I’ve just moved the chooks into a new bed, and they are feasting on broccoli that is well past bearing human food. They like the cabbage white moths and grasshoppers on it the best and have lots of fun hunting them. Moving the chooks just means moving their artificial tree roost you see in the middle, their water bucket, laying box, and the little kids pool you see on the right that they like for some extra protection if there is heavy rain in the daytime. The beds are fully fenced and netted over anyway to keep out wildlife. At night, they fly up to bed, safe from foxes or carpet snakes, and in the morning they just fly down. The little grey hen is top of the pecking order, so she claims the topmost roost high up under the roof.
Over the next month, they will clear out the bed of spent crops, weeds and insects. They will get a bucket of house scraps and some weeds and spoiled fruit from other parts of the garden every day. Over the month they will also get a trailer load of grass clippings and leaves and a few bags of horse or cow manure, maybe some azolla, and if they are lucky a few handfuls of mixed grain to encourage them to scratch through it all thoroughly, mixing it with their own manure and any of the house scraps they have disdained. The deep litter means I can just chuck their food on the ground without it getting covered in their own poo.
At the end of the month, the bed will look like this, the bed they have just come off.
That’s a particularly thick layer of sheet compost, so I’ll rake off the top 15 cm or so and pile it to turn into real compost for my seedling mix. It’s already half way there, so it won’t need any turning and with wetting down, it will be mature in a couple of weeks. Then I’ll plant advanced seedlings straight into the bed, pushing aside the mulch and digging just a little hole for each one, potting mix and all. The bag in there is a chili plant that I wanted to survive the chooking. It is fine and healthy.
On the down-side of each fully fenced bed, I plant perennials to capture the benefit of any mulch that spills through and any water that runs off or oversprays. On the right of the pic (which is the east side of the bed) is galangal. In summer, I let it get tall and lush to shade the bed a bit, then this time of year I cut it back to let in the morning sun. In the middle is a young pigeon pea, on the left (the southern side, out of the pic) is a coffee bush, and a pawpaw tree. They will never shade the bed because in the southern hemisphere, the sun is always to the north. The understory is mint, with some nasturtiums in front.
In that bed, I’m planting beans, cucumbers, and one more tromboncino around the left hand fence, the southern side, where they will climb tall but not shade the bed. Around the right hand fence, I’m planting zucchini, squash, and potkin pumpkins because that is the north side, and they are low. On the eastern and western sides, I’m planting a few more tomatoes, just yellow and red cherry types this late in the season, hoping they will continue to bear well into winter. In my part of the world, northern NSW, the climate is subtropical and my site is nearly frost free, so there should be plenty of time for all of these to bear before the start of winter. It’s too late though for any more capsicums or eggplants – they take 4 or 5 months to start bearing and it will be too cold by then. It’s also a bit too early for peas or snow peas or broad beans here – I can expect another month or so of warm, humid weather, and they’d just get mildew.
The centre of the bed will have advanced seedlings of leafy greens and carrots and beets and spring onions planted into it over the next few weeks. At the same time, I’ll plant a new round of seed so that, in a month’s time, when the chooks move again, they’ll be ready to plant into the next bed. And so the cycle goes on.