The first egg of the season arrived this weekend! Surely Spring can’t be far behind. I assume the little green egg was from Hazel, since she is the most consistent layer of all the girls. Pearl and Winnie gave up their egg-laying duties around Labor Day, but Hazel kept up through about mid-October. It kills me to buy commercial eggs from the store when I think of all the delicious eggs we had overflowing last summer from our urban chickens.

My nephew and I spent our sunny Saturday planting one of the four garden beds. We put in three tidy rows of lettuce, one variety per row. Collards, arugula (rocket), and spinach finished out the vegetable bed. I also went around the yard poking in about 15 fava bean seeds. I have never grown fava beans before, but they sound fairly straight-forward. I believe they are a nitrogen fixer so I planted several near my fruit trees hoping they will benefit from being close to one another.

I have been trying to figure out new uses for all the chicken-manure filled straw I clean out of the coop once a week. The yard looks nice with a clean layer of wood chips everywhere, so I am not eager to start dumping straw in random places again. The compost bin has been getting fairly full as well over the past year. I decided to try something new.

I dug out one of the vegetable beds about halfway and loosening the soil at the bottom. I dumped an even layer of straw from the chicken coop over the bed along with some mostly-broken-down-compost from our bin, then raked the soil back over the top of the bed. It’s sort of like a sandwich: the dirt is the bread and the straw/compost is the filling. I am really, really, really hoping I don’t have straw sprouting in my vegetable bed… But if all goes well, I was thinking the bed gets a hefty dose of nutrients from the compost and chicken manure, with some mulch material to boot.

To measure the success of this little experiment, I will grow half of one vegetable crop in the prepared bed and the other half in a bed I haven’t prepared this way. We can compare the results come summertime harvest. I just need to decide now which vegetable from my long list this season would benefit the most from nutrient-rich soil…

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Written by Renee Wilkinson