This year we are very excited about our garden.... after a few years of keeping our vegetable garden tucked tidily out of sight behind the house, we have decided to let it all hang out - we're going to let it spread to the front lawn! We have all sorts of plans (we'll keep you posted with results as time goes by). The first step has been to join the ranks of chicken lovers. We now have six beautiful ladies living it up in a chicken dome on the front lawn.
So far, the chickens have been a huge amount of fun. We have spent a lot of time reading library books about chickens, found out lots of things we didn't know, and spent a weekend bringing our new chickens home and settling them in. Since then we have spent quite a lot of time just watching them! It's a lot of fun letting them out and watching them scratching their way around the garden. They all have their different personalities. It's amazingly easy to see where each chicken fits into the pecking order.
Here are just a couple of the things I have learnt about chickens:
Even if you arrange beforehand with your husband that killing chickens will be his job if it ever needs doing, you will still have a huge problem with the idea of killing any chickens if you go ahead and name them all and instantly get very attached to them.
Your workmates will laugh and you and call you a townie if you even contemplate washing your chickens (yes, we do live in town!).
Chickens poo a LOT. Actually, this is part of the garden plan, because the chickens will fertilise and help to cultivate the garden beds before we plant them.
Chickens like silver beet/swiss chard. Ours leave the pink stems but they gobble the rest.
Alongside the vegetable beds we are planning to sow chicken greens so there will be some tasty greens for them to eat. Hopefully we'll have some good photos to show you as time goes by.
Another thing we are planning to sow is some wildflowers, to draw beneficial insects into the garden and to give some pretty summer wildflowers...
... which leads me on to.....
Since August and September are good months in which to sow wildflowers, here are a few tips for sowing and growing your own wildflower garden or meadow.
For best results, you will need to do some preparation.....
Preparing your site
In any place you are intending to grow wildflowers, it is likely that there will already be seeds in the soil - when these weed seeds germinate they will compete with your wildflowers. To create a beautiful wildflower plot you will need clear the site and there will need to be some ongoing maintenance:
Remove all unwanted vegetation from the site.... Lightly till the soil surface but do not dig it over too deeply as this will just encourage more weed seeds to germinate. Allow time for new weed seeds to come away and then remove these new weeds. Either weed them out, or burn all the vegetation and then use a weed killer to kill the roots. Don't forget to leave time for the weedkiller leave the soil before you sow your wildflowers.Once your site is cleared, you could add a dusting of lime (1.5-1kg per m2) to help unlock the soil nutrients. You could also add a layer of mulch to give your seeds a loose surface in which to germinate and to help maintain soil moisture. Wildflowers are not gross feeders so you won't need vast quantities of fertiliser.
Sowing your Wildflower Seeds
Maintenance of your wildflower display will need to include a regular programme of weed control - as soon as you spot a weed, get rid of it! Pull it out or spot spray with a herbicide.
Keeping your Wildflower bed going
If you would like to keep your wildflower area for blooming again the following year, there are some things you can do to help your wildflowers establish as the dominant species.
Allow the plants to self-seed as much as possible, and then when flowering appears to be over and the plants are starting to turn brown (in Autumn), mow or cut the plants down. You could leave the cuttings on the surface so that any remaining seeds can be released.
Also pull out any noticeable weeds at this point. If the soil has hardened, lightly rake it over and re-sow wildflower seeds for next year's flowers.
Wish us luck with our wildflower bed this season ... and if you are also planning to grow some wildflowers, don't forget to pick some!
kiwimedievalist says ...
Oooh, chickens! (And wildflowers! But I don't have room for a meadow...)
Can you tell me, how smelly are the chickens? I'm not so worried about their body-odour (are you really going to wash them?!?) as I am about their poo. I know it's great for the garden, but I have to persuade my husband that they won't stink up the outside.
Carolyn, Kings Seeds says ...
The poo does smell a bit - I'd be more concerned about it if they were staying in one place permanently. Ours are only in each position for two weeks before we move the whole dome onto a new area, so that is going to help with the smell. If they're in one permanent area, you would have to use litter and regular cleaning out to deal with it. It's just a barnyard-type smell. I don't mind it but of course they're moving around so it's not a big deal for us.
girlfriday says ...
great dome. gorgeous option for moving them around. assuming you have plenty of ground space :)
Carolyn, Kings Seeds says ...
We have six garden beds that they will rotate round and then they have to go out in the back garden for three months before doing the rounds in the front garden again. We don't have a big section - just an average town section.
Norma says ...
Carolyn, you've got chickens!! I loved having them around the yard when we lived in the cottage, they were great at finding huhu grubs and loved to come inside given half a chance to have a peck at the cat food ;) Your dome looks like a great idea.
mischief says ...
Hi, Love your dome.
I have one too, but wish I had made it lower like yours so fierce winds dont catch it and move it where i dont want it to be.
The nest box on the side is a great idea that I am going to pinch!!
What do you use for a perch?
Carolyn, Kings Seeds says ...
The nesting box on the side works well also to make a "corner" to herd them into when you have let them out and are trying to get them back in. I move the nesting box out of the dome, which leaves a door space for the chickens to get out, then I put the nesting box at right angles to the dome to make a corner. Otherwise the chickens keep running round the dome without going through the door, which is amusing for the neighbours but not very effective at getting them back inside.
The perch is a rectangular platform made of criss-crossing pieces of wood - narrow enough for the chickens to hold onto with their feet. It hangs on clips so we can unclip it to wash it down. Have found it's a bit difficult to clean and wonder whether we should have made something with pull out perches so we could scrape each one down more easily.
a rowley says ...
I too have chickens in town and I heard that they like to have enough width on their perch so they don't have to curl their feet all the time so we have options and they always choose the flat surface and leave the round one. We tried the fertilized eggs for them when they got clucky. Tragic. They all turned out to be cockerels which we aren't allowed in town. Beautiful cockerels, but couldn't keep them.
They are great garden foragers and I let them out with my precious seedlings or plants covered with washing baskets or cloches for the time they are about. No snails, loads of natural fertilizer and eggs into the bargain. Marvellous fun
Beth says ...
Hi Carolyn - Wildflowers! you have my attention!
I too am trying to grow a wildflower meadow in the paddock my finance (correct spelling) and i plan to get married in at the end of January...obviously i would like the flowers to be blooming at this time...do you happen to know the average time frame from sowing to blooming?
Faye says ...
Love your chicken dome too, can you tell me where you got it please, we have one of those kit set ones with the green roof but its falling to pieces.