Chicken Gardens by
Jessi Bloom provided some handy tips about planting a garden with
chickens in mind. The author's general advice is to give the
chickens as much space and as many types of plants as possible to
prevent over-eating (or -scratching) any one spot. She also
admonishes us to provide multiple plant layers (ie trees, shrubs,
vines, and groundcovers) to give the chickens plenty of nooks and
crannies in which to hide from predators.
Starting at the ground and
working our way up, Bloom considers annuals a bit dicey when mixed with
chickens. The only one she really recommends is nasturtiums, since chickens mostly avoid
the strongly flavored leaves but will eat the seeds as dewormers.
If you're willing to use
chicken deterrent strategies (more on that in a later post) to keep
annuals from being killed at the seedling stage, chickens thoroughly
enjoy eating Swiss chard, chickweed, cowpeas (she says --- my birds
didn't want to touch them last year), corn salad, flax, lambsquarter, lettuce, all of the garden
brassicas, purslane, pigeon peas, sesame, shepherd's
purse, and sorghum. For urban
chicken-keepers with only a little bit of space, you can grow wheatgrass in flats, putting a
container in the chicken run once the plants are four inches tall, then
taking it back out to regrow once the chickens have grazed the grass
down to the soil line.
Herbaceous perennials are
much less likely to die at the beaks of over-zealous chickens, so they
make a better addition to the chicken garden. Bloom recommends chicory (although my chickens didn't
seem keen on the greenery), birdsfoot
trefoil, clover, dandelions, dock, plantain, comfrey, feverfew, and nettles. She includes catnip in her chicken gardens for
medicinal purposes (to repel lice, fleas, and ticks) and she is also
fond of "ecoturf", which is a fancy term for
a weedy lawn with plenty of clover and other broadleaf plants mixed in.
Larger herbs also have
their place in Bloom's garden. She sings the praises of Jerusalem artichokes since chickens enjoy eating
the leaves and will also chow down on the tubers if cooked.
Although chickens won't eat large
recommends growing them to be cut as winter bedding, which made me
wonder if I could use pampas grass to produce my own straw. What
do you think? Is there another large, perennial grass you'd
The next layer in
Bloom's garden is the vines. Fruiting vines are very handy in
chicken runs since the edible parts are out of reach --- just be sure
to protect the roots and young stems. Top edible selections
include kiwis, grapes, akebia, magnolia
vine, peas, squash, and tomatoes.
Shrubs are can stand
alone in the chicken garden, or can be turned into hedges. I'll
have to try some of Bloom's chicken-friendly, useful hedging species,
which include bamboo, elderberries, hawthorn, hazelnut, holly, rugosa rose, serviceberry, viburnum, and willows. Standalone shrubs
that provide fruits or nuts and handle chickens well include brambles, Darwin and Magellan barberries, gooseberries and currants, Oregon
grape, aronia, blueberries, gojiberries, honeyberries, Russian
this is invasive), serviceberries, sea
buckthorn, and Siberian
Finally, just about any tree
is chicken-friendly. Bloom specifically recommends pairing
chickens with fruit or
nut trees so that
the flock can perform
pest control in the orchard.
Although it will take us
years to get there, I've been realizing that a forest pasture is a chicken's preferred
habitat. These plant suggestions will help me round out my
planting strategy as I change over from traditional pastures to more
diverse mixtures of trees, shrubs, and perennial herbs.
Our chicken waterer provides POOP-free water ---
the other side of a healthy chicken diet.
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