By Cheryl D. Jones
Creating a garden for your chicken’s sounds like a wonderful idea, until you notice the kind of real damage chickens can do to a normal garden. With access to the entire garden space, chickens not only dine on the plants you provide, but in their search for insects and tasty roots they destroy the entirety of smaller plants. They turn healthy soil into dust. They create deep divots in soil for bathing, where they also toss dirt everywhere, in all directions (out of the garden and into the lawn or on paved surfaces of course!). Allowing chickens access to normal garden space and landscapes is usually a certain recipe for disaster. But there are genius ways that you can grow a garden, just for your chickens without the damage and mess. One great way is you can grow a garden for your chickens by creating a chicken friendly grazing frame!
A grazing frame is a raised bed designed specifically to allow chickens access to the nutritious plants and bugs that live on them, all while keeping the soil from being scratched to death and turned to dust. It also gives the plants some protection from the crown and soil, so that they can spread and grow despite being eaten from above. When allowed to grow, a grazing frame looks just like any other raised bed and can be quite beautiful. How do you make a chicken friendly garden using a grazing frame? It’s pretty simple!
A grazing frame is a raised bed with wire spread over top of it. Here’s how to make your raised bed grazing frame:
- First, construct a raised garden bed. You can make it any size you wish, but the height of the bed needs to allow for root space and head space for plants to grow through a wire canopy above while keeping crown space well out of reach of hungry beaks. We recommend constructing a bed that’s 8 inches or more in height. For materials, choose natural wood or stone materials that last, but won’t leach chemicals into the ground and plants the chickens eat. Cedar wood is a good choice.
- Next, fill the bed with good quality soil and well-rotted compost of your choice. Add any additives now such as a mycorrhizal boost or additional fertilizer. Fill so that you have about 4 inches of space from the bottom of the soil to the top of the bed frame.
- Plant your raised garden bed with chicken friendly plants and edibles that attract lots of tasty bugs. Start with some fast growing, hardy, and easy to care for perennial herbs such as mints, thyme, asparagus, lavender, rosemary, oregano, monarda (bee balm) and (in warmer zones) sweet stevia. Shrubs such as lilacs, roses, and butterfly bushes are strong growers in chicken run areas. Perennial plants such as Echinacea, blackeyed susans, Shasta daisies, yucca, coreopsis, daylilies and hostas are great starter plants. If in doubt about chicken safe plants, go with natives. Not that ALL native plants are safe, but many will be. Here is a good listing of plants that will be safe for your chicken run at Backyard Chickens.
- Fill in remaining open spaces with bug attracting wildflowers, which are easy to start from seed mixes. Water everything well.
- Cover the entire garden with chicken wire, stapled to the side with constriction staples or attached using screws and washers or whatever you have that can easily be taken apart later for garden maintenance. Depending on how large your bed is, you may need to place wooden stake supports throughout. As the plants grow, they will grow through the wire making it virtually vanish. Chickens can hop on top of the wire and eat to their heart’s content above the wire, but they can’t gain access to the plant roots and crowns below, nor can they scratch up the soil!
- Consider fencing off the garden until it’s established and growing strongly. Water regularly as it grows.
Your chickens will love their very own garden, and your plants will appreciate some protection from the ever-voracious eaters that they are. The healthy fresh food is also a bonus for you of course (better eggs!) but also for your birds. It also gives them something to do.
Creating a chicken friendly garden using a grazing frame is a simple yet highly effective way to bring your chickens and your garden together in a way that works for everyone.
Another good source on keeping chickens and where to buy diy chicken coops for small and urban gardens, as well as chicken safe plants, visit GreenwoodNursery.com.
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