Gardening With Chickens

Based on all of the press I see, I am convinced that almost everyone in America is either raising chickens or gardening.  Notice I said “either”.  While both activities are a ton of fun, they are very difficult to do together.  You see, chickens will eat anything and everything; especially fresh produce.  Because of this, most people that have both chickens and gardens do everything possible to keep the chickens far, far away from their plants.

Carol and Andy KMetz in front of their root cellar. This cellar was a labor of love given to Andy by his son for Father’s Day. Note to my own children: THIS WAS A VERY GOOD GIFT!!!!!

I recently met a couple that has overcome this problem.  They have created a way to combine their love of chickens and their love of gardening in a way that is equally beneficial to the plants, the animals and the people.  I was so impressed by this very simple and ingenious method that I had to share it.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to moat on the other side!

Andy and Carol Kmetz of Sapulpa, Ok are avid gardeners that have developed a unique way to use their chickens to improve their garden and their gardening experience.  Andy grows vegetables and berries in a 60’X40’ garden that is enclosed by two fences.  The second (or outer) fence is an incredibly brilliant idea that allows him to use his chickens as a natural pest barrier, weed barrier and garden waste disposal system.  This second fence creates a 6’ border (or run) around the outside of his garden.  This run is connected to his chicken coop by an underground tunnel he calls a moat.  This buffer space between the plants and the chickens is beneficial to both he and his hens.  The chickens patrol this area and eat any insect that dares to try and move through it. They also eat all of the weeds that try to pop up.  This creates a very effective barrier that keeps weeds from encroaching from the perimeter of the garden.   In addition, as Andy works in the garden, he can quickly and easily dispose of weeds and over ripe produce by throwing it over the fence to the hungry chickens that will literally eat anything that hits the ground.

The girls enter the trench that connects their coop with the vegetable garden on the other side.

This moat idea took a while to get just right.  Initially, Andy dug a trench and placed a concrete conduit in it.  The chickens didn’t like it.  Turns out chickens are “chicken” of the dark (why is that when I write about chickens I am compelled to use bad chicken puns).  When he discovered this he dug another trench, walled it up with two deep cross-ties and covered it with heavy gauge welded wire.  This open topped design was all the chickens needed to make them “cross the road”.

The girls are in the moat. Note how the edge of the fence by the garden is almost devoid of vegetation

Andy’s chickens aren’t the only thing special about his garden.  Each year, Andy grows tons of produce on plants that are so healthy they look like they were grown in a greenhouse.  His skill as a gardener surpasses his families ability to consume and Carol’s ability to can.  So, each year he and Carol distribute the fruits of their labor to their friends and those in need.  Andy achieves these results through a combination of diligence and organic growing methods.  He credits his success to three things:  a very special compost, mulch and drip irrigation.  Every year, before he plants anything, Andy feeds his soil with a humate mixture that that he gets from Humalfa.  This compost is made from feed lot waste and blended with composted alfalfa to create a very nutrient dense mixture that is great for the vegetable garden.  Andy is so in love with this stuff that he makes a 500 mile round trip every spring so he can buy this product in bulk directly from the manufacturer.

After Andy feeds his soil, he makes sure that all of his plants are serviced by his drip irrigation system.  Once the plants are up he mulches them with grass clippings and pine needles that he gathers from his yard.  His efforts do two things; conserve moisture and they extend his growing season.   Andy has gardened in this plot for many years.  Before the mulch and drip system went in, his garden was done each year by July 4.  Now, his deep mulch and drip system extends his garden production well into August.

Andy and Carol were excellent hosts and kindred spirits.  My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to spend with them.  In my opinion, their chicken moat borders on genius.  It is a simple solution to a problem that vexes many gardeners across the world.  I am so thankful that they allowed us to learn from their experience.  I was so impressed by the chicken moat that I am willing to bet, it won’t be too long until I get to write a post about one at my house!  Many thanks to both Carol and Andy for taking the time to teach this old gardener a few new tricks!

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop and the HomeAcre Hop.  These Hops are a source of great information from some of the top homesteaders and gardeners across the web.  Check them out!

Garden Designs by July Moreno

Right now, things are pretty quiet in the garden.  Since there is not that much going on I have been out visiting with gardening friends.  I truly believe that the best way to become a better gardener is to go and listen to, and see how, other people grow things.  Each and every time I talk to another gardener I learn something.  Because of that I try and visit with as many gardeners as possible.

An absolutely adorable birdhouse made by July Moreno of Sweet Dreams Home Decor

I recently had the opportunity to visit with July Moreno of San Marcos, Texas.  July is a great gardener and she has a knack for landscape design.  Her design skills are the reason I wanted to visit.  Even though I can grow just about anything, I am greatly lacking in design skills.  My daughter and son-in-law had been telling me about how cute July’s yard was for a while so I decided to take the camera and stop by for a visit and hopefully pick up a few tips.

A red gate and purple bird feeder made from an old lamp stand let me know that a very colorful garden was coming.

Kate and Moose’s recommendation was right on target.  July’s yard was cute!  We entered through a plain old chain link fence gate that she had painted red and flanked with a purple bird feeder made from an old lamp stand.  Who does that?  These pops of color let me know that I was about to enter a very creative place!  Even though her yard is relatively small, it was perfectly set up for entertaining.  Her garden was full of fun and whimsical creations made by her.  July is one of those people that can take just about anything, slap some paint on it and make it look like a million bucks.  July has combined her love of gardening with her love for craft and created a bright and cheery backyard oasis right in the heart of San Marcos.

Add some turquoise paint, a little stain and some Mexican tiles to your patio to create the perfect place for outdoor dining

July has a passion and gift for taking stuff that other people consider trash and “upcycling it” into very attractive yard art and garden furniture (she also does this with items for the home).  She makes bird baths, reflecting balls, stepping stones, swings, tables and anything else that moves her.  July is very proud of her Mexican heritage and it shows in her creations.  In fact, she calls herself the “Happy Chica”.  Her designs incorporate the bright turquoises, oranges, blues and greens of Mexico.  This love of color makes her creations the perfect punch of color to brighten up the garden.

An adorable birdbath in July’s yard. She made the column and then covered it in tiles that she hand cut and glazed. She then attached a talavera bowl for instant cuteness.

July started making her Mexican inspired “jardin del arte” as a hobby.  However, it was so cute that when her friends visited they wanted to take it home.  So, encouraged by these friends, she started making colorful creations for everyone.  If you would like to buy some of her art for your home or yard, you can contact her through her website Sweet Dreams Home Décor or you can find her on Etsy.  She has ready made things for both your home and garden plus she is available for custom creations.  If you like what you have seen here, give her a call.  She can also help you design and decorate your entire casa!

July does amazing things with spray paint. She even paints her terra cota pots

Best Wedding Flowers Ever

A stunning bridal bouquet created by my daughter Whitney. See the rest of her creations on the Ruffled wedding blog.

I am so happy to be able to share with you some truly fabulous wedding flowers.  These pictures are courtesy of the Ruffled wedding blog.  Now it is not uncommon for Ruffled to showcase truly stunning wedding flowers, its what they do.  However, what makes these arrangements better than most is the fact that they were created by a young Master of Horticulture named Whitney White.

Whitney is my daughter and I am very proud of her.  I know where she got her love of flowers but I have no idea where she got her ability to arrange them into such beautiful designs.  I am truly in awe of her talents.

Whitney works for the hippest floral design firm in Dallas.  Bows and Arrows is a small Dallas design firm (voted best in DFW last year) that is getting a lot of big press.  They have been featured in Martha Stewart’s Wedding magazine, several other local and national publications, and on the largest wedding blogs on the web.  This video is from today’s post on Ruffled.  Ruffled is one of the top ten wedding blogs and it receives thousands of hits per day.

Whitney came up with the theme for this shoot, found the location, arranged all of the participants and did all of the floral work.  As you can see from this link the results were amazing (click the link to see the full shoot at “Ruffled”

I am very proud of Whitney.  She has worked very hard for very long to get to this point.  She had a dream and she did what it took to see it through.  I love you Whit and I am so proud of you!

Red and Yellow Kill A Fellow

Yesterday was a very sad day for me.  You see, I lost the best gardening partner I have ever had; my wife.  Now before you get all teary eyed, realize that she did not die.  No, Sally is still very much alive.  However, something happened yesterday that has me convinced that her gardening days are over.

Since yesterday was an uncharacteristically cool and cloudy July day, Sally and I decided that it would be the perfect time to catch up on some much needed weeding in the flower beds.  Sally and I are a great little weed pulling team.  We have worked these beds enough together that we can very quickly and efficently strip a bed of all unwanted plant material.  Yesterday was no exception.  Spurred on by the cool temps, we quickly built up a nice pile of weeds.  The pile was bigger than either of us could comfortably carry to the burn pile so I went to the garage and got out the wheelbarrow.  When I reached down and picked up the pile I was VERY surprised to find a CORAL SNAKE slithering through the pile of weeds in my hand!  Now I am not a snake hater.  Heck, I am not even scared of most snakes.  But this was different.  This one could kill me and that realization occured to my brain as soon as it saw those bright bands of color gliding through my hands.

Luckily for me, coral snakes are not very aggresive.  If there had been a copper head or rattler in that pile of weeds I would have been very bit very quickly.  However, this little guy only wanted to get as far away from me as quickly as he could.  Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t fast enough.  I never kill snakes; unless they are poisonous!  And since coral snakes are the most poisonous snake in North America, this guy had to die.

There are lots of myths and wives tales concerning coral snakes.  The most common one goes like this “Because of their small size, they can’t bite you except in little skinny places on your body like a little finger or the flap of skin between your thumb and index finger.” THIS IS FALSE!!!!  A coral snake can and will bite you anywhere you give him an opening.  If you try and pick up a coral snake by its tail, it will climb its own body to give you a bite that is at the least, painful and at its worst, deadly.  So never, ever try and pick one up by the tail, even if you think it is dead.  Also remember that when a snake dies, it’s muscles twitch and contract for quite a while after you kill it (this guy twitched for over an hour).  Because of this, snakes can actually still bite you after they are dead.  Due to this, you should never, never, never pick one up by the tail unless you are certain it is “dead still” or it’s head has been removed and disposed of.  It would be awfully embarrassing to get to heaven and have to explain to St. Peter that you got killed by a bite from a dead snake!

All joking aside, finding this snake in my flower bed is very bad news for me.  Because of this little incident, I am certain that I have forever lost my wife as a weeding partner.  Sally is deathly afraid of snakes.  I can no longer brush off her fears and tell her there is nothing out there to worry about.  She now knows very well that there are things out there that can kill her and she is in no hurry to die.  So, thanks to this brightly colored, 25″ long snake, my gardening work load has been increased. Not only have I lost my partner, but my own output will be greatly reduced because now, each time I get on my knees to pull weeds, I will be doing just as much snake hunting as weed pulling!