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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.
In case you are not yet familiar with hugelkultur, here is a quick description.
Hugelkultur is a method of raised-bed gardening, which involves burning sticks, logs, and other organic matter to make mounds of soil which:
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:
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.
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.
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.
It is safer if the ends are curled under.
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:
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.