Books Worth Reading: food gardening and the chicken micro-flock


The New Food Garden is the newest volume by Frank Tozer, an author I admire for his complete and knowledgable gardening books that don’t seem to get the attention that they deserve. This book is about how to create an integrated property producing vegetables, fruit, and pleasure. He uses permaculture principles but doesn’t get dogmatic about it. There are good sections on garden design, fruit trees and trees generally, “hard drive” infrastructure garden stuff such as paths, buildings, and greenhouses, and lots of information about outdoor living areas that assumes you will want to live in and enjoy your garden as well as harvest food from it. There are brief but interesting sections on a variety of subjects that give you a good framework for more detailed reading, such as fencing, water features, and use of human urine and humanure. It doesn’t include much info on growing specific vegetables, because he’s already written an entire book about that (and a very good one, by the way.)
This and Mini Farming are my favorites of the scads of new gardening books that I’ve looked over this winter. What’s the difference between them? MIni Farming emphasizes very precise soil amendment techniques and concentrates on maximizing returns in small spaces. Tozer takes a more relaxed approach in which compost, mulch, and other organic techniques are used, parts of the property are used as living areas rather than producing a food return, and fertility builds at nature’s pace. Please also note that Mini Farming has very detailed info on integrating chickens into the small layout for meat and eggs, while Tozer is a vegetarian and includes no information on food use of animals. The best solution is to get both. They won’t go unused.
Best tip and best quote: “You probably never realized that you are a walking plant fertilizer factory and that every day you are literally pissing away money.”

City chicks is a very good collection of information for the chicken owner who plans to have a micro-flock of laying hens. There is lots of information about every aspect of keeping a few layers, clearly organized so that beginners can find what they need. If you plan to have a dozen hens or fewer and don’t plan to produce any meat, I would recommend this book above most others. Do be aware that there is zero information about butchering and meat production, so if you plan to replace your hens every couple of years to keep production up, you’ll need another source of information about how to get them into the stockpot.
Best tip: Use plastic laying mats inside the nesting boxes. These are like stiff artificial turf, and droppings don’t stick to them. They can be hosed clean. They keep the eggs clean and dry. The hens can’t scratch them out of the laying boxes as they will with other types of bedding. This matters, because they then lay on the bare floor of the box and the eggs can be cracked, which renders them useless and introduces the hens to egg-eating. They cost about $4 each. I got mine from Murray McMurray, but other hatcheries have them too.

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