Sprouting Seeds for Chickens

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Even in winter time you can do some sprouting seeds for chickens to give them something fresh to eat and to keep them from getting bored. They may want something green to eat but without lots of leftover greens from your veggie trimmings they have to wait until spring. Sprouting seeds provides the greens that help chickens stay healthy in the winter season and it gives them entertainment. I know. Chickens aren’t very bright, bless their hearts. But sprouts have seeds attached and then there’s the green part so they’re happy.


You can easily grow sprouting seeds for chickens at home without any special equipment. There are two basic ways of doing it.

1. Get a shallow shoebox or an old egg carton and fill it with dirt. You’ll need a few because you’ll want to plant fresh every three days or so to ensure a good supply. Moisten the dirt with plenty of water and sprinkle the soil with the seeds of your choice, pressing them gently into the dirt with your hands.

Place the box or carton under a light source out of cold drafts and keep the soil moist with sprinkles of water. Try to keep them warm. Once the sprouts grow to about two inches long go ahead and either set them in the coop for chicken-tainment or cut them off to eat yourself.

2. Get a large mason jar and poke several holes in the lid with an ice pick (or if you want to get fancy use a piece of screen or a double layer of cheesecloth).

Put the seeds in your jar, fill with water to cover the seeds, and let them sit overnight. The next morning pour out the water and put the jar in a window (no drafts, try to keep the jar moderately warm) until you see sprouts. Rinse them a bit and aerate them each morning so they don’t get moldy on you. Once the sprouts are to the desired length toss them out with your chicken’s morning feast or eat them yourself. I suggest keeping several jars going at a time. Chickens seem to enjoy this method the most because they can eat the little crunchy seed ends. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time with it because I usually forget to rinse my seeds and they get moldy on me which is why I do little compostable flats of sprouts.

When buying seeds make sure that they are either listed for sprouting or you find them for direct eating such as in a bulk bin at the grocery store. Seeds made for planting are often treated with chemicals.


Best seeds for sprouting


Oat Groats

Do you have a favorite sprouting method or sprouting seed? How about a tip to give chickens fresh greens and entertainment in the dark months? Tell us in a comment below!

Garden Planning For Beginners

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Why plan your garden ahead?

Here you are, stuck indoors with only the memories of your bountiful summer garden. Or maybe in reality it wasn’t such a bountiful garden…those tomatoes never did really produce well. Or maybe you had wanted to start a garden – you had thought about it, talked about it but just never quite got around to it…Now’s the perfect time, no matter what last year’s situation was, to send away for a stack of catalogs, curl up in a cozy chair and start your next year’s garden planning.

There are endless possibilities for this coming year. Garden planning is relaxing. When my catalogs arrive in the mail, I feel the same excitement I did as a kid when the Christmas catalogs came in the mail (anyone remember the Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and Miles Kimball catalogs?). And if you hate the paper, no worries, you’re not left out because almost every company offers their catalogs online as well. Not only is it relaxing but done wisely, it can result in a better garden, with more variety and better yields.

Which brings us to a warning we feel obligated to mention (lawyers may be involved here): be careful while browsing! You do know what happens when you take your four year old to the toy store? Just so you know – it can be easy to get carried away.

Do you know how many seed catalogs there are out there?

Some catalogs are more informative than others and that’s a good thing to look at as you’re browsing. As someone looking to buy seeds, you want to have a good description of the plant you’re going to grow. You need to know how big it will get, how far apart to plant it, how long it takes to sprout, and when it will actually produce fruit. Does it grow well in the heat or the extreme cold? Is it prone to diseases in damp weather? If I tend to have a late frost in May, I want to grow a variety that can withstand it; if my August temp’s are over 90, my plants have to make it through. A good catalog is going to give you information on this. You need to know something about what that particular variety can and can’t tolerate to make a good, educated choice.

There are catalogs for everything you can imagine – and things you had no idea even existed. We’re going to give you a list of some of the best general catalogs out there as well as a few specialized ones. Some of these companies are big; some of been in business for a long time; some are small or are relatively new to the market. All have good reputations and have something that makes them unique.

It can be worth it to go with a specialized catalog if you’re really passionate about growing a particular item. If it’s a long-term investment of either your time or money, such as a fruit tree or asparagus, it’s best to shop around and do your research on what will work best in your area. A company geared towards either those specific plants or your region is the best way to go.

Are These Seeds Safe? 

There’s a big list of companies who have voluntarily taken what’s called The Safe Seed Pledge. This means they’ve decided they won’t sell genetically modified seeds – they’ve pledged that the seeds they sell don’t contain genetic material from other species and that they’re committed to selling seed we can save and use to grow again instead of having to go back to the owner of the seeds to get more. You can get more information about the pledge here: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/ViewPage.aspx?pageId=261

If you want to save your own seeds, you’ll look for Open Pollinated or Heirloom varieties. A lot of times these are abbreviated in catalogs as (OP). When you grow these, as long as you’ve taken care that they don’t cross breed with another variety, you can save the seeds and plant them next year. It’s a fun project and can not only save money but can help you develop seeds that are adapted to the very specific climate you’re growing in. Heirloom varieties are also living history – some of these have been grown for hundreds of years; some were unique to a certain region or family. There’s a lot of interesting stories around some of them. They preserve genetic diversity at a time when a few big seed companies want to license and patent seeds so growers are forced to purchase a few varieties from them year after year.

The other type of seeds is hybrid. There’s nothing wrong with buying and using them and in some cases, hybrids may be an easier choice for a particularly challenged environment because they can be bred with specific disease resistances. That’s no guarantee but it can be a help. Weigh out all of your options and see what works the best for your situation.

So Now What?

So now you’re prepared to spend a few pleasurable hours browsing. Don’t make this a rushed thing; enjoy it and take your time. Just thumb throughGrow Best Tomatoes and dog-ear pages or circle things you like as you go through the catalogs. It’s okay – go ahead and be a glutton! We’re going to put these aside for a few days and make a reasonable, realistic plan before you actually spend any money.

When you’re ready for a second look, make a real assessment of the actual garden space you’ve got and what you need and want to plant. Now’s the time to be realistic. You can’t plant all of your corn and potatoes for the year if you have a 10 x 10 foot space. Don’t decide you’re going to grow all of your tomatoes to supply sauce and paste for the year if you work 60 hours a week and have three children under the age of 4. If this is your first garden, don’t decide to plant one of every vegetable. Make this a successful experience from the start by being realistic. We all bite off more than we can chew but keep it within a reasonable limit.  If you want to go crazy, buy some extra radish or lettuce seeds; you’ll find a place to tuck them in and they won’t go to waste, even if they aren’t used this year.

Check your work

Once you’ve decided what you want and need to grow, go back and work through the catalogs you really liked. Pick a vegetable to start with, say for example tomatoes. You may want to make a list of the varieties that really caught your attention. Maybe you want to plant a paste tomato, a yellow tomato, a big ol’ beefsteak and some tiny ones for snacking. Use that general plan and narrow down your choices. Make a list by those categories and then weigh the pro’s and con’s with each selection on your list. Maybe one paste tomato matures faster; maybe one has less seeds. Take a look at things like days to maturity, your climate, the amount of space you have, the flavor description, and what you want to use it for. Now you’ve got to make the hard decisions. Some varieties should rule themselves out easily: if you live in Zone 5 and that tomato you liked takes 110 days to maturity you should probably cross it off the list and find something that matures faster. Make a note of which catalog offers that variety and the price – there can be significant differences.

Sometimes it can pay to order all of your seeds from a single source, depending on how the shipping and handling fees are set up. But if there’s something you really want, it can be worth it to figure out what else you can buy from that company to justify the shipping cost.

Is that all there is to it?

After you’ve gotten all of your essentials planned out and decided upon, you can give yourself permission to go back and look for the little fillers or “fun” items. Maybe there’s a new flower you want to try? Never planted gourds before? Maybe you want to add a few unusual herbs in between plants? This is where you can be creatively inspired by the catalogs and all of the things they offer that are really unique. You may end up with a new discovery that becomes one of next year’s “regulars”. Good things to look for as easy additions are “off-season” vegetable (early spring or late fall), small varieties you can tuck in among your regular beds (lettuces, herbs, greens and flowers) or container plants.

Have fun and relax with this even as you’re making your plan. Its part window shopping, part daydreaming and part just good old garden planning. When it comes time to start those seeds, either indoors or out, you’ll be ready.

As you get more into reading the catalogs and trying different offerings year after year, you may find yourself coveting a particular variety or a particular vegetable. You look at the catalog and get upset because the green beans you had ordered last year (and loved!) are no longer being sold…while there are always tried and true varieties offered, you can also count on something new appearing every year. Maybe that’s what keeps us hooked. That and the hope that this will finally be the year without the bugs, the weeds and with the gorgeous, bountiful harvest.


Do you have any tips you’d like to share? A favorite seed catalog we missed? Something you’d like more clarification on? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

Some good catalogs:

General Catalogs

Photos courtesy of biodiversitylibrary.org/page/46265451

Chickens in the Garden: A Match Made In Heaven

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To those of us who love gardens, weeding and pest control is generally pain more than pleasure. Our first few years gardening was a constant exercise in finding new and innovative ways to avoid weeding or spraying anything nasty on our plants.

We tried wet newspaper first (no one told us that it would blow away!). Then raised beds with the lasagna method. You know, layering wet newspaper, straw, and a manure/topsoil layer then letting it ‘bake’ for a few months under sheets of paper stapled to the edges before ripping it off to plant. The soil turned out awesome. Too bad horses eat a lot of seeds. We introduced more weeds to our garden, but my wife got some great new wild herbs that way and we found that lambsquarters are an excellent ‘wild’ food source. We’ve intentionally grown a bed of it every year since and that soil grew the biggest, sturdiest weeds you ever saw and enough zucchini to choke a horse. If horses ate zucchini. Do they?

Lastly, we set aside our aversion to plastic and started laying landscaping fabric down covered in mulch and planting through it. It’s works okay, but weeds still pop up in there and drive us bananas. But not nearly as bananas as all the bugs make us.

Fortunately, chickens prove to be a delightful solution when you make a controlled introduction to your garden.

The key to success here is a few of things: timing, age, and direction.

Timing (age of plants)

  • Before planting your garden, let the chickens in to scratch, peck, and loosen the soil.

  • Added bonus to letting the chickens get the garden ready: manure!

  • There is an assumption here that you are NOT using chemicals in your garden as they can hurt you, your plants, and any chickens pecking around in there. Even stuff like Bt is coming out now as possibly harmful to humans. Think about it this way: Bt blows up the digestive system of bugs who eat it. GMO’s are infused with Bt so the plant makes its own pesticide. GMO’s are linked mainly to digestive disorders in humans among other things. Therefore, not using Bt on my plants makes some vicarious sense to me!

  • Ensure that the plants are old enough to be picked or scratched at gently by a chicken; it needs to be obviously different from the little picky weeds coming up.

  • When ‘chicken training’ I usually start things off by pulling weeds for a week and tossing them into a pile so they start eating those and getting a taste for them.

  • Once plants start to bear fruit or if you are growing green leafy vegetables, then you may want to run netting around these to keep the chickens out of them.

  • By the time you are ready to start harvesting, the plants are usually big enough to help keep weeds down anyway.

  • Growing a special area just for the chickens is great.

    • oats

    • chard, spinach, lettuces

    • millet

    • beans

  • Chickens can help glean your fields and garden after the season is over.

Age (of your chickens)

  • Any chickens you ‘ask’ to be a weeder in your garden should be a couple of months old.

  • Start them fairly young and you can ‘train’ them to avoid certain plants.

  • Guineas are great for weeding a garden because they’re so small.

Directing your chickens

  • Light netting over garden to prevent hawks from swooping down.

  • Protective caps and other barriers over any tender, young plants.

  • If the chickens start to dig up plants, then put a barrier around it, eventually you will be able to determine which areas are best for the chicken-powered weeding.

  • Generally chickens love to peck at fully formed fruits, vegetables, and green leafy stuff so keep this protected after a certain point. It’s really easy to put in stakes and then wrap some netting around it so you can still get in there and weed it yourself if needed, but by this point it usually isn’t required to weed if you plant close together.

  • Brassicas and other cole crops are usually very safe and very sturdy to be weeded by chickens as are most nightshades. They may peck, but they usually don’t eat much of these.

  • Chickens will eat any and all pests in your garden. So if you are having an infestation of, let’s say, Japanese beetles, then you can still dust wood ashes on the garden and let the chickens go to town on those fellas. The wood ashes won’t bother the chickens and your squash plants will thank you.

  • Down side is that they will eat ANY insect, even beneficial so make sure to encourage the beneficials and even purchase extra lady bugs, etc. if necessary.

For many people, chickens are just glorified egg layers or meat birds until they really get to know them. The benefits of owning chickens number in the hundreds. Aside from production as food, many ethical vegans and vegetarians are starting to keep chickens for the joy they bring. Even better, they are also now making them help-meets in the garden in a completely symbiotic relationship that I can’t help but admire and respect (even though I do eat chickens myself). While the chickens are helping with some of the hard work of weeding, they are feeding themselves and having a great time doing it. Weeding is true chickentainment for both you and the chickens!