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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chickentown

I have chickens at my house, which is helpful: they poop on the grasses, making them greener; they peck the poops, making them cleaner; they cluck contentedly in beautiful harmony with my brays; they leave their rainbow feathers lying about, bringing some color into an otherwise gray and green world.

The chickens used to pass their days under the salmonberry bush until the day that the humans set the salmonberry bush on fire. This had something to do with some garbage the former property owners had left under the salmonberry bush, which FarmWife wanted to dig out and dispose of, and also with FarmWife's desire to make room for raspberry canes. (On a property of merely one and a quarter acres, even one bush can stand between you and your dreams.)

Meanwhile—and bear with me, because I am getting to the point—FarmWife has spent the last six years battling triffid-like weeds in one other particular corner of her garden. Horsetails, which have a lovely name but are poisonous and persistent; bindweed, which maintains such a complex underground root system that one plant can often overtake an entire neighborhood; wisteria, which is pretty but mightily bold; and assorted annual weeds were competing with furious aggression against each other and against any hapless, tender vegetable FarmWife might chance to throw at their mercy. It was not a pretty picture. 

This year, FarmWife thought she'd get a jump start on weed season by loosing her sunchokes on the troubling corner: a desirable native edible, sunchokes are known for their vigor, their beautiful blooms, and their culinarily delightful roots. FarmWife expected a weed-patch death match, with the sunchokes as the first big loser, but she was surprised! They have survived—nay, thrived!—and at the expense of the other weeds. The horsetails are gone, shaded into oblivion. The Wisteria is crawling in a different direction, thanks to a little careful pruning. The annuals are largely absent, starved of soil and sunlight by the vigorous sunchokes. Most surprising of all, the bindweed is succumbing as well! FarmWife credits this latter astonishing fact to the presence of the chickens, who have adopted the sunchoke patch as their new chickentown and who spend all day every day digging cozy dustbaths under the verdant greenery. The lumpy, clumpy sunchoke roots are unfazed by a little exposure, whereas the shallow bindweed roots make good, wormlike snacks. It's the first truly successful anti-bindweed initiative FarmWife has ever seen, and to think it happened by accident! 

Here, then, is chickentown: a shady lounge for the birds, a death chamber for the weeds, and a fertile bed for a delicious and attractive crop. A win-win situation if I ever saw one! 

Hard to tell, but there are 17 chickens in that stand of greenery. 


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