One of the stumbling blocks
in creating a forest pasture from scratch is protecting
the trees while they get established. Previously, I’d been
surrounding new trees with a cage of flexible
which does keep the chickens out but also keeps the gardener out.
The result? Weeds grow, I don’t water, and about half the trees
die from neglect.
Although I haven’t come
up with anything better for that first critical rooting year, I’m
considering changing over to mulch boxes for years two and
beyond. The idea is that a raised wall holds the mulch in place
around the tree’s roots, so even though the chickens scratch for bugs,
the mulch just moves around instead of dissipating into the
pasture. We’ll also be able to mow right up to the edge of the
mulch box, so weeds should be much less of a problem.
I filled some of these
mulch boxes with leaves raked out of the woods, but I’m more confident
in my second experimental choice — summer-cut saplings. We had
a couple of helpers come in over the summer and cut back the
young trees (and briars and vines) in the powerline pasture, and they
left the woody debris lying in piles. I figured the slender
trees, with leaves still hanging on, would make great mulch around my
fruit trees since the branches would make it tougher for chickens to
scratch the mulch up while the leaves would fill in the gaps and coat
the soil. To hedge my bets, I also stacked rotting logs on top of
the brushy mulch.
Since our laying flock
is foraging in the woods at the moment and we won’t be hatching any
more broilers until late winter, I won’t have data on how these mulch
boxes work for quite a while. I’ll be sure to post an update,
though, once I get an idea of whether they’re a success or failure.