Eat This, Guest Rants, Unusually Clever People

Chicken Gardens: We Have a Winner!

Free range gardensThanks, everybody, for your comments in response to my chicken gardening dilemma. Jessi Bloom, author of Free Range Chicken Gardens, chose a winner and offered all kinds of interesting ideas for keeping the girls out of the vegetable beds. 

First, our winner is Kerry, who Jessi chose because she loved her ideas about creating a chicken "spa."  (Oh, please do not let my chickens find out what a spa is.  I'll never hear the end of it!)

Okay, here's what Jessi has to say on the subject:

 

It is no surprise that Garden Rant readers have a lot of great suggestions about how to handle your free range chickens and a vegetable garden.   No one wants to go through all of the hard work of growing your own food to have it scratched up or eaten by your hens. 

There are a lot of factors in deciding what to do and it depends on several things: how many chickens you have, how serious you are about growing food, what kind of food you are growing, and how does your garden currently function – is it good chicken “habitat” with a lot of food and shelter for them, or does it have sparsely planted beds with an expansive lawn and a few raised raised beds?  The same solution isn’t going to work for everyone. 

For this situation there are a few main options:

1) Protect your plants with some kind of barrier method. This is what I do personally in my vegetable garden and in a recent blog post I wrote about what I keep in my “chicken garden toolbox”.   By using these tools, you can still employ the chickens to help you with tasks like pest control without confinement, but it might be kind of annoying to set up, move and take down your barriers every season.  And then there is the aesthetics factor.  I personally don’t mind it one bit and early spring my veggie garden starts out with a little touch of steam punk style.  Then it quickly turns into an edible jungle.  

Jessi Bloom garden
My vegetable garden mid season – the small wall is to keep rabbits out, but the chickens can hop right over it

2) Keep your chickens in a separate area away from your food crops. If you have too many hens to free range or your garden is only for your own food production, this is going to be a lot easier for you to manage.   

3) Integrate your chickens into your garden by using a confined range system.  My favorite method would be to use paddocks.  Basically you rotate the flock through different fenced paddocks or zones at different times of the year.  Much like a rotational grazing system that a smart farmer would use with their livestock on pasture so the land isn’t overgrazed.  You could have different types of edibles (perennial and annual) in each and rotate them out when the crops are ripe or starting to get overgrazed.  I envision many ways of doing this and it is great for the chickens to food to forage, keep pests in check and help with soil fertility without a lot of work on your part after the initial set up.

Paddocks
This is an example of what a paddock system layout could be in a small back yard

Amy, on page 88 in the book there is a sample drawing with 3 rotational zones for edibles which you could use as a guideline if you wanted to go that route, but for now you may find that barriers are the easiest way to manage.  And, if you are up for a redesign and I am ever in your neck of the woods I’d love to stop by, have a few drinks and help you come up with a brand new chicken garden with lots of edibles!

Posted by on February 8, 2012 at 4:31 am, in the category Eat This, Guest Rants, Unusually Clever People.
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3 Responses to “Chicken Gardens: We Have a Winner!”

  1. Kerry says:

    Thank you both so much! I am sooo looking forward to the book. I’m always anxious to learn more about how to better care for my girls (and the roos, too!) The paddock system looks like a great idea. If they only have one run, they can tend to eat that bare, even if they are allowed out to free range almost every day, all day. I have tried to figure out a way to grow some greens in there in a raised bed maybe, so that they will have some salad when I go to town and they have to stay locked in. Speaking of the ‘spa’, I do enjoy spending time handling the birds. I have even managed to calm a rooster by putting him into a trance (for lack of a better word). I catch him in that unguarded moment, then begin to stroke him around the eyes, his waddles and comb. After a minute, I lay him down on the ground on his back and continue to stroke his eyes while holding his feet. He is pretty calm by this time, so now I can let go of him and he will lay there completely still for quite awhile before jumping up and walking away.

  2. commonweeder says:

    Lots of good advice in the book – and here. I am lucky to be able to keep my free ranging chickens far away from the veggie garden. Of course, the rose Shed Bed next to the henhouse takes a beating as they create their own spa.

  3. Karen says:

    I am afraid to let the chickens run. Love your garden.

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