This is a Chicken Tractor (capitalisation required) and is just as cool as it sounds (a nice relative statement).
I totally built it.
Which is a bit of a lie – significant help was given at different stages (big ups to Sara, Chris, Sven and, especially, Leen).
This is what the area looked like before any work started:
The pre-existing raised beds were pretty big and had been there for almost 10 years. Deconstructing them was really hard work (we saved as much of the wood as possible so we could re-use it in other parts of the garden). We had to move tons and tons (that is a very literal statement) of earth in order to clear the way. It was far harder and took far longer than I thought it would – this was the result:
The bed on the left was built using the reclaimed wood and is a long-term bed for such things as brassicas and potatoes and the like. We left a lot of the earth in place so we could essentially carve out the patterns of the chicken tractor beds, thus minimizing shovel work and so forth. It was a semi-successful idea.
The following photos show the rest of the construction:
Like the Marshall Plan, only cheaper.
Ugly but planting underway
(The huge pile of dirt in the distance is all the top soil from the previous beds. This would eventually go onto the new beds and other growing areas)
Not too pretty, but starting to take shape
There are many other in-process shots, but I’m sure you get the idea.
I built a second long-term bed further towards the garage, again using reclaimed wood:
These ancillary beds are planted with perennials like asparagus in the back two lots (companioned with tomatoes) with rotational crops in the front.
An interesting comparison is the building time. This bed took me a casual weekend, maybe 10 or 12 hours from scratch to finished. The chicken tractor gardens took roughly 4 months of part-time work, 3 days a week on average.
Now on to the money shots:
You can see the space between the two garden areas here, filled with composting and worm farm wonders.
The basic intent of the tractor is a rotational garden that is sustained by and sustains a population of chickens. The chicken run is lifted and transferred around the raised beds every 6 – 8 weeks, so the chooks can turn the soil, eat, shit and play (while shooting heaps of eggs out their fannies for we, their garden comrades) and replenish the soil. Basically it is designed to be a closed loop system – nothing needed from outside and no waste produced.
There’s heaps more. The amount of food this baby will yield will be staggering. Now that it’s complete and has been getting its act together it has become almost terrifying how fast everything is growing.
It was built on permaculture principles and is sustainable, organic and pretty bloody sensible.
The sunrise design of the beds is pretty cool, I think. The wooden sidings are untreated macrocarpa sleepers. Most other untreated timber would rot significantly within a few years but these sleepers will last for years and years and years. It’s worth mentioning that they are very heavy. Very, very heavy.
Each bed is 3.8 metres long and 1.2 metres wide. the length was dictated by the space available but the width is a good guide line for raised bed construction, basically enabling almost anyone, excluding the tragically short, to reach any point in the garden without having to step on it, thus compacting the soil.
Under each of the macrocarpa sleepers is a one foot deep trench filled with gravel; this is to retard rotting from the wood sitting in pools of water while also raising the water table under the beds themselves.
The spaces between the beds (wide enough for a wheelbarrow) are filled in with gravel, insuring it will drain well when it rains, feeding the trenches under the sleepers and supplying the gardens with plenty of rainwater. Also stops the place turning into a bog.
You can’t see my parents house to the left of the gardens, but it’s very large with a huge roof area. I’m going to hook up a water collection tank from the roof which will ultimately feed the garden.
Also some grey water systems off the kitchen – but that’s another thing altogether.
There’s still a little more garden building to do – where the topsoil pile is is going to be a rock garden, I just have to move the remaining topsoil to another garden, on another property, I’m putting together. Plus a few fancy touches to make it ever so much prettier (I know, how can that be possible).
I can’t express how much time and work went into this, I have muscles and calluses that barely hint at it. It’s invisible now but in order to dig the trenches and make sure there was an adequate depth of soil under the beds I had to dig out 80-year-old compacted gravel from the old driveway. Apparently if gravel is left to its own devices it evolves into concrete.
It is quite a remarkable thing for me to look at and think, I did that. This was all done at my parents’ house (and was financed by them – at least the materials, I did the work for free) in an effort to put into practice some of the things I had learned while getting my Permaculure Design Certificate in February ’09. Permaculture is, and the course I took in it was, an amazing thing I’m deeply glad I got involved in, also something I recommend to anyone curious about it. I’ve been meaning to write something about it for ages but have been daunted by the scale of it in my head; I’m sure I’ll get there in the end though.
I’m quite proud of this whole thing.