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Our Garden - Chicken House Foundation
Summer 2009

The building was impressive, over four hundred fifty feet long and 32 feet wide with a clear span. The chicken house was built for egg laying with three rows of four cages each running the length of the building. The cages hung over dirt pits, between concrete sidewalks, that would catch the litter for scooping out the far end of the building. It was even more impressive when full-up with 35,000 chickens.

After being obsolete for several years, our vision was to convert the first hundred feet or so of the building into our barn. The rest of the structure was salvaged and scrapped leaving the foundation, the four walkways and the open dirt pits.

At the open garden end, each of the three pits measured about seven feet across and about three hundred feet long. A plus is that there is a very gentle slope which was engineered to aid in the flow of the chicken sh#@ down hill. Our idea was to put a garden in these pits. This slope has allowed us to water from the high end of the garden row and the water gently flows down the slope and seeps in. This way the water goes directly to the soil at the roots of the plants.

We bought a green John Deere farm tractor. We also found a PTO tiller implement that the tractor drives for turning the soil. The tractor and the implement are six feet wide and just happen to fit nicely into the chicken litter pits.

This is our first year for the vegetable garden so we went with the basics; tomatoes, okra, corn, beans, squash, melons and of course pumpkins. After leaving the pits open for over a year, we wondered if the soil was sterile or had too much litter residue and how a garden would grow, if at all. Well, the weeds seemed to like the open area. They thrived!

We knew that our challenges were many. We live in Atlanta and the garden is near Madison, sixty miles away. If the weather did not cooperate we would be in for a disaster due to no rain, our efforts would just dry up. Another concern was the continuous march of the weeds borne on the wind. We saw how they absolutely took over the open pits last year. Another is the always present wildlife like deer, birds, squirrels, rats and other varmints want to graze on a free meal. One-by-one we tackled these obstacles and ended up with a somewhat self maintaining garden space that is fun to visit on the weekends.

The pastures around the old chicken house has been fenced with electrified wire for our Black Angus. We found that we only needed to provide a temporary fence extension across one end to keep out the big grazers, our unwanted friends, the deer.

Weeds and water conservation were addressed by landscape fabric that we found from an agricultural supply company. This fabric came in rolls three hundred feet long and six feet wide, just wide enough for the pits. The fabric was advertised to let the moisture and nutrients through and keep the weed seeds from growing through the fabric. We had our doubts when we first rolled the material out. The black absorbed the suns and heated the surface up very fast. We cut small holes in the fabric and planted the tomatoes and peppers into the soil. We just knew that the heat from the black fabric would cook the plants dead. We spread straw out on top of the fabric to help reflect some of the sun. The black seems to have had just the opposite effect. The heat kept the soil warm and the plants flourished. The fabric also seems to hold in some of the moisture. An added benefit is that that the fruit from the plants does not come in contact with the ground and is kept clean and mostly bug free.

We have also tamed the Black Angus cattle. As the yellow squash gets too big, or the tomatoes split and start to spoil we send them over the fence to the cows. They absolutely love them. When the first batch of sweet corn had grown out we cut the stalks down and fed them to the cows. When we arrive on Saturday morning we are greeted by the bellows of the Angus.  Moo!

Photos from our first Chicken sh#@ pits garden