Monday, February 20, 2012

Gardening with Chickens

I love to garden.  It's like therapy for me for me to be outside in the sunshine whether is summer or winter.  I get a real sense of satisfaction watching things grow.  So getting chickens seemed like a logical addition to the garden.  They would eat the bugs, produce fertilizer, their eggs were an added bonus, and I'd have someone to "legitimately" talk to while I worked in the garden.

But they can  destructive.  I vaguely remember reading an article where they were described as "Eco-terroists."  And yes, those little feet, beaks and pretty much their entire body can do a number on your garden.  But with a little effort,  you can have a lovely garden AND have chickens.

Coming up with some ways to barricade plants will be key.  And the good news is, it doesn't have to be heavy duty.  Simple chicken wire is enough to keep chickens out of a certain area.  And I find that it only needs to be 2-3' fall to keep my heavy hens out of a certain area.

Rounds of welded wire secured with zip ties or more wire work great.
Super simple to make and you can move them around easily to protect plants.
This one even has wire over the top.  I originally made it to put over a strawberry planter to keep the squirrels out. 
I have a bunch of these rounds in different sizes.   Sometimes, just putting them over a
plant for a week or two gives the plant enough time to get established and give them a chance. 
This is the top half of one of those inexpensive tomato supports.  My hens were both eating and scratching
the living daylights out of my Liriope and putting one of these over the top prevents them from using their  feet
to dig at them.  But they can still get their beaks in there to eat the bugs that live in there.
And here's another Liriope that is doing much better with the tomato support for protection.
The nice thing is once this plant get a tad bigger, you won't even see the protective support.
These are 3' fence panels that slip together.  You buy them two at a time from the hardware store .
I used four to make a square and used that as my brooder.  Here I've got two leaning against the house
to protect my strawberry plants  Yes, the hens can sneak down the sides but this is a great deterrent.
And these are those same fence panels as above.  Two at an angle to protect my blackberry vine. 

Chickens are AMAZING at eating bugs.  I stopped using any sort of chemical pest control about 6 months before I got chickens to be sure my yard would be safe for them.  I don't have any trouble with snails, slugs, earwigs or any pests in my garden.

Now, that said, I've read that snails and slugs can introduce worms to your hens.  I've also read that wild birds and their droppings can bring in parasites.  And since I don't have any way to really protect my hens from all external things that can introduce parasites, I've decided to let them do their bug control thing in the garden.

I realize this could be exposing them to worms and I'll just have to cross that bridge if and when we get there.  The hens have SOOOOO much fun in the garden and I just can't deny them that fun.

I don't rake up the leaves that fall to give the hens something to scratch in.  They have the best time
kicking the leaves around which also helps break them down.
Just before I snapped this photo, Ginger found the BIGGEST worm I've ever seen in my yard.
It was so big, I thought it might be a small snake at first.
The melon rind was appreciated by Coco who kept coming over for a few bites.
An inexpensive green house is not only a great way to start seedlings early but
is also a great way to protect young plants from the hens.
Chickens can dig holes the size of small moon craters to take dust baths in.  The key here is to give
them a desirable to do this and deter them from doing it in other parts of the garden.
So with some creative barricading, and limiting the time they spend in the garden, I've struck a healthy balance between my hens and my garden.  And I couldn't be more pleased.

I'll have to blog about composting and their droppings in a future blog.  It's definitely a labor of love keeping that process going.  But I no longer buy chemical fertilizer and only use my chicken manure compost to help my garden grow.

1 comment:

  1. I don't let my girls in our garden, luckily they have plenty of space to forage. I love the dust bath picture, too cute!