Now more than ever, the topic of food supply and accessibility looms over us and brings us to the realization of how much we rely on outside resources to feed ourselves. For us lucky ones, this is the first time we have faced empty shelf after empty shelf in our grocery stores, and it’s the first time we have had to confront a scary reality that access to what we need is literally out of our hands.

As isolation and social distancing have presented many of us with the newfound time to pick up new hobbies or revisit old ones, now is a better time than ever to start our own supply of sustainable food from our backyards. A small garden of fresh produce along with a few chickens to supply us with fresh eggs is a great place to start, and surprisingly, chicken coops are not just a trend that celebrities can do. Raising chickens and growing produce is easier than you might think, and the benefits are undeniable: saving money, eating food free of any harmful chemicals and, of course, having control over your own food supply.

Here are a few tips and tricks for starting a garden and coop from a 5th generation chicken keeper, master gardener, and author, Lisa Steele:

  1. You can start a garden now, even if the temperatures are still a little chilly. It is actually a great idea to start your seeds indoors, and then transfer them outside when the weather permits. By starting your seeds indoors, you can extend the growing season to enjoy your vegetables and herbs even longer. 
  2. You can even give your soil a little boost by using your morning coffee grounds to sprinkle around the plant or work into the soil before planting your seeds. Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus which makes them the perfect fertilizer. 
  3. When it is time to move your plants and sprouted seeds outside, you can spray the area with white vinegar first, which is an all-natural weed killer that creates the perfect foundation for your fruits, vegetables, and herbs to grow.
  4. To begin keeping chickens, first, check your local regulations to make sure that you are allowed to have chickens and how many and whether or not you are permitted to have roosters. The regulations vary from town to town so it is important to make sure you understand the laws and regulations. 
  5. Once you know you’re allowed to raise chickens, you will need to decide on what breed of chickens you want. A common misconception is that you need to have a rooster to lay eggs, which is not true! Chickens will lay eggs without roosters; they just won’t be fertile eggs. So are you looking for chickens that have a calm temperament that is great for families with young children? Or is it more important to you to have chickens that lay the most eggs? Make sure you do your research and ask lots of questions; picking your chickens out is as important as picking out your dog or other family pet!
  6. Decide on a chicken coop. You can build one, buy a kit or buy an already-assembled chicken coop to have delivered to your home. Be sure your coop is big enough by estimating about four feet per chicken. You will also want to have enough yard area where they can roam freely while protected from predators. If chickens don’t have enough room, they can pick on each other and become aggressive. 
  7. You will need to include nesting boxes for your chickens so they can lay eggs. They prefer quiet, dark and secluded places to lay their eggs so keep that in mind as you build out your coop. Chickens typically start to lay eggs at about five months old and usually lay every 26 hours, but it is important to remember they may not lay every day. Once you retrieve your eggs, you will want to wash them and store them. Putting your eggs in the refrigerator will make them last much longer. 

You don’t have to be a master farmer or have a lot of experience to start your own food supply. Start small, and slowly work your way up as you learn. Before you know it, you’ll have crafted your perfect backyard garden and coop, and you’ll reap the benefits of controlling your food supply, saving money, eating healthier and having fun.