Slugs taste like chocolate…

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To a duck.

Eliot Coleman’s wonderful book, “Four-Season Harvest,” had come just in time.

We had been considering chickens as pets for Miss Muffet and Bo Peep. We liked the idea of actually getting something back from a pet (other than love and affection, of course), especially with all of the eggs we consume in a week. And we also liked the fact that it would be socially-acceptable to eat said pets if things didn’t work out.

But then I was reading Mr. Coleman’s book to better plan our all-season garden, and I came across his chapter on ducks. Yes, an entire CHAPTER devoted to ducks, which he considers the real-life Schmoos of the garden, providing fertilizer, natural pest control, and an egg-laying rate superior to chickens. And unlike chickens, ducks eat SLUGS! Slugs are one of the greatest threats in low tunnel gardening, thriving in the moist and protected environment of the tunnel. He said ducks were essential to slug control. He said that SLUGS ARE A DUCK’S FAVORITE FOOD!

I had my pet! Slugs were already my greatest enemy!


Slugs by the bucket.

Slugs grow to monstrous size in Appalachia.

Each year, we would lose about a quarter to a half of our strawberries to slugs. We would harvest beautiful heads of broccoli with slimy slug trails marching across their surface.  No amount of beer traps could save us; the slugs came in droves to the keg party and munched drunkenly on our vegetables. Surely ducks were the answer!

At first, I didn’t think ducks would be possible in our little city lot. I had childhood memories of the mallards that inhabited our pond in Robbinsville, NC. I had memories of… duck poop. Stepping barefoot into duck poop. Slipping and realizing I had fallen in duck poop. Petting the dog and realizing she had rolled in duck poop.

I also recalled that ducks FLY! We have chain link fence around our current property, but we had an even higher fence around our pond in NC and the ducks STILL got out every spring. I would herd ducks after school with the family mutt, Shongelo. She would catch them by pinning them to the ground, then allow me to scoop them up and toss them over the fence. Take that, duck! Shongelo loved it; it brought out her inner bird dog.

But I soon learned I wouldn’t have to do any wing clipping after all. Mallards fly, but most domestic duck breeds, being heavier, do good just to get airborne. When they manage to get aloft, they are only good for low flights over short distances.

And I had no idea that there were so many duck breeds! Many of these are considered as threatened as some of the heirloom seeds I grow: heritage breeds. Since we had no experience with any of them, we each picked out our own breed of duck to try out in our backyard:

Miss Muffet’s White Crested, “Bingo.” Our garden’s STAR!


Ma Hubbard’s Welsh Harlequin, “Coco”

Bo Peep’s Blue Swedish, “Nee-Nee Quack-Quack”

Pa Hubbard’s black Cayuga, “Sarsaparilla”

Our “bonus” duck, a buff orpington named “Mister E.”


The following spring, we lost hardly any strawberries to slugs, even though we fenced  the ducks out of the patch when the first strawberry flowers appeared. The only strawberries damaged by slugs were at the extreme edge of the patch where it bordered our neighbor’s property. Too bad slugs can crawl through chain link fence.

And the eggs? Oh my! If you have never eaten a duck egg… well, at least you don’t know what you’re missing! They are larger, with yolks like bright marigolds (V calls them “orange eggs” when scrambled).

Duck egg on the right compared to a commercial chicken egg. The duck egg albumin is so clear you can see right through it!

People are always surprised that we eat duck eggs; they expect them to taste like slugs, I guess. Duck and chicken eggs are extremely similar in taste, except a duck’s egg is RICH, the yolk being slightly thicker in consistency. Just one egg can fill you up (unless you’re Pa Hubbard). I can’t eat a boring commercial chicken egg now. It just looks and tastes so… blah.


As  for the duck poop?

It is fantastic garden fertilizer!


And it gave me an excuse to get the girls some really cute muck boots.


But have we completely embraced its inevitable presence in the backyard?


Toddler + Duck Mud + Hill = Disaster



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