Gardening with Chickens–and Rocks

Day 8 of 365

Because I long for a barn, every now and then, I look at real estate online. I would love to find a place with a barn. Any barn will do, big or small, red or brown. But when I look at real estate prices here in Maine, I find myself feeling thankful for the little plot of land we “own” (really just borrowing from the Maine woods). We have a large, sturdy chicken coop, a duck house, magnificent trees, and a giant deck in our back yard complete with an Eastern Phoebe nest this year. We also have a large organic garden space, and that garden space has come at a price for my husband, making it so we feel really tied to this little patch of earth. 

There was a small garden area when we moved in, full of rocks and deplete of nutrients. Apparently, the owners before us were not organic gardeners, so Ron had much work to do with the soil. Over the years, thanks to the composted chicken poop and straw and fall leaves and cover crops, the soil in our organic garden has become quite magnificent. Ron does not use a rototiller and turns over the soil by hand and shovel. But, also over the years, he has expanded our garden space, also by hand. During this time, I am convinced he has moved a quarry’s worth of rock from the garden. 

It never ends. Each year, he picks up rocks, digs up rocks, and moves boulders with nothing but logs and levers. Sometimes, I help. Sometimes, our son helps. Mostly, this epic undertaking falls to my husband, and I worry about so many years of toil. We joke that he did something in another life to deserve a life of rock moving in this one–Sisyphus, only moving rocks in wheelbarrow instead of rolling one up a hill.

I worried extra this weekend when he was expanding our garden yet again. This time, he was turning over grass in the chicken yard to add more space for a third kind of potatoes. It was hot. To have temps at about 90 degrees in May in Maine is not usual, and in the middle of that heat wave, that poor man hit a large rock “every time my shovel dug in,” he said. 

I was working to plant flowers on the other side of our property, but I would go visit him from time to time, telling stories of my adventures and bringing him water and lemonade. On my visits, I would marvel at both the size and amount of rocks he was moving to make space for more potatoes. 

But he had company. Every time I came to visit, I noticed the same three or four hens were “helping dad.” They know the drill. Under grass and within the rocks lie grubs, and it’s a win-win for everyone. The chickens eat the grubs, and that means fewer beetles in our garden, eating up our harvest. Chickens, while they cannot be trusted with small, delicious plants (one year, our Poe flew over the garden gate and ate a whole row of broccoli plants), chickens play an important role in our gardening cycles. 

Before planting in the spring, chickens do a great job of getting everything ready. We let them in the garden to eat grubs and scratch around in the soil. The chickens are also fantastic gleaners in the fall. They eat the leftover tomatoes and cabbages and will eat bugs then too. In the middle of garden season, sometimes, Ron has let a few hens into the garden for some interim pest control, and that works fairly well. However, you do have to keep an eye on them. In a garden of goodies, chickens are easily distracted from potato bugs. 

We reward our chickens with treats from the garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s all just a part of this fantastic symbiotic relationship we have with our chickens. Our chickens give us delicious eggs, and I am so thankful for them. But they do more. The provide pest control, provide us with fertilizer for our garden, and on long days when you are digging through the rocky Maine soil to make room for potatoes, they provide you with some good company. 

***

And, of course, I have to add a quick Ruby update: She’s doing well. No break today, but she did have some leftover scrambled eggs. Tomorrow, I candle eggs, so stay tuned! 

2 thoughts on “Gardening with Chickens–and Rocks

  1. Pest control, fertilizer AND eggs….you gotta love chickens!
    My daughter just bought her second chicken coup for her new baby chicks…24 of them. …..
    and so the coop-daminium begins.😁
    Keep writing…I’ve been sharing your words.👍

    Like

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