Berkshire in the UK can be a dim, damp and fairly depressing place right now. It is January and we are in lockdown and it is winter although the weather has been much warmer than expected.
Inspiring the children to get out and get involved in growing our food is easy in the spring and summer but we needed help this winter. This help came from an unlikely source, our chickens.
We have three rescue hens that are currently also in lockdown due to the avian flu outbreak, which means that it “is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the d
isease” (UK Government). They are not very happy and need lots of extra attention and enrichment in the absence of their much freer self-led exploratory new lives.
Our current garden did not include very much that the chickens liked and that we were willing to sacrifice but this year, our garden will include areas specifically grown for the chickens and that also benefit the other life in our small urban garden. The children have planned areas of sorrel, spinach and kale that can be cut and taken into the hens as well as pots of nasturtiums, marigolds and chick-weed that can be taken in on a rotational basis for them to browse. Planting cucurbits will provide us with pumpkins, squash and other goodies whilst giving the hens a plentiful supply of greenery and flowers that will be trained around their enclosure to encourage stretching and some climbing.
Their outside enclosure had become a mud bath so we travelled to our local community wood-chip pile and the children enjoyed climbing on to it and filling our sacks to take home and resurface the enclosure.
The chickens produce a lot of waste for us to use. Their manure is mixed with chopped up garden vegetation and used as a winter mulch with their used straw on the top to further cover
the soil. In the spring, we plan to change our manure use and make a liquid manure that can be poured onto beds during the summer after a few weeks of maturing.
Our beautiful hens continue to provide us with enthusiastic conversation and fresh eggs and we hope that our planned growing will bring them a lot of joy in the year ahead.