Grower Josh Sattin// No-Till Bed Prep with Chickens
by: Josh Sattin, Sattin Hill Farm
I would like to outline our process for how I prepare an area for new garden beds. I use chickens and do not till the ground. There are many ways to prepare new beds, this is just how I like doing it at Sattin Hill Farm. I have a flock of laying hens that I keep in a mobile coop that is surrounded by portable electric fencing. This allows me to rotationally graze my birds and move them into specific areas to have them do some work for me. Chickens are great little workers and can do a lot more on the farm than just lay eggs. I have used the chickens to prepare all of our garden beds on the farm.
I move the chickens onto a new area that I want to convert. I let the chickens eat all of the grass and vegetation. They do a lot of scratching, which helps prepare the ground. They also provide a lot of fertilizer in the form of manure. After the chickens are done with their job, I bring in some soil or compost. The last few new field blocks I used some soil from some beds that I am not using anymore. I brought it over in wheelbarrows and the chickens spread it out for me. The extra soil/compost will help fill in spots, make it more level and add more organic matter. They make quick work of this job and are often done in a day or two. After they are moved out of the area, I spread things around and level it out with a landscape rake. The total amount of time needed for the chickens in one given area will depend on what is there to begin with, how many chickens you have and how big of an area it is.
Now, I have a clean slate, since they chickens basically ate all of the vegetation and scratched a lot. I mark out the beds using wooden stakes and run string lines. I then add a bunch of compost on top of the soil to build my beds and smooth them out with a rake and/or Tilther. I used 5 wheelbarrows of compost per 50 foot bed, but the more the better.
When I am ready to prepare the new beds for planting, I broadfork the beds, add any ammendments, run the Tilther, smooth it out with the rake, and then transplant or direct seed.
Also, if you don't need the bed right away, tarping it would be a great option after the steps above. It would also allow more time for things to break down before planting. This could be a great winter project for the chickens too, especially since grass isn't growing very much in the winter and you can park them in an area to prepare for the spring.