Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Marigold in the Comfrey, with Clover behind her.
Garlic, ready to be broken up for planting.
This year, we won the weed battle. Or rather, our hens did. No one told me how effective my chickens would be at weed management. But as I'm clearing fall beds, and prepping for bulb planting, I'm impressed. The area beneath the raspberries has always been a challenge to keep up with. Madcap harebells popped up every spring and summer between raspberry canes, waving merry purple trumpets as reminders of my ineffectiveness as a weeder. Then there was the bindweed. Impossible, nasty, twiney stuff.

Spring usually starts with me optimistically weeding the beds, confident I can keep up. But by July, I feel like Lucy in the candy factory--the one where she can't keep up with the candies on the conveyor belt (maybe I'm dating myself). By August, the heat beats me back inside and I have raised the white flag of surrender.

This year though, the hens had the run of the backyard and eventually the garden. They fastidiously cleared the weeds by the tomatoes and quince tree. Their scratching and snacking under the raspberries meant that the harebells didn't stand a chance. Granted, they did trample the sweet woodruff into a straggly mess. And my huechera (coral bells) and a delphinium disappeared. But they left most of the veggies (even the lettuce!) alone.

The side yard and front yard, however, have not been under their management. This weekend, I decided to pull up the beans and plant the narrow bed on the side of the house in garlic. Without thinking, I left the gate between the backyard and sideyard open as I headed to the garage to get a small shovel. Five minutes later, I returned to find seven happy hens toiling away with clucks and scratches and feathers in a fluff. No doubt they'd noticed my less than stellar efforts with the weeds all summer, and were happy to get in there at last and set things right.

I started to dig up the bed on one end. At first, the hens flounced away indignantly. I was in their way. But as soon as turned over a shovel full of dirt, they descended on it like bargain shoppers at the clearance rack. I continued my way down the bed, and they followed along behind me. I had to break up the heavy clay clods, but with their digging and scratching for bugs and worms, they had the bed nicely loosened (and fertilized in a few places).

I settled down to plant garlic, 1 inch deep, 4 inches apart. They continued to busily work on the soil, but eventually marched off to work on the perennial bed. Every once in awhile, one of them would meander back over to me in a supervisory way. Patting the last of the soil in place, I stood back to admire my work, then looked around. By the perennials, cedar mulch had been tossed over the garden paths, across the front walk, and onto the steps. Marigold was standing on the front porch admiring her reflection on the glass of the storm door. The rest of the hens were roosting beneath the Blue Knight spirea, fluffed out over the cool and newly weeded soil.

My garden was relatively weed free, chemical free, and I was backache free--and in fact, those weeds were consumed and turned into eggs. They are good organic gardeners, my hens.

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