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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!