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Cold Season Crops | Planting a Garden in your Chicken Run

Consider planting a cold season crop of vegetables for your chickens and ducks this fall.

I was born and bred in New England, so when we moved to Virginia it was hard for me to get used to Southern planting schedules, but one year I was determined to plant a fall garden - one that we could share with the chickens and ducks, of course!

Our vegetable garden the last spring didn't fare well due to an overzealous rabbit who munched on pretty much everything we planted and the blazing summer heat.

But in the south, many winters we never even had a hard frost, so those in the 'know' in Virginia kept planting kale and Swiss chard all winter long.

I started thinking that cold weather crops might work a bit better here in the South AND I had a plan to thwart the rabbit, so I'm ready to try again. 

Cold Season Crops | Planting a Garden in your Chicken Run

My first stop was to the feed store to buy some cold season crop seeds. I 'cheated' and did buy some seedlings - broccoli, kale and beets - but everything else I will grow from seed.

So these are the seed packages I ended up coming home with:

Caesar lettuce 
Mesclun mix 
Swiss chard 
Cover crop mix of rye and winter peas 

They also had cauliflower and Brussels sprout seedlings but I passed on those, neither being a big favorite of anyone in our family - or among the chickens.

So back to my fall garden. Here was my plan: I would section off a part of our chicken run and plant our fall garden right inside the run.

That would keep it safe from the rabbit as well as deer and raccoons we have prowling our property at night.

But of course I would need to protect the plants from our chickens and ducks until we had harvested everything we would be eating ourselves and then let them have the rest to pick through.

I pulled out a roll of plastic deer netting that I usually use to section off the garden in the spring when I plant grass seed for the chickens to eat. Of course everyone was interested in what I was up to!

Since our run is covered, and only about four feet high in one area, it was easy to just attach the poultry netting to the sides and top of the run with clips. 

I made the garden area about 8'x10', which would be plenty big enough and still leave enough run space for the chickens.

I was ready to start planting. We have been tossing the horse manure over the fence into the run all summer. The chickens love scratching through it looking for undigested seeds and corn and they are wonderful roto-tillers, so the dirt in the run is very rich and dark. 

No need for any additional fertilizer! 

I carefully dug trenches for the peas and other seeds, scattered them in straight rows and then carefully covered them with the soft soil, giving each row a nice drink of water as I went. 

The peas and cucumbers were planted along the edges so they can climb the run fencing.

There's something about planting and growing, kneeling in the warm earthy soil, that brings me back to my literal 'roots'. I remember planting vegetables with my mother when I was little and walking across the street to pick flowers from my grandmother's flower garden.

My grandmother, a chicken keeper herself, died last year at the age of 99, so having my chickens there watching and being part of my afternoon just made it even more special.

Everyone watched with great interest as I kept digging holes and tossing seeds in. They were hoping against hope they would be let inside the garden area to eat some of the seeds. But no luck!

Charlotte, our Australorp, seems to be saying, 'But I eat seeds! Don't bury them and tease me like that....hmmm, maybe I can somehow get over this thing!'

Eve and Praline are assessing their chances at getting through (or over) the netting also!

As long as the weather cooperates and the chickens don't figure out a way to get into the garden, in a few days the seeds should start sprouting and by late fall, we should have a nice crop of vegetables and salad greens.

I decided to plant the carrot seeds inside the 'salad bar' that I built in the spring. Charlotte eagerly watched for any stray seeds to fall in her direction!

For instructions on building your own salad bar click HERE

Planting a small garden inside the run is something I have been meaning to do for some time now so I'll be interested to see just how it ends up working out.

I'm excited to see how my first foray into fall gardening here in Virginia goes and am so looking forward to a bumper crop of fresh beets, carrots, broccoli and all the various greens. 

Did you know that the very top of a silo is called a 'bumper'?

One theory as to the origin of the term 'bumper crop' is that it was originally used to describe the results of a harvest that would fill a silo all the way to the top - literally to the bumper. I always thought the term had something to do with selling vegetables off the back bumper of a pick up truck, but what do I know?

So now I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some nice cool weather and a bit of rain to help my garden along - and maybe I'll even feel generous and share a little with the rabbit!

9/17/2012 Update: The ducks figured out how to sneak under the fencing and get into the garden....

So I opened it up to them all. The chickens and ducks had a wonderful time, ate every bit of the greens and vegetables AND then tilled the soft earth so it's perfectly smooth and ready to be planted again!

By early afternoon, you would never have known there was ever a garden here! Every bit of green gone and the earth perfectly flat and tilled. C'est la vie! At least a good time was had by all!

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