It’s hard to imagine a world without chickens. We love them for their eggs, meat, and companionship, not to mention the joy they bring to our homesteads. But did you know that raising chickens can actually be good for your garden? Not only are they good for eating your scraps but they can also improve soil health and plant productivity. If you’re looking for garden help, chickens can provide you with a multitude of services.
Using Chickens for Pest Control
One of the main ways chickens can help is by controlling pests in your garden. Chickens love to eat bugs and other crawly critters, including many that can damage or destroy your plants. If you are having issues with heavy pest infestation, placing chickens around the perimeter of your garden can help lessen the damage that they can do.
Chickens enjoy a variety of garden pests including slugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, worms, and beetle larvae. They especially enjoy eating the larvae of mosquitoes, which can help to reduce the mosquito population in your area. Chickens will also eat spiders, ants, and other insects that can damage the young, tender vegetables in your garden. If you have a problem with garden pests, chickens can help take care of that.
One way to utilize chickens is to let them have free range of your garden beds in the fall and/or winter. They do an excellent job of finding larvae and eating any bugs that remain in your garden beds.
For help during your planting season, simply create a run around the perimeter of your garden. While this won’t eradicate your bug population, it will lessen the damage to your vegetables.
Chickens and Composting
Chickens are, hands-down, the best composters. They scratch around in the dirt, turning over the soil and mixing in organic matter from their droppings. This helps create a richer compost that can be used in your in-ground garden or raised beds. In addition, chicken manure is an excellent source of nutrients for your plants. When used as fertilizer, it can help increase the yields of many different types of vegetables.
The easiest way to have your chickens work for you is to physically put them in with your compost. Years ago, we started a pile in our yard and added grass clippings, leaves, vegetable scraps, and old, depleted soil. Instead of turning over these materials ourselves, our chickens scratch and dig through the pile, mixing it in and making a rich, dark, compost.
Chicken Waste as Fertilizer
Another way chickens can help your garden is by providing fertilizer for your plants. Chickens produce nitrogen-rich manure that makes excellent plant food. Their droppings will help to fertilize your soil, making it more diverse as well as productive.
One thing to note is that chicken manure is considered a “hot” compost. To put it simply, chicken waste will burn your plants if it goes directly into your garden. Chicken waste is naturally high in nitrogen. While this is great if you have nitrogen-deficient soil, it may cause young seedlings to wither and die as it “burns” them.
Chicken compost works best if it is aged for, at minimum, four months. Six is optimal. Adding in wood shavings can help with odor while allowing your compost to decompose more quickly. A popular coop maintenance method, known as the “deep litter method,” is an easy way to ensure that your coop is clean, your chickens are healthy, and that you can use your chicken waste safely.
Using Chickens to Weed the Garden
Another way chickens can help control pests is by eating the weeds that grow in your garden. Chickens will eat just about anything, including the leaves and stems of weeds. This can help keep your garden weed-free, making it easier for you to grow the plants you want.
Chickens particularly enjoy nettles, purslane, clover, plantain, and dandelions.
Since they love to eat, well, pretty much anything, they can help to reduce the amount of weeding that you must do. Since they ingest the plant as well as the seeds, they can help cut down on weeds in seasons to come. In addition, as they scratch around in the dirt, they loosen the soil and make it easier for you to pull up any remaining or stubborn plants that you don’t want in your garden
Do keep in mind that giving chickens free range of your beds is something you want to do before planting your garden. Chickens do not discriminate, and any plant is fair game. Letting your chickens roam your garden in either early spring or late fall is the best way to put them to work.
Chickens and Aerating Soil
If you let your chickens free-range, you may have noticed that the soil in and by their run is often light and fluffy. One last way chickens can be helpful in the garden is by aerating your soil. As they scratch around looking for bugs, they loosen up the compacted dirt and allow air and water to penetrate more easily. This helps improve drainage, mixes various layers of soil, and can help prevent root rot. It also makes it easier for you to till your garden in the spring.
Other Ways Chickens Can Help in Your Garden
While not a traditional tool, eggs are a chicken by-product that is handy to use in your garden. If your soil is deficient in calcium, ground eggshells are a simple amendment that is easy and free to use. To prepare, bake eggshells at approximately 250 degrees for sixty minutes. Baking will dry them out and ensure that they will not grow mold. Additionally, it makes crushing them much more manageable. Add to your soil before planting and use as needed throughout the gardening season.
Chickens in the Garden
Chickens are an asset to your homestead and to your garden. Not only do they provide eggs and meat, but they also pull double-duty by being garden helpers. Chickens love to eat bugs, making them natural pest control. They will also help aerate the soil and distribute nutrients as they scratch around looking for food. In addition, their manure is an excellent source of fertilizer, providing essential nutrients that will help your garden grow. So, if you’re looking for a way to boost your garden’s productivity, consider adding some chickens to the mix. You’ll be glad you did!