Gardening With Hens

My good friend Michele over at Sign of the Shovel and GardenRant asked me how on earth I keep the chickens from destroying the garden.  I thought this was a blog-worthy topic, so here you go:

  1. Forget about annuals.  Anything that self-sows is history.  The girls love to scratch in the dirt, and when they do that, they uproot tiny seedlings and probably even eat some seeds.  The bright side?  They do the same thing to weeds.
  2. Fence off the food crops.  If you love it, so do they.  Fortunately, a silly little 18-in tall wire fence works just fine.  Chickens are not very adventurous, and when I’ve put the girls into the vegetable patch just for fun, they have completely freaked out and tried to escape, ignoring the salad bar before them.
  3. Brand new plants might get accidentally dug up.  Fence off a newly-planted area or fashion a little cage of chicken wire and cover new plants for a few weeks while they put down roots.
  4. Don’t plant anything poisonous, like monkshood, foxglove, oleander, etc.
  5. Remember that different chickens have different tastes.  One might develop a taste for your geraniums, while others leave it alone.  In my garden, I’ve found some nibbles on heather, geraniums, yarrow (but just a few plants–not all of them) and Maximilian sunflower.
  6. On the plus side, my girls love snails and slugs.  So I’m gradually moving all the plants that snails eat to the part of the garden they have access to.  Hello, dahlia!
  7. So what does grow in the chicken garden?  Plenty.  Here’s what grows in the part of the garden where my chickens free-range:

Lamb’s ear
Yarrow (especially the silvery "moonshine" varieties)
Perennial herbs, including rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage
Shasta daisies
Lady’s  mantle
Butterfly bush

13 thoughts on “Gardening With Hens”

  1. Michele Owens

    Thank you, Amy. I noticed that your plant list is heavily weighted towards grey-leaved things. Maybe hens don’t like those hairy grey leaves?

  2. My chickens decimated the thyme I planted last week. They seem to have forgotten about it, luckily, and it’s got some tiny new leaves, so it may make it after all. They also nibble on the rosemary regularly, but we’ve got so much and it grows like a weed that they can’t do too much damage there.

  3. Phil Henderson

    Dear Amy. Wow ..what a load of information that appeals to me! Our chickens are 7 weeks old and are soon to become free ranging. I’m hoping that the vegeatble garden is far enough away they don’t make it there very often. What I WOULD like to do, however, is plant crops that are tasty or beneficial ..just to support them. Comphrey is, apparently, fairly regular in that regard, yes? Anything else that you know is particularyly tasty or good for them? North of SF; Phil

  4. Our chickens free range (supervised only) around our vegetable garden and coop/run area without doing much damage to plants, EXCEPT juicy tomatoes in summer! They’ll peck one bite from every ripe tomato they can reach! This infuriates my husband for about 2 seconds, then he just shrugs and laughs.
    Most of our damage comes from over-enthusiastic dust bathing and scratching.

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