actually be quite effective. We’d advise you to read a bit more about that research here, and to also read the actual research papers referenced (if you want to get more geeky). These little traps form the foundation of the method we use to turn Japanese Beetles into duck eggs. Here’s what we do:

    1. Trap Placement – First, put your traps 30 feet away from any valuable plants OR put the traps in the middle of your duck/chicken area. Ideally, if you live in a sparsely populated area, you could even set the traps up off of your property/the areas you want to keep beetles away from, then “harvest” the insects daily for your birds.
    2. Trap Height – Set the traps up so that they’re about 5-12″ off of the ground. The research studies that found Japanese Beetle traps to be ineffective actually put the traps much higher up out of the beetles’ natural flight path.
    3. Harvesting – Once per day, dump the trapped beetles into a bowl of water and let your ducks, chickens, turkeys or other fowl enjoy a protein and vitamin-rich feast. (*If you don’t dump them into water, they’ll fly away.) Be sure to regularly empty your beetle traps, since the smell of dead beetles will detract living beetles from coming to the trap. Another option (pictured below) is to set your trap up with the bottom open over a bowl of water. This way the bugs fall right through the trap and into a bowl of water, so you don’t have to empty or clean the trap. This gives your fowl a steady stream of insect snacks throughout the day, rather than one single gorging at night. The downside with this option is that a strong wind could reposition your trap, so you may want to tie it in place/to the ground so it doesn’t move around, allowing the beetles to escape.
Nomnom! Ducks feasting on Japanse beetles falling from a trap into their water bowl.

Nomnom! Ducks feasting on Japanse beetles falling from a trap into their water bowl.

Nutritional Composition of Insects

What’s the nutritional composition of insects? According to this FAO report:

“Rumpold and SchlĂŒter (2013) compiled nutrient compositions for 236 edible insects, as published in the literature (based on dry matter). Although significant variation was found in the data, many edible insects provide satisfactory amounts of energy and protein, meet amino acid requirements for humans, are high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are rich in micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc, as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and, in some cases, folic acid.”

Note that this analysis is based on “dry matter” and that the nutritional quality of living insects is likely much higher than dried insects. It’s also important to remember that insects are relatively high in phosphorus and low in calcium, two critically linked minerals that are essential to have in balance for healthy laying hens (and maintain hard egg shells). You CAN overfeed insects to your birds, causing a calcium deficiency which could lead to soft eggs, poor bone and feather health, and other symptoms related to calcium deficiency. Just as with people, a balanced diet is important, so just be mindful of this possibility with your flock’s food.

Regardless, insects are a nutritional powerhouse that will aid in your birds health in the proper ratios, especially when they need higher protein diets during the laying season. So, why not take your problem (Japanese Beetles) and turn it into a solution (fowl nutrition and edible eggs)? Mind you, we still don’t look forward to Japanese Beetle season, but we don’t meet it with the dread we once did. As for our ducks? They refer to this season as “Second Christmas.” Free gifts and treats really can fall from the sky.

Photo: Unlike Santa Claus, Santa Duck brings gifts to both good and bad ducks (like our hens).

We hope you’ve found this article eggselent!


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