Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chickens as Gardeners

Besides laying beautiful eggs each day for us, our chickens are fantastic gardeners.  They till one garden plot each season for us (they follow the squash garden and the Italian garden follows them), turning the soil, eating all the weeds and spent plants, and removing bugs who have overwintered in the soil.  This year, they've also agreed to monitor the pole beans for us.

Pole beans are a favorite here.  They are easy to grow, give a large yield without too much effort, and the kids enjoy the growing plants and the finished product.  We were surprised last year to find, for the first time, Mexican bean beetles on our plants.  What look like yellowy-orange lady bugs eat the leaves of the pole bean plant, thus depriving the plant of photosynthesis.  We still got beans, but much less than normal, and the plants looked really ugly with their decimated leaves.
So, what's a gardener to do?

 That's right:  bring in the chickens!

Rather than rotating the pole bean crop to a new garden with the squash and cabbage, we planted them in the same spot as last year.  Normally, that would be an invitation to the overwintered bugs for a repeat performance, but this year, the chickens are in that garden.  I installed rabbit fencing along one wall of their yard, with bamboo stakes for support (and for the pole beans to climb).  The pole beans are planted in between the rabbit fencing and the fenced wall of the yard.  So far, the chickens have not dug under the fencing. I'm *hoping* that by the time they undermine the rabbit fencing, the pole beans will be well-established.  Once the plants are tall enough, the chickens will do little damage to them.
As the plants grow, any Mexican bean beetles that emerge will become chicken food (if they cooperate with my grand scheme).  Any that appear on the leaves can be easily knocked off for the chickens...integrated pest management and organic gardening.  It will be a win/win...if it works.

This morning I found Indigo trapped in the pole bean part of the chicken yard.  We were not in the garden at all yesterday, so we didn't notice her in there.  She seemingly dug her way under the rabbit fencing and must have spent the night in there.  Needless to say, the pole beans are all broken and/or eaten.  I planted some more today.

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