The Cambrian

A Gardener's Notebook: Chickens in the garden

Lee Oliphant’s granddaughter Carolyn, 4, holding Rosie.
Lee Oliphant’s granddaughter Carolyn, 4, holding Rosie. PHOTO BY LEE OLIPHANT

When I meet locals, they sometimes recognize my name as the garden columnist for The Cambrian. Occasionally, they have a garden question that has been on their mind, but more commonly ask, “How are your chickens?”

Chickens are integral in my efforts to have healthy garden soil and provide food for the table. Having chickens is also a way of involving myself in the movement for more “sustainable living.”

J.I. Rodale began the organic gardening (sustainable) movement in the 1930s by moving his family from New York to Pennsylvania to establish a farm for scientific experiments. His goal was to create soil that was alive and chemical free. He published the results, spreading the concept that healthy soil would produce healthy food. The movement is stronger than ever with authors like Michael Pollan continuing to crusade for better health through the consumption of locally produced food.

Chickens provide our family with fresh eggs, manure for a lush garden, and entertainment for our grandchildren. Raising chickens can be as simple as having a few hens, or as complicated as hatching your own and showing exotic breeds. Chickens are not for everyone. I get reactions like, “Why would anyone want chickens?” This question usually comes from people who have had a memorable “chicken experience” when growing up.

We’ve seen a handful of chicken coops being built in our town and have met several families that have chickens for eggs. Chickens in Cambria can be a positive experience if you are considerate of neighbors by keeping hens only and keeping your coop and run clean.

Hens need a safe environment. Chickens should be safely secured at night. With foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and hawks as daily visitors, hens are vulnerable to attack if left to “free range.” I content myself with keeping the hens in a secure area and gardening nearby where I can listen to their gentle clucking while they go about their business of being chickens.

Our latest project with the hens has been to install two video cameras with “streaming” to our “Backyard Hencam” website. If you want to see Tulip, Sweetpea, Daisy, Poppy, Petunia, and Rosie going about their daily activities, you can direct your browser to backyardhencam.comfor an outdoor view of the run, and an indoor view of the nest boxes. I’d love to hear from those of you who have backyard chickens in Cambria.

E-mail Lee Oliphant at; read her blog at centralcoastgarden