Monday, 13 April 2015

Bromeliads stop chickens from scratching up gardens!

We have been keen gardeners for many, many years - longer than we have had chickens. So when the chickens arrived there was a bit of a battle for the gardens. My husband is of English bloodstock and has a preference for grand sweeping lawns, parklike vista's and castles. (Our "Castle" is a 50 year old turret-less wooden house... mores the shame) and that was our gardening inspiration for many years - until we got real and decided we had better things to do than fight Mother Nature every summer and went for a more natural and native garden.

Chickens seem to love digging up all that grass to make dust baths and know that lush wet garden beds hold the greatest amount of bug life and spend a great deal of time digging those over as well to the disgust and frustration of the "Lord of the Manor".

We have discovered a number of ways of keeping chickens out the garden without resorting to deer fencing or roasting dishes...

Here's what I did...


This is a reasonably effective way of keeping chickens out of a patch of garden. Fill it with sticks. We have some fan palms that need pruning back a few times a year and so we pop the sticks into loose cross hatching over particularly vulnerable parts of the garden and let the cover plants grow through them.

This works well around trees where you might want a lower plant to grow around the trees base or something cover the dirt so the chickens aren't attracted to it. I have found our chickens like to scratch and dig under trees and that this method works well as long as there is a reasonably thick layer of branches. It also works with less regular branch pruning's - just not as neatly.

Huglekulture is a type of garden bed where you make up great piles of logs, branches and other sticks and organic matter, cover it with dirt and plant it out. (Here is a link to a 60 second clip explaining huglekulture) and I have found that after throwing the fan palm pruning's in the same spot now for a couple of years that the soil is better, the chickens don't dig it up and the annuals that grow here come back stronger each time. So I'm a fan of the huglekulture gardening method - albeit on a much smaller scale!

I use this method all over the place and the chickens find it too hard to get through all the branches and give up after a while. Once they leave it alone - everything can get on with growing.



However - we have discovered that an plant that is working well for us is the bromeliad. It seems chickens don't like them at all and stay well away from them. I know that when I handle these plants I often get welts on my arms from the tiny spikes that they have along the edges of their leaves. I don't know if this is what happens to the chickens but I do know that whereever I plant them the chickens stop digging up that part of the garden!


Here I have them under a tree where a log retaining wall has rotted out and was a favourite "excavation pit" for the chookies. Once I popped in the bromeliads, They simply stopped and haven't been back. I didn't have to protect the Bromeliads with wire or sticks or anything until they had got established - I simply planted them and the chickens went to the compost heap to practice their excavation techniques!


Another favourite shady summer digging spot for the chickens was under this arbour path at the bottom of the garden. I put some stick in here but it was particularly attractive and I didn't have enough pruning's to make it impenetrable. This spot was quite a battle zone for a fair few years but after I planted out the bromeliads - they stopped digging it all up! The upturned hanging basket was some extra protection for a nice wee fern - just in case the broms didn't work - but they did!



I have also found that if I start with a base of bromeliads and then interplant with ferns, annuals and other more picturesque (or even English garden like) plants I can keep the chookies out of the garden. I haven't figured out what it is about the Bromeliads that they don't like but they seem to work.


 
 The edges of these steps were a real drawcard for the chookies and one afternoon many years ago I filled the whole space with big branches and gave up on the spring crocus's. The chooks were still attracted to the pile on occasion and while I could go for months without them going near it, every so often they would dive in and managed to move not only the mulch but sometimes a decent size stick. (They must be organised just like Mr Tweedy says in the movie "Chicken Run") And again - once I put the Bromeliads in, they haven't touched the area. Now I could probably put the crocus back in or even a cute wee native that would keep our bees happy and I think they will be safe from the marauding horde of excavating chickens we own!



I don't have just bromeliads in the garden. I have used them as the backbone in many areas to give protection to the plants I actually want to grow. In this bed is mainly ferns of many types growing in the shade of a couple of native trees. The chickens were attracted to the shade and the moisture of the ferns and within a few months had started to destroy the lush ferny ambiance we were aiming for and turned it into a few struggling hardy ferns and lots of bare chicken paths in between. I planted out quite a number of attractive Bromeliads in the paths and this is the result! They barely go into this area these days.



A lot of the ferns have flourished with the protection of the bromeliads and you have to search through the ferns to find them! I think the broms are helping with the humidity that ferns like as they store the water as well as stopping the chickens from scratching everything up.


 
 I would imagine that the local critter population is happier too with many hidey holes to use to hide from both the chickens and the unrelenting heat of the summer. And some of the more spectacular broms seem to like this area too!


This area was a major battle field and was the topic of my last post on keeping chickens out of the garden. Between a pile of sticks, planting of bromeliads as well as some plants that can tolerate the heat of this previously open and sun baked patch and some wire over the most attractive to chicken parts of this garden bed - its now looking quite lush!
 
 
Again - a backbone of bromeliads that keep the chickens away and then planting in between them of the "desirable plants" and I have a lush garden that isn't just bromeliads. I love the broms, don't get me wrong, but I was beginning to think it was all we were going to be able to grow if we let the chickens out to roam in the afternoon. Being able to under plant or over plant with other plants and have them all survive has been the answer to keeping the chickens out of the garden and having some nice plants growing well. Chickens need stimulation, routine, plenty of greens to eat and sort through and a place to dust bath. Providing these things in their pens will stop your garden from being so attractive.
 
We live in the subtropical heat of the Brisbane city area and basic bromeliads are a dime a dozen and grow astonishingly well with the most basic attention. If you can access even a few of these and put them in the most vulnerable parts of the garden it will probably make an oasis of calm in the rest of the destruction that can be built upon as time and funds permit. Bromeliads also sprout new plants quite easily and quite quickly and you can cut these off and replant them in another spot and just keep planting and propagating. After a certain point you wont need to buy new bromeliads as your "pups" will be enough to fill any gaps that appear from time to time.
 
If you know of another plant that seems to keep the chookies out of your gardens - please share it with us in the comments section. And if you try this your self - let me know how you go and link to your results! 

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 to use a native natural solution!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using one of the easiest plats to propagate
Time cost: General planting a plant time
Skill level: Total beginner! I am amazed at how much neglect and ignorance a bromeliad can handle and just keep growing!
Fun-ness: Great fun to have a lush and productive garden instead of chicken soup!!

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