A love of gardening and a love of keeping chickens seems to go hand in hand these days.
Why is this, given chickens’ predilection for scratching up freshly-tilled seed beds and noshing on tasty young seedlings? It would seem a marriage headed for horticultural divorce court.
Despite some seemingly insurmountable obstacles, gardeners all over are introducing a few hens to their yards and gardens and are finding that while it’s not without its hurdles, chickens + gardening = true love. What’s behind this romance?
For one thing, gardeners are nothing if not earth-centered. Soil obsessed. Dirt focused. And chickens are magic when it comes to soil improvement. Chickens take your kitchen scraps, weeds, yard waste, and insects and transform them into a vital organic fertilizer. Poultry manure is considered by many to be THE most desirable fertilizer because of its high NPK content (higher than horses, sheep, or cows) and because of its ability to restore the proper pH balance to soil. It also adds great water-retaining value and tons of beneficial microorganisms to the soil while being lower in salt and weed-seed content than other livestock manure. Each hen produces about 2 cubic feet of manure per year. When mixed with chicken bedding, typically straw or wood shavings, it makes a beautiful, rich compost.
Of course, you can buy chicken fertilizer, but that doesn’t provide the satisfaction of having your own personal supply. Having your own hens reduces the output of sludge into the waste water system, reduces the amount of yard waste sent to the landfill, and beyond that, can be a source of entertainment and personal therapeutic benefit.
As for the destruction of your precious plants, when chickens are kept in coops with runs or in moveable chicken tractors, the chickens are safe from predators and the plants are safe from the chickens. Some gardeners construct portable pens that can be placed above raised beds after harvest time to clean up the beds, replenish the soil with fertilizer, and till everything in with their scratching.
What about the legality of having backyard chickens in urban and suburban areas? Increasingly, municipalities are amending their codes to permit chickens in backyards. These codes often specify hens only and limit the total number of birds. Since roosters are not needed for eggs, this is usually a happy compromise.
Gardeners are particularly attuned to aesthetic value and the benefits of ambiance, qualities a flock of chickens provides in spades. For many gardening enthusiasts, the whimsical colors, movements, and sounds a few hens provide strikes just the right note in a garden, not unlike a water feature, or a carefully orchestrated sweep of tall grasses and colorful blooms. And of course, the “homegrown” egg supply is a benefit not to be forgotten.
And like a garden, chickens are another entity to dote upon, and what gardener doesn’t thrive on lavishing tender loving care?
You can read about chicken ownership and care in our book, Little House in the Suburbs. If you are in a no-chicken zone, check out my chapter about working with your municipality and/or home owners association to overturn bylaws that prohibit chickens.
Build your own chicken coop by following any of the 16 plans in Backyard Chickens Guide to Coops & Tractors. It also includes plans for 3 tractors, or portable chicken coops.
Learn all about raising chickens for eggs or meat with the beautifully photographed, comprehensive The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit, which was written by an organic gardener.
Get an all-in-one guide to shrinking your carbon footprint and becoming self-sufficient with Homesteading: A Back to Basics Guide to Growing Your Own Food, Canning, Keeping Chickens, Generating Your Own Energy, Crafting, Herbal Medicine and More.
Browse great books, tools and seed packets for growing your own food.
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