Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Organic Garden Cleaning Crew

Secure hen house and caged run with removable cover

I do not use pesticides on my vegetable garden. So after over 30+ years of gardening the same raised beds, the bugs are multiplying and are very happy ... making me unhappy and my soil very frustrating to grow anything. 

I grew up in a market gardening family business on the prairies. When I would complain to my Mom about my Denman bugs, she would always say; "When grandpa took the garden out ... the chickens went in to clean up." I had chickens in the garden about 7 years ago but within a few weeks predators took out 2 of my hens. It was fenced to keep deer out but not the raccoons, eagles, hawks and mink. Ever since then I've wanted a chicken tractor type enclosure that would fit on top of my raised bed garden boxes. This would make it much more secure to predators. We still had the small hen house it all just needed to be updated and pieced together to work in my garden.

Hardware cloth covered run with rain panels on top
The small hen house from 7 years ago was put on a dolly with four 8" pneumatic casters. The wheels rotate 360 degrees, so moving it around the garden is a breeze for one person! The house also got a fresh floor of plywood installed, a bit of insulation for the walls and a second nest box with a cute door for me to access the eggs easily. I added a hanger for their feeder and a small door was cut out with a ramp installed outside for access into the run. Two turnbuckles attach the hen house and the run together.

The caged run is 2"x2" wood construction with half inch hardware cloth. I read somewhere that; "chicken wire keeps chickens in. If you want to keep predators out hardware cloth with a small grid is the way to go."  It is more expensive but well worth it. The section of the run at the hen house is 3' in height, the rest is 2' and it sits on top of the raised beds that are 4'2" wide by 13' long. It needs to be manageable for two people to lift and move it. We had old corrugated fiberglass panels removed from the greenhouse laying around so they make the perfect cover to keep the rain and possible snow off the ground and the birds. They are light and easy to move on or off when needed.

Hen house and access doors
The doors and gates are all secured with hasp closures and carabiner clips. The cage run is held tight onto the wooden garden box with rubber bungee cords hooked into large eye hooks that are screwed into the side of the raised beds. Now this is chicken security!! One friend called it my new 'Chicken Emporium' ... I kinda like that!

The first garden box I had the hens clean up in the 3 photos above, was the bed for the garlic that was finally put in a bit later than usual on October 20th, 2020. They did a great job aerating the soil, eating bugs and slug eggs and leaving a bit of fertilizer behind! After cleaning three of the garden boxes, it was time to move 'The Chicken Emporium' up closer to the house. Their water was freezing over night and it was quite a bit hiking up and down to the garden several times a day. I really enjoy having them closer to the house now so I can visit them more often. I've left some of the big, old broccoli plants in the garden to pull for them and have some winter lettuce in the greenhouse that they love!

Goldie, L'il Red and Buffy - Inside, happy and secure
Now that they are up near the house, they get moved to a new grassy patch every week or so. Along with hen scratch, broccoli plants, fruit and vegetable scraps and warm oatmeal with blueberries on the cold mornings, I think they are spoiled, happy hens! I just love chickens and I'm thrilled to have a small flock again... even more thrilled that I know they are safe as I can make them!

My new flock are three older girls, I got them mainly as my organic garden cleaning crew, the eggs are a bonus! In the photo at right, inside the run... the buff colored hen far back is a Buff Orpington who I've named 'Buffy (the Vampire Slayer)', she lays beautiful brown shelled eggs. The other two girls are Americaunas who lay pale blue shelled eggs. The lighter, golden one in front is named 'Goldilocks' and the one behind her is 'Little Red Riding Hood'. Yes... I name my chickens, always have... so, for short they are Buffy, Goldie and L'il Red. A week or so after I got the hens, Buffy started molting... feathers everywhere and now she looks a bit like a plucked chicken. They also stop laying when they molt and as the daylight hours shorten. For now, Goldie and L'il Red are still laying so we get about 4-5 beautiful blue eggs a week.

The beautiful eggs are a bonus!
The girls on the high roost
We don't use a lot of eggs, so they have supplied us well. And it makes me smile to look in the fridge and see blue eggs!

They will spend winter up by the house so I can keep their water fresh and tend to them as the winter rolls in. In the Spring, before planting the garden they will be moved back into the garden and put to work scratching around and having a bug feast on the early spring bugs. The first garden bed they cleaned this fall had Proteknet insect netting over it this summer and in May I found three Large Yellow Underwing Moths trapped inside. They are the culprits of the climbing cutworm so I was happy to get the chickens in there to find any eggs and pupae. I wrote a Post about the climbing cutworm Pupae in 2016 and will write a post in the Spring about the Moths that I found. I'm so happy to finally have a secure 'Chicken Emporium' and my new organic garden cleaning crew!!

Until next time ... Bon App├ętit ... stay healthy, be safe, wear a mask and take good care!

Photos by Sally Rae 
'Chicken Emporium' design coordinator - Sally Rae 
'Chicken Emporium' construction assistance and supervised by Sally Rae

2 comments:

  1. Thanks JP!! Anyone who has been caretaker for a flock of chickens knows how intellectual and entertaining they are! I love watching and listening to their antics!

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