Mar 27, 2007

Agricultural Science--Not Just For Farmers Anymore

There is a veritable plague of things that can infest, infect, and damage crops. Even the home gardener isn't safe from pestiferous invasion. Potato bugs, ants, cutworms, whole hosts of beetles and caterpillars and creeping things lie in wait for the unwary gardener, and there's poisons and home remedies and old-wives tales that deal with how to eradicate them.

And then there's me. I've got a garden that's being overrun by crawfish.

What you see there is a row of cucumbers ready to grow up their fence on the far left, a row of young tomatoes ready to grow up into their waiting cages on the next row, and a row of bell peppers and some germinating hot peppers on the third row, awaiting stakes for them to be tied to. And in the middle?

Crawfish chimneys.

Yes, I've got a bad infestation of crawfish.

I think the particular species that is invading my garden is a little-known variant called escrevisse gardenus, or the Greater South Louisiana Garden Dwelling Crawfish. They are known for making large, round holes in soft, freshly-tilled ground and putting their chimneys in the way of me weeding and tilling.

The above picture doesn't look like much until you take into account two things--first, that's a tomato cage standing beside it. The base is almost a foot across at the bottom. Second? That chimney's mouth is wide enough that my wife can put her HAND down it's mouth. That's bigger than most catfish I've seen.

And then there's THIS one, at the other end of the row.

Seems she's decided to go mining around the row looking for just the right spot to live. Either that or she's trying to dig a tiger trap for me and is finding that the work is really slow going.

And me? I'm watering them regular-like, just like the peas and the beans and the squash. You see, crawfish build those chimneys as a natural moisture trap for when it gets too dry outside. The height aboveground captures the air from outside, mixing it with the cooler air that rises from below. There's a hole below the ground level that runs a foot or so deep; the air transfer creates moisture, which keeps the little chamber at the bottom nice and damp, where Momma crawfish is busy raising her clutch of petit enfants. She'll live there waiting for the rain to return and flood the place out so the little ones and she can swim to the bayou, or in this case they'll hang out until a good flood comes along, at which point they'll migrate down to the end of the row and into the ditch, which at some distant point rejoins the bayou.

And so here I am every afternoon carefully weeding and watering my garden, my compost pile, and my crop of three crawfish.

Around here, a crawfish farm is a big square man-made lake about two feet deep, with some mechanism to agitate the water and aerate it. The crawfish are raised there until they're adult, and large nets sieve the lake, collecting the crop. Me? I've got eleven rows of freshly-tilled dirt, some tomato cages, a fence for beans and cukes, a handful of plant stakes, a lot of freshly-germinated vegetable seeds and three very opportunistic crawfish.

And Scott? This isn't a bug post; the term "mudbug" is a misnomer, crawfish being crustaceans and such, so don't count it against me.


Stucco said...

Man, I'd be planting whatever brought me the most crayfish and harvest them instead of the crops. I love crayfish more than veggies...

Scott from Oregon said...

I was thinking what Stucco thought. How do you raise them up enmasse?

I am so jealous you are already tilled.

Nancy Dancehall said...

That is AMAZING! So these crawfish are coming up on the size of lobsters, really. Freekin' wow.

I'm blown away.

Now I have Octopus's Garden going through my head.

Irrelephant said...

Stucco, Scott: The thing that has me hoping is the fact that I've already got the seeds, I just need...oh...several thousand square feet of water, an enclosed embankment to keep it all in, and machinery to aerate. I wonder if these crawfish are heirloom?

And Scott? I'm not embarrassed to say that I tilled a month ago--we don't have seasons here, we just have Hot. The downside is that summer lasts all of eight months, and most of those long sticky weeks are nasty enough to keep a body inside all day and night, praying for winter and it's 70 degree nights.

Nancy, I honestly didn't realise until yesterday just how BIG that one in the middle really was. The thing is, they build those chimneys slooooowly, three or four little mudballs at a time, so it's size sort of sneaks up on you like an oncoming train; for a while there it's pretty darn small and insignificant, and then suddenly it's towering over you with all the implacable force of a cliff falling on you.

Okay, so it's not that big, but you get the picture. It COULD be, if I'm not careful which tracks I'm crossing.

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