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Our southern ancestors knew how to make the land produce without the aid of pesticides, herbicide and chemical fertilizers. They lived off the land without GMOs, growth hormones and many other things that most modern factory farms today use to produce supermarket foods. These things are one of the reasons for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other modern ailments that inflict many today.
Working with, rather than against, nature sometimes requires more work, but it is sustainable, cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment.
One method that my mother’s people used for insect control was to put up gourds that attracted purple martins. My grandmother and step-grandfather had dozens of these gourds up behind their store and house in Weogufka that attracted hundreds of martins.
Most of their neighbors had purple martin gourds up, also. Purple martins are the semi-domesticated, largest member of the swallow family. The Eastern American Indians grew and put up gourds to attract them and so did the later settlers.
Martins today only nest and roost in gourds and/or bird houses; no one knows exactly how this got started, or where or how they nested before people put up gourds for them.
Unwanted non-native birds, such as starlings and English sparrows, often compete with martins for nest sites.
As a kid, my grandparents would give me candy bars and soft drinks from their store as a reward for starlings I shot with my BB gun or shotgun. I enjoyed this, and I felt like a young mercenary or bounty hunter, ridding my community of invaders.
Starlings are hard to kill. They are smart and will fly all around you if you don’t have a gun, but if you do, you will seldom see one.
One year, in the early 70s, about a dozen or so baby martins were pulled out of their nests by starlings. My grandmother picked them up and hand raised them to maturity. The newspaper people found out about this and came out and did a story on her and them. They put a picture in the paper of her feeding them.
She later released them, and everyone figured they flew to South America with the others for the winter. She claimed that those she raised came back year after year. They would fly on her porch and chatter.
After my grandparents died, the martin gourds they put up gradually disintegrated, and the martins left.
The women I was involved with at the time kept me involved with other things, such as getting me into fights and other trouble rather than me doing such things as putting up martin gourds.
Years later I tried to get the purple martins back, but didn’t have much luck. After I bought back my great-grandfather’s place down the road from the store, I put up a few gourds. Some martins came and nested. The last couple of years I have put up extra gourds and now have several dozen coming to them. Some nest in them; others just roost or rest in them. They fly around my cattle and eat insects. They also fly down to my garden and eat insects, worms and other pests, often while I am in the garden only a few feet away, chattering, as if they wish for me to see them! I can’t help but wonder if some of these might be descended from those my grandmother raised.
Aside from insect control, purple martin droppings also help fertilize gardens and pastures. The area in my pasture around the gourds is greener than the rest of the pasture.
Suppose there were several thousand birds instead of several dozen? One’s whole pasture and fields would be greener, without chemical fertilizers.
I have also tried to attract bats, which do the same thing, without much luck. Bat houses are made for the bats to go inside from the bottom, rather than the sides, as in a martin gourd or house. All the bat houses I put up get filled with dirt dauber insect nests, rather than bats.
My martins have already left for this year; they usually do in mid-July. Some tell me theirs stay longer. I plan to have more gourds up this coming spring.
Until next time…Dixie forever!