We travel over a large part of central Virginia every weekend and have for many years. We noticed starting last year that there are no insects flying around the lights at the stores, gas stations, etc. which used to be just covered in insects at night. My daughter is an entomologist living in upstate NY and she has noticed the same situation. It is totally scary. Last year we also noticed a sharp drop in pollinators where we used to have many and many different kinds. We got NO fruit on any of our trees. This year, as an experiment, I went out with a feather duster and "dusted" all the fruit trees when they were blooming. The trees that were dusted have fruit, the undusted trees have maybe one or two fruits on them. This is truly a scary scenario. Stock up on feather dusters!
Haven't seen this thread before but felt I had to respond. Dog wool spins up beautifully and if you have different colored dogs, you get different colored yarn. I spun up some beautiful cream and grey and white yarn and knit a beautiful scarf from it. It was very warm and I gave it to my X for a holiday gift. He was very allergic to dogs, but after it was washed and blocked, it did not seem to cause any problems.
Yep, that is sure Japanese Honeysuckle. It is a plant my father hated above all others and it certainly does take over the world. On our new property there are trees that have been strangled to death by the honeysuckle. It is not useless as it can be used to make baskets and rope. I pull up what seems like miles of it and coil it up into a wreath shape. After it dries, it can be used for decorations or mulch or you can sell the dried coils to basket crafters . If the soil is covered by it, there is some protection from erosion but I don't think anything eats it. When I am ready to cover crop and plant an area is when I begin the assault on the honeysuckle and you must get every single crumb of it. It will return with a vengeance without vigilance. It can be chopped up and fermented into a nice ground soak.
What size Kubota is that? We are thinking about getting one and are having a few discussions about what size to get. I have a friend who has the 1025 but my husband thinks that is way too small. He wants to be able to snatch big trees out of the ground and I am thinking swales and hauling firewood out of the woods.
Why do people build perfect habitat for wildlife and then get upset when they show up? Snapping turtles do eat fish but they can't catch as many as people think they can. They also eat crayfish which can undermine your dams, they prey on muskrats which will truly destroy a dam. And the fun thing about predators, they don't overpopulate unless there is an overabundance of prey. What about the herons? They eat fish, should they be killed as well? If it is really bothering you, catch it and put it someplace farther away. We only kill animals which are directly impacting things that we are needing to live ourselves, squash bugs, bean beetles, etc. Raccoons that get after the chickens. Even the bears are "educated" to leave us alone. I have always believed that one of the goals of permaculture is not to change the world to make it perfect just for humans, but to improve it in total and leave some room for the wildlife.
Sellers? Of insects? Hmmm. That is a somewhat novel concept for me. We catch and eat. Grasshoppers bothering your plants? Go on a hunt! The year that the 17 year cicadas hatched was a banner year for insect eaters. Some friends and I exchanged recipes and had a grand old time. And there were tons of them. There are some books that are devoted to edible insects and may help with identifying what is edible and what is not. Trying to harvest a bombardier beetle is never a good thing. Do you know marmalated stink bugs are edible? It seemed a little farfetched to me as well but if you par boil them (gets rids of a lot of the scent) and then fry them they turn into little crispy nuggets of yummy. Make an excellent salad topper or sprinkled over a bowl of steamed greens. Some people like earthworms but I don't find them that tasty.
If you are doing any digging and come across grubs, you know the little white ones that curl into a "C" shape, they are also prime and keeping a cup handy to pop them into is a great idea when gardening. It also rids your garden of Japanese beetles and a variety of pests you do not want. Of course you can always ease into it by growing your own mealworms. They are the larva of the darkling ground beetle and very easy to grow in the bin of wheat bran.
We love eating the sunchokes baked in a medly of roots -- carrots, turnips, beets, sunchokes and some slices of onion. With a little olive oil and seasoning, baked until kind of caramelized, sooo tasty. I like them boiled with a bit of butter.
The biggest problem I have with them is that the deer just love browsing them which drops tuber production something fierce. Of course the voles love them as well but we have had copperhead snakes, shrews and weasels move in and it has dropped our vole predation considerably. Putting suitable habitat for them has really paid off. Keeping an eye out for the copperheads is not much of a problem because we do that anyway.
I usually plant ground nuts withthem. The ground nuts climb the sunchoke stalks and they are all dug up at the same time. Purslane grows around it pretty well and doesn't seem to interfere. Works out pretty well.
Our 14 inch Meadow Creature broad fork has been a marvelous investment in our permaculture homestead. We have always called it the dragon claws. We break up soil for digging swales. One pass with the broad fork and it can be shoveled out in a jiffy. When planting trees and shrubs it is very easy to fork up an area and proceed with planting. The soil can be shoveled up with ease. Our soil is cementlike hard clay with gravel and a shovel just dinks around on the surface. The broad fork may resist a bit but will eventually go in the full 14 inches. It works great for deep aeration and opening the soil just a bit around all our plantings to allow compost teas, mychoryzal drenches and just water to go down into the soil. Without it, they may soak into the mulch but very little gets down into the soil. Since we began using it, the quality and life in the soil has improved dramatically. It is one of the tools I would recommend for everyone.
We have been cursed with the voles for many years and have developed a multi-pronged approach. At first I tried trapping them but there are just too many to do that. What has worked is just leaving them alone, encouraging vole predators such as snakes, foxes, owls and my personal favorite - shrews. We have habitat in the form of rock piles, brush piles, houses (owls), etc. This has made a gigantic difference in vole populations and a major increase in predators at least in our little corner of the world.. Planting castor beans in various places through the garden tends to keep them out. I imagine that leaving the chopped remains around special plantings would protect them in the winter. There is a product called "Mole Max" that is basically castor oil mixed with ground corn cobs. It has been very effective here in keeping them at bay. Perhaps sprinkling something like that on your pots and around them would be effective for you. When starting special cuttings in pots, I sink the pots into a bed made from hardware cloth that goes down about 10 inches into the ground and is above ground by 5 or six inches. This is sprinkled with a castor/corncob mix all around the pots. I also start tree seeds in pots this way. So far this has kept them safe -- even chestnut seeds which are like crack for voles (and squirrels). Keeping them all in one large bed makes it easier to protect them and I also lay a wire covered frame on top of them (squirrels!).
It is a terrible trouble to have these little pests but they do keep the soil stirred up and take bedding into their dens which adds to underground composting sometimes.
Eating a variety of insects is a great way to supplement your diet. I am always eager for the acorn harvest. If the acorns have a tiny round hole, they have acorn weevils and they are super special. If you put the acorns in a bucket with a bit of sand/fine sawdust in the bottom the larva will squeeze out of the acorn looking for a place to pupate and you can gather large quantities of them. They are mild and delicious fried lightly with a dash of garlic. Eating them also cuts down on the amount of acorn weevils! Yay, double benefit.
There is a lot of information out there on eating and preparing insects. Even the evil and dastardly Marmelated Stink Bug which is invading the east coast here can be eaten and is fairly easy to prepare.
I'm sure that domestic cats, one of the most efficient and non-selective predators on the planet next to human beings, would be great at getting rid of the voles ...... and the squirrels, chipmunks, chipping sparrows, blue birds, quail, young snakes, frogs, and anything else they can get their little claws into. Although my other half loves cats, I do not believe in inserting non-native predators into an ecosystem. The voles keep digging their tunnels, the snakes eat some, foxes eat some, we all just kind of try to get along. I protect the young trees and interplant enough extra plants to ensure that even with the voles, there is enough to go around. Now if the blackbears would only leave my berries alone . . .
Our soil is a very high quality clay that makes excellent pottery when dug up from anywhere on the farm. We use a lot of mulch and compost piled on very deep and it has been working. Our little friends the earthworms drag it down into the clay as it breaks down. The key is to NEVER leave it exposed. We have also been cursed at our place with the dreaded voles. I waged pitiless war on them for many years but they can reproduce faster than I can destroy them. Then I read Sepp Holzer's book on how the voles actually loosen the soil with their tunnels and that if you leave them alone the predators will move in and control their numbers. Soooooo. I always made sure that the bark of my young trees was protected by a ring of hardware cloth (wire) out about 4 inches from the trunk and mulched heavily from that space outward. The voles leave little tunnels all over that the rain washes compost deep into the soil and even better . . . black snakes, copper heads, owls and grey foxes have moved in and we have noticed a drop in overall vole predation throughout the property. That first year was very nervewracking. We put in brushpiles when we clear scrub that provides habitat for the snakes. When the piles break down, we pile dirt on them and jump around on it. Excellent place to plant new trees! Voles are also repelled by castor oil and any part of the castor plant. If you can grow them (danger, highly toxic), they make an excellent chop and drop around young fruit trees.
Some advice .... leave them alone. Pulling eggs from under ducks and candling them, messing about in the nest, it is not natural for ducks to put up with that and it interfers with setting. It also deposits skin oil on the shells. Try some fewer eggs. That way natural setting will allow you to check which of them does the best job and you can select based on that. Sure we all want to know if things are going well and that works great in an incubator where nothing will be disturbed except the level of humidity in the incubator. When settling down for the home stretch, humidity is very important for a successful hatch and the duck knows the best way to maintain it.
I WISH they were invasive. Here in central VA I have tried planting them in many different places and am very excited when even a small clump does well. Of course deer keep them browsed off and meadow voles make sure not to many tubors survive. We have been encouraging snakes and anything else that will eat the voles so I remain hopeful. The only way I can get them is in a fenced enclosure and planted in a hardware lined trench. I only eat a few (as a reward) when I get them and then plant the rest everywhere that looks like they may stand a chance. It is kind of a downer because we really love them.
Have a friend who suggested the key line plow. Hmmmm. Since it took a full sized excavator over an hour to dig a 3 foot deep hole. . . it might be interesting. Even a hole to plant a berry plant requires a tunneling bar and most of an afternoon. Kind of interesting anyway, when full sized trees fall over (which they do pretty regularly) the roots do down about 9 inches then shoot off at a 90 degree angle. Guess we will be just piling on the organic matter and making our wood cored beds and let the worms and fungus slowly spread out from our little oasis bits and keep improving the soil. I believe that it will work and it will spread!
regarding the bamboo -- no danger of it taking over. It is very slowly surviving and has spread from 1 little cane to 4 now and they are about 1/4 inch in diameter and not even big enough to stake up a pepper plant. It if ever does take off, we are totally prepared to eat it into submission. It is an edible variety and a runner! Wild black berry and greenbriar barely grow here. The comfrey is up to almost 8 inches tall now! Whoo hooo.
So many people plant the cornelian cherry dogwoods for the fruit. How about the kousa dogwoods? Hardy, beautiful, easy to grow and loaded down with large tasty fruit every year. Sure they are a little strange looking (the fruit) but they are good eating and when they are ripe you just put a sheet down under the tree and give it a wack. Pounds and pounds of little orange/red aliens that taste kind of like a cross between a persimmon (ripe one) and apricot.
We have been concentrating on 2 acres. And I'm afraid I do have dirt envy. Or soil envy. Even in the "wild" areas away from the house, vegetation is pretty sparse because of the lack of topsoil and extremely hard . Rumor has it that back following WWII, this county was scraped clean and the topsoil sold. I can believe it. Daikon radishes will germinate and die in about 3 weeks. I have found that mustard and rape (I save seed from non-GMO canola that I have had for years and years), but even these will only grow a couple of inches high when a new area is being started. After a couple of years of chopping and dropping and repeated efforts, things start to grow. How exciting to actually see weeds moving into an area, they provide even more material to try. This has been a great challenge but I am excited to think that as we progress it is going to be so much better here! Bamboo that was planted six years ago is now up to three stalks that are over 4 feet tall (a 30-foot tall bamboo) but they are growing and the mulching is helping, I'm sure of it.
The idea of driving in the stakes is a great idea! Kind of like injecting wood into the soil which would give our fungi some fun as well.
We will never give up! If we can restore this place, we can accomplish anything!
Thanks for all the input, it restores my confidence and makes me a lot more optomistic about our wonderful place.
My boyfriend has recently become all gung ho with building hugel beds all over our property. We have plenty of wood. The problem is that we have no dirt or soil to speak of. Our soil is hard clay that is good enough to fire, and rocks. After 25 years of mulching and mulching and chop and drop there are areas where things will grow but certainly no place to dig up enough dirt to cover a full sized hugel bed -- or even a half sized hugel bed.
I have made some wood cored beds by digging a hole, putting in rotted wood, then mixing the dirt I pulled out with compost, manure, anything else organic I can find the putting that back into the hole over the wood. It is like building large planters here and there. By mulching everything with lots of straw, coffee grounds, and chopped leaves and weeds there is some progress but it is taking a long long time. When I dig up soil to make swales, without mulch on the top it is just a nude clay ridge across the ground with a ditch in front of it, also nude. After 3 years of mulch, compost and manure, some mustard and clover will grow on the swales but it is barely an inch tall and not very happy. At least some wispy hints of organic matter is accumulating in the ditch of the swale.
So, back to the question, where does all that soil/dirt in those videos of beautiful hugel beds come from? Do we have to buy several hundred dump trucks of topsoil? I would like some encouragement. I have been working on this piece of property for 25 years and weeds don't even grow here except in the garden.
We recently purchased 28 acres adjoining ours that had been clearcut (they took all the hardwood) and half replanted in Loblolly pine. We made lots of brush piles and whenever we had apples/pears/grapes/cherries we would walk around and plant the seeds. We also put out paw paw and persimmon. Many of these seeds have come up and are doing very well. We also strew clover and various cover crops any place that looks like it needs it. Gradually it is evolving in its own way. Deer keep the groundcover mowed pretty well and some of the trees get pruned but it does keep them out of our more charished orchard. Clearcut can be great if you plan around it and enjoy it for what it is. I find it easier to plan swales and berms and kugel culture because it is mostly out there to see. Some trees coppice very well and that is easily managed when you have an overview available to you.
Actually, the weevil larva are excellent scrambled in eggs. They are not really maggots but beetle larva and I saw a show where the guy was eating them. Hmmmm. I know with acorns, the ones that float are the ones with larva. We put them in a metal bucket with some sawdust on the bottom. After a very brief period of time in a warm house they burrow out and drop into the bottom of the bucket where they can be gathered to either feed the chickens or feed us. Pretty much flavorless but lots of good fat and protein. The key seems to be consistently harvest everything you can clean up and do it enough that over the years the population of weevils declines. Not much you can do when all the neighbors are not doing the same.
In the United States, try to find some American Pit Game chickens, the kind that they fight in cock fights. We get to our property weekly, sometimes every two weeks. The game chickens are wild and free. They fly very well and roost 75 feet up in oak or pine trees and forage for their feed. We do throw scratch grains out for them whenever we are there and they appreciate it. That being said, everything eats chickens - raccoons, opposums, skunks, hawks, owls, feral cats, neighborhood dogs, bears (we have had a problem this year). The game hens hatch out their own broods in the spring and often again in the summer. We keep trapping out coons, possums, etc. but not a lot can be done about owls and hawks. Once they find the birds they will keep coming back until they have caught them all. We also have chickens in fortified brood pens with automatic feeders and waterers. When they hatch a brood, some of them venture into the wild and have a grand time. You must also be aware that chickens will devastate a garden, eating new plants emerging, scratching up young plants, will eat ALL the ripe red tomatoes, berries, cabbages and squash. If they can fly well enough to escape predators, they can fly over your garden fence. In the winter, the young roosters will mature and if you don't eat them (you will have to shoot them since you will not be able to get near them), will begin fighting until there are none left. Old English Bantam chickens are also very self sufficient and not nearly so destructive. Dark colored ones seems to avoid predators better. They also fly like eagles. I keep chickens though because I love them and enjoy watching them - they can be very destructive though.
It is very easy to encourage native wild birds to hang about and eat insects. If they have nesting places they will harvest many insects for their young. We have perches on tall poles in several places in our garden and the birds use them to launch attacks on insects in the garden. Brush piles provide habitat for predatory wasps and wasps are encouraged to help with cabbage loopers and such. They really hunt among the cole veggies for the caterpillars for their nests.
Ditto on the plant late. Check your latest frost date. Check the "days to harvest" on the squash/melon or whatever you want to grow. That will give you a pretty good idea when to plant you cucurbits. There are farmers here (Central VA) that plant pumpkins at the end of June, beginning of July for October pumpkins. They may need a little more irrigation but the squash bugs seem to be less of a problem. I tried that this year and just now harvested some Candy Roaster winter squash that were never bothered by bugs and my summer squash are still putting out little squash. Never beat the bugs like that before.
The young growing shoots can be peeled and cooked like asparagus, pretty tasty and the more you cut them back the more shoots you get. The deer also browse them pretty heavily around here. We have staghorn, glossy and winged. None of the poison one here and I'm glad of it. You can harvest the bright red heads and try them for use in the winter for a big boost of vitamin C.
Be careful feeding chickens things which have been brined. Too much salt is deadly to them. You can rinse the salt off but then you lose the beneficial bacteria. We have always fed ours fermented sprouted grain. No salt, lots of enzymes and no toxins.
According to Gias Garden the Hackberry can be grown in guild with black walnut which allows (through some magic) other trees and shrubs to be grown as well, without being killed by the juglone. They are a delicious berry and if gathered in quantity, can be stewed and put through a mill to extract the massive seed. The resulting pulp can be dehydrated into a yummy leather or just eaten with a spoon. There are supposed to be some that have a softer seed that can be chewed up but I have never run across one. All seem like toothbreakers to me. I may try one of those bigger berried ones from Oikos - very interesting. They have so many fun plants to try.
It depends on the disease. Mareks stays in the soil for 10 years. Some chickens do not show symptoms but are carriers. Most respiratory diseases can be carried by the wind - like corn pollen. The only way to have a closed flock is to raise your own chickens from eggs that you hatch. Don't be to quick to judge the other breeder of chickens, your chickens may have carried the disease that killed the new ones and the new ones were just more susceptible to it. I have seen it happen. We have brought other chickens into our place but they stay in quarantine for a minimum of a month. Usually we just set eggs from the best layers under some of our game hens and let them raise up new layers for us. You can use an incubator but hens are less fuss in brooding them and require no electricity.
Hardy orange makes a magnificent hedge and will keep out bears and just about anything else. My sister calls hers the hedge of death. Black Dragon is a variety that has thorns that are even MORE fierce than the regular species - three inches of curved sharpness. These plants are super easy to propogate, just plant the "oranges" and wait. That seems to work better than planting individual seeds. They will germinate into a clump of little seedlings. Just separate and plant them out. They do very well crowded together to make an impermiable hedge and can be pruned with no problem. Do be careful where you put the prunings though - the thorns can go through a shoe. I like to pile them into a sort of mulch pile around my chicken pens to provide bears with a little treat if they decide to approach it. Also works for dogs, mine has learned to avoid that part of the yard. Once they get large they do not transplant very well so put the little seedlings where you want your hedge to be. Mulch well and enjoy. The flowers in the spring are wonderful and the birds love nesting inside the larger plants because it has great support for nests and no mammals can get into them. I have them pop up here and there because I forgot I had planted them -- always a fun surprise.
For many people who may need a pig to assist in weed removal, waste recycling, or whatever that do not eat pork, or pigs or any meat -- many times on Craigslist I have seen free, neutered, pot belly pigs. They are not too large, are super intelligent and can be moved around in "pig tractors" made out of cattle panels or contained in electric fence (I highly recommend the woven electric fence). Being neutered, there is no worry for breeding them and they will need shade and water and some supplemental feed but they do a great job. I know when I finally move full time to my place in the country, they are on my list of must have items. Until then, it is pull and pull and pull for the johnson grass and bind weed. I have a tub of water that I dump it into, let it ferment in the sun with a couple of shovels of fresh chicken manure (which will kill almost anything anyway) until I am sure it is 100% dead, then pour it back onto the garden or onto various kugels and berms around the place. Don't give up! We have honeysuckle here as well that is so strong it pulls trees down. But I know it can be defeated! My dad cleared an acre and 1/2 of it by rigorously pulling every bit he saw. It took him 5 years but that property is still clear of honeysuckle 20 years later.
Our chickens free range for only part of the day, they are a mixed flock of bantams, American Pit Game (only the hens free range) and misc. egg layers. Our yard looks like we are running a zoo since it is full of cages and pens which are designed to keep the chickens from tearing everything up. They even fly up into the peach tree and eat the peaches! I only remove the cages when things are too big and sturdy for them to destroy. They have been know to excavate six foot fruit trees to destruction. Forget keeping any kind of mulch on anything, that is like an invitation to attack to them and we actually used that behavior to disburse straw mulch around our Nanking cherry grove - just dumped whole bales and let the girls have at it. We are talking 7 acres of garden/food forest/orchard sort of things. We love 'em though so we work around it the best we can.
Irene, what kind of chickens are those? They are gorgeous!
Free ranging chickens, especially hens with chicks really cut down on ticks in the yard. They eat things that I can't even see! I also dust cotton balls with diatomaceous earth and stash them in places the field mice might be messing about (wood pile, stacks of lumber, etc). They use them to build their nests and then you have more vermin free mice. Also set up the same sort of things for the birds to make their nests. It helps with bird lice and ticks on them as well. A splash in the dust bowls that the chickens make keeps them free of ectoparasites too!
The permithrin works great on clothing, be sure and spray socks as well. I also spray the edges and underside of my tent when we go camping. For more organic/natural, lemonbalm, crushed up and soaked in oil is an effective but short-lived repellant. I use it on the dogs as well as myself when I am going to be out messing in the forest. It also makes a great dense ground cover in an edge situation where there is enough soil moisture for it. Does really well in medium shade and at least here doesn't take over like crazy.
The ERC is actually a juniper with edible (in small quantities - 10 per 1 gallon crock) berries that are used in making saurkraut adding a subtle but definite flavor! It is also a kidney cleanser even in such small quantities. Those berries are also relished by many birds, which is why the cedars are almost always found growing along fence lines -- the birds plant them. The big problem we have with them in Virginia is that they are also a prime carrier of cedar apple rust which is very bad for our orchard. We are planting rust resistant apples but they cast so much shade -- we have decided to remove a bunch of the cedars near the orchards/food forest but leave quite a few down wind from everything else. That way we hope to have the best of both worlds. Solomon seal grows very happily under the ERC and the wild blueberries seem to do as well. I use the posts for fencing and support posts in building sheds/animal housing etc. Some of the smaller ones make excellent stakes for the varius projects here and there.
We bought 26 acres last year that adjoined our current property. There is a section of about 1.5 acres that is a solid grove of tree of heaven. Interspersed with them are dead oaks, maples, poplars and pine. They killed everything. Only thing that grows in among them is honeysuckle and it doesn't even climb the trees. We cut down a bunch of them, they are only about 6 inches in diameter but very tall. They made kind of a tropical looking grove. All open with a very high canopy. The ones that my husband cut high (3+ feet above the ground, I have no idea why) did not come back. Everything shorter than that put up suckers like crazy. We cut a bunch of the poles up to try and dry for firewood (worked great by the way, burns wonderfully once it drys), and left a bunch of the poles laying on the ground. A couple of weeks ago, we went back in with machetes to cut down the suckers (so soft, so tender - ha ha ha ha, die little trees) and as I started to whack on some I noticed some leaves all black and shriveled, looking closer, some of the trees were infested with hundreds of little black caterpillars, with webbing running through the branches. A little friend helping us? I have never seen them before and they were on none of the other trees -- we left all infested trees alone. This week we were wandering and checking on things and the poles that were laying on the ground were covered with oyster mushrooms! Pounds and pounds of them. Tried them and they were great. We are going to cut down more and pile them up with the ones making mushrooms now and hopefully we can keep the mushroom culture going. Maybe pour some coffee grounds (we have hundreds of pounds) amongst them to tie they all together. I know oyster mushrooms like coffee -- and apparently tree of heaven as well. I still don't like them but now I don't completely hate them.
Looks like you may have a problem with pollination. Some gourds are night blooming and require moths for pollination. Even day-blooming squash can do this if there are not enough pollinators. You can pollinate them yourself with a little paint brush. We had this problem a lot when we first started with our property 30 years ago. That is why it is so important to provide good habitat for our little pollinator friends. I will not let my DH burn brush piles, they break down eventually and provide excellent habitat for pollinators, snakes, lizards and such. Providing some kind of water and an insect garden for them helps as well.
We have the American Filbert which has small nuts, about half and inch. The more you have around the better the pollination and the larger the crop you get. The nuts are small but we dry them wht the scapes and all and run them through our Dave Bilt nutcracker - fast as anything you have handfuls of little clean nuts. You can run them through an oil expeller and use the oil for cooking/fuel/primitive oil lamps/making soap whatever you can use oil for. The resulting pomace can be mixed into breads/pancakes or whatever and is delicious or you can feed it to the chickens and pigs. You can also just eat the nuts - I love them fresh and raw. I am trying to get European filberts going to have somewhat larger nuts and putting into hedgerows where they seem to thrive. It seems to take about 5 years for them to really start bearing well, mulch is important to prevent competition from weeds. Biggest problem here is getting them before the squirrels do. Like so many things in our food forest, we are not the only ones who like to eat the foods!
As someone who has kept a few chickens in the house, I would not recommend it either -- the dander from chickens gets everywhere and clogs up everything, including lungs. Providing the correct amount of light in the right spectrum, and a balanced diet is also difficult in complete confinement. Not that it can't be done, just isn't much fun for you or the chickens. Fresh chicken manure will burn earthworms and our chickens don't even like to eat earthworms so that might be a problem as well, not to mention the smell. In some areas it is illegal to keep chickens in the house but I have friends that have pet chickens they keep in the house using a big parrot cage to roost in at night and chicken diapers for during the day (don't laugh, you can buy them on line). The hens make fabulous pets.
We have used these in various places around the yard for over 10 years. They were originally developed to protect fighting cocks out on tie cords from predators. The key to sucess is having them at the right level -- they need to be about eye height for the predator you are trying to warn off. They also have to be all the way around the perimeter. If you only have one, the predator will go around and come in from behind. Cover all 4 sides, the more the merrier. Since we have been using them, no raccoon, feral cat or skunk attacks on the chicken pens and we were losing birds every week until then (and it has kept rabbits out of the garden). For deer, they need to be higher - and having CDs on fish line hanging about that reflect the blinking red light seems to reinforce it. For owls, place the lights even higher. A 20 ft pole set up in the yard with one on each of 4 sides can reduce owl removal of tree roosting birds amazingly. Doesn't seem to bother the chickens or the tree roosting birds, it may make them hold very still if they think it is a predator. Just as a precaution to keep critters from becoming used to seeing the little red "eye" I move them around at random but keep them the same height. The only thing it doesn't seem to phase is opossums, I don't think they have enough brains to be affected but that is only my opinion. I have trapped over 18 possums this year trying to get into the chickens but none of the other predators. Learning how to make the lights from radio shack parts would be waaaaaay cheaper. Great idea!
We have 36 acres of mostly woods, 2 acres with garden and fruit trees and chickens. On our game cameras we have captured several bears including a sow with cubs which we watched grow up through game camera pictures. Never any problems in 25 years until last year. Then a bear broke into the chicken area and ate all the feed while bashing the feeders to smitherines. We knew it was a bear because of the tracks and the fact that apparently 100lbs of laying pellets causes terrible intestinal problems for bears. It turns out one of the cubs, recently set off on his own by his mother, just didn't have any fear of people. Folks kept running into him in odd places and he was even huffing and behaving badly and scarily when he did creep up on people and they faced him. Our way of dealing with him was 1) put up woven electric fence around the chickens with a solar charger, and 2) arm all the neighbors with rubber buckshot and pepper spray. Our goal was to make this bear fear people! We caught him trying to get the birds and shocking himself, when we ran at him shouting and he turned to run --- pow, right in the butt with the buckshot. No harm to him but a lesson. Another neighbor had a very close encounter and ran through the same drill. That seemed to do the trick, the only other sighting since then he turned and ran as fast as his fat little feet could go. We have never had problems with any other adult bears even though there are a lot of them around here. I sure hope it stays that way.