Fortunately the solution is both simple and benefits the garden in the long-term; we lay down our summer mulch on winter paths six months before we need it to retain soil moisture in the rising temperatures of Spring. The winter rains will soften this barley straw and begin the process of breaking it down so that in a year’s time it will have been incorporated into an organic soil richer for the extra carbon.
The chicken flock will walk on this drier surface throughout winter and scratch it about in their search for the insect life that will build up under there in the layer where straw meets soil. The softer straw that results is largely pest and seed free and is much easier to lay carefully around new Spring seedlings.
These Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) green caterpillars on the green leaves of the cabbages are almost impossible for a human to spot and squash so its tempting to turn the chooks in to clean them up. Sadly, chickens love eating cabbage leaves even more than caterpillars do, so I need to search the leaves for them myself, tossing them over the fence to the chooks waiting eagerly on the other side.
‘Black woolly bear’ caterpillars (the larvae of a native ‘black and white tiger moth’) are even more damaging because they don’t seem to have any natural predators – even the chooks won’t touch them. I also pluck these off the comfrey and silverbeet leaves and toss them out onto the path with the mulch. Let them walk and work to get to feed on my vegetables, I say.