In addition to providing a
list of plants
chickens (probably) won’t kill, Free-Range
offered plenty of excellent advice about protecting more tender plants
from chicken feet and beaks. You can use these tips for the
author’s intended purpose of planning a garden that can coexist with
chickens, or you can keep the information in mind while designing a forest pasture especially for your
flock. Either way, the most important piece of advice Bloom
presented was the most general — give your chickens plenty of extra
room so they don’t have to scratch any single spot bare!
timing is essential if you want to mix chickens with less hardy
plants. Chickens should be fenced out of gardens when you’ve
recently seeded bare soil since the birds love to scratch up soft
ground, eating the seed and killing recently sprouted seedlings. New
transplants and seedlings don’t mix well with chickens for the same
reason, and it’s a good idea to keep poultry away from perennial herbs
in early spring; once those tasty leaves harden up a trifle, they won’t
be quite so enticing. After plants are established, many can
handle chickens as neighbors, but you’ll want to move the flock out of
the garden again when fruits are ripening unless you plant enough
strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes to share.
Speaking of sharing,
Bloom recommends refraining from giving your chickens tomatoes and
other tasty garden goodies as treats if you don’t want them to learn to
pick the same goodies off the vine. I’m not sure I buy this logic
since chickens are attracted to the color red, but it’s worth a shot if
you really want your chickens to roam in your strawberry patch.
In addition to pecking,
you have to consider chickens’ tendency to scratch. Let a chicken
loose in a no-till garden, and mulch will end up in the aisles, on top
of the plants, or in the next county over. Adding aboveground
edging to the sides of beds can help the mulch stay (roughly) where it
was put. Bloom also comes along behind her chickens and sweeps
mulch back into place. (This would drive me nuts. As if
there’s not enough work on the farm without cleaning up after
chickens? But your mileage may vary.)
As I’ve discovered in my
chicken pastures, hillsides can be a problem. Plants tend to be
less strongly rooted there, so chickens scratch them up in short order
and then the soil starts washing downhill. Bloom recommends
either fencing your chickens away from the hillside, or using a dense
groundcover to keep the hillside in place. She also uses tough,
scratchy groundcovers under shallow-rooted shrubs to prevent chicken
scratching, with variegated Japanese sedge, pachysandra, ground
raspberry, and cotoneaster being her top choices.
If you want chickens to be
able to free range, you’ll need to block off the more troublesome area,
which is where Bloom’s list of chicken barriers comes in.
Temporary fencing is the obvious solution around small trees while
they’re getting established or around constantly rotating
gardens. Bird netting can keep chickens from eating your
blueberries and strawberries and you can use stones (or the
groundcovers listed in the last paragraph) to protect the bases of
perennials. Sticks like the
ones I use to deter pets from freshly planted beds will do the same with
chickens, as will cloches or remesh (as in the photo to the right).
Another option is to
simply raise the plants up out of reach. Tall containers can
work, and vining plants (tomatoes, squash, etc) grow up trellises away
from chicken beaks. (You may still need to protect the roots and
trunks of the plants when they’re young.)
Bloom’s final word of
chicken deterring advice is to install motion-activated sprinklers
around your favorite plants. This might be especially satisfying
if your neighbor is the one with the naughty free-ranging birds….
with POOP-free water.
|This post is part of our Free-Range Chicken Gardens series.
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