Chicken Coop Chatter©
Chickens and gardening go hand in hand. Chickens provide the fertilizer that is worked into the garden soil. The bedding in the coops can be worked into the soil, which provides nutrients and loosens the soil with natural amendments.
As your garden plants are growing, insects visit the plants to help pollinate but also the insects are high protein food for the chickens.
You can grow sunflowers, which provide food for the chickens, and plants like tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and most vegetables are good for chickens, so if any fall from the plants or vines, they can easily be tossed to the birds to provide a balance to their diet, especially if they are in runs and not able to free-range.
Planting a garden adjacent to the chicken coop with a gate between is the ideal way to make the garden accessible to the chickens. When harvest is over, open the gate and allow them in to work the soil and turn under the waste to compost it. Even better, plant a chicken garden adjacent to the coop and run, that is chock-full of seeds and plants that chickens love. You can even make this into a year-round garden area, by adding a hoop house. The hoop house is easy to construct and can be done for about $50.00. You will need some long PVC pipe and UV safe Plastic sheeting. Pound some pipe into the ground, slip each end of the PVC pipe onto the pipe. Add as many *hoops* as you need and the length needed for height if you want to stand inside it. Then cover with the plastic sheeting and secure that sheeting with tent spikes or if you are using raised beds staple it to the framework of the raised bed. This can be done in a weekend to provide a year-round garden. During warm months, either remove the plastic sheeting or roll it back so the plants benefit from rain and sun. Those same hoops can support shade cloth for tender plants, to prevent sun scorch or wind damage.
You can grow "greens" for the chickens, and can even toss alfalfa and clover seeds into your yard for good forage material or to mow to provide those greens to the chickens. Wildflowers* are a great source of seeds for the chickens, whether they free-range or are in runs.
The healthier your soil, the more beneficial bugs will visit it, but good soil also means an abundance of worms that chickens love. Use plenty of composted organic materials to enrich the soil.
When you are canning from your garden, the peels, and damaged parts of the garden produce can be tossed to the chickens, so there is virtually no waste when you are canning. If you have excess canning waste, freeze the extra to dole out to the chickens during the off season, or freeze in water or chicken broth for a cool treat on hot summer days. Remember, treats should only represent 5% of a chickens diet and they should always have a balanced ration of feed before treats are offered.
At the end of harvest any fallen fruit, or vegetables will provide a treat to the chickens. When harvest has ended, you can let your chickens into the garden area to scratch for seeds, worms, bugs and they will be providing you a great service in turning the soil and adding fertilizer from their droppings. Chickens are especially fond of watermelon, pumpkin and zucchini, so plant plenty for you and the chickens. Most grains are full of nutrients that are healthy for chickens and typically easy to grow. Buckwheat, Quinoa. Barley, Chia, Oats, and Wheat are all good choices. Of the grains, Chia or Quinoa are an ideal choice and provide whole nutrients including protein, while most other grains are not whole proteins.
Dry, crushed egg shells add calcium to the soil that many vegetable plants love. When you boil eggs, reserve the water, it's rich in calcium. Either give back to the chickens as a calcium source in their water or use to water house or garden plants. Again no waste with egg shells.
Herbs can be planted around the chicken runs for a healthy resource when chickens are not able to free-range. Some herbs may even discourage rodents and parasites from entering the chicken area. Sage, Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Comfrey, Rosemary, Mint, and Bergamot are a few that most chickens will enjoy.
Berries, grapes and fruits are good choices for plants to consider and chickens enjoy most types, but especially grapes, apples and pears. The Trees, vines and bushes can be used to shelter the birds from winds and sun if planted within proximity of the chicken runs. Nuts are a favorite of chickens and high in protein. Walnuts, peanuts, almonds and filberts (hazelnut) are a few of their favorites depending on your climate as to which you are able to grow.
There are some cautions with plants or the seeds, one would be Foxglove* which is digitalis and all parts of the plant are toxic but especially the seed which is used to make heart medicine, or nightshade* family which includes potatoes and tomatoes, but only the plant, not the fruit, but most chickens will not eat the plant. Potato peels are fine, but most chickens will not eat them raw and prefer them cooked. So if you are peeling your potatoes toss some in a sauce pan and simmer, cool, then toss to the chickens. It should be noted that some vegetables like garlic, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and Cauliflower, though chickens generally enjoy eating them, can flavor raw eggs, which are fine in omelets, but maybe not so fine to use in baked goods.
There seems to be a misconception about whether chicken droppings are suitable fertilizer and if that additive will carry salmonella or other bacterias. Composted chicken manure is hot; that heat kills all bad bacterias and salmonella, so there is little to no risk that pathogens would ever enter the food supply, but as with all things, use good hygiene and proper food handling to prevent any and all food borne illnesses. Since the droppings are not used fresh, only composted it only makes sense to use that ready source of good farm fertilizer to encourage healthy, productive plants in your garden. To make a natural liquid fertilizer (Manure Tea) refer to my article http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/earth-friendly-projects/category/manure-teacompost-teaworm-castings.
So remember, when you're gardening to include your chickens into the plan. Of course you will want to fence off the garden or the chickens will devour the plants you are trying to grow, but when the garden is spent, allow them into that space to take care of the end of season debris. What the chickens don't eat can be composted and added back into the soil. If you prefer not to allow chickens into your personal vegetable garden, consider growing a fenced chicken garden adjacent to the run, with all the nutritional plants that chickens will enjoy, and allow them into this area to condition the soil, as they get their exercise and needed nutrients. In lieu of an extra garden space, consider planting some of their favorites in containers that are adjacent to the coop. Many herbs grow nicely in containers, along with a variety of vegetable plants like lettuce, cucumbers, garlic, and tomatoes. The fence will allow support for the trailing plants and a place to climb.
So as you garden, remember gardening and chickens are like 'two peas in a pod', one provides the fresh greens, the other provides the fertilizer for the rich soil to grow those greens, eats garden pests and turns the soil in preparation for a whole new garden season.
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