One of my readers recommended the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom to me, and I promptly bought it. I was interested because, as you know, we keep free range chickens, and we do enjoy flower and vegetable gardening. Sometimes it can be tricky to have these things together. My main way of adapting to having chickens is that I no longer plant anything from seed (other than in our fenced in garden.) I used to love planting swaths of cosmos and zinnias, but that is just not going to happen with chickens who busily scratch and peck and eat seeds, so I’ve saved myself the frustration of trying. I was hopeful that the book might have other suggestions for me and it did, as well as being beautiful. Here’s a helpful tip: don’t feed your chickens any fruits or vegetables in the state they are in your garden. In other words, if you don’t want your chickens to eat a tomato off the vine, don’t feed them one. Hey Tabby, would you mind following that advice, please? Don’t feed the chickens blackberries off the bush!
The blackberry bush is presently loaded with berries and I am very cautiously optimistic for a big haul. IF the sun doesn’t burn them up. IF the birds don’t swoop down and eat them. IF the chickens don’t eat them. The blackberry bush is huge and has become a favorite safe haven for the young birds. It has a spacious underneath that provides protection from the sun, heat, and predators. I am worried, though, that they may begin to eat the berries. Also, here are some of them just resting on top of the branches. Who thinks that’s ok?
Our vegetable garden is fenced off with a gate. If we don’t remember to close the gate the big chickens will go right in. The new little chickens, though, can fit right through the slats and have been happily scratching around and dusting in the dirt.
Since the plants are all mature I haven’t worried about them disturbing the roots or anything. However, I noticed tonight that a few tomatoes were half chewed up. I’m thinking that I may need to wrap the fence with chicken wire and ban the little ones from there.
Another thing the book got me thinking about was how we compost. We use a compost bin that we won from the 4H Fair a few years ago, and it’s great. It’s the kind that you take the top off to put your stuff in and there’s a little door at the bottom. I’ve never actually gotten any good compost out of it, but I think of it as good waste management because I put all my stuff in there and it “magically” vanishes. It seems, though, that it would also be good to have a traditional type of open compost area that the chickens could go into. They would get to eat delicious bugs and remnants, and as they pooped their fertilizer would be added to the mix. I took the little door off our composter and they were crazy excited. Chickens went inside it, ducks went inside it, they were crazy scratching around. Each night I raked everything back in and the next day they’d spread it all out again. To my delight there really was actual compost that looked like rich dirt in there. It’s nowhere to be seen now because it’s been tilled by the chickens into that dirt area, but good for them and maybe next year I’ll fence off that section and plant some plants there.
I love having our chickens be free range and if that means that we have to change our gardening ways a bit, well that’s ok. It’s worth it to see them scratching around against a backdrop of sturdy perennials, or running across the lawn, or being able to have them help till the garden in the spring, or being able to toss them any unwanted bugs I find when I work in the garden. Chickens and gardens do go together!