This summer I devoured Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway and it has really changed how I look at gardening. He morphs the basic principles of Permaculture and the notion of wild landscapes to form the concept of ecological gardening. Having never read any literature on permaculture, this book has transformed how I use different elements of the gardens, even the chickens.
Two of the principles of permaculture that are in use here are: minimize waste, and stack functions. Minimizing waste seems pretty self explanatory--try not to make a lot of waste; compost, recycle, find new uses for old things. Easy enough, right?
Stacking functions, in my interpretation, is taking one element and finding as many uses for it as possible. For example, not only does an apple tree produce fruit, it provides shade, leaves for mulch, habitat for insects and wildlife, etc. I've thought of the myriad things our chickens provide (eggs, fertilizer, entertainment) but this week we've added one more function--soil builders.
Just a stone's throw away is an irrigation ditch called an acequia. Historically Acequias were maintained by the community in spring clean-up festivities and a party when the water began to run. Now our acequia is maintained by the Middle Rio Grande Conservation District. Even though we don't get to maintain the ditch as a neighborhood, I love the history behind it and that we can have access to this water.
At present we do not have pipe or a smaller ditch running the water to our property. With the help of our neighbor, that will soon be a problem of the past. We're going to excavate the area in front of our neighbor's house, install and bury pipe and run it onto our property--water from March to October!!
Before that can begin, however, we need to clean out the area where our water will flow. This almost brings us to the chickens. I have been hauling leaves/organic debris/twigs out of the ditch for a few days now. At first I wasn't sure where to put all of this delicious mulch as I didn't yet have a garden. Yet is the operative word here. A few weeks ago I had dug a sunken bed with the thought that I'd fill it in with imported soil. Not necessary! I dumped the mulch into the bed and now the chickens are doing the work!
They are scratching to their hearts' content and turning all of those leaves into humus for the garden. This picture shows only about a third of what is in there now. In a few weeks we might be ready to plant!
Now if I could only build the gate to keep them out once it's planted...