My Chicken Scavenging System is designed to feed my Chickens using insects living on the floor of a type of Forest Garden, to reduce the amount of wheat and other grains that I need to feed to them. I described this Permaculture system of my own design, in my Chicken Scavenging System Design that was written up as one of the ten portfolio designs for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. The Scavenging System is designed to build up a deep litter of leaves and rotting wood, which is an ideal environment for insects, on which the chickens can feed.The problem is that this will take years to develop, so I am using another Permaculture technique called ‘Chop and Drop‘ to speed the process up.
Chop and Drop
I first came across the Chop and Drop technique in a Permaculture DVD by an Australian Permaculturalist, Geoff Lawton. The DVD was about ‘Establishing a Food Forest’, which is another name for a Forest Garden. In the DVD Geoff describes planting support trees which are there to help get the system established. The support trees are cut back hard (chopped) and then the branches are dropped to the floor where they become food for mycorrhizal fungi, which in turn feed the trees. It will take a few years before my support trees are able to do the same job for my Chicken Scavenging System, but I have adapted the technique, so that I use twigs and leaves from outside of the Scavenging area.
We process quite a bit of our own firewood, and will be doing more as the trees in our Coppice, hedges, and Forest Garden develop. In the past we have kept most of the small, twiggy wood to use as kindling, but this is building up now, and taking up valuable storage space. I could burn it and use the wood ash as a soil amendment, but instead I am cutting it into small sections and ‘dropping’ it into the Chicken Scavenging area. This is a good example of the Permaculture Principle every element should perform more than one function. Here the twigs and leaves are being used to feed trees, and insects, and as a mulch to amend the soil, helping to turn it from a mixed bacterial/fungal dominated soil, to become fungal dominated in time. I am also linking the outputs from my coppice and firewood production to the inputs needed for the Chicken Scavenging System.
The picture on the right shows some of those twigs and leaves, dropped in the North East corner of the Chicken Scavenging Area. As there will not be enough woody material to create a deep layer of leaves and twigs, I am concentrating what I have into ‘chunks’. Eventually these chunks will expand and join together. Jacke and Toensmeir call these ‘expanding nuclei’ in their books ‘Edible Forest Gardens‘, but I prefer the term ‘chunking’ described by Permaculture author Toby Hemenway, in his book ‘Gaia’s Garden‘.
The picture below gives another view of this space.
When I wrote up the Scavenging System design I had not planted out the hardy bamboo that were part of the original Permaculture Design. Since then I have planted out the clumping bamboos, and the picture to the left shows one of them. It is Fargesia Robusta, and should grow above head height, and form a large clump. Providing shelter for the chickens,a home for insects, colour in the Winter, and the leaves of the bamboo will add to the leaf litter, adding to the insects for the chickens to feed on.
As the support trees in the Scavenging System grow, it should be possible to build up the ground litter layer using them alone. Eventually, the main production trees and Hardy Bamboo, designed as a productive Forest Garden, should do the job. In the meantime, I will need to keep adding woody material, and finish planting the running bamboo plants, and a few more support trees.