Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: pest control

A Predator Problem We Don’t Have In The South

I’ve mentioned previously that we work with Bible missionaries stationed in Sierra Leone, West Africa. We received these photos this afternoon. They were taken last night when they found this five foot long cobra in their chicken coop.


As much as I don’t like having to deal with raccoons and possums and the occasional fox, I’ll take them any day over having to deal with cobras.

Here is what happened in the words of Mrs. Laura Holt, who took these photos:

Last night around 9:00, Stephen and I were enjoying the cool evening air on the veranda when I heard a ripple of distress pass through the chickens. I know the voice of my flock and was certain I knew what the problem was. Stephen and I grabbed flash lights and sure enough, there it was – a five-foot cobra! In recent months we have lost 4 hens to snake bites so we didn’t want to let this one get away.

While I ran to get two shovels, a machete and the camera, Stephen was able to keep the beast fairly well corralled with the flash light – they hate light so he kept it going in circles by strategically shining the beam of light in its eyes. At one point it tried to climb a tree just outside the poultry yard but with no branches low enough it was unsuccessful though it did reach a height of about 5 feet. It finally curled into a tight ball at the base of the tree.

While holding the flash light in his mouth Stephen dealt a hard blow to the back of the beast with the shovel. Despite its serious wound it still had strength enough to climb the gate to the chicken yard all the while spitting venom and emitting a low but evil sounding hiss and a growl-like sound; very creepy. Stephen then pinned it to the gate with the two shovels but it managed to slip out and went to the ground. With the snake thus weakened he then took the machete and severed its head.

All the while Mercy was a valiant assistant. At one point he did bite the snake though we tried to keep him back as best we could. But his maneuvers were a helpful distraction to the snake so Stephen was able to get a very clear shot at the base of the head. Mercy hates snakes and has a natural sense that they need to die. He has killed a few but they were not poisonous. He even has a special bark he uses only when a snake is present and I always take that alert seriously. I dread the day when he tries to face one of these deadly foes on his own. When I was doing my morning chores today I found one hen who had fallen victim to the snake.

Hoop Frames

Hoop frames are a great way to support any kind of covering over a garden. They can be used for a cold frame to protect from frost damage, with netting to prevent damage by birds and squirrels and rabbits, and even to prevent insect damage. Hoop frames can be made in various sizes, from small covers for a 4′ wide raised-bed garden, to a full sized greenhouse. In this post, we’ll be making small frames for the raised bed garden. The material will be half-inch EMT (Electrical Metallic Tubing), commonly known as metal conduit.

The trick to bending hoop frames is having the right tool for the job – in this case, we’ll be building a jig designed for the job. Without a bending jig, you end up with kinked pipe and uneven bends. Aesthetics play a big role in enjoying your garden. Make sure that what goes into the garden is neat and attractive looking.

This jig was built using mostly scraps. The plywood was a badly warped piece that probably should have been cut up and thrown away long ago. The 2×4 pieces were various short pieces that I just couldn’t bear to throw away, so they were stacked in the pole barn. The table frame that they are mounted on was originally built to hold a container garden at waist-high level. The clamps were needed not only to secure the plywood base to the table frame, but to flatten down some major warp in the plywood.

Materials Needed

  • 10′ section of 1/2″ EMT for each hoop
  • 1/2″ PVC 1120 pipe (thin wall) for in-the-ground legs
  • 2×4 to make the arc of the jig
  • Plywood for the base of the jig
  • 1/4-20 x 2 1/2″ bolts and nuts and washers

In the next post, we’ll show how we used it to add netting to prevent damage from squirrels and birds.

Measure from the center point at the top of the arc to find where you need to start the bend.

Start bending the EMT around the jig.

Continue bending the EMT, making sure that it stays flat against the base and doesn't slip.

When the bend is complete, make sure that you don't bend it any more since it is no longer supported by the jig and you will have an uneven bend.

Remove the hoop frame from the jig and adjust if needed.

The finished hoop frame pushed directly into the growing mixture. For taller hoop frames, you may want to insert lengths of PVC pipe over the ends.

Farm Dogs

Few things represent the rural agrarian life more than the farm dog. In addition to the companionship that dogs provide, the farm dog really earns his keep. With only one acre, we hardly qualify as living on a farm, yet our dog still has his job and he does it well.

Shiloh is our Shetland Sheepdog (also known as a Sheltie). At 35 pounds, he is a good bit larger than the standards call for, which is why he lost his value as a stud dog and we were able to get him. When pests invade the garden, Shiloh chases them away. An unusual pest for most folks but not uncommon for us is wild peacocks that sometimes get into the garden until Shiloh chases them away. Another job that Shiloh does well is catching chickens that fly over their fence and get into the garden. It’s almost as much fun watching that as it is watching a Border Collie working sheep. He chases the chicken and tries to corner it. The chicken will eventually give up and stop and he just stands over it to keep it from leaving. He never tries to bite or harm the chicken in any way. If we aren’t out there at the time, he will bark to let us know that he needs help. I walk over and pick up the chicken and put it back over the fence. The chickens are usually quite happy to see me after dealing with the dog.

Shiloh as a young puppy, holding a chicken

Squirrel Traps

#110 Conibear trap set for squirrel
image: William Reid

One of the most serious pests that I have to deal with in the garden is squirrels. They either completely destroy the fruit, or they will eat just enough to spoil it and then move on to the next plant to do the same. A good pellet rifle will help, netting helps, and the squirrels usually find their way to the rat bait in the barn, but trapping also looks like a good way to go. I haven’t tried it yet,  but that will be on my “to do” list. Take a look at this post on the Kansas State University Northern Pecans blog.

The Conibear 110 trap can be ordered from F&T Fur Harvester’s Trading Post.

Netting to Protect the Garden

Netting protecting the strawberries

Guarding your garden against various pests is a never-ending task if you expect to benefit from your labor. Before adding this netting over the strawberry plants, the squirrels were getting them before we were. They still get one on occasion when they can reach through the netting, but most of the strawberries are out of their reach. While a pellet rifle with a good scope does a fine job of thinning the population of “fuzzy tail tree rats”, it just doesn’t compare to netting when it comes to results. It may be more satisfying to see the little thieves fall from a tree, but it doesn’t even put a dent in the population. Netting is far more effective.

The down side to using netting is that if I’m in a hurry in the morning, it’s easy to just take a quick look for ripe strawberries to pick rather than removing the netting and looking carefully under the leaves. I’ve lost some by letting them get over-ripe.

This year, we just had 4 strawberry plants. We will definitely be increasing the number next year.

Picking Worms

Before you can pick vegetables, you usually have to pick worms. So far, I have done all my gardening without using any pesticides, and hand-picking worms has actually proven to be quite effective.

Going out to the garden is part of my morning routine – let the dog out, check the chickens, check the rain gauge, and check the garden. When worm season is here, that also includes looking for damage and squashing the worms that caused it.

Chicken Snakes

Chicken snakes always seem to eventually show up when you have chickens. I usually like having them around since they are also known as rat snakes for a good reason. The trick is to gather the eggs regularly so they feed on rats and not on your eggs. If they get an egg or two every now and then, that’s OK with me. It’s part of the entertainment value of having chickens.

These were taken several years ago in my first chicken coop.

Once the snake has found the eggs, nothing seems to disturb his meal. I set up a camera and tripod and took a whole series of photos, and he completely ignored me. The process actually takes quite a while. Smaller snakes will circle the egg and then use their body to push against to force the egg into his mouth; larger snakes simply grab it and swallow. The egg eventually works its way down several inches until suddenly it breaks. You can actually hear the egg breaking as the lump flattens out. A bit creepy, perhaps, but fascinating nevertheless.

The white “egg” in the photos is plastic. Snakes are never fooled.