[NAFEX] japanese beetle questions

Donna &/or Kieran holycow at cookeville.com
Thu Jun 14 12:30:10 EDT 2007

    Japanese beetles are worst the first 3 years or so.  I don't know why 
they seem to get a bit better after awhile, they are still a pain but not 
quite the same plague.  My approach here in Tennessee has been to knock them 
off into a 2 gallon bucket with an inch or two of water in the bottom.  Then 
I go pitch handfuls of them to the chickens or ducks.  They can't fly right 
away when wet like that, and are easy to handle.  If you wait for them to 
drown, it takes days.  Probably with a bit of soap in the water they'd drown 
quicker.  My favorite trap crop is a type of smartweed, the one with the 
reddish mark in the middle of the leaf.  There is a small one and larger 
ones with plain leaves, these don't work.  The favored smartweed is always 
allowed a place in our garden as it is a very favorite food of theirs, 
competing well with your grapevines and plum trees.  The plant is attractive 
to look at too, at least till the beetles chew them all to hell.   You 
probably have them coming up in your garden/orchard, if you just look for 
them.  As the Jap beetles are here to stay, may as well learn all the tricks 
for controlling their damage.  Doreen Howard sprays her roses with neem, 
which she says takes care of fungus and makes the plants taste bad too.
    Banty chickens might help with beetles, and could also help with 
curculio.  They aren't nearly as loud or destructive as full size hens, but 
if you  are in the city limits, you probably can't keep hens but can get 
away with ducks.
     I also have old roses, and as chickens are too destructive in the 
veggie patch, and guineas hopeless at reproduction (too many coons, possums 
and skunks for the nests they insist on making far from the safety offered 
by our dogs) we got ducks.  Quack ducks (real ducks) are type A 
personalities that go at everything in a hurry.  They would charge into the 
smartweed patch at regular intervals, eating as fast as they could.  Your 
choices among quack ducks are the little 2 lb bantams up to the egg laying 
breeds at 4-5 lbs such as khaki campbells and the lovely harlequins.  Avoid 
the big meat breeds if you don't want your plants trampled.  If you ask 
around feed stores or find out who's in charge of the county fair poultry 
you may be able to pick up a pair pretty easily.  The females lay, but are 
noisy.  Two males would be better looking and are very quiet.  Quack ducks 
are descended from mallards, and are very wasteful of water.  At this point, 
we have gotten rid of our few quack ducks because in this terrible drought 
we can't afford to waste several gallons a day on them.  They are also 
nervous, and we used to have a heck of a time in the evenings getting them 
to go back in their cage or pen.
    Muscovy ducks are totally different, very quiet, friendly, personable, 
and slow moving.  They like water, but don't empty their water buckets like 
real ducks do.  The males are large and uncouth.  The females are smaller (7 
lbs), graceful, make sweet little noises, and will hang around underfoot 
grabbing worms when you are trying to dig.  They can fly unless you clip 
their wings, but that made them perfect for us.  We built perches over their 
pen for them to roost on to keep them safe from varmints.  They would fly 
down in the pen to eat and make their nests in the shed, then fly out to 
forage in the garden.  They do eat tomatoes and occasionally other things, 
and they do trample veggies in chasing bugs.  Roses tolerate them much 
better than beans do.   They are still a WHOLE lot less destructive than 
hens of the same size.  The trouble with muscovies is their nesting 
instinct.  They go through several lay cycles per summer here, and once they 
start setting, their whole demeanor changes.  They will not only peck and 
thrash you for trying to take their eggs, but when they have offspring they 
will hiss at you or even come over and peck your ankle if you scare their 
little darlings.   I grew up with muscovies and adore them, but my husband 
has become equally fond of them.  The babies are a blast, but alas, after 
going through the cute and the silly stages, they grow up to be big and 
hungry and take a lot of plucking to turn them into delectable meat.  It's 
nothing like plucking geese or quack ducks, but it's work.  The compromise 
we worked out when we were kids was to steal eggs for the kitchen and only 
leave 6 for hatching.  This of course implies a big uncouth male, which you 
may not want.  We now have new neighbors, their two big dogs apparently 
arrived at midday, catching all 4 muscovies on the ground and wiping them 
    Given the drought, we are keeping only banty hens at present.  There is 
nothing but wilted weeds and shriveled grass for anything to eat now.  There 
aren't even Japanese beetles, apparently either the drought or the freeze 
hurt them at a crucial time in their development.  Maybe it only delayed 
them, but so far I've only seen 5 beetles, and only saw that many by 
checking the open roses.  They should have begun appearing 3 weeks ago. 

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