Why Backyard Chickens in Your Garden

backyard chickens freerangeBackyard chickens are all the rage recently. If you have never had chickens before, it might seem overwhelming to think about adding chickens to your garden. Well, you don’t actually want them IN your garden all the time, but adding chickens to your yard has big benefits.

Raising a small flock of backyard chickens is easy. With a little care and some protection from predators, chickens are simple to raise. Each chicken will give you about 45 pounds of free fertilizer each year – and hens will lay 3-7 eggs per week.

Just as important, chickens eat lots of bugs, weeds, kitchen scraps and other ickies. With a little supervision, you can even have the chickens do your garden work for you. Let them loose on the garden at the end of the season and they will eat up the leftovers, till up the soil, add fertilizer, and eat any bugs they can find. How is that for free labor? Their manure can be easily composted into rich compost that will feed your garden.

How many eggs a hen lays will depend on her age and the breed. Some chickens lay more eggs than others. For backyard chickens or small homestead farms, breeds that lay 3-5 eggs a week are usually the best choice. Super-layers are usually bred to grow too fast and produce more eggs than is healthy.

Chickens are available in a huge variety of colors and they can lay eggs from white to brown to green. Some common breeds for backyard flocks include Buff Orpington, Australorp, Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock or Barred Rock. All of these breeds are good layers, tolerate cold well (with good shelter and fresh water), and they are usually pretty friendly. If you like exotics, chickens come in some pretty wild shapes and feather arrangements as well. Silkies, Cresteds, and other chicken breeds can add some amazing conversation pieces to your yard as well!

You do not need a rooster to get fresh eggs. Roosters are loud, and can sometimes be very aggressive, so many home chicken flocks are simply hens. Hens will lay eggs whether a rooster is there or not. If you do have a rooster, the eggs will be fertile but you can still gather them and use them with no problems. Even fertilized eggs won’t turn into chicks without a warm hen on them for 3 weeks.

If your yard is not suitable for free-range chickens, you can use a chicken coop with a small run or exercise area. Even better, use a portable coop and run or a chicken tractor (portable chicken enclosure) that can be moved from place to place. This way your chickens get the fresh ground they love to scour for bugs and weeds, and you don’t have to clean up any mess. Some avid gardeners even size a chicken tractor to fit over their garden beds. Then they can rotate the beds or have the chickens clean up the area for them.

Chickens love to dig and scratch, and they will eat your tomatoes and other garden delights if allowed to do so. So, you’ll want to house the chickens away from your garden – or put a 4 foot fence around the garden and let the chickens run free.

You will need a safe place to lock the chickens up at night – they are sitting ducks – er, sitting chickens for raccoons, foxes, coyotes, neighborhood dogs, and other predators. They will need a nest box for laying eggs – this can be a wooden box or even a plastic bin with an entrance hole. They will need constant access to fresh water and food.

Many chicken breeds are very friendly. With patience and regular handling, many breeds will become docile and happy pets. They like to be held and petted. If you train them to come to you when you call them for food, you can easily lead them back to their coop at night or just to come to you when you want them.

Many cities have passed ordinances in recent years making it possible for even urban families to own chickens in some areas. You’ll need to check into your local laws. Some limit the placement of the coop to a certain number of feet from the house or property line, for instance. Others limit the number of chickens you may have.

There is so much more to know about chickens and raising them. There are several good books available as well as other resources. I’ll be adding more info over the next few weeks. Here is one popular backyard chicken guide.

The Food4Wealth Garden: Easiest Gardening Method Ever?

food4wealth systemI just finished reading the Food4Wealth 8 hour garden book (all 98 pages!). I have been reading just about everything I can get my hands on about gardening for over 30 years (yes, I was an odd child, LOL). This method is new and makes so much sense. To my surprise, it is a very well-thought out system that incorporates a number of proven gardening techniques to create a whole new method that takes away most of the work of gardening.

The author, Jonathan White, is an Australian horticulturist and plant-scientist with more than 20 years of experience and garden testing under his belt. This is a science-based method that has been tested – not just some hokey plan to sell some books. He teaches us how to take advantage of nature instead of fighting against it. Very smart.

Seriously, this could be the easiest garden method I have ever seen. There is no digging required. No weeding. No need for chemical fertilizers. You only have to build one raised bed if you wish – and that is optional! It is not the same thing as traditional organic gardening – that is very work intensive.

Due to the unique planting design, there is very little maintenance once the garden is established. This is particularly important to me this year since I have my hands pretty full with my businesses, my family obligations, and some new projects I have taken on this year. I am so looking forward to an easier garden plan that won’t require crazy amounts of my time.

This is even easier than square foot gardening – which I have been practicing for years. I am convinced that this method will make my garden more productive than ever. We have a pretty rough climate here in the Rocky Mountains. We are 4,500 feet above sea level. The summer days are long, dry and hot, the winters are cold, dry and harsh. Wind is a constant issue – drying out our garden.

Some of my square foot gardening boxes were too shallow to keep our plants moist in the heat of our drought this past summer. Despite my best efforts (and a lot of money into garden box soil mix) daily watering was not enough for many of our veggies. Since I already have the investment in these boxes I just plan to stack them this year so they are twice as deep. But, that will reduce our available space so I am going to put in a sizeable Food4Wealth garden as well. Since it is not a big investment of time or money, I can easily add about 4 times as much garden space for what I paid for two garden boxes with soil mix last year.

With the Food4Wealth 8 Hour Garden I believe we’ll have a much better yield this summer. The soil method is much cheaper than the garden box mix used in Square Foot Gardening. It also contains more organic matter that will hold onto moisture better, and the plant spacing recommendations will help to shield the soil.

One of the reasons this method is so appealing to me is that the author focuses a lot of attention on retaining soil structure. Most people don’t think about soil structure at all, but it is vitally important in how your plants get nutrition and water from the soil. As a garden plot matures, soil becomes a living community that helps to make nutrients more available to the roots of your plants. Beneficial bacteria, fungi and insects such as worms all work together to create healthy soil. When you dig that soil up, you are destroying the community and it takes time to rebuild.

In a moist climate, that rebuilding process happens faster. Here in the desert, that rebuilding takes a lot longer. The Food4Wealth program takes advantage of a method I have used before – in fact I used a similar method to turn my Virginia townhouse front yard into a thriving flower and vegetable garden without ANY digging. However, I learned some new tricks in this book.

I had not really found the old soil-building method practical for vegetable gardening in my Utah climate. With a few new tips and tricks though, I am ready to launch my new spring garden that looks to be the easiest garden I have ever created. If you are looking for a super easy method to grow as much food as your family can eat, check this book out. It comes with project planning sheets, materials lists, and videos to help you get started as simply as possible.

Be sure to check back to see my results over the summer. I’d love to hear from you about how Food4Wealth works out for you as well. Oh, and it comes with a money-back guarantee so you can return it if you decide it is not right for you.

You can check it out here: Food4Wealth 8 Hour Garden

Recycle Vegetables – Grow More From What You Have

sprout avocado seedRecycle vegetables? Part of saving money and respecting your resources is reusing everything you can. Most of us throw away things like sprouted potatoes and garlic gone to sprouts. Sure, you can compost them – but there is a better way to reuse many root vegetables. I just saw a post on Raw Food Energy Benefits that got me thinking. The article is about regrowing celery from the bunches you buy in the grocery store. I had never heard of doing that before and it reminded me of some of the other vegetables that can be “recycled.”

Regrowing celery from the parts you would normally throw away makes a lot of sense. Why buy tiny seedlings when you can start a bunch of celery plants over the next few weeks? A tiny green army – all ready to go out in the garden come spring. This method really got me excited since I have not had much luck starting celery from seeds and with a nice root base like this it would surely do better in our super-dry climate. I’ll be sure to update when I have some experience with this method.

Meanwhile, take a look around your kitchen. Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes can all be grown in the garden if they go green or start to sprout. Potatoes are the easiest. Just chunk them up with at least 2 or 3 “eyes” on each piece. Let them dry a bit to seal the sides – then plant them in your garden. Potatoes can be put out about 4 weeks before your last frost date. Don’t use moldy or rotten potatoes, as you may transfer a fungus to your garden bed.

Starting sweet potatoes takes a little more effort, but the rewards are great. You can get dozens of sweet potato plants from one sprouted sweet potato. You can read more about how to use sweet potatoes in your garden in this article.

Garlic and onions can also be grown into healthy garden plants. If they start to sprout, the flavor changes and the bulbs are soft and not so appealing. Tuck them into the garden and in a few weeks you’ll have delicious green onion or garlic tops you can harvest. Garlic is usually left to overwinter in the garden and is harvested the next spring. Onions will grow into bigger and more pungent bulbs and will also go to seed if allowed – giving you lots of volunteer onions the next year.

Beets and turnips can be replanted as well. The roots will be tougher than most people like, but the tops will regrow – giving you delicious beet or turnip greens in a few weeks.

Pineapple tops can also be regrown into pineapple trees as well. They must be kept indoors in cooler climates, but they make nice houseplants. You can learn to sprout a pineapple tree here. You might not get any pineapples, but it still a fun project and an interesting plant to grow.

Avocado seeds will also sprout into nice plants. Again, it takes a very long time to grow avocados, so it might not fruit for you, but it is a fun houseplant. You can learn to sprout avocado seeds here.

Of course, any other vegetables and fruits that are past their prime can be put into your compost bin. Add a comment below if you know of other vegetables or fruits that you can regrow.

Small Space Gardening

vertical gardening containerSmall space gardening can be tough. If you are not blessed with a huge yard or if your huge yard is not the most garden-friendly, small space gardening can help you grow a lot in a little area. Although I have lots of actual space, due to our really bad soil (more rocks than hard clay, no actual dirt) and other gardening issues we have to use much less space than is actually available. So, we use raised beds and container gardens.

This idea for a whiskey-barrel strawberry planter is perfect for growing a lot of strawberries in a small space. Strawberries are a perfect container garden plant since they stay pretty compact. I have also seen strawberries grown in a 55-gallon plastic drum that had holes drilled into the sides for planting the strawberries. Lots of space, but not as aesthetically pleasing as the whiskey barrel cascade idea. This planter would also work well for herbs or vining plants like cucumbers or peas. Just add a trellis to grow the plants on.

Of course, a trellis is the perfect solution for small spaces. Vertical gardening is very popular with small space gardeners. You can trellis tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, small watermelons or muskmelons, green beans, and other veggies that grow on long vines. Don’t assume that trellises are your only option, these vertical gardening ideas offer even more ways to grow your plants up instead of out. For even more creative ideas, check out this bicycle tire trellis.

Deep raised beds are also great for growing a lot in tight spaces. With square foot gardening, you can grow enough veggies for your whole family in just a couple of 4 foot square beds. But, what if you have even less space than that? Containers can be planted on balconies, beside walkways, or even on a tiny porch. If you have very little space, you’ll need to prioritize what you grow. Forget the sweet corn, focus on salad greens, herbs, green beans and other plants that grow to maturity quickly.

Even in a very small space you can swap out seasonal crops to get three plantings from a container. A large container could handle a bed of salad greens that would make way for green beans in the summer and cabbage in the fall. Bush varieties of tomatoes can produce all summer in a patio pot – but you’ll need to keep it well watered and trimmed back.

Even if all you have is a windowsill, you can grow a few herbs or use an indoor garden for salad greens. No matter what you have to work with, you can find a way to grow something that will make you smile or fill your plate. Small space gardens are a challenge, but they can be very productive with a little effort.

Natural Insecticides Save Birds

Pests in the garden are a real problem, but the use of pesticides is actually making the problem worse. Pesticides include anything that kills things we humans don’t like. That includes insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Not only are these dangerous chemicals inundating our planet – we here in the US are getting MORE than our share. Of the 5 billion pounds of pesticides used each year, more than 20 percent are used in just one country. The US is the single largest consumer of pesticides in the world. Scary, isn’t it?

birds in the garden

Pesticides don’t just disappear once they are sprayed or used in the home, garden or elsewhere. The residues stay in the environment for weeks, months, even decades. They have been linked to birth defects, cancer, premature puberty in children, infertility and a host of other health issues.

The use of pesticides in the US is now 10 times what it was before World War 2 – yet the loss of crops to pests has actually doubled during that same time. One reason is that pests become immune to the poisons far more easily than humans, birds or other animals do. Another reason is that pesticides are killing birds and bats at an alarming rat. Birds and bats are both vital to keeping the insect population under control. As birds are killed off, the insects they would have eaten are going after our gardens and farms. Birds may become sick and die from exposure to pesticides, or they may look fine but be unable to breed or produce viable offspring. Their eggs may have thin shells or their babies may have defects that can kill them.

What about the humans? Those toxins lodge in your liver. The liver is where your body processes most toxins. You can’t live without a liver. Your liver also controls metabolism. Some pesticides mimic hormones in your body, with effects we don’t fully understand. You see, most of those chemicals are not studied for their effects on humans. Worse, we have no idea what happens when those pesticides are combined with other toxic chemicals in your body.

So, what are the alternatives? Natural insecticides are organic methods for controlling pests. In addition, there are natural ways to control pests such as planting hardier species, killing bugs directly, encouraging birds to live in your garden, and companion planting (planting things together that can help reduce pests, such as marigolds in the vegetable garden to ward off some bugs). Using these safer methods can help protect your family and your home. They can also make your garden safer for birds and other beneficial animals.

There are natural insecticides available  from many sources including local garden centers and online. The first step is to learn which bugs are common problems in your area. The agricultural extension office or a little internet research can help you with this. Then learn which methods are effective at reducing those pests. For instance, slugs can often be controlled with a safe bait or by encouraging them to drown in fermented fruit juice. Row covers can reduce the effects of cabbage worms – as well as help to protect sensitive plants from early frosts.

You might even save money. Those toxic chemicals are expensive. Natural insecticides can be inexpensive or even free. While some do cost a lot, there are usually less expensive alternatives for natural insecticides.