Improve Soils with Chickens and Cover Crops
Building Up Soils in the Vegetable Garden
On this week's episode, Travis shows how he uses the chicken and cover crops to improve soils in the vegetable garden. He set up the poultry fence and added the chicken tractor inside the fencing to allow the chickens to cover more area in the garden than just inside the coop. The poultry fence comes with a solar panel charger to provide an electric charge net to keep predators away and chicken inside. You can adjust the angle of the solar panel based on the growing seasons to help with keeping the panels charged and working correctly in the vegetable garden. Travis plans to let the chickens forage on the crimson clover till they basically knock it all down, then he will move the fence and chicken tractor to the other side of the garden. He will move the fence and tractor back and forth for about a month till it's time to prepare the garden for planting.
A chicken tractor is usually a mobile chicken coop that contains wheels, it is small enough to move around from one spot to another as well as rotate around certain areas. There are several different designs of chicken tractors available online, but Travis built one for himself that is 4 inches wide by 12 to 13 inches long. It has a 4×4 enclosure that is shaded allowing them to cool off during the hotter days and it contains nesting boxes and food/water boxes. Some benefits to using a chicken tractor in the garden include providing natural fertilization, chickens will eliminate overwintering insects, and they can shallow till garden beds. Overall, the chicken tractor is a really good way to utilize what livestock you have on the homestead to improve garden soils for planting in the future.
Cover Crop: Crimson Clover
Travis has planted Crimson Clover to help eliminate weed pressures, add nitrogen to the soil, improve soil workability, and supplies feed for the chickens on the homestead. This cool-season cover crop is a legume that fixes nitrogen and adds in back into the soil which improves the overall soil quality in the garden. It should be planted in the fall at least a month or two before the average frost date. Planting ahead will ensure that the cover crop can germinate and establish in the garden before cold temperatures arrive. The clover should be incorporated into the soil or livestock can graze on the crop to remove it from the vegetable garden.
Other Cover Crops
There are various different cover crops that offer plenty of characteristics that help improve the garden soil. Some popular cool-season cover crops include Broadleaf Mustard, Hairy Vetch, Austrian Winter Pea and Tillage Radish. While some well-known warm-season cover crops include Buckwheat, Sunn Hemp, Sorghum Sudangrass, and Brown Top Millet. You can also make a cover crop cocktail with some of these varieties to obtain different benefits in one area. Most of these cover crop characteristics help with nitrogen fixation, erosion control, weed suppression, pest control, and improve soils. In order for these cover crop characteristics to really work in the soil, they must be mowed down or tilled in and incorporated back into the ground. If they are not incorporated back into the soil they can cause reseeding and weed issues in the future growing seasons.