Norfolk in the eighteenth century was a prime agricultural county, as it is today. It’s not surprising therefore that the local papers sometimes included advice to farmers. One area that must have been of concern to most of those who grew crops was pest control. We’re so used to insecticide sprays that it’s something of a surprise to recall that in the 18th century, such things were more or less unknown. It would also be totally impossible, given the primitive tools of the time, to apply any kind of insecticide to a small field, let alone a large one. The only viable methods of controlling insect pests would have to be based on methods of husbandry or use of the pests’ natural enemies.
Here’s a piece of exactly that type which I found especially amusing, not just for the use of ducks as ‘pest controllers’, but for the description of caterpillars as ‘reptiles’.
The Norfolk Chronicle, 17th Aug 1782
On reading in this paper of last week an account of the destruction of the turnips by the black caterpillar, another correspondent writes to remark, that their devastation is nearly ended, in consequence of their going into the ground, where they change into a middle state (the crysolis [sic]) betwixt the worm and the flying insect in which latter state, if not destroyed by a severe winter, they fly abroad in the ensuing spring, and the female fly fixes her eggs on the early turnips, from whence are hatched these black destroyers. To destroy these an effectual mode is to drive on as early as they are discovered three or four broods of ducks (to be attended by a boy); these will disperse themselves about, and in the course of a few days (drove to water at noon, and home in the evening,) will clear a large extent of turnips of this voracious pest.
It is presumed this recommendation will be remembered in a future year, if there is occasion, and generally pursued, as it has been particularly adopted this season by an ingenious farmer, to the almost complete riddance of his land of these innumerable reptiles.