Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Gardening with cats and chickens

Destructive, nous?
Although cats are a gardener's friend in some ways, mainly through eliminating hungry rodents, they can also be destructive. The main problem with felines and gardening is their litter box habits: they like to dig and cover over their deposits, disregarding any seedlings or plants in their way.

Another issue is accidental damage while playing hard: a wild chase through the broad beans, wrestling in the chard.

Cat-protected heathers
When we planted our heather slope we soon found several specimens had been unceremoniously covered over with earth. Since we'd just dug up a lot of old slate roof tiles they immediately got redeployed, making a stylish cat protection barrier around the heathers. This has proved very effective - and it's suppressing weeds and keeping in moisture, too.

Previously a litter box

If you're planting out small seedlings protection is easy: surround them with a bottomless plant or yoghurt pot, put an upside-down wire or hanging basket on top or use glass cloches.

It's a bit trickier when you're sowing direct. In a raised bed you can net over the entire bed: simply pop in some hoops and peg down the netting over top. Otherwise we haven't come up with anything better than using string at cat height along the row. This marks the row and makes it a bit inconvenient for cats to stop for a comfort break. The string has to be quite taut.

String along a row - a bit higher than ideal
Besides protecting individual plants, you should also provide an approved spot where cats can relieve themselves. Ideally near the house and the cat flap. Any freshly dug soil will be investigated. With a bit of luck, they will mainly go there, but out on patrol anything goes...

Chicken snack
If you thought cats were a nuisance in the garden, try free-range chickens! Not only have they got wide ranging appetites (rose petals and apple blossom, berries and leaves of all sorts), they also scratch the soil everywhere they go. They will dig out small plants and bulbs and devour even quite sizeable ones if they are tasty. We've known them to decimate our neighbour's rhubarb patch.

Contemplating the raspberries
Chickens should be kept out of the vegetable garden and away from your soft fruit. That's what chicken wire is for! They can have the mouldy or slug-damaged strawberries and fusty raspberries, but that's all.

If you have to plant anything in the chicken area, think cages. Make a simple wire cage to net over or use chicken wire in a creative way.

Woodruff behind chicken wire
Cages and netting over tea bushes

The absolute minimum is surrounding your plant with large stones to stop the chickens scratching there. This might be enough for bulbs, but if there's any delicious greenery showing added protection is needed.

The good thing about chickens, at least, is that they eat quite a lot of pests as well and provide fertiliser free of charge. The grass in their area is definitely greener!

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