Undersowing, rotational grazing, and a mobile chook house (all in one raised bed)

We have finally completed the first raised bed. Here’s a quick recap on the design (you can see earlier articles here and here). The bed is 1 of 5. Four of the beds will have vegies growing at any one time, whilst the fifth will house my ‘gang’ of chickens. The bed’s wire cover and hoops are mobile, and will be moved from bed to bed after harvest as each one becomes available.

Alongside the vegies growing in each bed, I will be sowing a variety of green manures (if you have never heard of green manuring please see this link). This technique is called ‘undersowing’ and was popularised and adapted for vegetable growing by the US farmer, Eliot Coleman. The technique involves planting seeds or seedlings of your chosen vegie crop, followed by a subsequent planting (4-6 weeks after) of a green manure crop alongside the main crop.

The idea is that the main crop will always be larger than the green manure crop so the green manure crop does not overtake and affect the growth of the main crop. This system allows the ground to be protected by a living mulch (thus removing the need for expensive straw or lucerne mulch). After harvesting the main crop, the green manure can be dug into the soil.

I will be adding another element to that system by introducing chickens into the rotation. Instead of digging the green manure crop in myself, I will leave it for the chickens to graze on and scratch up leaving a clean (weed free), tilled and manured bed for the next crop. This idea took two years of planning and revisions and was originally inspired by a visit to a number of small scale farms which use similar designs to move chickens from bed to bed. I adapted these designs to to suit my own landscape and needs.

As you’ll see in the picture, the bed has been filled up with a large amount of wandering dew (trad) which was taken from my neighbour, an amateur wandering dew farmer. I tried to explain that there is no money in farming this crop but he is not prepared to listen to reason at this point. So far, I’ve managed to score 15 wheelbarrows of wandering dew. This is fortunate for me, since I’ve calculated that I will need 6-8 cubic metres of soil to fill the bed. This would cost approximately $300-400 delivered. Instead, the wandering dew, grass clippings, straw, cow manure and other vegie scraps will provide fodder and entertainment for the chooks, and will become compost in a relatively short time, and all for free!

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A quick description of the pictures.

As you will see there are 2 doors. The larger door is man size and is used to access the drinking water and food for the chooks. This door is also used to add straw etc. The second small door on the end is purely used to access eggs in the nesting boxes. Both of the doors are part of the metal wire construction and move along with the coop.

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About Healthy Harvest Kitchen Gardens

Healthy Harvest provides a permaculture-based kitchen garden service for existing food growers and people who are inspired to grow food. We sell fresh chemical-free seedlings, seeds and seasonal produce. We also provide educational workshops, courses, gardening consultations and services. We can help with new vegetable garden designs, maintenance of established gardens, or converting and improving existing gardens ready for growing food. Please see our website for more information: www.healthyharvest.com.au Check out our blog at https://healthyharvestnsw.wordpress.com/ for news and interesting bits and pieces.

Posted on April 10, 2011, in Chickens, Garden design, Gardening techniques, Pest control, Raising chickens on pasture, Soil, SPIN farming and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. A late revision to this build is that the posts can be built from 2×4″ wood BUT it must also be capped with 2 x 4″ wood. This give it much more strength. The wooden planks I used previously have virtually all cracked an split. These have been replaced with 2 x 4″ or 2×5″ wood. The design is now so strong when full of soil.

  2. Hi Pete,

    The chooks are already tearing up those weeds.
    Rough costings for building this were

    2 hardwood sleeper (for posts) – $50
    all other posts were salvaged – $0
    Colourbond – all salvaged $0
    poly pipe 12m @ $5 per metre. The poly pipe was ridiculously expensive as I got the best quality stuff for building my green house and was $240 or $250 for 50 metres. This was what I had left over. I have found a good supplier for the green stripe 2″ poly pipe which is more than adequate for this type of construction (but maybe not a greenhouse) and is $170 for 100 metres.
    1 x 50 metre roll of 90cm high rabbit wire (much thicker than chicken wire – $90.
    Planks to cap the bed – salvaged
    screws – $50

    All up it cost me $250

  3. Hey Dan,

    The bed looks good……….wooohooh!

    I bet you can’t wait til the chooks do their tractoring!

    Maybe you could put a rough costing on materials for those considering similar structures.

    cheers,

    Pete

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