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Chicken food forest

 
Ct Gilliam
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I posted this following post under "trees" because it is primarily a question about planting mulberry trees but after completing the post I realized it probably should be posted here because ultimately it's about creating a chicken food forest.
Last year we took cuttings from a few mulberry trees and successfully rooted them in gallon pots. We dug a trench and placed the pots in the trench and back filled the trench with dirt and then loosely layered hay around them to give them a little added protection from the winter. They did fantastic and are now 18" - 2' tall at this time. We are debating on whether we should plant them this fall/winter when they go dormant or if we should over winter them in these pots and try to get them a bit larger over next season before planting them. They are going to be planted in a chicken food forest that we are creating for our layers. We're leaning towards planting them after they go dormant but have a few more decisions to make. So a couple of questions I'd love to hear opinions on are, what would you plant in a mulberry guild that was specifically in a chicken food forest and would you plant the mulberries in clumps or individually? So this mini-food forest is actually 2 small runs. One is approximately 15' -20' x 50' and the other is roughly 30' x 30'. So these areas will be designated food forest and we will limit their time in them until the areas are established enough to handle the pressure from the birds scratching and pecking. The main chicken run with the coop is roughly 20'x30' and has deep mulch and a compost bin inside and joins the other 2 runs so that the trees canopy will stretch over the main run and provide shade and drop fruit eventually.
 
Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 776
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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bike books chicken dog forest garden urban
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Since mulberries are such a weedy culture in my climate i would go ahead and get them out of pots as soon as possible, since it will mean less work to have them in the ground. I have probably 20 or so in my chicken yard, grown from seeds dropped by the birds. If you plan to keep them in a bushy/coppiced state than the spacing can practically be on top of each other, if you plan to let them mature into a full form, i would space roughly 10' between them, depending on the mulberry species it could be a little less. The issues i have seen with my mature mulberry is the berries mature and are consumed primarily by wild birds in the top of the canopy. This isn't a negative, but it does not really help feed the chickens much. At my old place i had some coppices that worked nicely for chickens, each branch came to maturity and fruited at a height that the chickens could reach, then i could trim it out to make room for the next branch. With that setup i was getting multiple flushes of berries a season. A few plants in my chicken yard that work well for cover and food are, sorghum, sunflowers, black nightshade, lambs quarters, chard,and rocket. I like them because they reseed easily. Other trees im using are plum, peach, serviceberry, crabapple, and apple.
What is your location?

 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 796
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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Planting food plants (especially long lasting plants that the chickens will enjoy gathering but we would find a tedious chore) is a wonderful use of resources. Apparently the leaves are also edible and high in protein so even more benefits to growing it where the chickens have access. I've seen figs growing inside chicken enclosures for the same reason. If you have problems with the chickens being to destructive to the trees, you can wrap the lower part of the tree and/or cover the root zone with a chicken proof barrier.

Knowing your location would make it easier to make suggestions about planting trees right now.

In my climate this is the perfect time to be planting trees. A plant put in the ground during this season spends the whole winter developing a root system that leaves it ideally positioned to take advantage of our spring rains and survive our brutal summers. We don't have harsh winter weather that would put extreme stress on an establishing plant. I know many northern areas plant in the spring to help prevent winter kill. 

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that a small tree with quickly catch up and then exceed the growth of a larger container grown tree planted at the same time. http://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-and-plant-advice/horticulture-care/planting-and-transplanting-trees-and-shrubs This site (in the last paragraph) is the only one I found that addressed why this would be true for both container grown trees and those that are dug out of the ground. In short, transplant shock can kill off a significant percentage of roots and a smaller tree is better able to replace all the lost roots and so quickly resume growing. 

While not a direct comparison (his trees weren't container grown) this man includes a before and after picture of planted different sizes of pine right next to each other.http://www.yourgardensanctuary.com/what-size-shade-tree-to-buy/

Should be obvious, but don't forget to cut any circling roots. Root girdling really will kill a tree as it grows. I get very aggressive when this is necessary and have been known in bad cases (start of next planting season, buying the clearance trees from the year before) to carve off the entire outside of the root ball and the trees have survived, despite also being planted in the wrong season. Yes, these trees have been slow to grow, but they are otherwise healthy. Luckily they were for an espalier so slow growth just means less pruning for me.
 
Ct Gilliam
Posts: 17
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I appreciate the replies and you've definately given me some things to think about. I have been wanting to get this project started for several years but due to some chronic health problems and a number of other issues I haven't been able to until now. We are located in the beautiful rolling hills of southern Kentucky. I have a number of other trees and plants that I want to incorporate into this design Including; Amaranth, Comfrey, Sunchokes, Sunflowers, Persimmon, Grapes, Blackberries, Clover, Buckwheat, Millet, Alfalfa, Lambs quarter and a number of others. I've been reading and trying to learn more permaculture techniques and wish to incorporate as much of that as I can into this food forest using a blend of mostly perennials but also using several annuals perhaps in a "chicken moat" around the outside of one of these runs that they can reach through and eat but can't get into to scratch up the young annuals seedlings. I love the idea of coppicing the mulberries and keeping it more manageable. Perhaps I'll try I blend of both and see what happens. We have wild persimmons and paw paws here on the homestead so I intend to propagate some of those and include as well. We've already started putting thornless blackberry plants along the outside of the runs and will plant some Reisentraube tomatoes in between these berries along with some of the other plants I mentioned earlier for the chickens to reach through and eat. I welcome any advice or suggestions on the which plants might be best for this food forest system in southern Kentucky. Thanks.
 
Ct Gilliam
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As far as the crab apple ... Do you have a favorite variety?? I have wanted to find one that is decent for us to eat as well as for the chickens. I have seen some that produced tasty apples and some that were "spitters!" Lol! But I have no idea which is best.
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1129
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
7
forest garden trees urban
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I wouldn't wait to plant those trees.
I have two mulberry tree that started in containers,still less than two inches in diameter and head high.
The volunteer that arrived late to the game is more than three inches in diameter and I just pollarded it back to head height.
In my food forest,they will be treated as shrubs,and their primary purpose will be tree hay for the poultry.

Thanks for the idea of cordoning off sections that they can graze in but not scratch in,great idea!
 
Ct Gilliam
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So I will plant those mulberry trees after leaf fall. I will probably plant some in a clump and others by themselves. And will keep some pruned back and let some grow to full height. I like to try different things and compare and contrast to see what actually works best for our situation.  I appreciate the comments! Really looking forward to seeing this food forest come to fruition!! I'll be taking pics and possibly even videos of this project and sharing the results. We have so many projects going right now it's hard to keep up with them all. But then that's life on a homestead right?
 
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