Despite being someone who likes to plan, I’ve developed this trend during the last several years of my life where I put things off until the last minute. Getting my garden ready for fall (and really, winter and spring) has sadly been no different. Last fall I was able to invest lots of time in the garden while Owen was at school. This year we’re blessed to have a precious 2-year-old foster child with us so my time in the garden is significantly more limited.
I have gotten some work done. I spent time digging up and mulching a couple of aisles. Two beds have been weeded and mulched with grass clippings. And I’ve also pulled up all of the summer plants. (Some of them, like summer squash and peppers, didn’t come out until after our first frost.) At this point there are three main areas I need to focus on:
- Pulling weeds (which is a very extensive job on the hugelkultur side of the garden)
- Mulching beds with shredded leaves and manure
- Dealing with weeds in the aisles
I felt really good about the two beds I was able to take all the way through weeding and mulching. But then I looked around the garden at all the work left to do and I felt overwhelmed. As I mentioned, the hugelkultur beds in particular are just overrun with weeds. And in some places there were so many tomato “droppings” that I wasn’t sure how I’d get them all up. (I’m not interested in volunteer tomato plants next year.) And that’s when I thought of it…
Maybe a chicken could help me?
We have a little portable cage we use for Nacho (the rabbit) to have outdoor time. I brought that out and set it up around half of a bed. Then I brought out one of the hens and placed her in it. She started scratching right away – yeah! But after an hour or so, she hadn’t made nearly the progress I was expected.
So I brought out a second chicken.
Still not making the kind of progress I was hoping for… and also the more adventurous chicken showed the first how to hop right out of the cage. Now I was chasing chickens around the garden to keep them away from the few plants I don’t want them eating: Winter crops which include lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, endive, frisée and a handful of beets. And that’s when I thought of it (again)…
I placed clear plastic row covers over the beds with winter crops growing in them. Then the next morning I brought all six of the chickens out to the garden and let them feast. Of course if I could speak chicken, I’d tell them to till my hugelkultur beds first – or else! But since I can’t give them quite such clear direction – and clearly caging them in a certain area wasn’t going to work – I let them eat whatever they’d like. I figure that even if they spend time eating from the aisle space, that will still help me in the long run. In addition to quite a salad bar, they’ve also had their pick of crickets and other bugs who’ve been calling the garden home. They’ve also done a marvelous job cleaning up the tomato mess and have tilled several of the beds. And (so long as I’m motivated to move them early in the morning) allowing them to forage in the garden keeps them out of the paddock and gives me a chance to actually start growing things in there. Woot! I wish I’d thought of this a few weeks ago.
So while they’re not quite as efficient as a team of two or three humans would be, I’m still pretty pumped about farming out my labor onto someone else… even if that someone else is a chicken.
Do any of you use chickens in your garden for tilling or pest control?