Jessi Bloom‘s new book Free-Range Chicken Gardens seems sure to be a new bestseller, because while the backyard-chicken trend has taken off, nobody has really stepped up to offer guidance on some of the issues common to owners of free-ranging hens, until now. In just four years of keeping my own tiny flock, I’ve had run-ins with predators, plants scratched into oblivion and all of my blueberry bushes stripped bare. Gardening with chickens can be a challenge!
Yet Bloom points out that backyard chickens offer so many benefits. Free-range chicken eggs are much more nutritious than most store-bought eggs. In addition, chickens can help out in the garden by weeding, keeping pests in check, “mowing” the lawn (it’s true!), eating excess greens and food waste, and providing a steady source of organic fertilizer for the garden. Plus, chickens are just plain fun to watch.
Bloom tackles the layout of a chicken-friendly garden from the ground up, including an overview of options for coops, runs and chicken tractors. She also covers ideas for where to site the coop given considerations of sun or shade, proximity to the home or neighbors, etc. Even if you already have chickens and a coop, you’ll find some new ideas for screening the noise, odor or sight of a coop so that it fits gracefully into your surroundings.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper gardening book without a discussion of plants. Bloom has an obvious love of gardening, and it shows in her creative plant selections. She shares lists of plants for screening (particularly for the benefit of nearby neighbors), flowering plants too tough for the chickens to bother, and plants with fragrances to mask any potential odors. She also suggests plants that can provide hiding spaces for the birds to minimize the chance of predator attack. Trees, shrubs, and thickets all provide important shelter from hawks and others.
But by far my favorite part of the book is her perspective that gardening with chickens can and should be fun. While I began reading hoping for suggestions of plants too tough for the chickens to eat, Bloom surprised me with suggestions of things to plant that the chickens will eat and enjoy. Even a small garden, she feels, has ample room to plant for both birds and humans. Plus, she suggests projects and elements to add like mirrors, water features, dust bath areas and bug logs that provide entertainment and keep the ladies engaged.
I found this a useful and inspiring book for chicken-owners, both novice and experienced. The photos are so good, you’ll want to leave it out for friends to flip through, and her encouraging attitude towards gardening with chickens got me all fired up to try some of these new solutions to gardening with my own ladies.
Want to win a copy of your very own? Timber Press has been kind enough to offer up a book to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment, and I’ll draw a winner at random on Tuesday the 6th! (US only.) Congrats to our winner, Wendy! Wendy, I’ve emailed you for your details. Thanks to Timber Press and all who entered.