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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chickens & Gardening


Chickens and gardening go hand in hand.  It's all part of being more self-sufficient and sustaining your family from what you can produce.  I had been growing vegetables and herbs for years before I started keeping chickens, but it wasn't until we got the chickens that I felt the circle was truly complete.



I have always used natural fertilizers, pesticides, foods and nutrients for my garden, and that is even more important when you allow the chickens access.  A wonderful source for fertilizer, bone meal and other garden additives is The Espoma Company.

You don't need a lot of space to grow enough vegetables to feed your family, herbs to use for cooking and a few flowers to brighten up the plot.  So plan on planting a little extra for your chickens this spring.


Crushed eggshells are great in the garden. They add calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  Their sharp edges help deter slugs and snails, both annoying garden pests.   They are also greatly appreciated by the wild birds who benefit from added calcium to make hard shells, just as chickens do.

And you can even use halved empty eggshells in a cardboard carton to start seeds in.  Just poke a hold in the bottom and fill the eggshell with potting soil.  When they are ready to go into the ground, plant them 'pot' and all. The calcium carbonate will slowly seep into the soil and nourish the seedlings.  If you crush the shell pot a bit when you plant them in the ground, the seedlings will have an easier time establishing their roots.



Save your plastic berry boxes. They make wonderful mini greenhouses to start seeds in. Just line them with coffee filters, add some potting soil and seeds, then water and put them on a nice sunny windowsill. The condensation will be trapped inside and keep the soil moist.


In the last year or two, I have added a lot of variety to the herbs I now grow.  Not only do the chickens benefit from herbs in their nesting boxes and home-brewed herbal tea, but I like to use fresh herbs for cooking all summer and then dry them for use in the winter.  


Nasturtium is a wonderful addition to any garden. It is not only pretty, but it repels insects, the chickens love to eat the leaves and blossoms, and it acts as a laying stimulant, antiseptic, antibiotic and natural wormer for them.


I also grow watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard just for the chickens.    


They don't mind misshapen, buggy, or over- or under-ripe vegetables. Nothing goes to waste when you raise chickens. During the growing season, they get all the bug-eaten vegetables plus all the ends and scraps - and after I have harvested the crops, they enjoy all the roots and leaves (note: tomato and rhubarb leaves can be toxic to chickens so discard those)


All spring and summer I find myself picking bugs out of the garden to feed to the girls.


And weeds automatically go into a large rubber tub for the girls to eat when I'm done in the garden.


Of course, letting your chickens roam freely through your garden during growing season isn't such a great idea because they will munch on everything - veggies, blooms, leaves, good and bad bugs - but in the fall or spring letting them have access to your garden can be quite beneficial.  They will turn the soil and eat the weeds, helping you prepare for the next spring's planting.  They will enjoy pecking and scratching and exploring new territory.  They are wonderful little tillers !



Their manure also makes wonderful fertilizer for the garden. I use the deep litter method and each spring clean out the coop of all the straw and decomposed manure which it goes right into our compost pile to be used in our garden the following spring.   

I throw squash and pumpkin seeds right into our compost pile and let the vines grow wild all summer. The ducks especially love squash blossoms, and both the chickens and ducks love the pumpkins and squash once they are ripened.


So this spring when you are planning your garden, plan on planting a little extra for the chickens. They will appreciate anything you are willing to spare and it's much more economical and healthier than buying vegetables or commercial chicken treats.



Use their eggshells, manure and free labor to help fertilize, nourish and till your garden - then thank the chickens for their contribution by sharing the bounty.


Also check out this great book on gardening and creating a gorgeous yard with chickens in mind: Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom.







87 comments:

  1. Thanks for all this great information!

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  2. I got my seeds Mon....I will be starting some in the house...I love the info on the egg shells to start the plants...Thanks!

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  3. My girls love to come into the garden space. I keep a small chicken tractor in the garden for their protection. Have water and a feed tray inside. When big birds fly over they scurry to the tractor. I was knowledge but you always have something knew. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. That's a great idea Bootsie. They do love rummaging around in a garden.

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  5. Agreed! Chickens without a garden seems a little odd. Love the tips. I have been trying to think of how I can use our shells and will definitely be tilling some in when we prepare the soil soon!

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    1. I crush all my eggshells and feed them back to the chickens so the garden doesn't get many at all, but I do need to use some in the garden this spring.

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    2. I have heard that by doing this they have a greater tendency to eat their own eggs. Have you had any problems with this?

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    3. None at all. As long as you crush the shells up small they won't make the connection. I've been feeding back their eggshells for years now and never ever had one of them eat any of their eggs.

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  6. Oh I cant wait to get the garden planted!

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  7. I grew all kinds of stuff last year, BC (before chickens), and now there is not a scrap of plant life in the areas that I normally see tomatoes, squash. Do I need to cover the areas completely so the chickens don't eat all my plants?

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    1. Pretty much. I don't let them access to my vegetable garden and the shrubs and bushes in their run were circled with deer netting until they got big enough that few munched leaves weren't going to be a problem.

      The chickens will eat everything and anything that isn't harmful for them.

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    2. Thanks Lisa for all those useful info and tips for our beloved pet chickens <3 I will be planting my girls favorite which are white corns, carrots, watermellon, sunflowers,lettuce, thats all I can think of right now that they like :)

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  8. I would love to win this book, to give it to my friend for her birthday that is coming up. She has all sorts of chickens and I don't know what she will be planting, but I know she sure would love this book. Jill Van Vlack

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    1. I've been flipping through it and it looks great. I just might have to buy myself a copy ! Thanks Jill.

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  9. This is a great post! Maybe I will get lucky and win that fantastic sounding book! This year, I am going to plant my chickens their own patch of salad greens.

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    1. Great Susan ! I do that and they love it.

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  10. i will be planting watermelon,corn,pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce,cantalopes,honeydews,yellow neck squash and spaghetti squash, my chickens love this stuff!

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  11. My neighbors on both sides of me grew cucumbers last summer and they grew like weeds! Of course, they both shared with us and our chickens and the chickens loved eating the cucumber leaves growing on the fence. So this year we are going to grow some cucumbers for our girls. (And for ourselves, of course!)

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  12. Nasturtiums, huh? Lots of great ideas! We're planning on reseeding grass seed for part of the lawn...and doing so in the run area as well. (Our run and coop can be moved which we'll do for a few weeks to let the grass grow and then we'll move them back.) We gave our hens all the "gone past" veggie plants last year and they gobbled! LOL

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  13. I'll be planting lots of greens, some squash and pumpkins for my chickens. I'd like to dedicate a bed just for fresh veggies for the chickens. I also grow a lot of peppermint so they get tons of that. The scent helps freshen up the coop bedding too. This is the first year that my girls will be big and outside all year. I prefer to let them free range but I'm not interested in them destroying everything in their path. I'm hoping this book can help me find a happy medium.

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  14. I have already started on my patch for the spring, The seeds are in the greenhouse, I have Tomatoes, Salad Leaves, Squash, Cabbage, Brocolli and Garlic, Several Herbs on my windowsill and in my Back garden where the chickens run free I have a Plum and a Cherry Tree, Redcurrant, Blackcurrant, Gooseberry and Blackberry bushes along with 3 head of Rhubarb. My girls love to scratch under the trees, which I have protected with Plastic 2litre Pop Bottles, the Fruit bushes have chicken wire around them up to about 1 ft high to stop my girls disturbing their roots too much.

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  15. Our hens pretty much have free reign in our yard and garden. We don't worry too much about damage as we have a larger garden in another location. Our girls know how to get around our place!

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  16. I am diving into the world of chicken raising this year (as soon as the snow clears; 5 inches yesterday). We have a hen house all planned and will planting a little chicken garden right next to it. My sister has hens and I've been watching hers and have made so many notes concerning what not to do and improvements to make, as well as what they like to eat from the garden.

    I am so pleased I found your site, it is really helping me prepare by giving tried-and-true information, not just statistics. Thanks!

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  17. I will be planting blackberry bushes along the fence between the garden and the chicken run. They can eat all the berries on their side of the fence, plus all the bugs and scraps from the garden. Can't wait for spring!

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  18. This is a wonderful blog! One of my patients gave me a chicken and I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed her!! I am getting ready to receive two more chicks from a local photographer who is using several chicks to make Easter portraits. Raising backyard chickens is totally new to me and I am so excited to be a part of this new lifestyle. I am also wanting to start a garden in my backyard! I have been reading so much information about this and getting yancy to get started! I would love a copy of your book to help me out! Have a blessed day!! ;)

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  19. We plant watercress, swiss chard and a few other lettuces near an area where our chickens like to dust bath by my soap shop. Its wonderful to see them so happy (living in Alaska, the winters wear on all of us) and they bask and bask with full tummies and extra calcium from the greens for great eggs!

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  20. Love the book, love the post. Let's see what am I growing this year - four kinds of squash, watermelon, 5 kinds of potatoes, tomatoes, quinoa, swiss chard, collards, new zealand spinach, chicken forage mix, mesclun, two kinds of lettuce, brocolli, and cabbage....most of which I haven't grown before...and most of which is because the "egg producers" need something entertaining to eat. The three kinds of hot peppers, fresh peas and beans, and dried beans are intended for the humans. LOL

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    1. Darlene Granberg - congratulations ! You have won a copy of Free-Range Chicken Gardening. Please email me at:fresheggsdaily@gmail.com with your mailing address.

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  21. I discovered that my chickens love the greens off radishes so I"m planting radishes defintly and I love Elissa's idea of planting blackberry bushes and letting them have their half. I'm also planting turnips cuz they love turnip greens even though I hate turnips so they can eat all they want.

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  22. already started some nasturtium indoors...thanks for all the great ideas

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  23. We will be planting extra cucumbers, and pumpkins for our chickens.

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  24. I am so excited to get going on my seeds for this year! Love the eggshell 'pots' going to do that this weekend as a family fun project!
    Thank you for all the great tips and ideas, I so enjoy your blog and your FB page :)
    I learned from mistakes I made last year, so we are going to raise our garden bed up and be sure the wire over the bed is secure, the girls love to get in the beds and become bathing beauties!
    We are going to make them their own 'Salad Bar' to enjoy and we are also going to be planting more fruit trees and bushes too.
    My list of fruits and veggies is pretty long, thought about narrowing it down but decided to keep it, call it the ABC garden, lol!

    p.s. I hope this doesn't double post, my original reply poofed into cyberspace, so hopefully I don't come up twice on your reply page

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  25. Nasturtium and lots of herbs for my girls. They stay in their predator protected run all day and only get out into the bigger garden for about an hour a day. I like the Nasturtium because I can pull off a big piece and toss it into their run for them to work at all day.

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  26. I like to plant watermelons & pumpkins for my girls. I plant sunflowers & dent corn along the exterior of their run for them to enjoy later on.
    Love your fb page & would love the book!

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  27. I am planting comfrey, nettles, pumpkins and kale for the chickens. And I'll give them anything else that they seems to like, lots of weeds and vegetable extras.

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  28. I plant extra lettuce, tomatoes and herbs for my girls. Then, I also give them teh scraps from the veggies we eat. They love it. They'd rather have vegetables than bread, rice or anything else (actually, they won't even eat those carbs!)...they're so fun!

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  29. Well last year I planted a few pumpkin plants and discovered that my flock really loved them and later on I found out from FED that the seeds also worked as a natural wormer. So this year I will be planting ALOT more pumpkins and this year I will also be planting some squash varities for them. I did a seed swap on BYC and got 17 types of pumpkins and 15 types of squash so they will have a large variety to choose from. They will also be getting all the vegetable scraps and odd and end trimming from canning and any vegetables that are overripe or have bug damage.

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  30. This year I will be planting for my girls-various herbs,pumpkins,watermelon,different varieties of lettuce and greens,broccoli and cauliflower.They also get veggies from the main garden as well.Sandra Miller

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  31. New to chicken-keeping and I have always been an avid gardener. This book will given me more ideas for chicken-friendly plantings and to help be more green.

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  32. I always plant squash and pumpkins for the chickens, but I found out they love grape tomatoes. I'll be adding a few greens for them this year.-Happy planting All. Sparkle

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  33. I can't wait to get gardening - we have had such an unseasonably mild winter here in PA that I've got the bug early! This year I am planting amaranth, extra salad greens, corn, and sunflowers for my chickens to enjoy. They will also get any leftover veggies and of course the veggie scraps from the kitchen as usual. :)

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  34. That looks like a fantastic book. We also deep liter the coop and add it to the garden. Our chickens love garden veggies, especially zucchini! And since it is always so prolific its easy to grow some just for them.

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  35. I let lettuce go to seed - it grows really tall, pull it up by the roots and toss it in the run- big treat. Tomatoes are a hit too.

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  36. Chicken Salad from mypetchcicken.com and also some tomatoes and cucumbers(my girls love it when i hold the cucumber and they peck away!!They love to carve their pumpkins for halloween!

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  37. We will finally be moving to the farm this late spring and the chickens (which will be here in a few days, in the form of chicks) will be given the garden-to-be space to scratch up, weed, and enjoy. I like the idea of throwing out some squash and pumpkin seeds for them and the ducks to enjoy!

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  38. Sooner or later, everything goes to the chickens. One year they broke into my lettuce box and ate it down to the soil. This year, I will plant more broccoli. The plant is huge and they eat everything we don't.

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  39. We'd LOVE this book <3. Starting in April, the side "Silo pasture" will be fenced off from the rest of the grazing areas so that the alpacas can be rotated more efficiently into their pastures. But MORE IMPORTANTLY...it means that I can use it (1/2 acre) along with the run-in shed for more CHICKENS! Just have to figure out the mink-proofing...

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  40. Planting a lot of good veggies and fruit this year and the girls will be getting what ever is ready just like the rest of us ;)

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  41. This book looks so great! Still fighting City Hall to have chickens in Warwick RI on under 5 acres residential property. But I'm hopeful that we'll prevail. Just want to try lots of lettuce, herbs, and veggies, and we already have cherries, blueberries, and Concord grapes!

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  42. I love this book! I plan to plant my pet chickens "chicken salad" this year in my garden along with lettuce, tomatoes, and grapes!

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  43. The girls get anything from the garden. Will be planting extra this year. They love the watermelon, salad greens, kale, squash, broccoli, etc. I let them forage in the empty beds full of clover. They love it. Can't wait for growing season to start. We have the compost ready to till into the garden. So exciting :)

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  44. What great info! My 3yr old daughter & I will definately be doing this when we get our chickens this spring! :)

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  45. Excited to get my chicks this spring and would love this book to help me on my journey!

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  46. Thank u so much for all your helpful info... excited to expand my garden to include some of these ideas, not to mention our coop and run... and of course more feathered friends coming soon, just want to let you know how much I appreciate your site and knowledge, thanks so much :) sincerely :)

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  47. I am planting basil, dill, oregano, pumpkin, tomato, lavender, lettuce and watermelon. This is just my running start of things to plant so my girls can have some! Still adding to the list. I would love to jave this book!

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    1. Would love to have this book :)I'm oops

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  48. I'm planning to grow some oats for my chickens this summer. Just recently found out that my grandfather grew them for his flock. Chickens love oats and it makes a nutritious snack for them.

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  49. Barbara AndersonMarch 1, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    I already follow your blog by email and am a FB fan. I am growing greens like kale (which I've heard is really good for poultry) and lettuce. Next up, is tomatoes...and will share the seeds from the kabocha squash when it is cut open to cook.

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  50. I would love to win this book! I plan on gardening~tomatoes, cukes, peppers, hot peppers, herbs and more!

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  51. The book looks amazing! I plan on planting lots of tomatoes, greens, watermelon, strawberries, and pumpkins :)

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  52. Hm..I would like to plant some grasses/oats in part of their pen that has been dug up a bit. I love watching chickens scratch around and how they get excited over a 'new' find! :)
    And of course they will get some produce from the garden... ;)

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  53. Great post! Love the photos. Will def. try the eggshell for seed starting!
    Didn't know all the info on nasturtiums - got 3 packets of them to plant for me - the flowers and leaves are edible and have a nice peppery taste.
    I will be planting collards for my girls again this year. They go nuts for them! Also planning: Swiss chard, planted extra lettuce (plan on succession planting) and of course lots and lots of tomatoes! My girls love having the buggy ones. Also trying my hand at winter squash again - so I'm sure the girls will get some treats out of that.
    The biggest project for this spring is planting their own little pasture: mixed grass seed, clover, flax, millet, buckwheat, Dwarf Essex rape and hull-less oats! If anything grows enough to flower, that will be food for my bees!
    I found myself thinking, while planning for this year's garden, what can my girls eat in case I grow something I don't like?

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    1. Oops..I forgot my email address when I commented to enter the last time!

      mudhaven@gmail.com

      I'd love to add this book to my growing library of chicken & gardening tomes! :o)

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  54. Great information! Would love to read this book! My chickens get all of our garden & produce scraps and anything else we can't eat fast enough!

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  55. Great post! We always have a garden and the girls love getting all of the thinned out seedlings and extra lettuce, tomatoes and other goodies! The keep my garden free of bugs and I keep them supplied n the good stuff :)

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  56. Can't wait to plant- my girls love tomatoes and watermelon!

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  57. I have a lot of old lettuce seeds I'm going to plant for my girls and I still have a lot of other old seeds to purge. I'll plant them and see what comes up for them:)

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  58. I like to plan chard, kale and melon, watermelon for the chickens.. they also enjoy the extra cucumbers I have too

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  59. The get all garden scraps, But LOVE tomatoes & squash.

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  60. I plant a variety of heirlooms in my garden including tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumber, herbs, pumpkin, beans, kale, spinach, lettuce and so much more. The chickens get pieces of ALL of it! They love the diverse diet. They are also penned in the garden after harvest to pick through the garden leftovers!

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  61. Sugar snaps and turnips. Definitely trying melons again this year; my girls love love love watermelons!

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  62. I'm getting chicks for the first time this spring and have been doing a lot of planning for their arrival. I'm happy to see that many of the plants going into my garden are good to share with the chickens! I'll just include a few extras when I plant!

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  63. i am new to chickens, but i plan on planting some alfalfa! i hear they love it. read it in a book. :-) and read that prout are better in nutrients than just the seeds.

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  64. i meant sprouts not prout. lol

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  65. Michelle ConklingMarch 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    Herbs, cucumbers (I'm thinking about trying to train them up a trellis), greens. And I'm sure they will get lots of extras. Starting my broccoli's tonight, tomatoes and peppers in a couple more weeks. I'm so excited to have chickens this year - I have four that have been hatched and are hanging out with a friend that commercially raises heritage breeds so she can sex them for me in a few weeks. They are going to be spoiled chickens! I would love this book!!

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    1. Michelle Conkling...you have been chosen as the winner to receive a copy of Free-Range Chicken Gardening ! Email me your mailing address so I can get the book in the mail to you. Thanks !

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  66. Sadly, I'm not allowed to have chickens right now as I currently rent the house I live in, but your blog is a great inspiration and source of terrific information, so hopefully by next spring we'll be in a position to have our very own flock ! We are going to start our seed garden in eggshells this week so at least we'll have some delicious home-grown produce to enjoy for ourselves :)

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  67. The egg-shell planter idea is neat and something I will be trying! I will be planting millet and sunflowers for my chickens. They will also get extras out of my garden. Another garden tip is to dump your used coffee grounds around the plants. The plants love it and it makes your garden smell like coffee. :)
    My e-mail is farmertankers@yahoo.com

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  68. Kale and chard are some of my faves. The girls like them too when fall and winter come. I'll share whatever extra I have.

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  69. Love to win this book for my sister who has chickens. They are her ladies. I think also she likes them better than her husband. LOL.

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  70. Loved this post; such good information. I think I will plant some nasturtiums for my girls this year for sure!

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  71. Nasturtiums for all of us, chickens and humans alike. We also have guineas and ducks, so we will be growing collards and kale, and millet in the hotter part of the summer. Millet seed is suck a great treat for birds, and really easy to grow.

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  72. This is my first year raising chicks. I am planning a large garden, as well. I planted watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, broccoli, eggplant, bell peppers, pumpkins, various gourds, and other vegetables. The chickens will have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet! This book would be perfect for me!

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  73. I have already planted some lettuce seed and afew other seeds in the sun room. I am sure the girls will like that.

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  74. I never thought of putting seeds into the compost for pumpkin and squash. Thanks for the handy tip!

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  75. Hello Lisa,
    Great post. I love the book you recommended, I have it and it was my inspiration to free range my girls. My garden is always much larger than is needed for two, so my gals roam it all summer long too. I figure anything they can reach, is theirs and that works out fine. They are great tillers, if I could just get them to leave my onion and garlic bulbs alone, things would be perfect. I am going to cage them as described in the book. Have a great week. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas. I also hope to use my first batch of chicken manure compost next spring, I'm very excited about it.

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Thank you for your kind comments and joining along with Fresh Eggs Daily as we live our wonderful, natural country farm life.

Lisa/Fresh Eggs Daily Farm Girl
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