Monday, May 20, 2013

(Trying to) Chicken Proof the Herb Garden

My front yard and any un-fenced areas of vegetation is continually and systematically destroyed by small, feathered, bipedal, endothermic, tetrapods.  Or, in layman's terms......


I have a love/hate relationship with my chickens.  They give me delicious eggs and occasionally (or not-so-occasionally if the roosters are peckerheads) provide us with a delectable supper.  They also eat a lot of bugs around the house as well as aerate the litter in the goat pen, add plenty of material to the compost heap, take care of our kitchen scraps and provide hours of entertainment.

But they also lay waste to any unprotected greenery, especially those plants that are young, tender and vulnerable to the scratching claws of the avian monsters.  Spring flowers have to be a tough breed around here as the moment something green pops out of the ground, the chickens are all over it.  And it seems the second I turn my back from planting something, they are right there, digging & scratching up the dirt right around the base of the plant.  And the plant rarely makes it through the excavation process.

I suppose we could build a fenced chicken run.  But I'm too lazy (and I've got Paul too busy).  And even though I am constantly running outside, screaming at the biddies to get out of the gardens, I do enjoy seeing them free ranging around the property and chasing bugs.

So if I want a garden, it's a must to have it fenced in somehow.  A few years ago Paul put up a permanent fence around the berry garden and that is pretty much chicken-free.  The two raised beds in the front yard have hardware attached to the sides so I can put PVC pipes on them to create a hoop structure and cover it with netting or plastic.  But my flower garden is subjected to yearly excavation. Only the tough flowers like iris, day lilies and well-established bushes survive.  I've planted countless other flowers there only to see them dead before they bloom.

I've been working on getting a herb garden in the front yard.  Two years ago I selected a site right around the well head and planted some iris and day lilies around it.  They took off nicely.  The next year I expanded it and just threw in some melon plants (because I ran out of room everywhere else).  We only got a handful of melons though because of the chickens.  This year I was eager to start putting herbs in my herb garden.  At first I thought I was just going to have to live with the fact that any herbs would have to be placed in pots and just have a garden bed filled with pots instead of actually placing the plants in the ground.
Spring 2011
Spring 2012
But then I got a brilliant idea.  The reason the plants never make it is that the chicken love to scratch up the freshly turned soil right around the plants, not necessarily because they are eating the plants themselves (although it does occasionally happen).  So what if I denied the birds access to the soil around my herbs?  Mulching, no matter how thickly spread, would just invite them to scratch around more.  I hate landscaping fabric.  Mini-fences around each plant wasn't going to happen.  So I used what we have an almost limitless supply of; Rocks!

There is a section of our property that I call our quarry.  Although the term quarry could be used for just about every inch of our homesteading ground, this particular area has some really nice looking, flat rocks.  Perfect for laying around newly planted herbs!
Newly planted Sage & a volunteer Yarrow.
Spring 2013.....and the herbs are still standing!
The garden has been planted for three days now and I have not lost a single herb or flower to the chickens.  There is evidence of chicken scratching as some of the mulch has been kicked up onto some of the rocks, but the plants themselves have been spared!  I think I have finally discovered the secret to gardening with!

And if covering the garden area with rocks doesn't work.....I'll use the rock to bash the head in of whichever chicken I find digging it up.


  1. I love your idea! It looks like a rock garden. This would be a good idea for tree rats too. I have more problems with them digging up my plants than my chickens since I've been able to contain the chickens.

  2. Oh man, when I was still in Arkansas nothing grew rocks better than the ground out there. Big flat sandstone rocks. I think they grew better than the weeds. This year I'm going to have to fence in the garden to keep the chickens out. They didn't discover it till the end of the season last year when I was sick to death of picking too many squash and tomatoes. Good job on finding a way to foil the feathered marauders.

  3. Don't look now but you have the beginnings of a beautiful rock garden! I kinda sorta envy those lovely flat rocks of yours. All we grow around here are ones that look like gravel from pea sized too small to pick up all the way up to boulders you need a backhoe to move. Guess that's why they call our soil "rotten rock."

    You have more patience with your chickens than I would ever have. Our chickens MUST be fenced or this mama gets very cranky.

  4. My hens scratch between the rocks if they can find any dirt. I took some oven racks and leaned them against the house in a small flower bed. the plants can grow through the racks and hide the racks, sort of. But, the hens don't bother the plants. However, the hens did jump on pots with plants and scratch around enough to play havoc. A chicken wire "cloud" covers one of my beds. The circle of chicken wire is large enough around for the bed, just sort of gathered at the top.

  5. We finally fenced in our veggie garden since ours dug up our perrenialls in our borders of our backyard. We grow raspberries there, then plant yearly warm weather crops. When we plant our tomatoes and peppers, etc. we put a small secondary fence around that. Works great! No bugs, weeds or destruction. We keep it all well-watered. I do "supervised visits" only in the main backyard due to digging. Works well for us... Nancy@Little Homestead in Boise

  6. Well,living in the Ozarks, you have an endless, free supply of 'mulch'! Great idea. Grandma used to use thorny branches from roses or brambles over new plantings. I still do that now and then.

  7. I love it! I too, have chickens destroying flower beds and the garden. I literally have to baby sit them until we can afford fencing for the garden itself. This year, we put up new fencing for the goats.

  8. Brilliant! I, too, have quarry material everywhere. It's so delightful to try to insert a step in rod for my electronet. That really is a great idea - plus it's attractive. Will it work on your tomato patch?