Ideas for new posts go through my head all the time, but few of them actually make it to the blog it seems. But today I have to tell you about the ducks. Every day for the last two weeks, we have had almost 1000 ducks in the fields surrouding the house--mostly mallards, but also lots of wood ducks, American widgeon, and two species of geese. It's fun to have so many birds around to welcome you home.
So, here's the reason the ducks are here. This is planting season in the Sacramento Valley, so all the rice fields are dry and being plowed to prepare the seedbed. I know it sounds odd, since rice grows in flooded soil, but rice grows much better if you dry out the soil thoroughly before you re-flood and plant. It has also been a very dry spring, so the natural wetlands have pretty much dried up and there is very little duck habitat out there. Here's where we come in: we actually did our seedbed preparation very early and quickly, and then flooded the fields. We're not planning to plant for at least a month, but I wanted to fool the weeds into thinking it was time to grow. My plan is to dry up the field again, and then lightly till the weeds to kill them. So, just when other farmers' fields look like duck deserts, ours look very inviting, full of water and nicely sprouting weeds for food. The ducks are a real asset this time of year. They eat and trample the weeds, and spread plenty of nice organic fertilizer around the field. The mallards are ground nesting birds--many of them will probably end up nesting in our adjacent wheat field because it has good cover and protection from predators for them. I expect to see lots of baby mallard back in our rice fields in a couple months!
Organic rice farmers have to play games like this, because weeds our our biggest production problem, and can literally wipe out a crop. Last year, we had 20 acres that we couldn't harvest because the weeds took over and destroyed the rice. So this year, we are switching methods of weed control and hoping to do a better job of it. I'll let you know how it goes.
Speaking of ducks, here's a shot of our new pet ducklings. The kids are having a great time with them. Our two year olds wake up in the morning asking about them!