By Mary Beth Ryan,
Happy Thymes Garden Club, Sumner
I don't know what
possessed me. After all, I grew up on a
fruit and vegetable farm and knew nothing about farm animals. I had just
purchased a home and quarter-acre lot in town. This was a return to Sumner
where I grew up (during the 30 years whiIe I was away, a freeway had taken the
farm). However, I wanted to raise chickens along with the flowers, vegetable
garden and small orchard. After a tour of the "city chickens" in
Seattle, I knew it was for me. I have learned to love them dearly and friends
sit through stories of their child-like antics that not even baby stories of my
daughters could match.
Chickens are smart, humorous, colorful, amusing, and even
affectionate in their own way. They can be a great garden helper or rip your
perennial garden to shreds. Mine have done both.
It started with a phone call to City
Hall regarding the
animal ordinance for pet chickens within the city limits. I knew that Seattle
had an ordinance which limited the size of the flock to the property size.
been asked that!" was City Hall's
response and they referred me to animal control. Animal control had no rules,
either, except that I should get the neighbors' informal approval, and keep the
chickens off the residential street. To me, that meant no rooster, a coop and
fencing, and a talk with all five adjoining back-yard neighbors. Fortunately,
we are all on good terms and they were as curious about chickens as I was.
store in town had chicks and a poster on the
wall showing different breeds. As the feed store employee picked up a chick he
called out its breed and I said yes or no based on what the adult looked like
in the poster. I bought five. I also bought the poster.
As the chickens grew, we worked
the dirt together while I
was on my knees digging and scratching. I hand-fed them worms and clucked along
with them as we worked the garden. Unexpectedly, I became the "Alpha
Chick." Friends have said I "talk poultry."
Yes, a chicken flock really does have a
order". And I also found that some are natural gardening partners...they
stay nearby, understand "no," and enjoy being in close proximity.
Chickens naturally need to scratch and dig. That can be great when you're
turning over sod to make a new garden bed. They eat the bugs, slug eggs, weed
seeds and use their sharp toenails to tear apart dirt clods. However, they also
like to eat your beet greens, chard and low-hanging fruit (they found the
They can tear up a newly planted seed bed in minutes or
make a "dusting" place in your roses. Now, they spend the spring and
summer in an ample pen. I throw produce trimmings in to them as I harvest from
the garden. Any visits outside the pen are made under tight supervision.
But in the
fall they shine. Turn them loose and they are
like machines, cleaning up bugs, overripe fruit, and vegetable tops going to
seed. Like fat, round vacuum cleaners they delight in kicking up the dirt to
gobble garden delicacies.
Of course there are the extra bonuses...fresh eggs (which
I share with neighbors) and manure (which I share with garden friends). The
coop is cleaned out weekly and the soiled bedding is stored in a covered
garbage can. Visiting gardeners help themselves, filling buckets with the dried
I make a manure slurry to pour into newly dug planting
holes. I also work it into the raised beds before covering them for the winter.
I give those girls much credit for my super-size tomatoes...now if they would
just stay out of them.