WISH ME CLUCK... Three ex-bat­tery birds en­ter the gar­den and take a peck at the plants on of­fer

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Keep­ing chick­ens had al­ways been a de­sire of mine but I’d never been al­lowed. Lock­down fo­cused the mind – it’s now or never for many things. I have a pretty gar­den, I have some space and the abil­ity to give ex-bat­tery chick­ens a new lease of life.

I’m also mak­ing a tele­vi­sion se­ries that needs con­tent so de­spite the op­po­si­tion of the Govern­ment (aka her in­doors), I’ve got my way. And I’m not alone – there are now wait­ing lists for hens due to high de­mand.

Paul, who I work with, is from a farm­ing back­ground – hens were sec­ond na­ture to him – and be­cause gar­dens and plants were first na­ture to him, he con­vinced me that they were the per­fect part­ners.

So a cou­ple of weeks ago I took de­liv­ery of three hens, res­cued from a bat­tery farm, and in­stalled them in the new coop.

In ad­vance I’d fenced off an area of the gar­den. This is to pro­tect them from preda­tors and the rest of my gar­den from be­ing hen-pecked.

Hens can cause dam­age in the gar­den so I’ve been learn­ing from Paul what plants to grow and what to avoid.

It’s also go­ing to be a mat­ter of trial and er­ror and al­ready some plants have been tram­pled.

How­ever, in terms of cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis, I’m happy to trade some herba­ceous plants for those de­li­cious daily fresh eggs.

There are other ben­e­fits to the gar­den. Hens are fan­tas­tic at hoover­ing up slugs and other pests so I’ll prob­a­bly let them go free range around the whole plot oc­ca­sion­ally to do a bit of pest con­trol.

Their ma­nure will also be a valu­able fer­tiliser. Like other an­i­mal ma­nure such as horse ma­nure, it shouldn’t be used fresh as this can burn plants.

It’s best mixed in with other gar­den com­post where it ac­cel­er­ates the com­post­ing process.

Even then it tends to be quite al­ka­line so it’s best not used around your er­i­ca­ceous plants such as rhodo­den­drons, aza­leas, camel­lias and many heathers.

Hens will eat al­most any plant if they’re hun­gry enough but they are not overly fond of pun­gent tastes so any­thing herby may sur­vive.

I sited the chicken run where my herb gar­den is and so far they aren’t tuck­ing into any of the rose­mary, sage, chives, le­mon balm, mint, thyme or bay. They have, how­ever, quickly dec­i­mated the hostas, sweet peas and echi­naceas and there’s no point grow­ing any leafy veg here as that would be ir­re­sistible to them.

The aga­pan­thus is do­ing well, so ma­genta pink, laven­der blue and white, or this Sky Blue. Keep dead­head­ing in sum­mer to main­tain a neat ap­pear­ance and en­cour­age more blooms. far at least. I’ve been told daf­fodils and other spring bulbs such as cro­cus, snow­drops, hy­acinths, blue­bells and tulips should be fine, so to keep some flow­ers in the area I’ll be plant­ing bulbs here in the au­tumn.

Prickly ev­er­green shrubs such as holly will prob­a­bly be last on their menu so could form a use­ful bar­rier in ar­eas you don’t want them to roam.

There are many or­na­men­tal salvias which should be fine, as well as laven­der and achil­lea, both of which are fra­grant when crushed.

Roxie and Bowie, my two dogs, are cu­ri­ous about these new com­pan­ions but I’ll let the hens set­tle in be­fore we es­tab­lish the new peck­ing order!

For more in­for­ma­tion on poul­try, get in touch with Bri­tish Hen Wel­fare Trust (bhwt.org.uk), which has re­homed around 750,000 com­mer­cial hens.

Cro­cuses Rul­ing the roost: Diar­muid and the new ad­di­tions to his gar­den

Cu­ri­ous: Diar­muid’s dogs Bowie (right) and Roxie

Daf­fodils

DEADHEAD roses to tidy up and en­cour­age new flow­ers. IN THE veg gar­den, as well as har­vest­ing you can be sow­ing seeds – let­tuce, beet­root, Swiss chard, spring onions, swede and

Galan­thus snow­drops

KEEP an eye out for po­tato blight. The main symp­tom is leaves turn­ing brown and rot­ting. Cut off the foliage and burn if pos­si­ble to stop dis­ease spread­ing.

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