Grit expectations

Allow me to sing the praises of grit. Not the grit so indelibly captured by John Wayne–the stuff of perseverance and passion–but the stuff scattered on the floor of hen coops. I don’t know what chickens personally think about chicken grit but they certainly rely on it to help them digest food in their powerful gizards while, one imagines, meditating ruefully on the fact that they have no teeth. Well, at least not for the last 70 million years. Thank you, evolution! (Although Scientific American did breathlessly report “Mutant Chicken Grows Alligatorlike Teeth“. Hope and recessive traits endure. But I digress.

Tiny, happy hostas

I’d never heard of using the stuff in the garden until I went on a recent garden tour in the lovely Ontario riverside town of Gananoque. At a particularly lovely garden featuring an immense collection of hostas, one long, stone-lined garden bed was home to an assortment of mini-hosta, shown in the two photos below.

Battling slugs can be a real challenge as any hosta grower well knows. The prevailing wisdom is to mulch the soil around the plants with abrasive materials such as crushed egg shells or sand. The gardeners of this garden had used chicken grit instead. Not only did the grit seem to keep snails at bay, the size and colour of the grit worked beautifully to set off the wee plants. I had to know more!

Hostas with grit

True grit

As I started delving into chicken grit (not literally), I learned a few things about this remarkable material.

There’s grit for chicks and grit for chickens. Chick grit is understandably smaller than grit for adult chickens. There are even specially made grits for parakeets and pigeons, although there seems to be some differences of opinion as to whether parakeets and other small pet birds actually need grit.

Chicken grit is often made of stone. Flint or granite are popular materials.

But some grit is made of shells. Coastal Brand sells Oyster Shell grit which is made from (you guessed it) ground oyster shells. It works as a digestive aid for chickens as well as offering a good source of calcium which hens need to make up those wonderful egg shells.

Grit can come in different colours. Cherry Stone Grit is a digestion aid for chickens and turkeys made of natural quartzite. It’s called “Cherry Stone” because it has a nice rose colour to it.

Mini hostas with grit

8 more grit ideas

Grit can be a terrific help to the gardener well beyond that of snail barrier. Here are eight more reasons to bring grit into your life as a gardener:

  1. Grit makes a great top dressing/mulch for container plantings
  2. Use some to help with pot drainage
  3. If you’re not happy with using gravel for filling in the spaces between pavers, try the much finer look of grit.
  4. In winter, scatter grit on slippery, ice-covered pathways to improve traction won’t harm concrete surfaces or kill plants like salt can.
  5. Mixed into soil, grit can help improve aeration and drainage.
  6. Grit makes a good planting medium for succulents and bonsai.
  7. Oyster shell grit can also be a good fertilizer for calcium-loving vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cabbage and broccoli.
  8. Grit has just the right size and shape for creating the quintessential Zen garden. Yup. You’d need an awful lot of it, mind you, but it seems to work really well for getting those raked patterns just right.
The sand used in Zen gardens is not beach sand; it is actually crushed or decomposed granite, small pebbles, or fine gravel. The particles of crushed granite are angular rather than round, so they can be more easily raked into patterns. If crushed granite isn’t readily available in your area, use turkey or chicken grit.
Clark County Master Gardeners

What other ways can poultry grit be used to benefit the garden? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear about the.

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