I watched another TED (www.ted.com) speech. This one was about a chef who fell in love with a fish. It was pretty funny. Of course he didn’t fall in love with a fish, but instead fell in love with the idea of sustainably raised fish that was easy to cook and tasty.
What caught my ear was the mention of natural sources of protein readily available and naturally occurring that the fish farm was using to grow their fish. Healthy fish, clean water, and zero feed inputs, this was farming that I could get with.
I was inspired.
I have a ready source of protein, sustainably raised and hand harvested. I have chickens who love protein. As proof, I know that upon moving their A-frame, they immediately begin rummaging, scratching and pecking at all manner of things, including bugs and clover leaves, grass seed heads and things invisible to the human eye. They are enthusiastic and if you have ever seen a chicken chasing a cricket or a chicken with a snake in its beak, you have seen how enthused they can be.
I have, as you already know, potato beetle larvae, large and plump and slow moving; easily obtained protein in a colorful package. What could be better? I pulled the lid off a coffee can that had been tossed into the grass near the potatoes. A can which had been used to drown some adult potato beetles a few weeks ago. I poured out the liquid and the fermented dead beetles. Whoa! That was retched. I wiped the lid on the grass and set to picking some larvae for the experiment, welcoming the strong smell of cow that was coming from the other side of the fence.
I picked large and small, and with a couple dozen presented tastefully on the lid, I put them in the chicken coop.
There was immediate interest. Several of the 4 week old chickens cruised up to the lid and with cocked heads, eyed the tender morsels. And then, they eyed them some more. Two or three drifted back to the grain bin while the others plopped down. They really do plop. They continued to eye the larvae. Nothing in the database apparently to equate the reddish orange larvae with food.
And then an intrepid chicken ran to the lid, stopped, dropped beak to lid and stared. With the conviction born of “someone has to do it, it might as well be me”, it took one in its beak and swallowed. The chicken then plopped down with a legs giving out sort of flourish. It swallowed once with a look of chickenish concern on its face. It swallowed again and again and for all the world looked like it wanted to rinse its mouth out with something strong. After a minute it picked itself up and went back to the grain bin at a run, not even looking at the larvae as it went by.
Several other chickens pecked at the larvae, but as near as I could tell, they merely dropped the vile little things into the grass before moving on. I watched as larva after larva, crawled over the side of the lid where they disappeared, chuckling, into the mysterious place that all potato beetles come from.
Disappointed but undaunted– I had briefly held visions of moving my chicken pen over some of the potato plants to allow the chicks to pick their own– I moved on to the next phase of my project… adult potato beetles.
When you want to find a potato beetle, you can’t. They’re like most of my tools in that regard, I know where they are supposed to be, but I can’t find them. Until of course the time that I don’t need them and I walk by and register, “oh, that’s where it was”. Information which I will of course forget by the next time I need the tool, whereupon the process begins itself all over again and I end up pounding a nail with a flat rock and wishing that I had a hammer that I could find.
I found exactly one adult potato beetle. One’s good, I thought. Proof of concept, that’s all I’m after. One will do. I walked to the chicken coop with the beetle rattling around in my closed hand. Okay, I was doing the rattling in an effort to not allow the beetle to crawl around inside my hand. As long as I kept it moving, it would stay tucked up in a ball waiting for the coast to clear. I have no fear of smearing them out of existence with my fingers, but the notion of one crawling around in my hand gives me a case of the willies I reserve for leaches and ticks as well.
I made it to the coop without being forced to hurl the beetle to get it out of my hand. I placed it on the lid with the two remaining larvae which had found little umbrella drinks and were sunning themselves. The chickens didn’t even move… nothing, no worried looks, no cocked heads, nothing. This thing, they knew in their primordial raisin-sized brain, was inedible. I watched as the adult beetle pulled out photos and began holding a family reunion with the sunning larvae.
All thoughts of a win/win scenario involving chickens eating my potato bugs and not costing me a fortune in organic grain, while my potatoes grew without the impediment of defoliation, went out the window. This is the exact place where most of my “go-broke-less-quickly” cockamamie schemes exit.
Maybe I can eat potato beetles. Insects. They’re the new “it” food. Sauteed with a piquant sauce, I love how they crunchpop when I bite them.
Iccccckkkkkkk! Bleeccchhhh! Fehhhhh!
I’ll keep smushing them for now, or maybe I should raise fish. I wonder if fish will eat potato beetles?