A Secret in July

July 27, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Gardening, Summertime, Vermont

The chickens are nosing around the garden looking for worms and bugs and fallen delicacies from
the plants. They waddle and scratch, cluck a little and then scratch some more.
I have a secret. It’s a garden secret. I think as someone with garden I must have taken a vow not to tell it. But I don’t remember the promise and so I am going to tell it to you now. I won’t even tell you not to tell. Ready?
Gardens are not hard work.
I know you don’t believe me. After all we have been spoon fed the breaking back stories all our lives, right? Well, I at least have not found the garden to be a place of especially hard work or strenuous weeding muscle stretching pain, which all the gardeners I have ever known have told me it would be. They mention various aches and explain with that little nodding half sentence that they’ve been weeding in the garden all morning. They don’t even have to say weeding. They just say, “Ooh, I’ve been in the garden all morning” with a wince and a bent over shuffle and everyone instantly understands and feels a little humbled. Or they bring you a basket of tomatoes and say they’ve got to run along..they have to stay ahead of those weeds you know. And the husbands of the gardeners I know mention wives who spend hours in the garden every morning before the heat of the day to stay ahead of the weeds.
I think they just go there to be alone with their coffee and enjoy their lovely gardens uninterrupted by requests from the family.
When I planted this thing I wondered how I would keep up with it all. I feared a garden that looked
like a hung-over back alley and fully intended to keep it away from the prying eyes of the Ladies Who Lunch around our town. Only now I show it to everybody. Sometimes I lure people from the bank or the post office so I can bask in their praise. “You want some broccoli or a few tomatoes”, I might chime. They wonder how I have found the time…
Well, I haven’t. I did plant everything six or eight inches closer together than the books said I should. (This was mainly because I had too many plants and was tired of digging the plot) Our plants seem happy enough. They are producing like crazy. I mixed them up putting Brussels sprouts next to broccoli, climbing things next to ground crawlers so that they would be less likely to miss the room. And it turns out there just isn’t any space for the weeds.
Now the farmers up here say the real work comes early when the plants don’t block the weeds, and you have to weed every day to protect the tender little things from being taken over. These are mostly fancy organic Vermont farmers. Well, I just put three or four chickens in my garden in the morning and a sprinkled a little corn around on the ground. They scratched like crazy and nary a weed ever showed up. The corn insured they’d keep away from the plants and their clucking scratching shuffle insured no weed every made it up.
It has been a grand partnership. These girls earn their keep. I still let them in a couple of mornings a week. Occasionally they find a tomato before me, but the paths between my plants are pristine and I have my girls to thank for it.
This chicken farmer partnership must be an old idea. I am sure I didn’t invent it. But I am grateful to have stumbled upon it. My back doesn’t ache and all I have to do is pick and decide what’s to eat. Yesterday we had a fresh egg fritata with garden tomatoes, onions, and basil. Today I think we’ll have bacon, basil, and tomato sandwiches with a little lemon flavored Mayo. And I’ll slice up some cucumbers for the water in case it gets hot. Then we’ll sit on the porch and feel smug about this fabulous garden for a while. Because it’s July and in July one doesn’t dare move around too much….


  • molls

    I have two tomato plants in pots. I have been afraid to try a whole garden since I travel for work a lot. maybe all I really need are a couple of chickens, huh? And the eggs must be heavenly

  • Catrina

    Wow…Who knew? They lied to us!!!!! CT

  • Anonymous

    We have lost so much of the old knowledge. My grandmother never weeded anything. She let the farm animals do it for her and if some of the crop was lost well they had to be fed

  • library lady

    I read something in an Old Farmer’s Almanac book of wisdom about chickens and gardening. However like a true aging librarian practicing to be a patron, I can’t remember the title or the author or what exactly it said about chickens and gardens, but I know it was favorable!

  • Kate

    Oh, oh, oh, this makes me MISS having a garden – the walking out into it and deciding what’s for supper. OHhhhhh.

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