I started gardening on the East Coast nine years ago. I had become incredibly passionate about gardening when living in California. Southern California was such a magical place, practically everything that I put in the ground grew. Plants thrived in Zone 10 under the Southern California sun. However, moving to the East Coast, I was forced to start all over again. My knowledge was based on Zone 10 plantings. Suddenly, I was faced by the new challenges of living in a place that truly has seasons, Zone 7A. It became even more apparent that once I added chickens to the garden, gardening with chickens was going to require me to step up my learning game too!
We started with a barren lot and over time, worked the land. We had successes and failures along the way. We learned quickly as to what enjoyed living in our yard, from perennials, to annuals to fruits and vegetables. Looking out across the yard, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, yet something was missing; chickens.
Spring time, front yard
Side yard, May
Early Spring, backyard beds are beginning to awaken
Five years ago, I started noticing that chickens were turning up in cottage gardens. I had always loved chickens and certainly, from what I had read and seen, they were a possibility for my gardens. I read all that I could on the the subject of gardening with chickens. To my chagrin, in 2010 there was not much available. Yet, I had gained the confidence to add these wonderful characters to the gardens.
Tilly enjoying grass
The chickens enjoy the gardens and I do as well. I love watching them discovering the waking gardens of Spring. I love finding them resting under the shade of an Elephant Ear Hosta. But most importantly, they add life to the garden. Do they make a mess? Sure. They love to dig in mulch, explore the woods and find a nice sunny to warm their feathers and close their eyes. I love that my gardens have become animated!
Sunshine scratches in mulch
Here are some gardening tips that I have learned along the way with my flock:
1. Keep an eye on your chickens, if they are somewhere you do not want them to be, you can usually point their interests to another area.
2. Chickens love scratching in mulch. A quick clean-up with a rake is pretty easy.
3. Some chickens will enjoy watching you and spend their entire time in the garden accompanying you around.
4. Plant a chicken friendly garden where they can scratch, peck and eat til their hearts content. For us it was a garden with herbs, vegetables, berries and perennials. Here are my top 10 plants.
5. Surround off limit plants with chicken wire so that the flock explores elsewhere.
6. Keep you lawn mowed to 2 inches. This prevents grasses from becoming tangled in the chickens’ crops.
7. Keep the coop and run door open. Some will return to lay their eggs or roost.
8. Keep chemical/pesticides use low. Try implementing organic techniques.
9. Compost your manure to spread on your plantings. Learn to build a pretty composter here.
10. A good supply of grit should be available to help digest any fibrous materials from free-ranging in the gardens.
11. Plant some nasturtiums around and near the run for the chickens to eat.
12. Avoid feeding your chickens slugs!