Gardening Zones

Gardening Zones

Read any gardening article, tutorial, or how-to, and you will inevitably see endless amounts of information about “zones.”

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but really, it’s not that complicated. Gardening zones, or hardiness zones, refer to the areas set out by the USDA for planting. The USDA Hardiness Zone Map separates North America into 11 separate planting zones, with each growing zone about ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer or colder on average than an adjacent zone.

If you’re new to gardening, here’s everything you need to know about gardening zones. 

What Are Gardening Zones – and Why Are They Useful?

Gardening zones make it possible for you, as a gardener, to compare your climate with the climate where a plant is known to grow well. Information about your gardening zone can tell you not only which plants will grow well in your region based on temperature but also based on rainfall. 

The most updated zone maps don’t just take into consideration these factors, but also things like changes in elevation, proximity to bodies of water, and terrain features, making them even more accurate when it comes to predicting the temperature and its effects.

Gardening zones are separated by ten-degree differences, spanning the lowest up to the highest potential cold weather conditions. The types of vegetation that has the lowest numbers can survive the coldest weather, and those with higher numbers prefer warm climates. If a plant falls right in the middle – for example, if it belongs to gardening zone 3-7 – it can survive a bit of cold but probably not prolonged freezing conditions. It will likely not hold up well to desert heat, either.

When you buy plants either from a nursery or online, you’ll notice that they are broken down into hardiness zones. These often are broken down further into “a” and “b” counterparts. We will break down the various zones for you below – and while we won’t go into detail about the “a” and “b” counterparts there, essentially all you need to know is that plants marked with “a” usually tolerate winter temperatures about five degrees cooler than those marked with “b” for the same gardening zone.

Once you know your gardening zone, you can choose the best plants for your area without having to waste your money on plants that will inevitably die. You will be able to provide better care for your plants and you may even discover that some of the plants you grow are much more versatile than others. By understanding which plants work best for your gardening zone, you can grow a more diverse, more successful garden. 

How to Find and Interpret Your Gardening Zone

There are numerous hardiness zone tools available online. These will tell you all kinds of information, such as temperature ranges, first and last frost dates, and even the type of ecological system in which you live. You can also refer to one of many USDA gardening zone maps online, which are usually color-coded for easy comprehension. 

Each plant type has its own designated hardiness zone, meaning the plant will be tolerant of the lowest temperature in that area. Planting outside the hardiness zone can result in your plants being shocked by extreme cold or heat. Therefore, it’s important to understand your gardening zones to hat you can choose the best trees, vegetables, shrubs, and other plants for your area. 

Zones aren’t stagnant entities, either. As the climate continues to change, zones can change, too. They are usually updated every few years. The USDA continues to get better at classifying zones as it focuses in on certain features of climate that can affect plant growth beyond temperature, such as wind, urban heat, humidity, and rainfall. 

Make sure you know your exact gardening zone and don’t just assume that the farther north you are, the lower your gardening zone will be. Average temperatures aren’t just affected by latitude but also by other factors, as we’ve mentioned already. Seattle, for instance, has a warmer gardening zone than Baltimore – which is located much further south. 

The 11 Gardening Zones of North America

Here, we will break down for you the major gardening zones. Interested in learning which gardening zone applies to you? Look at the 

Zone 1-2

Winter Temperatures Can Reach: -60 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit

Includes: Northern and Central Alaska 

What to Plant: Lettuce, kale, asparagus, broccoli, eggplant, vine tomatoes (plants with short times between planting and harvest)

Growing Season: April to September

Zone 3-4

Winter Temperatures Can Reach: -40 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit

Includes: States bordering Canada such as upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Minnesota

What to Plant: Broccoli, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, kale, vine tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries, sweet peas, potatoes, winter squash

Growing Season: April to October

Zone 5-6

Winter Temperatures Can Reach: -20 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit

Includes: Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut 

What to Plant: Corn, squash, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, beans, lettuce, leafy greens in the fall and spring only

Growing Season: March to October 

Zone 7-8

Winter Temperatures Can Reach: 0 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit

Includes: Arizona, Northern Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oregon, Northern California

What to Plant: Tomatoes, corn, melons, collard greens, squash, carrots, bush beans, leafy greens during cold months

Growing Season: March to November

Zone 9-10

Winter Temperatures Can Reach: 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit

Includes: Central Florida, Southern California, Arizona

What to Plant: Tomatoes, squash, melons, peppers, yams, peaches, citrus, figs, bananas, salad greens and peas during cold months only

Growing Season: February to November

Zone 11-13

Winter Temperatures Can Reach: 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit

Includes: Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Hawaii, Puerto Rico

What to Plant: Passionfruit, sweet potato, cassava,  mango, Thai chili peppers, citrus, taro, bananas, Okinawa spinach, pineapple 

Growing Season: Year-round

How to Work With (Instead of Against!) Your Gardening Zone

Start by figuring out your gardening zone with one of the tools mentioned above, and then realize that there are ways to make your gardening zone work for you – instead of against you. 

Just because you live in a cold growing zone (we’re looking at you, zone 2) doesn’t mean that you can’t grow anything at all. You just need to become more skilled at planning and being flexible when it comes to your garden. 

First, realize that plant hardiness zones vary. As accurate as the USDA attempts to be in its estimations of growing zones, there are variations. Some chunks of a zone will receive a ton of rainfall, while others in the same zone might be very dry. 

Either way, use a planting schedule based on your area to take the guesswork out of gardening. These will give you a better idea of when to start seeds inside and whether there are crops that can be planted a second time in a season in your gardening zone. 

You may have to change what you want to grow. Sorry, zone 4 folks  – you aren’t going to be growing pineapples outside any time soon! There are some plants that just don’t work in certain areas. 

However, there are always ways you can make it work. For example, you can grow heat-loving plants indoors in containers or you can use a greenhouse to extend your growing season. Additional tools, including frost protection methods like row covers and cold frames, can help make it possible to create the ideal gardening environment, too.

What to Keep in Mind With Your Gardening Zone

Like all things in life, gardening zones aren’t perfect. There are some situations that zone maps aren’t fantastic at working with.

For example, the USDA map does an excellent job of determining the garden climates of the eastern portions of the United States. Since this section is relatively flat, it’s easy to draw zone lines parallel to the Gulf Coast every 120 miles or so as you move north.

Yet there are still drawbacks. In this region, the USDA map doesn’t take into consideration how helpful snow cover can be over perennial plants or the regularity of freeze-thaw cycles (we all know how unpredictable those infamous January thaws can be!). In addition, it doesn’t factor in soil drainage during cold months. 

Moving westward, the gardening zone maps become even less reliable. Once you reach North and South Dakota down through Texas – and then moving westward- you’re going to struggle to figure out the most accurate gardening zone because of the elevation. In addition, as you get closer to the Pacific Ocean, it’s more challenging to predict temperature and weather because of the unpredictability as patterns move over numerous mountain ranges. 

As a general rule of thumb, though, knowing your gardening zone is a great place to begin if you are new to gardening. It will help you figure out which plants may not make it in your climate – and which ones will thrive.

Why Won’t My Hens Use Their Nesting Boxes?

Why Won’t My Hens Use Their Nesting Boxes?

Is your flock refusing to lay eggs in their nesting boxes? Want to spoil your hens by creating a nesting area that’s beautiful and inviting? In this article, I’ll show you 7 most common reasons why chickens refuse to use their nesting boxes, what to do about it, and how to provide the best nesting area possible.

It can be heartbreaking and confusing when your flock lays their eggs on the ground instead of the carefully designed nesting boxes you provide. Nobody wants dirty, poop-crusted eggs! It’s also disappointing when they start hiding their eggs or stop laying completely. You spend so much time and money setting up their nesting area, after all! It can be really, really frustrating. 

Getting your flock to consistently use their boxes can take some trial and error, but it CAN be done. It all starts with providing an attractive and inviting nesting area. With the easy ideas below, you can discover if you’re making some very common mistakes in your own coop. If your hens aren’t laying eggs, be sure to print this article out. You can use it as a checklist.

Let’s cover the common reasons why your chickens might avoid laying eggs in a nesting box.

Common Reasons Chickens Won’t Use Nesting Boxes

  1. Too much noise & commotion
  2. There’s mites in the nesting area
  3. The boxes smell or are dirty
  4. The bedding is wrong
  5. Nesting boxes are too high or too low
  6. Your hens don’t like the material your nesting boxes are made out of
  7. They don’t have enough nesting boxes 

Chickens Like Their Privacy

It’s true. Even though they’re incredibly social animals, chickens like privacy when doing their most intimate business – laying eggs. Why is this? When a hen lays an egg, it can take up to 1 hour for the egg to actually emerge from her vent. She must stay still and quiet the entire time. In the last few moments, before the egg is laid, she might even have to strain a little. As you can imagine, it’s not a time when she wants roosters, humans, or other hens bothering her!

If you locate your flock’s nesting boxes in a busy area, your hens might avoid it. Similarly, if they’re easily accessible to roosters or bossy alpha hens, it’s likely too stressful for a quieter hen. In these cases, she will find her own, more suitable, area. 

Make sure your flock’s nesting boxes are inside the coop. Choose a corner where there’s no feeders, waterers, dust bathing areas, swings, or anything else that can attract another chicken to the area. Dedicate that nesting area just for laying eggs. Your hens will appreciate it!

Are Mites A Problem?

We all know what mites are. But did you know they can hide in nesting boxes? Not only that, they can turn a cozy, daydreamy nesting box into a nightmare. Eventually, mites can even cause death. If your flock’s nesting boxes are infested, your hens might avoid them altogether.

So, how do you know if there’s mites? Personally, I automatically assume mites will creep in, especially if I don’t do preventative maintenance. Regularly cleaning nesting areas helps. Spraying the area down with a cleaning solution and scrubbing it regularly is a simple but effective strategy. An all natural cleaner made from citrus is a cost-effective option. 

But don’t stop there. Cleaning prevents existing mites from making the boxes a home, but it doesn’t stop the invasion completely. Do double duty by adding herbs traditionally used to prevent external parasites to your nesting area. Herbs are a cost effective and all natural solution that can discourage mites from returning. Mites can cause anemia, which usually requires a visit to the vet to diagnose and cure. So preventing them is cheaper than a big vet bill. Always make sure to source your blends from a reliable source. We use this herb blend because it’s created specifically for chickens.

chicken mites and lice
A chicken with mites isn’t a comfortable chicken! Mites can make their nesting boxes an unhappy place to lay eggs. Get rid of them ASAP!

Does It Smell Bad? 

Finding eggs on your coop floor? Not always cleaning your nesting boxes when they need it? Then your hens are likely avoiding the smelly, confined areas. 

Who wants to lay in a dirty, stinky bed? Nobody. And your hens aren’t any different. Lots of things happen in nesting areas that humans can’t see. As the box gets dirtier and dirtier, problems compound. Eggs break. A hen drops manure or urine. Ammonia builds up. Their eyes start stinging. Feathers get stuck everywhere. It’s unpleasant.

The simplest way to avoid this is to clean the nesting boxes weekly. Remove all bedding, and do a wipe down. Then, add clean bedding and herbs. For a more detailed explanation, you can read this article to learn how to clean a coop.

It’s also important to clean any unusual messes as quickly as possible. For example, if an egg breaks, don’t allow the smell to fester and the egg to dry. It’ll be hard to get the stench out of your flock’s feathers. You’ll spend even more time cleaning. You’ll end up with stinky chickens in addition to no eggs. You want to avoid wetness, stickiness, and bad smells. Clean the box immediately, and replace any bedding and herbs. 

Which brings us to an important point: great smelling herbs are an easy way to keep your flock using their nesting boxes. Chickens are animals, and smells are very important. It’s how they understand their surroundings. They use scent to determine if an area is safe or not. We’ve found that adding herbs and dried flowers creates a more inviting area that smells better. Instead of repelling our chickens, the herbs invite our flock to use their nesting boxes. 

We like this product, which is full of fragrant, healthy herbs and flowers like calendula, lavender, chamomile, rose petals, and more. The herbs are all healthy for chickens, and other buyers report the herbs attract their chickens to nesting boxes better than just bedding alone.

Herbs can make any nesting box more attractive. This blend smells great, and chickens love it!

Is The Bedding Wrong?

Have you always used a certain type of bedding? Or, are you not using bedding at all? Chickens are sensitive, like a lot of prey animals. Bedding that doesn’t suit them – for whatever reason – can stop them from using their nesting boxes. If your flock won’t use your nesting boxes, try out different bedding options. Straw and pine shavings are two popular options. Adding herbs to bedding can also help attract your hens. In our coop, we use pine shavings from Tractor Supply and Best Eggs Ever! Nesting Box Herbs. Our flock enjoys them, and our hens always give us about a dozen eggs a day. 

Adding ENOUGH bedding is important, also. What would you rather sit on: a thin cushion or a nice, fluffy pillow? Personally, I’d opt for the fluffy pillow. I’m sure your chickens feel the same. 

When they lay eggs, the hens tuck their legs under them and bed down. Sitting on hard, cold metal hurts the shank of their legs and their toes. If their coop floor offers nice, fluffy shavings, they’ll likely opt to lay their eggs on the softer area. Add at least 1 inch of shavings per nesting box, and top it with ½ cup of herbs and flowers. Adding extra bedding and herbs can cost a bit extra, but it’s better than spending money on feed with no eggs to show for it! Your hens will show their appreciation by giving you lovely butt nuggets!

Whatever bedding you choose, just make sure to stay away from cedar shavings. While they smell good, some studies have shown that the aroma can have a long-term negative impact on your flock’s health. 

Are The Boxes Too High Or Too Low?

It’s true, sometimes chickens can sometimes be picky. While we have a lot of nesting options in our coop, for whatever reason, our flock refuses to use any that are placed too high. There’s a Goldilocks zone. If a new nesting box isn’t within those parameters, they ignore it. 

For example, a company sent us some nesting boxes to test out. The product looked perfect. But we committed a cardinal sin (at least a sin in the eyes of our chickens): We placed the boxes higher than our other nesting boxes. The hens promptly ignored them. As soon as we lowered the boxes, our chickens used them. 

It can go the opposite way, too. Sometimes nesting boxes are TOO close to the ground, and hens avoid them. This happens especially if the nesting boxes are directly on the ground. There’s a lot less privacy, and potential for opportunistic predators to infest the area to steal eggs. Bossy hens, roosters, rats, snakes, skunks, or other predators can easily enter the box. Because it’s not safe, chickens then lay their eggs in undesirable areas. 

If everything else in your coop seems okay, then perhaps the height of your boxes is the problem. Try lowering them or raising them to see how your flock reacts. It can be a chore, but so is an Easter egg hunt every day. In the long run, you’ll be happier with the results by finding your flock’s “ Goldilocks Zone.”

Choose Materials Your Hens Prefer

When we purchased our new coop, I had visions of easily removable plastic nesting boxes. I wanted to power wash them weekly to keep them dirt free. My flock had other plans. To this day, they refuse to use plastic nesting boxes. Instead, they’re fans of stainless steel. I’m still scratching my head, but that’s just the way it is.

Nesting boxes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made of wood, stainless steel, plastic, wicker, and any other material you can imagine. Like people, chickens have their own preferences. This is especially true if you have an opinionated alpha hen. She can influence an entire flock. And sometimes, chickens just prefer one type of nesting box over another. 

For example, if your nesting boxes are made of cedar, it’s possible your hens want to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. If the boxes are plastic, maybe they’re just too slippery. If it’s winter, maybe the stainless steel gets too cold. In the summer, maybe it’s too warm. Maybe it’s too sharp or too hard, and it hurts them. 

Examine your own flock’s habits. Observe them as they interact with the nesting boxes. From there, you can figure out if they’re avoiding their boxes because they don’t like what the boxes are made from. You’d be surprised what you can learn by spending a few hours watching your chickens. You might end up investing in new nesting boxes,  but it’s cheaper than getting a big feed bill with no eggs to show for it.

When they love their boxes, hens will double up to use them!

Make Sure You Have Enough Nesting Boxes

It’s best to have approximately 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. Yes, sometimes your hens will all use the same nesting box. But please give them plenty of options. For example, if you have 5 chickens, 2-3 nesting boxes is best. For 10 hens, then 3 nesting boxes is a good number. If you have 15 hens, 5 boxes is best.

Why is this ratio important? It comes down to promoting good behavior and cleanliness. Let’s pretend two or more hens need to lay eggs at the same time. Where will all these lovely ladies lay? Sometimes, two chickens can pile into a nesting box. 

But most boxes can’t accommodate more than two hens. More importantly, they shouldn’t. When hens pile into a box, chaos happens. Eggs break, and fights start. If it’s hot, your hens can overheat. Somebody can get smushed or suffocate. Your hens might avoid the boxes altogether because it’s too stressful.

Having plenty of nesting boxes also prevents bullying. If you have a dominant hen, she might stop other hens from laying in “her” box. Then, the other hens start laying in undesirable areas. They have to lay somewhere! To avoid all these disasters, just follow this simple strategy. Build 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. You’ll get better eggs and have happier hens!

Final Thoughts

Yes, some chickens can be picker than others. But if your flock has suddenly stopped using their boxes altogether OR if they never used them to begin with, it’s pretty safe to say your flock’s tastes aren’t the only issue. Likely, the problem is environmental. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few ideas you can test in your own coop. You don’t need to implement every single strategy we discussed. But if you notice your flock is laying eggs in undesirable areas, it’s worth printing out this article and using it as a checklist. From there, you can determine whether you’re making any of the mistakes we covered. Good luck and let me know how it works out by leaving a comment below!

25 Gardening Apps For Super Simple Planning

25 Gardening Apps For Super Simple Planning

Whether you’re a novice gardener with zero knowledge of plant care or an expert who can read a sun chart like the back of her hand, you no longer have to go it alone when it comes to caring for your plants.

The days of relying on folklore and the Farmer’s Almanac are over. Today, the Internet has made it possible to get all kinds of information about how to care for your garden with the simple click of a button. 

There are also thousands of useful apps that can benefit your plants, too. Here’s everything you need to know about today’s top gardening apps. 

How Gardening Apps Can Help You 

Gardening isn’t necessarily a high-tech hobby, but in this day and age, there’s no reason not to use every single tool that we are given! Gardening apps can help you in so many different ways. 

For example, you might consider some of these most popular features that gardening apps offer. With a gardening app, you can:

  • Identify poisonous plants
  • Determine which insects are beneficial or harmful to your plants
  • Plan out your growing season
  • Know when to harvest certain plants
  • Access advice from other gardeners
    Understand your soil type

The 25 Best Gardening Apps to Consider

Gardening Manager

Gardening Manager is a neat app that allows you to easily keep track of your planting schedule. You can take notes in the app’s diary feature, allowing you to track growing patterns for later seasons. Garden Manager has a sister app, too, which is called Plant ALarm. This app lets you save a variety of gardening alarms to help you keep track of what needs to be watered and when.

Garden Time Planner

Garden Time Planner has information about when you need to harvest and plant your crops. It will give you information about the individual type of plants as well as their region. It also gives you a handy task list so that you can stay on top of everything you need to do. It’s available for both iPhone and Android users.

Plant Diary 

Plant Diary is an easy to use app that is free for Android. It lets you keep track of the gardens you plant and you can even make a physical map of your garden with it. It’s not a fancy or high-tech app by any means, but it’s perfect for someone who is doing just a small amount of gardening. 

Garden Answers Plant Identification

Garden Answers is one of the best apps for you to use if you are new to plant identification. An easy-to-use identification app, it can identify more than 20,000 plants. You’ll walk away with some seriously useful information. It’s also easy to use – all you need to do is take a picture of a plant, press submit, and wait for your answer. 

Gardroid

Available only for Android, this app has a user-friendly design and allows you to peruse a list of vegetables and fruits to give you an idea of what to plant. You can add them to your garden in the app and then plug in the date that you planted them. You will be given a progress bar so you will know when they are ready. You can add or remove items to the calendar. 

This is a great app for people who are new to gardening as well as those that are pressed for time. You’ll learn everything your plants need to be healthy – and you’ll also stay organized in the process. 

Gardenate 

Gardenate is one of the top-ranked gardening apps. It includes a calendar so you know what you should plant each month. It also has a Wish List to let you keep track of plants to grow in the future. 

GardenTags

GardenTags is more of a community app than anything else, providing a platform for helpful gardeners to share tips and information with each other. Plant care is sorted so you can get information about how to deal with pests and weeds. 

Garden Compass 

Garden Compass is another app designed exclusively for iPhones. This app helps gardeners by teaching how to identify certain diseases and pests. If you notice anything odd in your garden, all you need to do is snap a picture of it and the app will identify it. 

Leafsnap 

Leafsnap doesn’t just have a catchy name – it’s also recommended and used by the Natural History Museum. You know it’s got to be good! Unfortunately, it’s only available on iOS. However, the app contains gorgeous high-resolution photos of all kinds of plants and all their various parts, including fruits, leaves, flowers, bark, and seeds. 

Garden Squared

Garden Squared is another helpful app that helps you keep track of what is planted within your garden. Only designed for gardens with a size range no larger than 4×8 feet, it’s perfect for someone who already knows how to garden but just needs an easy-to-follow planning system.

Into Garden

Available for Android and iOS alike, this app is perfect for designing a new garden layout. It’s perfect for small gardens in particular.

Flower Checker

As the name implies, the Flower CHecker app provides useful plant identification services for flowers. However, it doesn’t stop there – you can get information on more than 90% of all plant species! The app has no advertisements, too, which is another great feature to consider.

Vegetable Tree

Vegetable Tree is a fun app that is currently the top-selling app for iOS devices. It contains all the information you need about sowing seeds and caring for your plants, and tells you all the characteristics of the different fruits and vegetables you might grow in a garden. You can choose from just about any kind of plant and you can customize it to your garden’s specifications. 

SmartPlant

Available for both iOS and Android, SmartPlant helps you to identify plants. It’s more than that, though, and also features a Digital Care Calendar to tell you when and what all of your plants need. You can further personalize the experience by adding specific plants you have in your garden. The app will provide you with updates on what you need to do to care for them – and more importantly, when. 

Gardening Companion

Gardening Companion helps you keep track of the progress of your garden. Like many of these other apps, it also has information about how to care for your plants. 

Moon Gardening

Unfortunately, Moon Gardening is not a free app, and it’s only available on iPhones. However, it can be super useful if you believe in the power the moon has on your plants’ growth. It shows you a moon calendar with all the phases and related zodiac elements, letting you know when you should water your plants based on that information.

Plantifier 

Plantifier is a bit different from the other apps on this list because it doesn’t rely on experts but instead on the masses. To contribute, all you need to do is upload a picture of the unknown plant and let the other users on the site will help you figure it out. It also helps you track the progress of your plants and flowers too. 

GardenMinder

GardenMiner was designed by Gardener’s Supply Company and is one of the best gardening apps for you to consider if you want to stay on top of every step of the gardening process. It provides users with weekly alerts and how-tos so you’ll never have to worry about what to do.

My Soil

My Soil was designed by the British Geological Survey and gives you all the information you need to know about the soil in your local area. You can get information on everything from your soil type to its pH, it’s temperature to how much organic matter it has. This is super useful if you’re trying to figure out what kind of plants to grow in your area.

Garden Plan Pro

Garden Plan Pro isn’t just for “pros” – it’s also a great tool for novice gardeners. This app helps you get all the tips you need to design an herb, fruit, or vegetable garden. It includes tools to help you arrange your plants, layout the garden, and even track its progress. 

Home Grown 

Homegrown was created by Bonnie Plants and is a great app for people who are just getting started with growing their own food. It allows you to create a high-tech garden journal and also displays your weather for the next five days. It includes growing advice for more than 250 plants, too. 

Beesmart Pollinator Generator

Beesmart Pollinator Generator is a cool app that you can use to learn how to attract certain types of pollinators to your garden. From annuals to perennials, trees to vines, this includes a ton of information about how to bring these helpful creatures to your property. 

iScape

It can be tough to figure out how to best plan your garden. iScape helps with this, allowing you to virtually design your garden before you even plant. 

House and Garden

The House and Garden magazine offers a handy app. This app allows you to draw inspiration from gorgeous backyards so that you can easily plan your own display. 

Agrobase

Agrobase helps gardeners identify the most common weeds, insects, diseases, and other factors that are interfering with their garden’s success. Designed for farmers, it can be a bit tricky to use if you only have a small garden. However, it also offers solutions for some of the most common issues.

Which Gardening Apps are Best for Me?

If you’re just getting started with using gardening apps, don’t rush in all at once. It might make sense for you to try one app first and see how well that meets your needs. After all, you don’t want to bog down your phone with a million different apps!

However, gardening apps can be super useful tools for novice and expert gardeners alike. Give one a try this growing season!

How Many Chickens Are Too Many?

How Many Chickens Are Too Many?

How many chickens are too many? No really. This is a real question.

For some people, it is the question. But not for reasons one might think. Chickens play such an important role in the lives of people who love them. For some people, it makes sense to have many chickens, especially since hens are amazing at producing eggs. A single chicken is like a cute feathery gift that just keeps on giving. How could someone say “No” to them?

Well, it just so happens that there actually are a few good reasons why it sometimes is important to say “No.”

Reason #1: Space

Keeping chickens has become almost en vogue around the USA. As of a 2017 survey, about 1% of the entire USA keeps chickens. For an era where mass unsustainable farming methods of the past seem to be on the decline, this is quite a remarkable number.

If so many people are keeping chickens, and they’re not running large farms, then where are they keeping these hens? Not every home has space to keep a chicken coop. Well, our concept of chicken homes has to change a bit. Often, owners keep chickens in a small backyard or even inside their apartment.

The space question is perhaps the most important question to consider. Each chicken needs about 10 square feet of coop space to live comfortably. It’s also important to provide a run. Not all homes have the space for them to scratch, peck, and uncover bugs and other goodies. So what then?

When space is tight, the question about chicken numbers becomes essential. If your entire property is less than 1000 square feet, it would be almost impossible to house more than a few comfortably.

Reason #2: Money

Here’s the scenario: a friend has the option to add a new animal to their home. One option is a fluffy young chicken. The other is a 17-hand horse. Both need space and attention. Both will need food and water and shelter. Both will be amazing additions to the family, and the family would enjoy either one. So which one is the better choice?

Well, compare the cost to keep a chicken or a horse. In this case, chickens are a far more economical option. No two ways about it, a horse is far more expensive than a single chicken.

But chickens still cost money. Setting up a coop and providing bedding will cost money. Preparing for adequate waste disposal will cost money or time. Feed will cost money. Health checks, worming, and pest control will cost money. Buying incubators to hatch chicks will cost money. Each of these small costs will add up. Before long, you’ll realize that 50% of last month’s expenses went towards your chickens!

So, the question of what is “too many” chickens boils down to the responsible question for any pet owner. You’ll need to ask yourself, “Do I want to devote part of my income to a pet?” If the answer is yes, then that is some great news! It just might be time to increase the flock! “Too many” chickens would just be that point where the balance in the ledger crosses the line from black to red.

Reason #3: Death

Of course, this is the least enjoyable reason to add another chicken to your flock. But it’s worth considering anyway. Death is one of the hardest parts of life, but it’s unavoidable. When it happens, it can gouge away at one’s heart in ways that might not be readily apparent.

With the loss of a pet, it’s only natural to want to replace that void with a new life. This is normal, and acquiring a new pet can very often lead to a smooth recovery – or at least as smooth as one could find. A new life can add so much to a grieving heart; it is incredible.

The problem is that sometimes, we overcompensate. It’s like stress-eating. You’re overcome with stress, and cope by filling your body with food. You’re momentarily less stressed and have some much-needed energy. This can easily result in a little too much and instead of easing the stress, we gorge. The body doesn’t really need all the calories that we give it. Our coping mechanism ends up putting extra stress on the body.

It’s very easy to slip into, and it can happen after your pet dies. In such an event, there must be a limit. You don’t want to end up with too many birds to easily maintain. If you need to replace your lost friend, consider just getting one. At least for a while.

Reason #4: Family

Family is great. In part, adding a chicken to your home enlivens the family. With each chicken you add to your flock, your family becomes richer in experience. Each hen brings with it their own personality, and part of the excitement is getting to know what makes her tick (peck?).

The Flocking Family

If a chicken is added to a flock, it joins a complex organism that has a pre-established pecking order. It will be difficult for that bird at first, but before long, she will settle into the habit of the barnyard. She will make friends and find her own little spot on the roost.

What could possibly go wrong?

One potential problem is a particularly aggressive chicken. Chickens in general are docile creatures and interested in their bellies and the production of eggs. But there is the occasional rooster or hen that feels the need to pick on others. There might be some safety for the bullied chicken in the larger pack, but that is not always the case. If this happens, about the only possible escape is separating the birds. If warring hens gets too extreme, you might have to find a new home for either the bullied or the bully.

Reason #5: Reproducing

Probably the biggest reason for an increase in flock size is also the most obvious one: reproduction. It happens when there are both roosters and hens living together.

When springtime comes around, roosters might do a little dance that shows a lucky hen that he’s interested. This could result in a clutch of fertilized eggs.  If these fertilized eggs are incubated, they’ll result in a new batch of cute downy chicks. Once this happens, the owner then has to deal with the same question again: keep them or sell them?

There are many ways to keep chickens from reproducing. The simplest way is to have just hens. They’ll lay eggs regardless of the presence of a rooster. Alternatively, you could remove the eggs and not incubate them. This would result in no new generation of chickens.  

Reason #6: The Human Family

One spouse wants more, the other does not. Maybe the kids do, or they are even divided on whether to add another chicken or *gasp!* a dog. Or maybe the kids are begging the parents for more, but such conflict can put stress on the family. It’s important to think of others before adding more chickens to your flock.

Fights can happen. A strong-willed individual could get their way. But this sometimes can create resentment in the household. Resentment is a dangerous thing. If there is too much stress in the household, believe me, your chickens will pick up on it.

Like with the addition of any family member – 2-legged, 4-legged, 3-legged, 2-winged, etc. – the best approach is to discuss it. This gives everyone an equal chance to consider how the addition would change the family. It lets the unit consider both pros and cons. Sometimes an answer of “Not right now” is enough.

The best thing about “Not right now” is that it implies that “soon” another chicken might be added to the flock.

Is there a “right” answer to the idea of whether or not there are “too many” chickens? No. There are so many variables that this is an almost impossible issue. Perhaps most important to the prospective chicken owner is self-knowledge. They’ll need to ask themselves “How many is too many for me?” I’d recommend some serious consideration before the urge to add more chickens takes over.

I would recommend this, but then… I just might have given in to the urge to the flock once or twice. For me, personally, it’s a matter of space and time. Do we want to build another coop? Do we want to spend the extra time making sure extra chickens are all healthy? Or, do we just want to concentrate on the ones we have, and make sure their lives are as happy as possible? That’s how I decide “how many are too many”!

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

Heard about this thing called “layer feed,” but not sure how it’ll help your chickens? Unsure if your chickens’ diet is the best? In this article, you’ll learn all about layer feed, and why it’s critical to raising a healthy flock!

Living things need to eat. In fact, that might be one of the biggest motivators for gathering a group of chickens in our barns and sheds. We look after them, and they provide us with collections of eggs and meat. If you read our article about what chickens can eat, you know that to produce an adequate supply of eggs for us, our hens need the right nutrients for the job.

To aid in this, industry experts created specially-created feeds called layer feed. These feeds help hens with egg production. They also some smaller bonuses to our chickens.

What Is Layer Feed?

Layer feed is a mixture that helps chickens grow strong and healthy. It offers them a balanced mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It’s feed specifically for laying hens, and has healthy amounts of protein and calcium. Your hens need a lot of both to lay healthy eggs!

Example of layer feed ingredients

How Much Protein Should A Layer Feed Be?

A feed with 16-18% protein is best, with the right nutrients for your chickens to remain healthy. A layer feed isn’t the same as a chick starter, which is formulated for baby chickens.

A common question we get is about how to switch to a layer feed from chick starter. For the first part of your chickens’ lives, they should be on starter and grower feeds. Then once they begin laying, you should switch them to a layer feed. It’s easiest to switch gradually over the course of a week. A sudden switch could lead to diarrhea and other gastric problems.

Laying hens will eat about a quarter pound of feed each day. Free-ranging hens need less than this, as they will be foraging for much of their own feed. Despite their foraging, they will still need a significant amount of layer feed to help maintain a proper nutritional balance.

You might wonder can roosters eat layer feed, since they don’t lay eggs. In short, yes they can. They’ll be perfectly healthy. It’s unrealistic to house roosters and hens together and feed different meals.

Can Chicks Eat Layer Feed?

Your chicks have different dietary requirements than your fully-grown chickens. They will need different nutrients. Layer feed has extra calcium, which can cause your chicks to not grow correctly. It’s always best to feed your baby chickens an 18% starter ration.

Does Layer Feed Have Grit?

No, it does not. Grit is a coarse and abrasive material that chickens can safely ingest. It helps them grind up and properly digest food. It has no nutritional value, so you should offer it separately. You can read more about grit here.

Can Broiler Chickens Get Layer Feed?

Broiler chickens need a higher protein percentage than egg layers. The best feed for them are these heavier protein content feeds. In a pinch, your broilers would not suffer from layer feed. But the lower protein content might mean your chickens are smaller than expected.

How Much Does Layer Feed Cost?

Layer feed can range in price. A budget feed at your local farm store might cost about $.50-.60 / lb. If you are looking for non-GMO or organic homemade mixes, they will be a little more expensive. But your chickens will have a better diet. This is the Non-GMO layer feed we use.

Should I Make Homemade Layer Feed?

Whether to make homemade layer feed vs. store-bought layer feed is up to you. It depends on your lifestyle, free time, and the particulars of your farms. There are many recipes available online (like this one here). The following is a list of ingredients that are most often included in homemade layer feeds.

  • Oat groats
  • Regular naked oats
  • Black sunflower seeds, 
  • Hard red wheat
  • Soft white wheat
  • Kamut flour
  • Millet
  • Whole corn
  • Crack corn
  • Popcorn
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Brewers’ yeasts
  • Sea kelp
  • Alfalfa
  • Barley
  • Fish meal
  • Flax seed
  • Food-grade lime or aragonite

Each ingredient brings its own value into the mix: oils, protein content, nutrients, vitamins, amino acids, calcium, and energy. The ratio of ingredients can vary, and the higher protein ingredients will probably be more expensive than the grains. As a result, the grains will usually compose the bulk of the homemade layer feeds. Seeds and supplements like peas will certainly be more expensive, but they add tons of nutrients and variety to the layer feed.

You can extra supplements depending on the season. If it’s time for a worming or mite-prevention cleansing, food grade diatomaceous earth, garlic, or cider vinegar can all be added to help with keeping your birds’ bodies healthy – both inside and outside. You can give these supplements temporarily or long-term. You can mix the ingredients into garbage pails or metal pails by hand.

One of the biggest advantages of using store-bought layer feeds is the scientific measurements of protein. Excess protein can create problems in many barnyard animals. Renal dysfunction is one problem that does occur with too extreme a protein quantity. But a low protein content can result in smaller or abnormal eggs. It can also cause your chickens to stop laying and/or to become flighty.

You also might wonder whether you should ferment chicken feed. There are many resources online that show you how to ferment chicken (here’s ours). It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s very easy. The main idea is to submerge your flock’s feed under water, and allow beneficial bacteria to grow. If you’re worried about gut health, and want to do everything possible for your flock, then fermenting feed might be for you! You can also ferment chick starter.

Do Pullets Prefer Store-Bought Layer Feeds To Homemade Layer Feeds?

This is a very specific question that requires significantly more research for a definitive answer. Current observations show that there is no preference. Picky eaters are everywhere, so there just might be one in your flock. Chickens are live creatures, and some can certainly be more picky than others. If this is a research question that you decide to pursue, please let us know! We would love to hear your results!

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

There will always be people who think layer feeds are unnecessary. And in some situations, they’re possibly right. But industry studies show that a 16% layer feed is the basis of a good diet. Personally, I would stick to “tried-and-true” facts.

Where To Buy Layer Feed

Layer feeds are available everywhere, and we even sell our own – and very popular – blend right here. Petco, Tractor Supply, and even Wal*Mart all stock layer feeds. Chances are good that a simple Google search of “layer feed” and “nearby” will net you a source for the feeds.

Photo of our layer feed

Layer feeds have become a single stop for your egg-laying hens. They are easy to mix, contain a good balance of ingredients for your little ladies, and help your flock produce the “butt nuggets” we all know and love. By looking after the eating habits of our girls, we are improving the quality of our own food: our eggs.