In which we divulge the secrets of lazy gardening with poultry

When we started gardening at Haiku Farm, the results were unremarkable.


The sunflowers were knee-high, the squash plants lolled around on the ground indifferently, and the beanstalks were (tactfully) puny.

Oh, how that has changed.

2014:   Sunflower plant acts as a beanstalk pole,
 nearly 8 feet tall
I need to state here for the record that I am not an "avid" gardener.  I do not visit my garden daily, coaxing seedlings into vigorous growth.  I like to stick a bunch of seeds in the ground and then hitch up the rig and go riding...for, like, the entire growing season.

Fortunately, I have a staff of soil amendment experts to tend my garden in the off-season, and they prepare it for summer:

Minerva, Eleanor, Violet, Iris, Dora, and all the others

During the winter months, I cover the garden soil with a deep layer of landscape trimmings and downfall, stall cleanings, kitchen scraps, and chicken food.  The winter gardening staff

Chickens, February 2013
carefully uproots and tears apart all the plant life inside the garden walls.

They dig deeply into the soil, seeking out (and eating) bugs and slug larvae, and they mix the stuff I add with their own personal fertilizer, continually scraping, digging, and scratching at the dirt.

Spring 2013

In five years, our original garden has transformed from a pathetic plot of gravel to a large patch of deep, soft, dark, fertile soil.

Jim built the Winter Palace for the chickens inside the garden.

Summer 2014
The little structure features a waterproof roof, six laying boxes and a long perching pole inside, made from an alder tree we cut down in the pasture.  Doors at each end give us clean-out access.

We originally "roofed" the entire garden with heavy salmon netting, to keep the overhead predators out.

Winter 2009
However, we've had no deaths-from-above in the entire time we've been here, despite a healthy population of hawks, eagles, and vultures constantly visible in the sky over the farm, so we took the overhead netting down a few years ago.

Apparently chickens are too much work, and mice are easier prey.  >shrug<   Okay, then.

The result of all the soil amending is self-evident:

Summer 2014

Heavy-feeding crops like squash and pumpkins grow vigorous vine and put out plenty of fruit

Giant pumpkin, currently about the size of a basketball.
It has dozens of siblings.

To grow truly enormous squash and pumpkins, gardeners cull the small fruit from the vine, leaving only one huge gourd per plant.  However, the vines in our garden have gone so far amuck that I can't get into the garden to cull anything in the middle...so it will all be left to grow insanely for a few months while I go riding.

I really should have planted the giant pumpkins on the edges, rather than in the center of the garden. Oops.

The pumpkin vines are now climbing the fence and moving towards the pasture
 
I didn't remember that the vines grow so fast--and so strong--that they will run over the top of other crops in the garden

Carrots and cucumbers, in the path of rampaging pumpkin vines

so that the vegetables I plant there will basically fend for themselves until the vines die back in October.  Ah, well.

I stop weeding this garden in late July of each year--the weeds really don't stand a chance against pumpkin vines anyhow.

Elsewhere on the farm...

Sunflowers are excellent beanstalk poles

Last year we decided to build a second garden, since the first was bursting at the seams.

Lisa and Jim planted the poles,
and I built chicken-wire walls around the perimeter
This garden doesn't have the lovely dirt that our first garden has--yet.  

We split the flock for the winter, and moved some birds into the new space to change the gravel into garden soil. It's a work in process.

Summer 2014.  The new garden was planted with light-feeders and nitrogen-fixers.
The peas are finished, but the beans are still going!

We didn't have time or money to build a second Winter Palace, so we moved the original chicken tractor into the new garden to shelter the birds through the winter.  


Chicken Tractor I
 Last winter was so mild that we didn't need anything more as housing for the ladies, although if the temperatures had dropped for more than a few days, we would've merged the flock and moved everybody back into the shelter of the Winter Palace.

Nest boxes inside the Chicken Tractor

A nightlight (it's on a timer) to remind the birds to nest up at sundown.
The pole suspended from the roof is an old broom handle.

In late May, we moved the old Chicken Tractor and the entire flock into the orchard above the house.  They can't live in the garden during the summer, or they'd eat all the vegetables!

So they spend the summer months in the comfortable shade of the fruit trees,

hay bales around the edges of the fence keep most marauders out

eating windfall apples and plums, and getting fatter than ever.

When the plums start to ferment,
 the evening singalong becomes more boisterous.

It's important to note that the summer orchard chicken pen is not predator-proof.

Fortunately, Luna isn't very good at predating.

Apparently, our yappy dogs discourages the coyotes, bobcats, and other hunters from attacking our hens.  We have a rather random raccoon who steals eggs and stashes them in the neighbor's barn (or drops them in the livestock water tanks!), but the hens are oblivious and unharmed by these robberies.

The chickens break out of the orchard pen sometimes--presumably through the same holes that Luna uses to break in.  But they always show back up at sundown, ready to take their places on the broom-handle roost.
 
Scarlet runner beans -- beautiful and tasty


Gardener's best friend:  Luna loves beans

Finally, there's the turkey enclosure, formerly known as Hana's stall.

We'd been storing all kinds of junk in Hana's stall since she moved over to Fish Creek Farm, but when the turkeys needed a place to live, the stall seemed like the perfect place.

A "handicap-accessible perch" for the turkeys--they will need this
when they get too fat to fly. 


The turkeys often perch here during the hottest part of the day

The weeds that grow in the paddock provide some grazing for the turkeys (they are vegetarians by nature, so the bugs are untouched).  I supplement their scavenging with turkey pellets, plus big handfuls of dandelion leaves, apples, and plums.

Turkeys like to perch on the fence post and rails at night.
When the weather is bad, I have to carry them indoors after dark--
they get too torpid and won't wake up even in the pouring rain.

When the turkeys move on to their next assignment, all the straw bedding will be scraped out and dumped in the gardens.  For now, it's easy just to throw the dirty stuff outside into the paddock, where the rain washes it clean.

The birds liked to perch on Fiddle's water tank and poop into the water.
I covered the tank with a tarp and blocked their perch
with an empty  water dispenser.  Sigh.

It's a lot of work, even for a lazy gardener like me.  But the results are delicious.

"You should try the beans, they are very good here."

And that is, as you always suspected, a Good Thing.

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