SCRATCHING IS A BEHAVIOUR OF CHOOKS that we can use in the community garden with a little forethought and planning.
Sydney Organic Garden's Steve Batley, who provides community garden design and maintenance services to a number of Sydney councils, has come up with a simple but workable idea that makes use of the chook's scratching to cultivate garden beds for replanting. It consists of a moveable chook pen - it can be moved by two people - and a raised garden bed sized to accommodate the pen and its feathered, clucking and egg-producing inhabitants.
The system works with annual vegetable gardens. After harvest, the pen is moved and placed on the same-size, raised garden bed - Steve's are made of UV-stabilised recycled plastic panels - and the chooks moved in to eat the crop remnants, fertilise the bed with their droppings and scratch and loosen the soil for replanting once the pen is moved on to another bed.
Planning is required to plant annual vegetables that will become available for harvest at much the same time in individual beds. By planting the same crops several weeks apart, so that they become available successively through the season, the chook pen can be moved more or less as each garden bed is cleared. It will be necessary, of course, to offer the birds supplementary feed, such as grains, to balance their diet.
Each mobile pen is supplied with feeders for supplementary feed, water and a nesting box in which the chooks lay their eggs (if kept in the mobile pen overnight). If the birds are to be overnighted in the mobile pen, precautions against foxes may be necessary - foxes can dig their way into chook pens.
The rotational chook grazing/garden cultivation system requires community gardeners to be good at planning and maintaining the system.
DIFFICULTY: Low. Can be improvised with recycled materials and constructed by community gardeners capable of a little planning and familiar with the use of saw, hammer and wire cutters.
Can also be purchased from Sydney Organic Gardens (includes construction).
EFFECTIVENESS: High potential with basic horticultural skills.
SCALABILITY: Easy to scale-up in size to larger system and to multiply in number.
REPLICABILITY: Good potetnial.
Materials: Low maintenance needs due to the durable materials and construction.
Skills: Gardening skills required to operate the system.