Friends at Larrapin Leigh on 22 Nov 2009 05:35 pm
The situation: We have an over-abundance of oak leaves every Fall. We have a shortage of good topsoil on this rocky Ozark hilltop year-round. How to use one problem to solve the other? Why, chickens of course.
You may have heard me mention my great admiration for Permaculture, the system of designing landscapes, farms, homesteads, gardens—nearly anything—to emphasize sustainability, ecological regeneration, resource conservation, and on and on. (One of the best introductions to the ideas and systems of Permaculture are the wonderfully simple illustrations in Rosemary Morrow’s book “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. But let me not bookishly digress. Where permaculture is most amazing is when you see the systems actually work in the real world)
One system inspired by permaculture here at Larrapin is the leaves+chickens=topsoil arrangement. Every Fall when the oak trees blanket our property with tough-to-compost leaves I start getting excited about all the new soil I’ll have in a few short months! This is how it works:
When most of the leaves are down, we rake the ones from the yard, meadow and driveway onto tarps and haul them to the chicken pasture. Our chickens wander in a huge 3-section enclosure (the former owner’s Emu pen…). Each section of the pasture is about 30 foot by 75 foot. (The middle section is the site of Larrapin’s 2010 home, but that’s another post.) In paddock #1, we heap the leaves into knee-high to waist high piles like our own personal city leaf dump.
Within a week, they are nicely spread out just above ankle deep. How? Chickens of course!
We toss out their daily scratch grains (known as chicken crack around our house) onto the piles of leaves. Those 20 girls—and Handsome the rooster too— dive on top of the leaf piles and scratch and scratch to find the corn. Even the lone white guinea helps out for a change. (He’s not prone to anything helpful now that all his buddies have gone to the great guinea beyond courtesy of the local raccoons—who see the guineas insistence on roosting in trees instead of the secure chicken-house as proof that God loves them, the little bloodthirsty bandits…)
This serves several purposes (multiple helpful functions is the sign of a good permaculture system): The chickens stay entertained in their enclosure, using their natural scratching behavior to locate the irresistable scratch grains. The leaves are shredded by this scratching. The chickens add their little fertile contributions to the leaf mix. Over a couple of months the leaves get more and more finely shredded. The poultry yard stays nice and clean smelling with all the leaves.
Within three or four months, the leaves are pulverized and gradually slide down the long slope of the chicken pen. Then the gardener, me, goes out with a wheelbarrow to the very bottom of the pen, rakes back the larger leaf pieces remaining, and shovels up wheelbarrow-loads of fine leaf mold that quickly composts to soil. If I leave it out there six months, it’s gone past leafmold and is lovely black chicken-poop-enriched leaf compost/soil and it can go right into the garden beds. A win, win, win. And that’s even before you add in the other outcomes of the system: happy chickens, good eggs, better veggies, and finally (vegans please skip this part) delicious chicken & dumplings!
For more intro to permaculture: Here’s a 3-minute description of permaculture on youtube by Penny Livingston. And for a look at what permaculture can do in an ecosystem even tougher than the ozarks (um, the dead sea valley of jordan) check out this 5-min video on the work of Geoff Lawton on youtube.
Thanks for stopping by Larrapin Garden!