Chickens, Worms and Permaculture

My gardening days started innocently enough, with flowers and shrubs. Then they morphed into some perverse obsession with compost and soil ecology. Now, I can happily say I’ve (mostly) recovered to the point of caring more about chickens and kohlrabi than the perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio in my compost pile.

Still, a lush, edible garden gets me going and, as such, I’ve come to find a new and improved hobbsession. Permaculture. Permaculture is kind of like the love child of organic gardening and forest ecology. It’s most basic tenets include care of people, care of the earth and sharing the surplus. As a design system, it also embraces having one item fulfill multiple needs.

Enter worms. Healthy plants come from healthy soil. Healthy soil comes from biological activity on the microscopic level (bacteria, fungi) to the macroscopic (insects, worms). Worms and their castings play an integral role in creating nourishing, rich soil by decomposing organic matter, improving water retention and creating pathways for moisture and air to travel through.

Worms also satisfy another permaculture need. Chicken dinner. Yep, worms rank up there as one of the hens’ favorite treats and the mere mention of worms sends the ladies into a wing-flapping frenzy. But why keep the chickens at all if they’re going to eat my amazing dirt-makers?

  1. My hens are first and foremost members of the family. They, like Marley and my brother, are pets.
  2. Eggs. Have you ever had a real free range egg from happy chickens? No? I can assure you, there is no going back to what factory farms pass off as eggs.
  3. Chickens are excellent at pest control. Spiders are no more in my yard. Same with pincher bugs, rollie pollies and most beetles.
  4. No matter what time of day, chickens do two things: breathe and poop. Luckily, poultry manure is considered a top-notch fertilizer.

So can I have my worm and eat it too? Absolutely. Worms, like all other living organisms, are very adept at making more worms. A well managed worm bin will yield both castings for the garden and wiggling protein for the ladies. It’s a win-win. Unless, of course, you’re the worm.

Moral: If you think that there is any possibility that you may have caught either the gardening bug and/or the chicken-keeping craze, go out and get yourself some worms. You will not regret it.