It was around this time last year that library books began to appear in house. What they had in common was a chicken in the title (e.g. “Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance”). My wife was in intensive research mode. It had been several years since our last hen died, and hard-hearted of me as it might be, I didn’t miss them. Not their noisy reminders to be fed, their pooing on the deck, the chasing of them back to the run, the way they pecked to death any of their number who became ill and weak. Without the chickens, I had a lot more time to sit on the deck and contemplate the weeds, to wonder just how tall nature would let them grow.
But now she wanted to bring them back. Given the relative failure of our veggie patch, on the side yard, we had determined to create a new vegetable garden out of the large bed at the back of the property because it gets all day sun. A constant weedy eyesore, it is filled with couch grass, which stubbornly grows via a series of long runners under the earth and refuses to be tamed. Round Up would do the trick, or so we have been told many times, but we are committed to organic gardening. Here’s a recent conversation:
Friend, surveying tree-like weeds: You’re going to need RoundUp.
Me: My wife is committed to organic gardening.
Friend: But it’s couch grass.
Me: Well, she’s pretty tough.
Friend: So is couch grass.
But according to my wife’s research, the chickens would help to weed the garden by scratching patches bare. We’d swoop in after.
So the babes are back, three hens (Orpingtons) purchased from a friend in Ashhurst. To house them, we bought a moveable chicken coop/run on Trade Me (NZ’s version of Ebay) that we could shift through the garden as weeds gave way to soil, a device of pine and chicken wire that required assembly. The seller claimed it would take 15 minutes to assemble. I mentioned this to another friend. He immediately got the picture: “Six arguments and four hours later…” Exactly. But eventually up it went, in went the chickens—whom my daughter dubbed Katie, Molly, and Pecker—and, as planned, there go the weeds, square by square. The garden is 36 square meters of territory: We’ve tamed nearly half of it, and planted sunflowers, strawberries, lettuce, corn, pumpkins, carrots, tomatoes, beans, cauliflowers and broccoli. Each time we move the coop to another grassy patch, we let the chickens have a free run in the yard, which worries my daughter terribly, as she fears they won’t return. Maybe she senses my own hopes. Or maybe it didn’t help that once or twice I could be found over the fence chasing one or another of the hens through the neighbor’s paddock, dodging cows and cursing, not always under my breath, the busybody authors of influential chicken books who could otherwise be using their powers for good.