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