Have you thought about gardening with chickens but just don’t know where to start? Today, I’m sharing with you some terrific tips to get started and also a fun DIY gardening project to recycle your flock’s eggshells into seedling starters.
Sometimes I compare my backyard to an oasis. My kids spend hours playing in the grass and the garden provides fresh vegetables for my family. It’s a place where I go to clear my head, a place where all my worries drift away. Because my family and I love my lawn and garden so much, I have given a lot of thought into keeping the backyard healthy. One of the best helpers I’ve found? My flock of backyard chickens – and, in turn, the feed they eat. I feed my chickens in the morning, let them free-range and forage throughout the day and then bring them into their coop at night. Not only does this keep the chickens happy, it also helps my plants keep growing! The chickens eat insects, aerate the lawn, love eating weeds and even produce fertilizer!
Ready to add chickens to your backyard? Here are four steps to get started!
Step 1: Let chickens help the soil.
I noticed quickly that my chickens were helping control weeds and insects, but I didn’t realize at first just how much the birds were helping the soil. When I started researching soil composition, I realized soil is its own complete ecosystem. Each handful of soil consists of bugs, organisms, beneficial bacteria, helpful nematodes and more. I like to think of the soil as having little critters living in it. Whatever I put on the lawn and garden can be eaten by the tiny critters and then go into my family’s food. This is why I give a lot of thought into my lawn and garden products. This also includes my chicken feed, because the chicken feed ultimately goes into the garden as compost or fertilizer. Everything that touches the soil can affect its inhabitants. Because organic eggs start with a quality organic feed, I’m proud to feed Purina Organic chicken feed – it’s an essential in my backyard toolkit.
I believe that chicken manure from organic-fed birds makes the best compost. Chickens will naturally fertilize the garden as they meander during free-ranging. To get fertilizer for the garden, I also compost the chicken waste from the coop. I simply combine three parts of shavings to one part of chicken manure and set it aside to “cure”. Turn the pile with a pitchfork and keep it moist – like a damp sponge, but not soaked. Within three to six months, the manure will have turned into black, rich compost that can be spread in the garden. This compost will in turn feed my garden’s plants during the growing season. For more information about composting, check out my how to compost article.
Step 2: Pick chicken-friendly plants.
Once you’re sure the soil is healthy, select plants that will live well with your chickens. I started by adding some plantings that are safe for the flock. You might even discover that you already are growing most of these. Chicken-friendly plantings are readily available at your favorite garden center. You can even split or share plantings with fellow chicken keepers by hosting a local plant swap. Some of my favorite and easy to grow chicken-safe garden plants include:
- Vegetables: Lettuces, kales, swiss chards, broccoli, carrots, beets, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins
- Herbs: Lavender, mint, oregano, cilantro, parsley, thyme and basil
- Perennials: Daylilies, hostas, coneflowers, daisies, roses and ferns
Step 3: Start the seeds in eggshells.
To make the most of the entire chicken-garden ecosystem, I enjoy planting seeds in eggshells from my flock. The eggshells naturally break down in the soil, providing nutrients to the soil and your plants. Using eggshells is a wonderful way to recycle and reuse your resources. Eggshells are also a great way to keep slugs and snails away from your gardens. It’s easy to do. Simply start the seedlings in eggshells and, when it is time to transfer your seedlings outside, crack the eggshell to prevent bound roots and plant it into the ground.
For this project you need:
- seed starting soil
- egg carton
- Rinse and dry out the eggshells.
- Add a drainage hole if you like. It is not necessary to place a drainage hole at the bottom of the shell as long as you water lightly. If desired, place a drainage hole in the bottom of each shell by tapping a small nail on the bottom of the shell.
- Add some soil inside the shell.
- Poke a hole in the soil with the toothpick.
- Place 3 seeds in the hole you made in the soil.
- Water and place in a warm sunny spot. Seeds should germinate within a week to 10 days based on what you have planted.
- Care for the seedlings inside until they have set their second set of leaves and outdoor temperatures are high enough to transfer them into the spring or summer garden.
Step 4: Maintain the ecosystem.
Once you have the garden planted and are ready to let the chickens roam, keep an eye on your flock as they explore. This will help keep them out of trouble and away from places where they should not be.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Carry a rake with you to easily put back into place what the chickens have scratched out.
- Protect delicate or off-limit plantings with a temporary chicken wire cage.
- Try planting a garden around the chicken coop just for your flock. This can help distract the chickens from the garden meant for your family.
- When the flock can’t free-range, share your grass clippings from the freshly mowed lawn. They are a great source of Omega 3s.
- Cut and dry herbs from the garden to add to the nesting boxes and chicken coop for a little flock aromatherapy and possible pest deterrents.
- Keep the yard free from debris or dangerous objects like nails, Styrofoam, plastic bits and so forth. Chickens will eat them and they can have severe health effects.
- Never allow your flock to free-range in the presence of wild mushrooms.
- Be on the lookout for predators while your flock is free-ranging. Being present in the yard and gardens while they are free exploring may help to deter predators.
- If your flock free-ranges and the flock has slowed down their egg production, chances are they have a hidden nest of eggs somewhere in the yard.
- Provide a complete feed, like Purina® Organic chicken feed, to the flock before you let them out to free-range in the morning. This way, the birds consume their necessary nutrients before filling up on garden treats and snacks. Even when chickens are free-ranging, a complete feed should make up at least 90 percent of their diet.
Most importantly, have fun and enjoy watching the birds! For me, my garden and organic eggs are all connected to the feed I give my chickens. That’s why I picked a feed that is supported by research and built with quality, fresh ingredients. Learn more about Purina® Organic Poultry Feed by visiting www.PurinaOrganicFeed.com or by connecting with Purina Poultry on Facebook or Pinterest.
Enter the giveaway below to win a bag of Purina Organic Feed for your flock. I’m giving away three 35 pound bags and one of the winners could be you. How fun!
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This post has been sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition, as such I received feed for my flock and will also receive feed in the future to share my opinion with my readers. However, my opinions are based on my individual and unique experience; typically, Purina Animal Nutrition suggests changing to or starting a flock on Purina® Organic will result in optimum organic flock performance. Based on my experience in 2016, I believe this line of feed has been amazing for my flock and I encourage you to try it too!