Gardening and chickens

It may not be apparent, but it was my interest in gardening that first led me to keeping chickens. I love to garden, and I really love to grow food. It makes me feel empowered and more in touch with my body, and it also makes me feel somewhat…virtuous.

From looking at history through books and documentaries, it’s apparent that this behavior — growing your own food — was something many more Americans used to do in the past. For some perhaps it was just a chore or a dreaded necessity. I’d like to think that for the majority, though, there was some pleasure derived from the practice.

At this point in time and in this season, Americans are encouraged to work in their yards, certainly. But from the magazine and TV ads it appears that this work mostly involves creating the perfect turf grass lawn or flower bed, with perhaps a reference to vegetable gardening mainly in the context of “fresh, homegrown tomatoes.” Many people just don’t understand why I should take such joy and pride in growing my own greens or raspberries.

Well, here’s why.

Raised bed with peas, chard and beets

A raised bed with peas, chard and beets.

A raised bed with radish, lettuces, and arugula.

A raised bed with radish, lettuces and arugula.

I had some help planting these beds a few weeks ago. This past Sunday, I spent a couple hours thinning the beds and weeding. From the thinnings, I’ve had several wonderful “micro-green” salads and sandwich wraps. Yes, when I took these photos yesterday afternoon, I was feeling incredibly proud and happy with the payoff from these efforts.

Then, I went back inside to do a bit more work. When I came back outside a few hours later to head out to Stitch n’ Bitch night, I encountered a big problem.

The lettuce bed, after being ravished by the hens.

This is the same bed that contained such lovely radish, lettuces, and arugula just a few hours before. Somehow, the hens were able to squeeze themselves under or around the bird netting and I found them inside, having a grand old time.

I was quite devastated. That’s a 4 foot by 8 foot bed of greens lovingly prepped, planted, watered, and generally attended to for several weeks. I did get some food out of it, but most has been destroyed well before it was ready for a real harvest. It will have to be replanted soon if I ever hope to get some decent salad greens before summer.

I still haven’t figured out how the hens got in there. The netting was firmly in place, and I had to undo it before I could “herd” them out. And I was pretty pissed at the hens, too, for sneaking in and ruining many weeks of salads for me.

Then today I opened up my news alerts and saw a story that led me to this graphic film about the conditions in a battery hen operation in California. [FAIR WARNING: this is a really graphic portrayal, so don’t click the link if you’re not up for seeing some nasty stuff.] The group that put this together may be promoting veganism, but you don’t have to be vegan to understand how incredibly cruel and unnecessary this is.

I may have felt inconvenienced and a bit angry that the hens destroyed my lettuce bed, but at least I know that my eggs are coming from some happy, well-tended chickens.

And, I hope they enjoyed the illicit feast while they could, since I’m going to be building a rather large run for them soon that will ensure this sort of accident doesn’t happen again!

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2 thoughts on “Gardening and chickens

  1. Do the hens think they’re Peter Rabbit?? If you’re up for a light read on raising chickens, check out the memoir Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer. She knows virtually nothing about chickens in the beginning but grows to be quite the expert. Good luck!

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