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Plants chickens (probably) won't kill

Turkey in the garden

Free-Range 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.

Chicken in the gardenStarting 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.

Chickens on ecoturfHerbaceous 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 grasses, Bloom 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 recommend more?

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.

Chickens in shrubbery

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 olive (careful, this is invasive), serviceberries, sea buckthorn, and Siberian pea shrub.

Free range chicken gardenFinally, 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.

This post is part of our Free-Range Chicken Gardens series.  Read all of the entries:

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