A Permaculture System: Growing Grapes, Raising Chickens

How the solution to one problem led to a successful permaculture system.

| March/April 1984

Two years ago, my wife Judie and I moved from the city to 11 acres in rural Levy County, Florida (just 20 miles west of Ocala, our former urban home). The soil in this part of the Sunshine State is very poor — it's mostly sand, and it allows water and nutrients to percolate away — but we've managed to successfully cultivate two very different kinds of crops: chickens and grapes. And perhaps most important, we've done so by teaming them together to create a mutually supportive partnership and permaculture system that produces loads of fresh fruit and plenty of eggs.

Irrigation Issue

Actually, we planted our grapes — three parallel 120-foot rows, each containing six vines — well before we came up with the idea of adding chickens to the scheme. At the start, in fact, our most immediate concern was finding a way to keep our newly established cultivars irrigated. 

Eventually, I came up with a convenient solution: I ran a 3/4" feeder pipe underground from our water-to-air heat pump — which circulates eight gallons a minute — to the vineyard . . . and then laid an individual aboveground pipe from the conduit to, and along, each row. After that, I simply drilled a series of six holes in the piping (placing each one at a point adjacent to a vine) . . . and we were in business.

But the system created some problems, too: The irrigation pipe — as well as the vines themselves and their supporting posts and wire — made mowing the grass and weeding very difficult. I could've buried the pipe . . . but I feared that digging the necessary trenches might damage the grapes' roots. Elevating the pipes, it seemed, would be a better solution.

As I contemplated possible support systems that could be used to keep the tubing off the ground, however, I realized that I would essentially be building a kind of pipe-supporting framework . . . and that by enclosing the structure with wire, I'd have myself a cage. And if I put chickens in that cage . . . why, maybe the birds would keep the grass down, control the insect population, and fertilize the area, too!


The setup that arose from that notion is actually quite simple. First, we built 11 hurdle-like support frames for every 120-foot row. To make each one, we nailed a used 4'-long 2 X 4 between a pair of old fence posts cut to 3 1/2' lengths. Then — at 10' intervals along the row — we positioned each "hurdle" so that the posts on either side were equidistant (in other words, 2') from the vines themselves. After digging holes, we sank the posts until 20" of wood remained aboveground. 

Debra Hitch-Henderson
3/12/2012 9:49:34 PM

This is a wonderful idea and i plan on implementing it.

Jennifer Godwin_2
1/15/2010 3:09:50 PM

God bless Mother Earth News for existing and publishing wonderful articles like this one. This system sounds beautiful.

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