29 May 2009

Keeping chickens and animals with your garden

I'm a solo homesteader at the moment. Hanno flew to Sydney yesterday to help my sister out with her house (a tree fell on it) so blogging might be a bit sporadic at the moment, but I'll do my best. When I got back from the airport and a visit to Shane and Sarndra in their new home, I took my camera into the backyard when I let the chooks out to free range. Naturally, I took photos of them scrambling for the bread I gave them, but I wanted to show you our fenced garden. I'm sure you often notice the fences in my photos but I rarely write about them, even though they a vital part of our backyard.

The brown top on the fence above is the plastic addition that stopped Shane's chook getting into the vegetable garden. It's just a strip of gutter guard.

We have an acre of land here and it's fenced off into different sections according to its use and what we want to keep in or out. There is a fence around the entire acre that keeps the dog in and neighbourhood kids and dogs out. We have water in our garden so it's important to keep those children out of harm's way. Just outside the back door, we have our first fenced area - that is to keep the dog away from the free ranging chooks, and the chooks away from the back door. It's also very good when we eat outside to be able to put the dog on the other side of the fence. Right next to that area is our fenced vegetable garden, and next to that, the fenced chook pen. The chooks are let out into the main garden to free range and the fenced back yard stops them wandering into the front yard. The fences need to be about 155 cm or 5 feet in height. Chooks can fly, although the heavier breeds only attempt it when they're young of if they're being chased. We had to add a plastic top to our garden fence because when Shane's chooks came to live with us, they flew into the garden. Adding that extra 6 inches stopped them.

This photo shows the fenced areas - on the left is the chook pen, next to that the vegie garden, next to that, on the far right, the area outside the back door. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

So to answer Karyn's question from the First Vegetable Garden post, we only let the chooks in our vegetable garden when it's between seasons and we want them in there to help clean out the insects, bug eggs, weeds and seeds. When our chooks free range, they go into the main back yard where there are fruit trees and vines growing, but no vegetables. Chickens will scratch on any bare ground they find and if that bare ground is around plants, that's your problem, not theirs. Mulching won't stop them, the next best thing to scratching bare ground, its to scratch mulch out of the way. The problem with this is that it will damage the fragile roots of the vegetables and sometimes even uproot the plants. They will also peck on growing green leaves, tomatoes, strawberries and anything else you usually feed them.

This is the main backyard where the chooks free range during the day.

The solution is to fence off the areas you don't want them in, or fence them in - with a chook tractor. When you set up your vegetable garden, you'll have to think carefully about how such a garden will work with what you already have. For instance, if you have cats, they will probably use the garden for a toilet - you'll either have to sit in the bushes with the hose and hose them every time they come near it, or you have to physically exclude them with a cage. Luckily our cat doesn't use our vegetable garden as her toilet but she does use the front yard. We had to modify gardens where we let the chooks free range. Hanno has placed chicken wire (there is a reason they name it chicken wire) over the top of the soil where the grapes are planted and where the luffas were. He's also put up wire barriers around the base of the bananas. You can't see them but they're there and that barrier enables us to continue growing bananas with chook free ranging near them. You can't expect your animals and chooks to think of a garden in the same way as we do, so before you put in a garden, think about your pets and small children, and you might have to put up fences to make the garden area work productively.

Choose your chooks wisely. These two - Lucy (the mother of Shane's chooks) and Cocobelle are about the same age yet look at the difference in size. Cocobelle (Australorp) never flies, Lucy (Old English Game) always will. Soon after they came to live with us, Lucy went to live in the rain forest. She returned after a week but she can still fly over the back fence. Luckily she has come to know our yard as home now so although she still goes out when she wants to, she comes back every night.

Jaz, I think your soil is over fertilised. Nitrogen in the soil in the form of manure, blood and bone, comfrey or any commercial fertiliser will help the green part of a plant to grow well and the root will just support the lush growth instead of developing. Radishes and carrots like a bit of compost in the soil, but nothing else. And don't give them any additional feeds like you would with cabbages, spinach or lettuce. You want the root to grow, not the greenery. When you plant your radishes again, mix them in with some carrot seeds and sand. Sprinkle them along the line and water in with a fine mist spray. The sand will show where you planted, the radishes will grow faster than the carrots, and closer to the top of the soil, so when you harvest the radishes, you'll free up space for the carrots. A few weeks later you'll have your carrots as a second crop from the one spot.

Julia, to answer your question about needing fungicides, it depends on where you live. If you're in a humid climate, like we are, you'll need to do some reading and your own research on fungicides. Fungus in a humid climate will kill your crops or stop them fruiting. We use them as a preventative here, and you might need to do the same. We use a small application of copper oxychloride on our avocado trees to help prevent Phytophthora. We apply Bordeaux mix to our pumpkins, squash and cucumbers to help prevent powdery mildew. It is impossible to grow pumpkins here without fungicide. A more gentle solution that may work for you, but didn't for us, is to spray a mix of one part milk to nine parts water on every surface of the problem plants, and repeat that every two weeks. It is good gardening practice to spray with seaweed concentrate every two weeks and to keep the garden clean, nipping off any diseased leaves; this will help with fungal and other diseases in the garden.

This is the side of our house where the front and back yards are divided off by a gated fence. Hanno's shed is on the right.

Here is a good chart about organic sprays and treatments and the Green Harvest page on all purpose sprays. We use Dipel, soap spray (made with my homemade soap), Bordeaux mix, wettable sulfur, Eco oil, tomato dust and copper oxychloride. They are all organic. Here is more information from Green Harvest about fungal diseases.

Growing your own vegetables is much more than just putting a plant into soil, there are a lot of other factors that come into it. To be a successful gardener you'll have to work with the conditions presented in your own backyard and with the children, pets, working animals and chickens you already have. Gardens, like every other living thing, will change as they grow and if you are to get the best from whatever space you have, you'll have to think about your unique circumstances and modify them to suit your needs.

PS: I'll team up the mentors with the garden novices over the weekend.



  1. hi rhonda great post. i just replanted radishes so i will see what happens this time. my french breakfast radishes are great so not sure what happened to the others. you can have a look at them on my blog. how long will hanno be away?

  2. Rhonda, I love the photos of your gardens and property! In Minnesota, US, your property would be called a hobby farm. Such a name is a real underestimation of all that you and Hanno have built. You have made a wonderful life for yourselves.

  3. Love that garden Rhonda.
    I quite enjoy having a few quiet days alone. Not to long though, as I really miss the big fellow when he is away for more than a couple of days. Wishing Hanno safe travel and a lovely restful weekend.

    Blessings Gail

  4. Love the radish/carrot tip for planting! I'm going to try that.

  5. I just wanted to say even thought I'm not able to garden or raise animals I find much inspiration from your blog. Keep on sharing.

  6. This the Rhonda blog I know please keep your simple touch and be the best at living simple. I know you need the money for the wedding i my self went back to work partime while my step-daughter lives with us in the summer 13yr. olds are costly. But I teach the simple life to her.WE make ice tea at home instead of buying it at the mickey D's. We make homemade pizza I cherrish the picture I have of her and I the first time we made pizza together and the valentines cookies she made for her dad and I she had more red icing on her than the cookies those are the time children remember the most. Take Care DebraLynn in the USA.

  7. A couple years ago, right after planting all my tomatoes, I let the chickens out for a bit to free range. The immediately headed straight for the new tomato garden and began pulling up all the plant markers and tossing them willy nilly, all over the yard! It wasn't till harvest time that I actually knew which tomato was which! This next flock of hens will be out and about for only a brief period of time in the early evening, and hopefully the damage will be kept to a minimum. (we DID put a 2ft bit of chicken wire all around the gardens, which did keep them out for the remainder of the growing season!

  8. I am wondering if the clay pots upside down on the posts in the garden, have any purpose?

    I enjoy your blog. I can only dream of having such a large garden and chickens.

  9. Hello Rhonda, thanks for the great posts.
    Would you mind giving us a bit of guidance on the care of tomatoes after they have been planted in the garden. I have checked your older posts and you mention you give potash regularly. Do you give them anything else other than water of course. How rich should the soil be to start with etc? I have gone from having very poor results to maybe too healthy tomatoes which are over 5ft. tall with maybe less tomatoes coming than I would like. I am not sure. Those that have formed look great.
    I am growing Brandywines for the first time.
    Thank you.


  10. Beautiful garden! I love all the fences. I also have an acre, but we're still in the process of dividing out what we want in each area. I want my gardens to look like yours when they grow up!

  11. Thank you so much for posting this info. I have a garden and am wanting chickens so this was very helpful.

  12. I'm just getting ready to plant my carrots and radishes, and am going to try that method. Thanks so much for sharing. Hearing tips from experienced gardeners is always superior to trial and error.

  13. Not sure where to post this but I love your blog and love reading about your garden! Is there a way I can get a mentor on gardening when you set that up? I am brand new at it and getting a little bit of a late start but I still think there is time! Hope you can help!

  14. I think that's a very clever idea about putting the wire on the ground around plants you don't want disturbed. I'll have to remember that!

  15. Great photos! Your chooks look so healthy and happy there. Having recently put in some raised beds for veggies this year, we have decided to fence the veggies in, rather than restrict the hens to a small part of the garden - it seems to be working so far, and also stops our three cats using the area as a toilet too!

    I love your picket-style fences Rhonda ... did Hanno make them?

    Willow xx

  16. We used to keep hens, but haven't for some years, we have been toying again with the idea. Your information is very helpful, thank you.

  17. Rhonda,
    thanks for the reminder that gardening is more than putting a plant in the ground! We finished our planting and have been just watering but then we got heavy rains so now we are doing nothing. Everything is doing well right now so we feel we should just leave it alone. We have excellent soil. Leaving it alone though seems strange!

  18. Boy, I didn't realize a person could do so much on just an acre! The post was very enlightening & encouraging. The pictures really helped. Thank you.

  19. Thank you for showing us the garden. I really like all your fences.

    I'd love to be able to fence and set up sections like you have, but fencing is very expensive! What advice do you have for people who can't afford to buy so much fencing? Thanks!

  20. Ooooooh...I absolutely LOVE your yard...It looks very peaceful, I just can't believe how nice it looks! You have some wonderful ideas that I would have never thought of, thanks! I just have a question- which gardens work better, in ground, or raised beds? Me and dear hubby are moving to a place with a nice yard- 350 ft. deep...and I'm just wondering which works best.

  21. Your yard is so lovely. I wish wish wish I could keep some chickens, but I live in a city and there is an ordinance against keeping farm animals. :-(

  22. Thanks so much for answering my question. I guess I've been too lazy and just keep hoping the kids, chickens, and cats will magically understand what they should and shouldn't do in terms of the garden! Not happening!

  23. What a great post and yard. I just love all the fencing, it makes nice neat outside rooms, each with a purpose...

    Chicken wire around here only lasts a year or so. It becomes so rusty and crushes with the weight of the snow and ice. We use a heavier stock type of wire fence.

    Thank you for the info on the chickens in the garden. Great way to get things cleaned up. I don't suppose it takes them long either.

    I guess you are right that hen pecked berries or any thing else isn't a good idea. So if they aren't in there while things are growing they only have access to the bugs left behind not directly off the plants....I see now! I can be a bit slow some times....:)

    I saw in one of the posts about not selling your soap, what a shame. I'll keep my fingers crossed that some day you might. A friend of mine sells hers from her blog and does very well with it. She is busy though about 6 batches every week, and sells out. I think she said she has about 20 bars per batch and they are $4.50 a bar. No wrapping other than tissue paper for shipping. No choice of scents, she just offers the plain unscented and around the holidays she has a special batch or two that is scented. When they are gone they are gone....Something to think about while stirring your next batch.:)

    Have a great weekend.


  24. You don't clip your chickens wings to stop them flying over fences?

    Lynda in Tasmania

  25. Hi Rhonda, my name's Leesa, in West Aus, and today is a day of celebration for me as I've just finished reading every single entry you've written! I just had to know EVERYTHING. When did 'H' become 'Hanno'? What happened to Rosie? When did you admit defeat on the aquaculture setup? How much land are you on? When did the dishcloth obsession begin? All of it. I didn't want to miss a word. And I'm so glad. Although already on the simple path, my life has changed in so many ways. The most profound being that as I couldn't justify hours in front of the computer screen with so much to do, I decided to get up at 4.30 each morning to read your words and get my 'fix'. I'd never seen the sun rise! What a wonderful way to start the day. Thanks for the inspiration, instruction, passion and dedication. So much appreciated and needed. You make me miss my Gran more and more each day. Love and best wishes to you and yours, Leesa

  26. GREAT post, Rhonda, as always! I loved the pics of your backyard and the fences. I want to show my husband your pics.

    Blessings to you,

  27. I set chicken wire under some of our small fruit trees to keep cats from digging there too. When I first set out seed and we have cats at that time that dig I cover any new planting areas with an old window screenI found in the tras. .Don't have it too high off the ground or they will get under it and sleep! :) As the plants get a few inches high up can raise the screen or opt to keep it off. At the moment the neighbor cats have decided to not go in my garden...wish I knew what made them decide to not so I could repeat this trick on new cats! But they aren't talking! :) Jody

  28. Good info. Do you get a magazine called "Hobby Farm Home," in your neck of the woods? We do here in the U.S. and I love it. Last issue had a really good article on keeping pets out of the garden. Your fences are great.

  29. Patricia, it sounds like you're being over generous with the nitrogen fertiliser. Tomatoes are happy to be planted in soil that has been enriched with compost, put potash in the planting hole and water in with seedweed. When the first flush of tomatoes are half grown, give another side dressing of potash - about 2 tablespoons in a circle over the tomato roots. Water in. If you give too much nitrogen, the tomatoes will happily grow lush green growth at the expense of the tomatoes.

  30. Thanks for the ideas on keeping chickens out of the garden. I live in Idaho (us) and love to let them out to free range. I will try a high fence along with clipping their wings. Thanks so much.


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