In the 3rd part of the free-ranging blog series, we must ask ourselves an important question. Do my chickens help or hurt my garden? I believe the answer is yes, to both questions.
If you’re growing shallow root plants like young perennials and annuals, your chickens are going to cause more harm than good. Chicken’s love to dig around in the dirt for bugs and will show disregard for 100% of your plants when they see some delicious critters. But if it’s the beginning of the growing season and your garden needs a till then your girls can be a huge asset. They will also poop all over the place and enrich the soil, naturally!! So in summation, chickens eat insects, give us some great soil and in return give us eggs. But we keep ours out of our gardens to avoid unnecessary damage to our veggies and fruits.
So what are we to do? We all love to see our birds roaming free in the yard, enjoying the freedom to peck as any and everything their curiosity brings them too unless it’s our other love… THE GARDEN! There is a lot of hard work that goes into growing a resource for your family to enjoy. Those cherry tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, cauliflower, and other delightful veggies can be gobbled up by many a wild animal but it’s just not cool when the flock gets in there too. I mean, we love our girls but this is where I draw the line. So how do we chicken proof our garden? I have listed all the steps that I went through below, but I’m sure I overlooked some, so please share your thoughts with me in the FLYGRUBS facebook comments.
We first like to identify the plants that are young vs those that are more established with deep roots and will not be affected by our flock. The ones that are sensitive to interactions with chickens will be protected with wire mesh or cloches. We want to make sure the chickens are unable to eat the leaves or scratch the base of the plants. We also protect all our fruit and veggie plants from chickens, no matter their maturity. Chickens are no stranger to plucking squash (a staple in our garden) and tomatoes until they are destroyed and we want to avoid that from happening.
One trick we learned over the years is to put the coop in the shaded part of that yard. Although the girls love to sunbathe, when it gets hot they seek shelter and we want to make sure that shelter is in the coop and not in the middle of our garden.
Spices can be a natural repellent to keep chickens away from our gardens. All types work well - cinnamon, garlic, and pepper, salt, mixed spices with prices, cayenne pepper. Limes and lemons can help and they don’t like the smell.
Supervising your girls (easier said than done) so they don’t investigate areas of your garden that they could potentially destroy is another prevention method. This usually isn’t an issue if you are out in the yard with them, but if you’re in the house doing something else, it’s simply not possible. So using the above protection methods is highly recommended.
In the fall - let your girls free range around the whole garden - this will help to fertilize the soil for next summer :-)