Amelia has been an avid gardener since childhood and enjoys experimenting with natural and sustainable gardening methods.
Chickens Love to Peck and Claw at Mounds of Dirt
It’s a sad fact of life that new hugelkultur and chickens just don’t mix. Chickens can be quite destructive on level ground, but pile up dirt and they can multiply the desolation.
I imagined my little flock milling quietly among the mounds of my forest garden, pecking here and there, enjoying the shade, and snacking on the foliage that grows in abundance. Instead, the chickens all make a bee-line for the mound where my persimmon tree grows, and peck and claw until the poor little tree is nearly dug-up. Naturally, I would rake it back together as soon as possible, but something about that mound is irresistible. Well, it’s time to give that poor tree a chance in life.
I had already secured other hugelkultur mounds with this method with great success, protecting my hazelnuts, blueberries, and cherries from marauding chickens, so I am confident that my persimmon tree will now be able to grow in peace.
What Is Hugelkultur?
In case you are not yet familiar with hugelkultur, here is a quick description.
Hugelkultur is a method of raised-bed gardening that involves burning sticks, logs, and other organic matter to make mounds of soil which:
- retain moisture,
- continually increase in fertility,
- increase growing surface, and
- lengthen the growing season.
With all these benefits, you can imagine my disappointment to learn of their incompatibility with my feathered foragers. As groundcovers mature, the chickens will be able to graze there without causing so much destruction. In the meantime, however, I need to protect my trees and shrubs.
To protect any hugelkultur from pecking poultry, all you need is:
- Chicken wire
- Tin snips
- Weights (rocks or urbanite)
- Garden shears (if anything needs to be trimmed)
It’s very simple. The task is made even simpler if you protect your hugelkultur as you are making it, but it can be done anytime thereafter too.
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Protecting Your Landscape
Before you begin, decide what to cut down and what to work around. In general, trees and shrubs should be worked around, and softer perennials and even annuals can be cut down. These can be left to compost in place or elsewhere. Ultimately, the choice is up to you.
In this project, I chose to cut down comfrey and Jerusalem artichokes (both biomass crops), and put the persimmon tree through a hole in the wire. In other projects, I have planned the project so that the trees or shrubs came up between strips of chicken wire. This is a much safer option, because it means fewer sharp ends and also will be less likely to constrict the plant in the future.
Once you’ve made these decisions, here’s how you can protect your hugelkultur in five easy steps.
How to Protect Your Hugelkultur
- Cut down whatever you decide to cut down.
- Unroll chicken wire so that it curls downward.
- Cut chicken wire with tin snips.
- Fold ends so that the sharp points are not sticking out.
- Cover ends with weights such as rocks or urbanite (recycled concrete).
At this point, I like to cover the chicken wire with woodchips, but this is optional. Over time, as I chop and drop, soil develops on top of the chicken wire, which the chickens don’t seem to bother. Maybe they don’t like snagging their claws on the chicken wire underneath.
Naturally, this method works quite well to protect any kind of planting from chickens. But I have found it most necessary with hugelkultur, because it is elevated, soft, and full of life.
Potential Alternatives or Additions to Chicken Wire
Planting a groundcover is an excellent long-term solution to the problem of scratching chickens, which can be employed instead of (or in conjunction with) chicken wire. If used without the wire, of course it will take longer to protect the hugelkultur, but it is a safer option. Here are some groundcovers to consider:
- Mints: Quick-spreading and edible. This includes lemon balm, sweet mint, peppermint, chocolate mint (fastest spreading), and oregano, among many others.
- Thyme: Usually drought-tolerant, once established. Creeping varieties will cover ground faster and offer more protection.
- Nitrogen Fixers: Clover and vetch. These groundcovers provide their own nitrogen as well as some extra for surrounding plants.
Truly, any plant covers the ground and protects it, but these spreading plants will create a network of runners to deter scratching.
I did this project a year ago, and now mint protects the persimmon tree and the whole end of the hugelkultur. The chicken wire was the perfect stop-gap measure to allow a ground cover to take off. So protect those hugelkulturs. It only takes minutes, and then you can enjoy your garden and your flock.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.