Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gardening with Chickens

Clover sprouts are nutritious and a big hit with our hens

Now that the excitement of our first egg has settled down, Don and I are enjoying the benefit of having our chickens help us with our gardening chores. Don has built a portable pen that fits over our raised vegetable beds. Two of the beds were mostly bare, just mulched with leaves in preparation for the spring season.

Our chicken tractor links up to a raised asparagus bed in winter

Don built a pop-hole on the coop and a pop-hole in the pen over the raised bed. Then he built a narrow wooden tunnel to connect the two pop-holes. The pop-hole to the coop has a wooden cover that fits tightly at night to deter potential predators. But during the day, the chickens get more room to range, quite legally because the law requires we keep them penned. The pen also keeps them out of my winter vegetables growing undisturbed in nearby beds. Most importantly, it protects my hens from hawks that might attack them from above. We have a sturdy chain link fence around the yard, but we need to protect our birds from raptors.

The same coop viewed from the rear. Note the attached nest box.

The cover for the pop-hole to the pen

My girls have deposited some of their valuable, high-nitrogen manure in these beds, which will be much appreciated by my asparagus plants, which are heavy feeders. They've certainly found all kinds of bugs and weed seeds. I am hoping they have found any asparagus beetles and their larvae that might be overwintering in these beds. I'd like these pests to be converted to nutritious eggs while reducing my feed bills, not hatching in the spring to feed on my asparagus!

The chickens have also spread some vermicompost from our worm bins all over the bed. All we had to do was pick out the worms that we wanted to save from their voracious appetites, dump the compost in the middle of the bed, and spread a little scratch on top to encourage the girls to scratch.

The hens are checking out their new digs

A hen inpects the tunnel to her coop; pop hole visible at the rear

The girls LOVE clover! There was no trace by day's end

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