Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yardby Jessi Bloom
Many gardeners fear chickens will peck away at their landscape, and chicken lovers often shy away from gardening for the same reason. But you can keep chickens and have a beautiful garden, too! In this essential handbook, award-winning garden designer Jessi Bloom offers step-by-step instructions for creating a beautiful and functional space and maintaining a
Many gardeners fear chickens will peck away at their landscape, and chicken lovers often shy away from gardening for the same reason. But you can keep chickens and have a beautiful garden, too! In this essential handbook, award-winning garden designer Jessi Bloom offers step-by-step instructions for creating a beautiful and functional space and maintaining a happy, healthy flock. Free-Range Chicken Gardens covers everything a gardener needs to know, from the basics of chicken keeping and getting them acclimated to the garden, to how to create the perfect chicken-friendly garden design and build innovative coops.
“Numerous illustrations, full-color photos, charts and tables, garden layouts, and useful tips. . . . a wealth of practical advice.” —Booklist “Exquisitely produced and artfully photographed.” —San Francisco Chronicle “Bloom’s obvious enthusiasm for good design and for her birds will inspire both novice and experienced chicken owners to create a garden space for hens and humans to enjoy.” —American Gardener “Complete with gorgeous photos, diagrams, plans, and a very well written and easy to understand approach, you will want to get your hands upon this book if you have ever dreamed of incorporating chickens into your lifestyle.” —Small Town Living “A great basic guide for first-time chicken owners and chicken owner wannabes.” —Horticulture “The only book I have seen that tells you exactly how you can have your chickens AND your garden too.” —Living Homegrown “Solves the dilemma of having free-range chickens and a vegetable garden.” —The Oregonian “Provides a good overview on coop building styles and considerations, very basic chicken care info, do-grow/don’t-grow plant lists for the chicken garden and lots and lots of gorgeous inspirational pictures.” —NW Edible “I’ve had chickens for four years and I wish that I could have had Jessi Bloom’s new book in the beginning.” —Diggin Food
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Read an Excerpt
Introduction When I first got chickens, I made a lot of mistakes. In the first few weeks of letting them roam freely in the garden, you’d often find me chasing them around in circles, trying to get them to go where I wanted, which is about as easy as herding cats. Our first chicken coop provided adequate shelter, but ended up being better housing for rats than birds. And I wanted to collect breeds just like I collect plants—at least one of every kind, please—ignoring my husband’s warnings of becoming a chicken hoarder.
Fast forward, and now our girls will come when called and even hop inside visitors’ cars as if they are ready to hit the town. Their housing is clean, rodent-proof, and an impenetrable barricade from night predators. Their days are spent weeding the garden beds, mowing the lawn, and chasing insects, between regular dust baths to groom themselves and lounging in the sun. It’s a great arrangement for everyone.
Chickens are easily one of the most useful animals we can have in our lives. Unlike other pets we keep, chickens provide us with food—fresh from our own backyard. For gardeners, chickens can be a resourceful tool as well as a companion, but there is much to know so the birds don’t wreak havoc in your garden.
There are not many resources available for gardeners who would like to know what’s involved in keeping chickens, or for chicken owners who want a beautiful garden with free-ranging hens in it. This book takes you through the basics of starting with chickens, from how many to get, to what breeds will be best for you, to acclimating them to your garden and routines. It also covers the essentials of keeping your chickens protected, even training the birds. The heart of the book has you looking at your garden as habitat for your flock, starting with the basic elements of landscape design, then selecting materials for fencing and hardscapes, onto choosing chicken-friendly plants, and reviewing sample garden designs. One chapter is devoted to innovative coop design, followed by profiles of predators and information on health care. Each dimension of the book is explored with photos and illustrations.
While doing research for the book, I interviewed gardeners with chickens from throughout the country, and I found that they all did things differently. Their gardens varied, and they faced different challenges. In each chapter, I’ve included a story on a chicken keeper who has a successful system of chickens in the garden. It’s my hope that this book will inspire gardeners to become chicken-keepers and create a partnership with their chickens in having a functional and beautiful outdoor space.
I live on a small piece of land north of Seattle, Washington, with my husband and two young boys, amidst lush gardens, dogs, ducks, turkeys, a goat, a horse, and about a dozen chickens who roam freely, greeting visitors and tending the gardens. The girls free range during the day and roost at night in a small barn with other animals. The roof water from the building is collected in a 300-gallon cistern and overflows into a trough, then into a small pond. We’ve kept all different breeds of chickens and have offered sanctuary and a home to many rescued animals. The chickens are our "pets with benefits": they provide food, fertilizer, and garden help, and they also teach my children lessons about where their food comes from and about caring for the birds.
Our gardens are completely organic, with a mixture of native plants, ornamentals, and edibles planted together in different beds, layers, and garden rooms. Our chickens rarely eat plants that are not meant for them to eat, and have never had damaging levels of parasites or serious disease. We have very few predator problems because of the coverage from plants, fencing, and protective animals we keep such as dogs. We’ve always let our chickens free range, and we have adapted by protecting particular plants when necessary and arranging for the birds to help us with garden chores by using a chicken tractor, which is a bottomless portable pen.
The chickens offer a sense of humility and peace, which helps keep me grounded. If I’m having a bad day, I only need to spend a few minutes with them before I feel good again. Their silly antics make us all laugh, and their sense of family is inspiring to watch. They have complex social lives and distinct personalities, and they really do take care of each other but still have occasional tiffs. I couldn’t imagine having a garden without chickens.
With food politics currently in the media forefront and self-sufficiency becoming mainstream, victory gardens are being built again everywhere, and across the country citizens are banding together to legalize poultry in their backyards. More and more, chickens are becoming part of our gardens, providing us with fresh eggs, but their strengths as garden helpers are often overlooked.
Chickens are terrific gardening assistants with natural soil-building capabilities, and they help to manage pests and weeds. Much like other pets we keep, they are easy to care for, can be trained to come when called or to do tricks, and some people even bring them inside their homes much like other domesticated birds. Owning chickens has become appealing to a wide audience, from young families who are homesteading to baby boomers with empty nests who are looking for new hobbies and interests. Seasoned gardeners are now looking into getting chickens and wondering how to take full advantage of their benefits while protecting their gardens and hard-earned crops.
Chickens have long been an integral part of human society and the food chain. Easily the most useful animal we ever domesticated, chickens require very little care and land compared to other livestock. They are one of the oldest domesticated animals, originating in Asia, with history dating back at least 5000 years. The Wild Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which looks similar to a Brown Leghorn but smaller, is thought to be the oldest ancestor of today’s domestic chicken (Gallus domesticus).
Chickens are gallinaceous: they stay close to their home residence and roost there at night, unlike many common wild birds that migrate. This trait makes them ideal for living symbiotically with us and enables us to allow them to free range. Letting them live as they would naturally is good for their health and well-being, but needs some planning.
Meet the Author
Jessi Bloom is an award-winning ecological landscape designer whose work emphasizes ecological systems, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. She is a certified professional horticulturalist and certified arborist, as well as a long-time chicken owner with a free-ranging flock in her home garden. Owner of Pacific Northwest-based landscape design-build firm N.W. Bloom—EcoLogical Landscapes, Jessi has been praised as an innovator in sustainable landscape design. Recognition for her work includes awards from the Washington State Department of Ecology, American Horticultural Society, Pacific Horticulture magazine, Sunset, 425 magazine, the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, the Washington Association of Landscape Professionals, and the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, including gold medals and the People's Choice award.
Kate Baldwin is a food and lifestyle photographer in Seattle, Washington, whose work appears frequently in advertisements, magazines, and books, and can be seen at www.katebaldwinphotography.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I just spent a long time perusing this book in the bookstore. It's beautiful and very informative. I've ordered a copy, and cannot wait to receive it. We live in a very small city, with a very small yard, and this lovely book has so many tips and bits of information as well as entertainment, not to mention being filled with wonderful pictures. I had wondered just how to arrange my gardens now that the hens have de~greened the whole thing, and I have lots of ideas to explore now! Highly recommeded!
I bought this book twice! This one was for a gift. It is a great book. I love the was it is written (very easy read) Great Ideas for anyone who wants to have free range chickens and a nice looking garden I would recommend this book!