One giant compromise of letting the chickens free-range in our backyard is allowing them to ravage our vegetable beds from time to time. They scratch up seeds, eat young shoots, and sometimes decide a newly planted bed is a terrific place for a dust bath. Every year I get a little smarter with how to protect my loved green things from the girls, and this may be the best year yet.

I already have small PVC pipes arched over my four raised veggie beds as a support for row covers. I tie plastic sheeting over the pipes every Spring to act as row covers. It protects my tender seedlings from frosts, cats that want to use the seemingly empty beds as a litter box, and I find I can direct sow seeds about 3-4 weeks earlier under the row covers. The air underneath is usually toasty and the row covers come off later in the Spring as the temperatures heat up, so nothing every fries in there.

Well, my latest light bulb moment came when I was visiting the University of Oregon’s Urban Farm. They have a problem with nutria there, so they built movable covers using pipes and bird netting to sit over the vegetable beds as protection. I knew about bird netting for covering fruit trees, but never thought about using it to tie onto the PVC pipes over my raised beds until that moment.

Maybe that makes me slow? I’ll give myself some credit because transforming an all-grass lawn into an urban homestead has a pretty steep learning curve.

I bought a million feet of bird netting from the local hardware store and it was very simple to attach to the frames. It will cause a bit of a hassle when I harvest, because I need to untuck the ends to reach into the beds to grab things. But it’s worth it! The sunshine and water still get through, but I don’t have to plant everything five times this year because the girls got in there. The bird netting is also tied on directly to the PVC pipes, with the plastic row covers tied on top of that. When I remove the plastic in a couple months, the bird netting will still be in place.

As an example of how devastating my urban flock’s damage can be, I spent all afternoon last week carefully planting two beds. I used the last of a couple favorite seed packets and felt really relieved to mark another thing off my spring to-do list. Unfortunately, I didn’t tie the covers and netting down far enough and the winds came to blow them off. I discovered all three girls had scratched up all the soil and ate all my seeds, just within a couple hours. I managed to fight back the tears, but it honestly ruined my whole day.

Those beds have been replanted and all is well with the world. As more green things sprout up all over the yard, the girls are finding plenty to forage on. I am delighted to know there will be plenty for ME to forage on as well this year with the beds protected.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson