Spring 2013 garden prep at the RTCO Demonstration Garden is complete! Preparations included chicken tractoring, straw mulch, affordable compost, and sheet mulching with newspaper.
After the chickens had a chance to clear out most of the weeds, seeds, and bugs from one of our garden beds, I threw down some straw that we are using as mulch. It is good to get the straw in before the chickens have finished tractoring, as they do an excellent job picking out the weed seeds from the straw, and they spread the straw for you.
It took 3 hens about 3 weeks to peck one garden bed clean, however they only had limited access to the garden bed. I brought my chickens with me to the garden 3 or 4 days out of each week, and they were on the bed for about 8 hours each day. At home, my 5 hens and 1 rooster can clear a space of the same size in 1 or 2 days, with all-day access. I think they may have a mob mentality when there are more of them, as they seem to work so much faster when more chickens are present. This is what the RTCO garden bed looked like after the chickens finished their job:
In the bed that the chickens tractored, there is fencing bordering the bed. So, I direct seeded lots of climbers in this bed – pole beans, vining squashes and flowers. I also planted corn down the center of the bed, and I broadcast dill seed, to attract beneficial insects, and deter bad ones.
In the remaining beds we put down horse manure compost. I found this on Craigslist for very cheap, and had it bucket-loaded into our truck. There are free sources of horse compost, as well, but you do have to load it into your vehicle yourself. We laid this compost on top of the soil from last year, as the nutrients will leach down into the soil over time as it rains.
On top of the compost, we put down newspaper, and then our straw mulch on top of that. The newspaper and straw both act as a weed barrier, and also to retain moisture in the bed. When we go to plant, we will punch holes directly into the newspaper, and put the seed or the plant in the hole. For some beds, I broadcast seed with my hands, and then loosely laid straw on top (to retain moisture). I did this with very small seeds that do not need to be deep in the dirt – strawberry and fine flower seeds.