by Johanna Silver, Sunset Test Garden Coordinator

With lettuce on the bolt and Honey's comb in need of a little TLC, I decided to build a portable coop so she could keep me company in the garden. This portable mini coop, also known as a chicken tractor, is a shining example of garden-animal integration.

Both birds and garden bed benefit. The gardener saves some back-bending and precious time because the birds do every action performed by a tractor — they till the soil with their feet (albeit in a very non-invasive way), drop fertilizer, and gladly clean up an old, bolting garden bed. The chickens get to nibble on fresh greens, weed seeds, bugs, and they get a chance to experience the great outdoors.

Our new tractor is about as simple as they come. I cut windows out ofan old plastic bin, lined the inside with chicken wire, and fastened itall with nuts, bolts, and large washers. A door is secured withpaper clips wrapped around bolts, and the whole thing is tethered to theground with garden stakes. There is also a small dish of water near herat all times. This simple set-up works in our case — Honey goes home at the end ofthe day so I don't have to worry about predators digging under thecoop.

Not everything went perfectly: It took some time to build the coop; Honey seemed a little spooked; and I will still have to fork the bed and pull up the rest of the old plants. So why bother? Mostly because it is an absolute blast to have a clucking chicken work next to me in the garden. I love the questions posed by people who pass by. And I'd like to think that there is a part of her small bird brain that is enjoying the new scenery and fresh chow.

Chicken tractors are used on both small and large scales and come in a plethora of creative designs. My favorite collection is here.

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