This week we completed spring cleanup in the vegetable garden. Much of the cleanup work in the vegetable garden in both the fall and the spring is actually performed by our egg laying hens. How can chickens help?
In the fall, after the vegetable harvest is complete and the plants are dying back, rather than pull plants by hand, we allow our flock of 30 laying hens access to the garden on a daily basis. The hens love to eat the vegetables that have fallen on the ground, they dig for worms and insects, and most importantly, they dig up the old vegetable plants and any weeds that have grown during the growing season.
During the winter, when the weather allows, the chickens are turned out into the garden. It gives them something to do, and over the course of the winter, they complete their digging and eating of the residue from the summer. This hastens the process of composting the old plants, and the chickens will also work any composted material into the soil during this time.
Their best work however, is done in the late winter/early spring. During this time, the hens are allowed daily access to the garden, where they continue to dig, scratch and eat. They are completing the cleanup of the garden while destroying any weeds that have started growing. This is especially important for controlling spring weeds. The result: by planting time, the garden has been completely cleaned up and is weed-free. All that remains to be done is to rake up any remaining large pieces of plant residue.
If you grow a kitchen garden and keep laying hens, consider using your hens to help you with your garden cleanup in the fall and spring prep. You will save hours of work and importantly, you won't have to deal with weeds and with tilling in the spring to get your planting beds ready. If you are a vegetable producer, give chickens a try - you won't be disappointed! No-till vegetables, chemical free weed control, and all the while, you'll have fresh, delicious eggs to sell as well. And your vegetable beds will show the benefit of no tillage - retaining good soil structure, keeping earthworms and soil microorganisms happy, and most importantly, producing great-tasting, nutrient-dense vegetables.