Thursday, May 23, 2013

A New Take on Weeding the Garden


There are several arguments one will hear when researching whether or not to own chickens. My personal two cents worth is get some chickens in order to test your sanity, but all the books and magazines out there will tell you that not only will you and your family benefit from all the fresh eggs you'll get, but so too will your garden benefit from chickens...if you have one. Honestly I never gave this much thought since my early experiences were the chickens destroying my flower beds (I could only imagine what they would do in the vegetable garden had I allowed it to go on that long), but now after rescuing my flowers and the fast approaching arrival of Baby Shawhan, I'm beginning to look at my chickens as partners in keeping up with the daunting task of maintaining a HUGE garden this summer.

Thanks to the wonder of mulch, one can keep up with weeding the flower beds pretty easily. It's not too difficult to pluck a weed here and there every few days as you walk past the flower beds...I dead-head every couple of days anyway. A fertile-soiled garden with a combination of (hopefully) plenty of rain this summer will be a different story! Of course one can plant their "crops" in rows spaced far enough apart to allow a tiller through, but personally, I'm worried I'll run out of space for all the goodies I plan to plant if I follow those measurements. Next, a tiller is a huge undertaking, something I like to pass along to someone of the male species. I will be biting my nails and tapping my foot wondering when and IF the tilling will get done and my garden will look presentable again.

Here's a side-note: We all know the saying "Trying to keep up with the Jones'"...since the Shawhan farm sits so close to the Amish, I like to use the phrase "Trying to keep up with the Yoders." There's nothing more depressing than driving past their emaculate gardens and tidy farms only to come home to your weed-infested one. And OK...I'll confess...I care what they might think of their "English" neighbor who chooses the comforts of 21st century living. I will always wonder and hope that they are impressed with the garden I chose to put out each summer and the fact I plow it with my own horses (though a tractor did it this year!) At least my horses look better than theirs, but that is neither here nor there.

Anyhoo, back to the chickens. Everything you read will list off the reasons chickens are a good incorporation into your garden. The first one is obvious: the manure chickens produce is the best thing for fertile soil, IF aged correctly and for a long enough period of time. Putting chicken manure too soon on a garden, as with any manure, will only cause the plants to "burn up" since the poop is still too "hot" for the plants. I think the recommended aging period of poop is at least 6 months. Another plus to chickens in or around your garden (I'll get into that in a minute) is pest control. Chickens LOVE to eats bugs and grubs. Finally, if your chickens are roaming around peck and scratching up these bugs, they are essentially "hoeing" your garden for you...oh and not only do they bugs, but weeds as well.

I don't know why I didn't do this sooner than this spring, but usually I would take a bushel basket with me around to all my flower beds and put the weeds in the basket. (I'm not one for throwing them out in yard unless I know Dan or myself is mowing that day. It looks bad.) Then I would take the full basket to the fence and dump everything over. Before you know it, you're staring at old brown weeds and clumps of dirt all summer. Again, this looks bad. This year, however, I got the brilliant idea to kill two birds with one stone: weed my flower beds and provide my birds with some green supplements to their diet. After filling up a basket, I took it the kennel, where most of the flock was hanging out that day, and dumped it inside. They loved it! Not only did they eat the weeds, but they scratched up the dirt clumps and picked through those as well. By the time I came back with a second basket, everything from the first one was completely gone. I also dumped some over the fence into the steer lot, but most of the birds out there get chased away by the Beefy Boys, who are good garbage disposers as well. Anytime I pull weeds, this is where they get dumped. It's a win/win situation.

Now for the garden: I have high hopes for the Shawhan farm, not just this year, but in the years to come. I want to actually utilize my birds in my garden. I keep telling Dan I want him to build me some "chicken tractors"...yes this actually what they are that I can have chickens in the garden but with my crops' safety at top priority.

Becca wants to have her cake and eat it too. I think it's a realistic goal...

My idea of our "tractors" would be cages, not very wide...wide enough to fit between the rows, but LONG, with enough room to accommodate even just four or five chickens. The bottom would be open to allow the birds to peck and scratch and eat. The sides and top would be enclosed so they couldn't eat the crops themselves. Once they decimate one end of the row, you simply pick up the "tractor" and scoot the chickens up to greener pastures and place the "tractor" back down again. This way the chickens get time in the garden, get some greens and no one would have to necessarily break out the tiller. Though my garden is pretty big...we would have to start small and hopefully build up in time.

This is sometime I really want to try out. Why not try to take full advantage of the resources around us? Plus I really want to see if it works out.

I don't think I have enough to do or want to do this year: a baby, canning, freezing, maintaining the Shawhan farm and hoping getting a few "tractors" up and running... but what have I said in the past?

Go Big or Go Home!!!

                                                                                        ...cluck... cluck... cluck...


  1. I had no idea that poop had a proper aging period...interesting! Good luck with the chicken tractors--and remember once that baby comes through the Go Big or Go Home out the window and take a nap! :)

  2. Becca, this is very interesting. I look forward to hearing how it goes

  3. Thanks! The chicken tractor thing is something I really want to try!