Using Ducks in the Urban Garden
When you think of urban farming, the birds that come to mind are probably chickens. Well, the truth is that there are some significant advantages to keeping ducks in your garden as opposed to their non-flying relatives. Plus, unlike most people think, ducks don’t require large spaces and huge coops to live long, happy and productive lives. Furthermore, the common assumption that these birds are messy, destructive and lay hardly edible eggs is also false. And, while ducks do spend a tenth of their time in water, you don’t need a pond in your backyard to keep a few in your urban, or even suburban garden.
Sure, if you have limited your garden to plant life so far, you may want to start off with chickens. They are more versatile and don’t need as much control, although, with some thorough preparation, you can easily include 3-5 ducks without being a farming expert. The simplest way to provide the required body of water is setting up a plastic mini-pool or an old tub, ideally digging a hole for it, to have the water at ground level. Those who have had chickens will find that ducks can be a godsend for your self-sustainable design as a whole. They love to go after slugs, snails, insects and other pests – even two or three ducks will make every-day garden maintenance a whole lot easier.
As for ‘behavioral’ issues, chickens are actually more prone to damage crops. The problem is, fresh crops, such as seedlings and young plants, are delicacies to ducks, so you’ll have to make some structural changes before introducing them into your garden. The best way to do that is isolating fresh garden patches with some netting or a fence. That being said, you can also separate the ducks from sensitive crops or just keep them restricted to a certain area of your yard altogether.
When it comes to eggs, a comparable loss of quantity is made up by increased quality. Duck eggs are larger and contain more calories than chicken eggs, making them more nutricious, not to mention that they’re ideal for baking.
Although taking advantage of the nutrients ducks produce can be as simple as setting up some runoff tubes, a bit of planning and some DIY know-how can make for a truly remarkable permaculture system. The easy, go-to design is setting up a tub or kiddie pool on the roof of your bird coop, with tubing that leads directly to mulch beds. As rain falls, the access water, which is naturally filled with nutrients by your ducks, flows down the tubing and feeds your garden.
An example of a more complicated integration involves just a few more steps:
1. Set up a rain-watter collection system, which directs water to a tank for the ducks.
2. As ducks bathe in the tank, they gradually muddy the water, with most nutrients ending up on the bottom of the container.
3. The ducks will move around in the container, causing water-movement.
Strategically place a swale system and connect it to piping at the bottom of the container. As the birds’ activity replaces water pumps, nutrient-rich liquid is directed straight to the mulch pile or directly to garden beds.
Benefits of keeping ducks around go far beyond your back-yard eco system. There’s plenty of evidence that the practice is beneficial to the environment. For instance, because of their active lifestyle, they significantly reduce methane gas levels in water and decrease the pollutant’s production in rice paddy fields. And let’s not forget the delicious duck meat that awaits you every few years – deep-baked duck is much more of a treat than a regular chicken cutlet!