Tonawanda News — There is no need to get mad as a wet hen if you want to juggle flourishing flower beds, viable vegetable gardens and free-range chickens.
There are many reasons why you would want to manage both gardens and chickens. Fresh vegetables, flowering habitats for native fauna, fresh eggs and perky poultry personalities all come to mind. When my neighbor recently told me that a ruby ripe tomato that they purchased at the grocery store three months ago hadn’t changed in texture or color, I thought to myself, “I better start living off the land.”
Backyard chickens help with organic garden errands like weeding, eating insects that snack on your produce, keeping the grass in check, aerating garden beds and depositing fertilizer. When chickens have access to gardens and lawns, they will consume less of the costly (most likely corn-based) laying mash that their cooped cousins relay on.
I checked out the book “Gardening with Free-Range Chickens for Dummies” by Bonnie Jo Manion and Rob Ludlow to learn how to create harmony with my gardens and five new hens.
Since you want a perfect balance, do your research on space. If the flock of chickens is too large or if there is not enough space, your gardens will have craters and bare patches from over-foraging, and visible feces and potentially bad odor. For standard breeds, 250 square feet per bird is an adequate size for free-range chickens that have access to your garden. For bantams, you could get by with about half that size.
You will need to protect young tender plants from your feathered garden helpers. This can be easily accomplished with the use of a small meshed area or a glass cloche. Older gardens and adult plants usually only need a quick raking to get things looking pre-chicken visit, since free-range chickens don’t usually cause harm to established gardens.