To mow or not to mow? Obviously the preferred answer is not, especially in the orchard with all those trees to manoeuvre around. At our place in Wooragee, we have had a small success in getting someone else to do the job for us. In fact, we have not had to mow since spring 2009.
Our secret is guinea pigs; one male and two females, some pipes, boxes and low bushes to provide shelter, a netting fence around the outside of the orchard and a water bowl under the tap.
As guinea pigs breed in the warm weather our team of little helpers expands with the season. They keep the grass looking like a bowling green most of the year, rising to a lawn in springtime but never a jungle. In autumn and winter they need a little extra feed and share the household scraps and some wheat with the bantams, with whom they co-exist quite happily. By the time the grass is drying off in summer we have some lovely young ones ready to sell – pocket money for the kids!
The guinea pigs and bantams are safely separated from our dog by a good fence. The dog in turn is a great retardant to foxes, who would otherwise love to visit our gourmet orchard! Just in case, the guinea pigs have plenty of safe shelter, and they are rarely far from a safe bolt-hole. We are happy to accept occasional losses to the local Barking Owl family – a rare and endangered species and a great thrill to spot so close. The guinea pigs are also extremely hardy and not subject to any of the diseases that carry off pet rabbits so easily – a very big plus when they are beloved pets!
Not only do our ‘guins’ mow our orchard, provide the kids with pocket money and help the endangered native birds, they are fascinating to watch as they go about their business. That may be checking out the bantam’s feed, exploring the further reaches of the orchard, grooming and sunbathing, or the important business of establishing and keeping up the order of dominance in the family. They are a constant source of interest and amusement to kids and adults alike. They come in all colours and hairstyles, but it is hard to keep up with their names – last year we were up to 22!