A Coun­try Life

Per­ma­cul­ture tips on how to make cats earn their keep in your gar­den

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents -

Cats have been kept by mankind for cen­turies, some for pure com­pan­ion­ship, some revered for their spe­cific breed traits, some for their hunt­ing abil­i­ties. Farm­ers more than any­one know how use­ful a cat can be in keep­ing mice and ro­dent num­bers down and for pro­tect­ing their stock feed.

But in the sub­ur­ban set­ting, at least where I live in New Zealand, cats seem to have be­come un­fairly tar­geted as a gar­dener’s num­ber one en­emy. If I do a quick search though my lo­cal on­line gar­den­ing pages, it takes only a mat­ter of min­utes to see many com­plaints.

“How do I keep my cats out of my gar­den?”

As a per­ma­cul­ture prac­ti­tioner, I scratch my head and won­der why on earth you would want to.

It seems peo­ple want to seg­re­gate cats from their gar­dens when they can eas­ily and suc­cess­fully in­te­grated, be­com­ing a valu­able com­po­nent of the sys­tems we cre­ate and use to sup­port our gar­den’s pro­duc­tion.

I’ve searched through many per­ma­cul­ture and life­style books and on­line re­sources for ref­er­ence to in­te­grat­ing our furry fe­lines into per­ma­cul­ture de­signs. There is a plethora of in­for­ma­tion about chick­ens, ducks, geese, bees, worms, goats, but when it comes to the ben­e­fits of the hum­ble cat, there’s not a men­tion.

I’m a townie, liv­ing on a 500m² res­i­den­tial prop­erty in sub­ur­ban New Zealand. I take many ideas used on life­style blocks and try to down­size them to im­ple­ment on my small prop­erty which my neigh­bours now af­fec­tion­ately re­fer to as their ‘farm next door’.

I was in­spired to cre­ate my ‘farm’ while com­plet­ing my Per­ma­cul­ture De­sign Cer­tifi­cate. I’ve re­placed my en­tire lawn with a small scale, edi­ble food for­est. I don’t waste petrol on lawn mow­ing. Now I graze my way through 50+ va­ri­eties of fruit trees, or­ganic veg­eta­bles and edi­ble flow­ers, alll of which I share with free range chick­ens and hives of for­ag­ing bees.

I am also blessed to share this space with two fe­line Gods, and it was cre­ated with their needs in mind, right from the start of the de­sign phase.

Yes, Molly and Bar­ney are spoilt. Sure, they share my bed and keep me warm on a win­ter’s night. But they’re also in­te­grated by de­sign be­cause they have jobs to do which help make the food for­est suc­cess­ful and pro­duc­tive.

Cats are ob­li­gate car­ni­vores. Their bod­ies are mag­nif­i­cently de­signed and their in­stincts sharply honed to find and hunt prey. On my prop­erty that prey comes in the form of mice and the oc­ca­sional rat from a nearby stream, which at­tempt to bur­row into the chook house to dine on grains.

I say ‘at­tempt’ be­cause the cats rapidly in­ter­vene, ef­fi­ciently despatch­ing and then also de­vour­ing, which I’m also grate­ful for. That’s nour­ish­ing food for both their bod­ies and minds, and it saves me an icky clean-up job too. Thanks cats!

Cats are great de­fend­ers of ‘their patch’. Mine have ac­cepted the chick­ens be­long here and are now avid guardians, many a time chas­ing off stray cats that have en­ter­tained the idea of chicken tonight.

One of my cats (also the small­est) has de­vel­oped the per­sona of a tiger. Molly has chased off dogs and pos­sums. There is the very oc­ca­sional vet bill when she bites off more than she can chew, but there is no stop­ping a cat that feels it’s im­por­tant to de­fend her ter­ri­tory.

A com­mon com­plaint is that cats kill wild birds. There’s no deny­ing that. But there are also com­mon com­plaints of wild birds dec­i­mat­ing crops and dam­ag­ing yields too. In this re­spect my cats have be­come my al­lies. My prop­erty is boarded by mag­nif­i­cent, tall, an­cient trees where tui and ker­erū live. I’m quite happy to share the yield which they take from the high canopy lay­ers I can’t reach.

This leaves the cats pa­trolling the lower reaches, scar­ing off com­mon spar­rows and oth­ers, leav­ing me with more than enough har­vest to share with fam­ily, neigh­bours and friends.

The birds in their own way ben­e­fit from the cats as well. They seem to recog­nise when the cats are get­ting their reg­u­lar brush­ing and groom­ing done out­side, quickly fly­ing off with beaks laden with cat hair, pre­sum­ably to weave into their nests. Not even cat hair gets wasted around here!

One of the per­ils of sub­ur­ban liv­ing is hav­ing the oc­ca­sional un­wanted visi­tor on site help­ing them­selves to your gar­den­ing ef­forts. While I’m all for shar­ing, I’m not com­fort­able hav­ing in­trud­ers sneak­ing around my patch at night. My cats and their acute hear­ing act as my early warn­ing alarm in this re­spect, warn­ing me of vis­i­tors and let­ting me know all is not right out­side. The fences aren’t good enough to con­tain dogs and I’m ever grate­ful for my cats’ de­fence of house and home.

“In an­cient times cats were wor­shipped as gods; they have not for­got­ten this.”

A fi­nal com­mon com­plaint I hear against cats is they dig and poo in the veg­etable gar­den. “How do I stop them!!” peo­ple cry. Cats are just like every other liv­ing crea­ture and need to poo. My ques­tion is, have you given them some­where they are al­lowed to go toi­let? This usu­ally re­sults in com­plete si­lence or a look that says they think I’ve gone com­pletely balmy. Town folk will hap­pily walk be­hind their dogs with poo bags or clean their lawns of de­posits with­out thought, and clean out the chook house with­out com­plaint. But of­ten the toi­let­ing needs of the hum­ble cat are com­pletely over­looked.

Cats are clean an­i­mals who will bury their waste for you if you just give them a patch of tilled ground they are al­lowed to use. They don’t dig big holes, just enough to scratch over to cover their waste. If you have a cat in a sub­ur­ban set­ting and you don’t want your neigh­bours com­plain­ing, this is an easy thing to pro­vide.

To keep them off young plant seedlings I erect small tem­po­rary bar­ri­ers over and around young plants. A quick in­ter­net search will re­veal plenty of op­tions. Keep­ing gar­den beds full and well mulched helps too, as cats are more in­clined to crawl be­tween the jun­gle of plants to find a shady place to nap. They are fas­tid­i­ous about be­ing clean, so they won’t poo where they sleep.

In re­turn for all the mul­ti­tude of ways my cats con­trib­ute to my food for­est, I have in­cor­po­rated their needs and pref­er­ences into it. I have ar­bors that double as climb­ing poles, in­ter­est­ing mulched path­ways they race through, and struc­tures like stairs are open un­der­neath to give them shade from the sun or an es­cape route if they need to find safety from chas­ing dogs. I have plans to add more poles to join up my over­head struc­tures. This is a win­win, in­creas­ing the grow­ing space and dou­bling as a net­work of over­head sky walks for the cats. What cat wouldn’t want that? It’s the least I can do for an an­i­mal that works so hard and from which both the food for­est and I gain so much ben­e­fit. Here’s to all the per­ma­cul­ture cats out there. Long may they work for you and long may they reign.



Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.