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Agriscaping Week 23 - The Quest for a Chicken-Proof Garden: Hoop Houses and More

I love chickens. I never thought I'd say it, but I probably qualify as a crazy chicken lady at this point. They're such sweet characters, and by far the most useful of pets, giving eggs every day! So funny squatting down when you step near or stop to pick them up, and so awkwardly endearing when being carried around like a sack of potatoes by a 6-year-old. They work hard too, turning the dirt in the yard every morning, giving all your trees a little fertilizer. And they make sure you're up to work in the garden too, every morning at 5 am - God's natural alarm clock (note: they actually won't do this if you make sure they have enough food out the night before - they're just hungry when they wake up and will make sure you know about it in case you forgot!).

But (you knew it was coming) - BUT, the one drawback of having backyard chickens is having to chicken-proof your gardens! This is something we haven't done very well so far. And having to take that extra step delayed our planting last season by nearly a month before I finally decided to throw something together to keep them out and see if it would work. Here the whole flock is salivating over my freshly-planted kale!

I used some chicken wire and a couple of PVC pipes bent over the top of the garden, and put burlap over the edges so that it could still be lifted up. This solution worked for a couple of months until...

These wily birds figured out how to use their considerable bulk to their advantage! Sitting on TOP of the enclosure, suddenly the chicken snacks came right up to them, and they just pecked away every last leaf of my kale through the chicken wire. *Sigh*...

So I tried a couple new ideas:

First some PVC pipes put together in a square with a cross-beam across the middle. When folded, it turns nicely into the hoop house above. You can see what Chuck thought of that idea! (Thankfully since she's finished growing (and gaining weight), she hasn't done that again since I took this picture!) I eventually figured out a way to cover the hoop house with netting around the side with a shade cloth on the top to keep them out. This was low enough for me to access the garden, but the problem was that my plants didn't need the shade cloth! They didn't do as well under the shade, plus the view of your plants is significantly obstructed. And worst of all, once in a while the chickens could figure a way in between the netting and the shade cloth, and even one time in a garden, just one chicken usually ate, scratched, and destroyed all my seedlings, so even an 80% success rate isn't good enough, unless you want to replant 3 times before giving up, which I did in one of the beds this season!

Here you can see the little greenhouse we got to go over the tomatoes in one of the garden beds. It worked out but we had to open the doors to let air in so things didn't get too hot during the day, and guess who eventually found their way in! Our other greenhouse had a mesh second zippered door - if I were going to get another of these I would make sure it had that second door for chicken protection even while allowing air flow!!

This is my solution this season. The 4' reed fence is fairly cheap ($10 for 8', so I needed two of them around this garden bed) and while not super long-lived, it's much easier to work with than the netting. I used zip ties entwined in the metal wires to create loops that can be clipped to the back trellis on the wall behind. That allows me to access it frequently without harming the reeds. Honestly, this solution isn't ideal yet either, because I can't easily access my garden anymore. But at least (for now) the chickens have NOT found a way in! I think in the end, we're going to have to build a permanent aluminum frame around each bed, with access doors on the front. However, that will be a much more expensive and time-consuming project, so for now, here's how we're going to keep the chickens out of the newest garden bed!

Keywords: How to chicken-proof your garden, how to keep chickens out of a garden, garden bed fencing ideas, the good and bad of backyard chickens, Agriscaping Fab 5 Program

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