The last few weeks have turned out to be unusually cold and damp in Boston, the perfect habitat for that slimy garden menace, slugs. I’ve already noticed incipient damage on my hosta – one of the slugs’ favorite plants – and short of putting out slug bait or traps, there’s often not much you can do. But recently I’ve come upon an unexpected ally in my battles: our ducks.
Several years back, I ordered 36 ducklings through the mail from Holderead Waterfowl Farm and Preservation center in Oregon. They sent me a rare fowl mix, assorted ducklings of breeds like Ancona, Magpie, Swedish, Runners; interesting and colorful varieties you generally don’t see very often. My intention was to have the ducklings manage the algae and duckweed problem on my small pond, which they have done admirably. Too admirably in fact. The problem is that now, having eliminated the aquatic overgrowth, these insatiable nibblers have spread out into other part of the garden, incessantly trilling for bugs, worms, and other tasty bits wherever they can find them. Normally I’ve discouraged this foraging in the presentation garden areas, as the ducks are pretty careless about where they step and what they nibble, can trample young plantings, and can quickly make a neatly mulched bed an unneatly mulched mess. But the other day, after they had again managed to climb underneath the chicken wire that separates the wild and cultivated parts of the landscape, I noticed that the flock was avidly rummaging beneath the leaves of the large hosta clumps in the shade garden. Sure enough, a quick lift of the leaves revealed several white anconas scarfing down those mucousy masses faster than you can say “Rin Tin Tin.” Turns out ducks LOVE slugs. Who knew? So now, rather than try to keep the little buggers out of the borders, I’m thinking of herding them in for an hour or two each week, which only confirms the old adage, so often true in gardening, “if you can’t beat ’em…”