I let my chickens roam free: I couldn’t do it any other way.
Free-range chickens are the secret to a super productive garden. They spread their manure around for you, keep insects under control and even turn your compost.
And I love watching them forage around the backyard. They all have their own personalities and there’s always some sort of antics going on. You can’t beat chicken TV.
But there’s a downside to free-range chickens in your backyard: they can be very destructive.
Chickens can devastate a whole veggie patch in minutes!
When I started out with chickens, I found out the hard way how effective they are at cleaning out garden beds. They dug up more plants and trashed more veggie gardens than I would like to remember. I quickly realized that flimsy, makeshift barriers were just not enough to keep them out.
I even tried different materials like recycled styrofoam boxes. Urrrgggghh!! Who knew that chickens love to peck at styrofoam. They pecked holes right through the boxes.
I was tempted to give up on the free-range approach. But I just couldn’t do it.
Look at this photo of ‘Cluck’ – how could you keep this personality cooped up? It’s easy to tell that Cluck rules the roost in my backyard. She’s usually the ringleader for any mischief that goes on.
So I didn’t give in, and I stuck with the free-range approach. This meant I had to come up with real solutions to stop my chickens from wreaking havoc on my backyard and on my veggie patch.
In this post, I’ll share with you one of these solutions. A super simple way to chicken proof your tomatoes. This is a system that:
- Looks good and doesn’t use any ugly fencing or barriers
- Is very quick and simple to setup
- Is cheap and only requires some basic tools and materials
- Saves you time, making it easier to grow tomatoes with less work.
There are 2 ways that chickens can destroy your tomatoes:
- They eat all the leaves off your tomato seedlings or small tomato bushes.
- They dig up the roots when scratching for bugs and worms in the soil
So to protect your chickens you need to:
- Protect the leaves from chickens until they grow big enough
- Protect their roots from being dug up.
The chicken-proof tomato system
The chicken-proof tomato system is super simple. It involves a raised garden bed with wire mesh over the top.
- When filling up your garden bed with soil, leave about 30cm of space at the top.
- Then cover the top of the garden bed with firm wire mesh. In my case, I’ve used an old wire fence panel that was laying around the yard.
For me, this system ticks all the boxes because it’s simple and really effective:
- The wire mesh stops the chickens digging up the tomatoes.
- With the plants 30cm below the mesh, it protects the plant until they are big enough to withstand a few leaves being eaten by the chickens. In fact, trimming off the bottom leaves of a tomato bush is good for the tomatoes. Less energy is spent growing leaves which then goes into growing bigger and tastier tomatoes. So with this approach, the chickens are doing some of the leaves trimming work for you.
- The wire mesh is also a good support for the tomato bush. Normally, you have to tie your tomato bush to a trellis or to garden stakes for support. And as they grow higher you have to add more support and more garden ties. I used to spend ages tying up my tomatoes. But with this system, you don’t have to worry about it. The wire mesh provides enough support to keep the plants upright and most importantly off the ground. It’s no big deal if they flop down a bit or over the side.
Once I get tomatoes, I find the chickens eat a couple when they’re ripe but not as many as I would have thought. And there are more than enough tomatoes to go around.
If you don’t have raised garden beds, you could do something similar by putting wire mesh over your tomatoes, with the wire mesh raised up and supported at each end with bricks, timber, etc.
If you want to give chicken-proof tomatoes a try, you can download a one-page pdf summary of this approach here.
Let me know what you think
Marcus is the founder of Patch to Table, which helps busy people grow and cook real food at home.