The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.–Thomas Edison
Inspired by this Edison qoute, I recently finished a year long project.
I finally completed my “Chicken Orchard.”
When talking to my patients, athletes, and family about health, performance or wellness the topic always drifts to food.
When talking about high quality food “Farm raised” and “Homegrown” come up a lot.
Today I’ll share my own adventures in backyard food production!
The Chicken Orchard began as my personal farm experiment to produce high quality food with limited initial and ongoing inputs. I believe our best health stems from consuming high quality food. Wanting the best for my family and community, I utilized a design science known as “Permaculture” to plan and construct a polyculture fruit orchard. Carefully selecting each tree variety for my climate, I sought long term production of Peaches, Plums, Mulberries, Olives, Grapes, Apples, Figs, citrus and Nectarines.
The orchard design has numerous functions “stacked” to decrease work/material inputs both short and long term.
At the base of the design, the orchard sits on a carefully designed series of swales (Level ditches) designed to capture water during heavy rain events. The trees are planted downhill from the swales thereby gaining the advantage of concentrated water accumulation in our very hot dry climate.
Utilizing swales in dry climates has shown to concentrate water below the surface in deeper soil layers. Increasing hydration improved soil conditions for the trees despite typically drought-like conditions in my area.
The next layer of functionality included a simple multi-stage valve irrigation system. This low cost system gives me easy control over a very basic sprinkler/irrigation system decreasing tree losses due to drought. (My part Texas just spent nearly 5 years in a drought, not taking chances going without back up water!)
The trees are planted in close proximity and with alternating species. This permaculture practice decreases disease spreading from tree to tree as one normally might experience in a single tree species orchard. Alternate planting also decreases bug predation as many species of insects prefer one type of fruit. Alternating varieties of fruit or even species confuses insects and makes them more prone to predation from birds as they “hunt” for their next favorite tree.
In order to minimize tree maintenance costs I decided to try a technique called silvopasture land management. Silvopasture systems utilize animals to graze in and around major tree systems (Forests) thereby accumulating animal wastes in the orchard system. The waste decomposes and becomes natural fertilizer for the fruit bearing trees.
The Chicken Orchard is Born
I had already kept a flock of 20-30 laying hens behind my barn in a fairly typical paddock. I decided to build a series 6 paddocks in and around my aforementioned orchard and move these laying hens into a new more dynamic environment. The paddocks all were dsigned for access from a central, custom built chicken house.
Each paddock was either joined directly to the chicken house or linked with a common fenced walk-way. On any given day the chickens are released from their protective shelter in the morning into a paddock to graze, chase bugs, eat weeds, and generally fertilize my trees.
As you can see from photos of the chicken house, the plans included easy access to layer boxes, doors for ventilation and various access point doors to control or vary access depending on orchard conditions and my desire to use the chickens in a given paddock.
My daughters often felt hassled by dealing with our roosters. The coop design, imbedded in the orchard system decreases the need to enter spaces that challenge the rooster. I built layer box access doors and a series of pulley’s and doors to allow shifting access without direct confrontation or agitation of the hens.
So now I have a low maintenance, eco-friendly environment that should sustainably yield crops of various fruit in the coming years. The orchard will provide an ideal home for free-ranging chickens that will produce meat and eggs for our family and community while simultaneously controlling insects and weeds in our paddock shift chicken orchard.
As a bonus, any dropped fruit or excess falling to the ground during harvest time will provide supplemental feed for the chickens. Supplemental feed means a decrease in total grain feed bills and reliance on trucking in sacks of feed every week.
The paddocks allow me to control access throughout the orchard thereby giving me the ability to manage pressure the chicken population places on the land/orchard.
I started this project because I want to make sure my family has the best source of food possible. I know the food produced in this orchard will be chemical free, hormone free, and pesticide free. The design helps with the other valuable commodity–time.
As a health provider, I hope sharing this little farm project inspires others to consider backyard food production.
With the right forethought and committment home grown food can be a reality.
If you are interested, I’m planning on doing seminar covering this project in greater detail in the coming months. I’m also considering tours of the Orchard those interested in design details and more in-depth discussion of home grown food options.
Leave a comment here if you’d like to be notified of that and related presentations.
Jack Spirko (www.Thesurvivalpodcast.com) for permaculture inspiration.
Permaculture consultant Nick Ferguson for his design recommendations.