Monday, January 7, 2013

A Book for the Chicken-Loving Gardener: "Free-Range Chicken Gardens" by Jessi Bloom


As I have bemoaned many times in this blog, chickens can make a mess of your flowerbeds.  They remove the mulch from around plants with astonishing speed, and they love to  peck holes in green leafy plants faster than Japanese beetles can chew holes. 
Free-ranging chickens may interrupt dinner


When I began my garden, I did not plan to have chickens, and my main concerns were keeping out the deer, minimizing weeding chores, and conserving water.  I put plants in my garden that deer dislike and put down heavy layers of mulch to retard weeds and retain moisture. 

Fortunately, many of the plants deer dislike are also unpalatable to chickens.  However, beds with thick layers of mulch covering earthworm-rich soil are chicken heaven.  Because of the mess they create, my chickens do not free-range all the time; instead, I keep them inside portable electrified netting that I move every couple of weeks.

In her book, Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard, Jessi Bloom tells the reader how to create a garden that welcomes chickens.  With planning, gardeners can incorporate chickens into their gardens, and can allow them to roam free while also minimizing damage to the plants. 

Bloom advises the gardener to think about which areas will be chicken-friendly, and which areas need constant protection from poultry.  A permanent fence encloses my vegetable garden, and I can allow my chickens into sections of my vegetable garden when no plants are actively growing in the area, or when I have a mature cover crop in the area, but close the main gate to the garden to prevent unrestricted access.


New plants, especially seedlings, are most vulnerable to chicken attack; a chicken could kill newly sprouted zinnia plants in seconds, but they might peck at a few leaves of a mature plant and move on.  Chickens could dig up newly transplanted perennials in search of a new dust-bathing spot, but they won’t remove established plants.   

Chickens can roam the fruit orchard most of the year, but they need restriction from ripening fruit within chicken-jumping range.  Bloom tells gardeners to use plastic poultry netting and temporary stakes to keep birds out of sensitive plantings.

Ground covers, according to Bloom, can retard weeds and conserve moisture, but, unlike mulch, chickens cannot scratch it into a mess.  I plan to put out more ground covers in lieu of mulch.


One remaining problem is the chicken poo.  In the garden, it quickly decomposes into wonderful fertilizer, but on the patio chairs, it is not pleasant.  A squirt of water washes it away, but if you are planning a new garden that will include chickens, it is helpful to plan a way to keep the chickens off the patio.  Motion-activated sprinklers may help deter chicken activity in undesired areas.
   
Filled with pictures of happy chickens roaming in beautiful gardens, as well as useful suggestions about managing the chicken’s needs, Bloom’s book offers the gardener many ideas about incorporating chickens into the garden. 

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