I am in the process of re-organizing my strawberry patch. It was planted in a flurry of spring work two years ago, in the rain and snow and arrival of baby horses, and so it was the tag end of an endless to do list. The result was a poorly thought out strawberry patch that grew lots of berries way too close together with pests, weeds, and fungi overtaking the whole endeavor. We did harvest some berries from the patch but not nearly what I had hoped or dreamed of gathering. Strawberries consistently make it onto the top ten list of over-pesticided/herbicided fruits and veggies, meaning if you need to pick and choose what to buy organic these berries are worth it to protect yourself and the environment. Which is why my lush but troubled berry patch has been crying out for a do-over.
Last spring when I had geese for a bit I let them weed the patch and they actually did a great job until they were relocated due to gender and aggression issues. This spring I am working to create more space in the patch by digging up some of the plants to allow the remaining plants spread out and get adequate airflow. In addition I added a hugelkulture mound. I bought 75 new plants and am using temporary black tarps to kill weeds and help heat the soil in the hopes that raising the patch up will combat the sogginess of the soil where I put the patch.
As I was digging up the berry plants I began to see lots of small tan worm/larva curled up in and around the base of the strawberry crowns. But what to do? There were too many to try to hand pick and so I went over to the chicken enclosure, picked up two of my friendliest girls and brought them over to the patch. I set them down and instantly they were all over the little larva and other bugs that I had exposed while working the soil. They worked with me closely, following my shovel and excitedly pouncing on any insects brought to the light. Did they get them all? Certainly not. Did they get a lot? Yes they did! When all else fails bring in the chickens!