When we first got our chickens I too visualized a picturesque scene where the garden was growing veggies and the chickens were milling about. It didn’t turn out exactly that way, though, so let me share some gardening and chicken tips. That way, everyone will be happy and you won’t have to learn the hard way like I did.
Let me start off by saying I think chickens are wonderful for the garden. Their manure is a great addition to the soil, they are great at eating lots of plant pests and their scratching helps to keep the soil aerated and well turned. Unfortunately, I found that if chickens or ducks are left to free range in the garden at all times, they can cause quite a bit of damage. As with most things in life, there’s a time and place for everything. This is how I now approach my chicken and garden combinations:
The first thing you have to think about is the planting. We tried to plant wheat last year by broadcasting seed on the top of the soil in early spring to allow the frost to work the seeds into the ground. (We were a bit a lazy, I admit.) In theory, all our gardening books say that this works fine. Unfortunately, our ducks just thought we were giving them seed to eat, spreading it out to make it more entertaining for them. We ended up with only one lonely wheat plant that actually sprouted and that was in the walkway!
We knew that chickens and ducks both enjoy young shoots so we kept them out of the garden when things were just beginning to grow. Once the plants were large enough the chickens liked to go around and peck at the insects and scratch at the mulch. During this time, I don’t mind having them around the garden; it seems to keep weeds and insects more manageable. One word of caution, though: If you are planning to sell any of your garden fare, you’ll have to check on your local regulations. Most places won’t allow you to sell produce that has been exposed to fresh manure … and with chickens running around free, you can expect some droppings to be left behind.
Once your plants begin to fruit, plan on keeping your birds out of the garden. I made the mistake of letting our chickens continue to free range while the tomatoes were ripening. I’d see a tomato getting red and think to myself, “Tomorrow, that will be perfect for a BLT. I can’t wait!” Only to come back the next day to have it half missing. (Chickens never eat the whole tomato, as they want to show you what you’ve missed.)
I tried to get ahead of them by picking the tomatoes a little early and ripening them on the windowsill (which kind of defeats the vine-ripened taste I was going for). I tried it anyway, only to discover that as the tomatoes disappeared, the chickens got less and less picky and were soon eating the green ones! I then kicked them out of the garden.
After all the harvest was in, however, I opened up my garden to the birds again. They scrounged for weed seeds and leftover veggies, and they mixed up the old mulch. They had a grand time helping me get the beds ready for winter. My plan is to let them in this spring to help me get the beds ready for planting, too; I think chicken feet are the world’s best tillers!
|Chickens help me prep the garden for winter|
Good luck with your chickens in your garden!