Designing Ecological Backyard Gardens: An Interview with Jessi Bloom

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Jessi Bloom, author of Free Range Chicken Gardens, explains how to get the most out of a small garden with low-maintenance edibles and chickens
at the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington.
 

When Jessi Bloom set out to design lush gardens for people
who wanted to water less and keep their gardens pesticide-free, there wasn’t a
lot of encouragement to be found. “I was told I was crazy. I was an extremist
for being anti-pesticide,” she says. “Other landscape companies would scoff at
the idea that I wanted to use native plants or edibles because there wasn’t a
resale component. They would say things like, ‘Irrigation is the bread and
butter of my business. Why would I want to create drought-tolerant gardens?’”

But Bloom persisted, vision intact. In 2000, she started a small
business, N.W. Bloom, and began gardening—weeding, more or less—for others. She
kept up her home garden experiments, too, emulating natural ecosystems and
letting her chickens roam. “It was my dream to live sustainably, to be able to
grow as much food as I could,” she says. Bloom was introduced to permaculture
at that time, but for all the talk surrounding the beyond-organic method of
gardening, mimicking nature seemed like common sense to her. 

For instance, Bloom is big on low-maintenance edibles, also
known as perennials. “Plants you can put in the ground once and slowly but
surely, year after year, you get more and more out of it.” Trees, nuts, fruit,
leaves, shrubs. They’re disease and pest resistant, and they offer a nutritious
alternative to the monocrops on offer through industrial agriculture. “Not only
are they easy, but they’re really good for us,” she says.

Bloom’s vision and persistence paid off. Over the years, she
found herself doing more design and construction as N.W. Bloom grew steadily,
if slowly. Then, at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in 2006, her
practical, ecologically-minded design outshone the extravagant,
high-maintenance contenders for a gold medal. Attention from local media ensued.

At a more recent show, Bloom designed an urban homestead
complete with goats, a chicken, tractor, cob oven, solar panel, and water
catchment. “Everything I’m about was in this little garden,” she says. The
design won seven out of eight awards at the show. Afterward, Timber Press
offered her a book deal on gardening with chickens. Though she hadn’t been
fully aware of how rare her chicken-friendly gardens were, she agreed. The
result was Free Range Chicken
Gardens
: How to Create a Beautiful,
Chicken-Friendly Yard
.

The book seeks to make both gardeners and their chickens
happy. “We can utilize [chickens] for much more than their eggs or their meat,”
says Bloom. “Garden help like pest control, fertilization. We just need to set
up our gardens as a system so they can do what they’re doing without destroying
their gardens. […] We need to be mimicking nature and creating ecosystems.”

I caught Bloom at her booth at the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, to
talk about gardening with chickens, planting perennial foods, and garden
ecosystems.

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