Biophilia refers to the  love of living things and nature and the human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature.

Humans evolved alongside the natural world and it makes a lot of sense that we would develop an affinity for this environment that provides the basis for our every need - food, clothing, comfort, inspiration, creativity. We are drawn to a forest or ocean landscape or a sunset. Deep feelings are evoked as we see wildlife, pet a dog, feel the cozy pressure of a cat curled up against our legs.  And the sense of beauty and  connection we feel sounds an inner tone as deep and as old as our species itself. 

When we take the time to retreat to a forest, ocean, park; to plant a flower or grow a radish, we are returning to the loving arms of the earth as surely as a toddler too long away from their parent. In our busy, complicated lives, it is helpful, nay critical, to use some of our precious time to restore ourselves in nature. For such is our nature.

Gardening or tending houseplants are ways we can benefit from this relationship even when a hike in the mountains or a trip to the ocean seem a far away dream.

Contact us to learn more about Therapeutic Horticulture and how it can benefit you, your family, your facility or program

Wilson, Edward O. Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984

From the beginning of time, gardens have been created for social interaction, spiritual retreat, physical convalescence as well as medicinal herbs and foods. Therapeutic Horticulture is the deliberate use of the connection between humans and Nature. 

Countless times, when ordinary or extraordinary stresses weighed on me, I have said, “I need some garden therapy.” I pull some weeds, pick some radishes or simply walk amidst the plants and my mind comes to peace.

A planted vegetable garden
Creating order in the garden can quell feelings of internal chaos

Therapeutic Horticulture is based on the understanding that spending time with plants helps to bridge the perceived separation between humans and nature. Humans evolved with nature. When we feel separate from it, we experience less resilience and peace. We lose touch with a connection that can nurture, soothe, inspire and repair our lives. 

Scientific study has proven the effectiveness of time spent with plants.

One of the best things about this simple method for bringing health and healing into our lives is its accessibility. All you need bring is your attention.

Drop us a line and tell us how plants and gardens soothe, inspire, energize and heal your life. 

Ask a question about how to get started implementing this inexpensive, effective healing method in your life. 

Or contact us about running a program in your school or facility.

Here in Vermont, the ground is frozen solid all winter. Chickens are inhibited from their natural way of staying clean and preventing infestation of parasites. 

All it takes is a pan or box and some clean sand. The chickens go wild for the experience and defend their turn until they have completed their toilette. It is really fun to watch and clearly a pleasure for them.

I use a rubber feed bucket. I tried a metal feed pan but the sides were so low that most of the sand gets kicked into the bedding. It does no harm if some gets spilled but requires more frequent refilling. The feed bucket is about 8” deep and 24” across and helps contain the sand. It accommodates a chicken very nicely and often another will climb in for a shared bath.

Use clean sand, such as Quickrete tube sand which is inexpensive and free of harmful additives. You can also use play sand which is made for childrens' sand boxes.

You will find many suggestions of potential additives for a dust bath. One of them is diatomaceous earth. I strongly recommend that you don't use this. It is made of ground fossils. Under a microscope, you will see that it is made up of tiny shards. It is hazardous to your chickens. Breathing it can cause tiny cuts and it sticks to lung tissue causing scarring in the respiratory tract and lungs. It can cause great pain and irritation to the eyes. Giving your chickens a big pan of diatomaceous earth for dust bathing is to invite them to breathe clouds of abrasive, damaging dust.

Adding fragrant dried herbs (catnip, lavender, sage, oregano, rosemary, basil, pennyroyal, wormwood, yarrow) to your nesting boxes and replenishing them when the fragrance fades is a much more effective way of preventing pests in the coop, either in the bedding or nesting boxes. Essential oils of these herbs used sparingly, such as a dab on the wall, are another option.

There are countless ways to bring the benefits of Therapeutic Horticulture to life. It is helpful to understand that humans deploy two types of attention.

Voluntary (or Directed) Attention is directed by thought and concentration, such as working at your job. It requires tuning out extraneous stimuli in the environment in order to focus on the task at hand.. It is very useful and can also lead to mental fatigue after a period of time. 

A freshly cut field surrounded by trees

 Involuntary attention is captured by what is happening in your environment. Studies show that it actually enhances subsequent voluntary attention.

Taking a few minutes to water the plants, stroll in the garden or look at photographs of natural settings is proven to lower the blood pressure, slow the heart rate and enhance subsequent voluntary attention when you return to it. 

To get the full benefits

 Choose an activity that 

  • Allows you to be completely immersed in it.
  • Allows an escape from the tiresome activity
  • Captures your attention without effort
  • That you want to be exposed to and enjoy

Some of the activities I choose are walking on a wooded trail, pulling weeds in my vegetable or flower gardens, tending houseplants, photographing insects, plants and landscapes.

What is your favorite form of garden therapy?


Ohly, Heather, et al. “Attention Restoration Theory: A Systematic Review of the Attention Restoration Potential of Exposure to Natural Environments.”

There are several methods of preserving the harvest  for later use. They are canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating and fermenting. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at them.


Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about dehydrating veggies, fruit and more


No electricity or space in the freezer is needed to keep dehydrated food.

Dehydrating preserves more nutrients because only low (or no) heats are used.

Fun, simple way to preserve your own herbs.

Some foods such as apple leather can be made in the oven.

Dehydrated foods are great to have on hand to toss in a soup or eat as a snack.


Dehydrators are an expense and many foods need a dehydrator to adequately dry foods. It is a romantic notion to make sun dried tomatoes, but it can be a challenge to get it to work in an area with late summer humidity, a run of cloudy days. Insects or mold can be a problem.

Dehydrated foods that are not tightly wrapped can take on moisture and spoil. Properly dried foods should snap and break when bent. 

To make your own dehydrated ginger (or other garden fruits and vegetables):

Pick your produce and dehydrate it before it withers and wilts.

I grew ginger for the first time in my garden. It was just delicious and so pretty and I learned quite a lot growing it. One thing I learned is that fresh ginger doesn’t keep that long in the refrigerator. Realizing this, I decided to dry the bulk of it for later use in tea, curries, baked goods, etc.

Ginger Harvest

Wash your ginger, scrubbing off any clinging dirt. Set aside to dry on a towel. 

Cut off tops before the green section begins.

Cut bulbs into ⅛” slices. 

Consider putting a few back bulbs into a pot and letting them overwinter there if you are in a climate where the ground freezes.

Place slices on dehydrator racks in a single layer allowing a bit of room between the pieces.

Most recipes tell you to peel ginger. Clean it, scrub it to remove any loose bits of dirt or skin, yes. But I don’t feel it is necessary to peel it. Make sure you clean any crevices where dirt may be hiding. 

No dehydrator?? Try this in the oven:  Place the slices on an oven tray at LESS THAN 150 degrees F. This will take 10 - 15 hours.

Set the dehydrator temperature between 110 and 140. When the ginger snaps and breaks upon bending, it is done! Let it cool and then store in an airtight container. Make sure you don’t  leave it sitting for a long period of time after it is done cooling, as it may take on humidity and not keep well. 

You can also do this with purchased ginger which has the brown skin that develops when the root has been out of the soil for awhile. It is a great way to make sure you have some ginger handy for a curry or batch of cookies. It is greatly superior to commercial powdered ginger.

Watch Joyce demonstrate making fruit leather with WCAX

Dehydrating Herbs: 

Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about dehydrating herbs

Most herbs can be air dried. Just tie the stems in small bundles and hang them up to dry. Keep the bundles small so there is adequate air circulation. Trapped moisture spells mold. If sprigs of herbs are too small to tie in bundles, lay a towel on a sheet tray and spread the sprigs there, again allowing adequate circulation. The drying time varies with the plant and the humidity level. Make sure to take them down before they begin to gather dust. Store in an airtight container. 


While it may seem tempting to toss your vegetables in the freezer just as book book they are, hold up just a moment. You need to know that even after you pick them, your vegetables continue to ripen because of enzymes present in them. This will continue even in the freezer. You need to blanch them to stop the action of the enzymes and retain the greatest amount of flavor, quality and nutrition. 

This is called blanching. It is basically dipping your vegetables into boiling water for 1 - 3 minutes and then chilling in an ice bath, draining and then packaging for the freezer. 

Many berries and fruits can be frozen without blanching.  Even though Ball has stopped producing it, I rely on the Ball Food Preservation books. If you don’t have one or can’t get one, a comprehensive guide on food preservation is available here - USDA Guide to Home Canning. You can also purchase it as a print USDA Canning Guide, Spiral Bound.

Food expands when it freezes!  You must leave adequate “head space, ” usually ½” is adequate, to prevent the cover coming off or the container breaking.

As much as I dislike plastic, I use plastic for storing food. I have tried glass jars, but they seem particularly prone to breakage when full of frozen food. So I use BPA free containers and bags. 

One cool device that I employ frequently is a vacuum sealer. It sucks all the air out of your food and so helps to prevent that freezer burn taste. It can also crush some food, so try it and see if you like the results. 

Put bagged food in the freezer laying flat until it is frozen for easy stacking.

Freezer “boxes” stack easily. Square ones are the most space efficient.

The instructions and recommendations are different for each food. The above resource is a good guide. 

Watch Joyce demonstrate making raspberry freezer jam with WCAX

Read my freezer jam article featured on the University of Vermont website

Canning Food

Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about canning tomatoes

It is the current consensus that canning is only safe for high acid foods. My upbringing would argue that. But let's stick with that rule for safety’s sake. The concern is that botulism can develop even in a sealed environment and a case of botulism is a very back case of illness at best, or deadly even.

By following the USDA guide, you will avoid problems, but you must follow instructions.

Keep your canning jars in a pot of simmering water until you are ready to use them. (Your canning kettle can be used for this). 

Dilly Beans! Yum!

Fill the jars with hot food.

Add lids. Place in the canner and process according to instructions for that food. 

Take the jars out of the canner with a jar lifter and set them on a wooden board or other heat resistant surface. A hot jar placed on a marble countertop can shatter. 

I cover my jars with a towel because my mother told me to. It may be an old wive’s tale, but I get to think of her every time I do it.

I use a pressure canner. They are more expensive, but I feel they are worth it. They use a fraction of the water so come up to boiling quickly. Then you just wait for the pressure to come up and time from there. You will want to read the instructions carefully for your model. If you find an older model at a yard sale, you may need to purchase new weights and a new rubber seal. 

Every few years, you will likely need to replace the seal. You will know because the kettle won’t come up to pressure. It is wise to get a new one before you need it.

Read my article about canning fresh tomatoes 

Sauerkraut with carrots


Pickling is basically preserving in apple cider vinegar. The high acid content keeps pathogens from forming and gives us… PICKLES !

Watch Joyce walk you through the process with WCAX TV

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods use naturally occurring bacteria to naturally increase the acidity and thus preserve food and prevent the growth of pathogens. 

Coming soon: Sauerkraut with carrots and Kombucha

Let’s get you growing!

Whether you want to grow a tomato in a pot, some flowers or a vegetable garden, you're in the right place. 

This is my winter garden.

Gardening in Winter

Winter is no time to plant outdoors in Vermont. It might seem like gardening is done until spring. But I say not. There are plants you can grow indoors. 

Want to give it a try? Find some ideas here - Growing Food in Winter

But for the most part, winter  is the time for resting, contemplating, enjoying food you’ve put by and planning for next year. 


Many companies will send you a free copy. They are full of color and beauty and hope that spring will come again and the spirits are lifted. 

Since the middle ages, people have recognized the soothing effect of looking at plants and flowers. Even looking at a scene out the window or pictures in a hallway or gazing at a seed catalog, are uplifting to the heart.

Practically speaking, you need to know : 

What you want to grow. (that’s where the seed catalogs come in)

How much space you have and how you will use it

How much time you have to give to your garden 

Planting Method:  I use a very simple planting method that optimizes garden space and has many benefits. The method was created by Mel Bartholomew. Once I tried Square Foot Gardening,  I have never veered very far from it. I have never found a better way. 

Mel Barhtolomew’s book Square Foot Gardening is a great guide to this space effective, fun manageable gardening method whether you’ve been gardening all your life or are just beginning.

The above assignments will fill your winter with inspiration, hope and education (and if you are very lucky a cat snoozing on your lap and a warm blanket or woodstove to keep you cozy. Somewhere in the midst of all this coziness, consider ordering a few packets of seeds. 

Late Winter / Spring Gardening

Here in Vermont, we plant in the ground around Memorial Day. We start garden plants indoors 6 - 8 weeks before that date, depending on the plant.About the first week of March, we begin planting seeds indoors. Peppers come first as they take a long time to get started, then come tomatoes a week or so later and finally broccoli, kale, etc which grow much more quickly.

Seed packets tell you when to start seeds indoors, relative to the weather in your area, often in relation to your last date of frost. Pay attention to this. Plants will tend to get leggy and weak if you start them too early. You will need a simple light setup and start your own plants.

Go to this website and enter your zip code. Easy peasy.  

Almanac Frost Dates

The benefits are having living things around you 6 - 8 weeks earlier, greater choice of varieties and the pleasure of tending the plants and knowing where they come from and what soil is used. The downside is fussing around with plant lights and watering for months before planting in the ground.

You may opt to plant no seeds indoors. You can also buy your plants at a quality nursery in your area close to the time of planting. 

Determine whether the timing is right. Here in Vermont, we plant in the ground around Memorial Day. We start garden plants indoors 6 - 8 weeks before that date, depending on the plant.

Get Step by step instructions for indoor seed starting. 

Watch Joyce in Starting Seedlings 101: Choosing Seeds and Containers with WCAX

Starting Seedlings 101: Proper Light and Soil

Starting Seedlings 101: Planting Tips and Tricks

Next you need a spot to put your plants or seeds. 

One garden location ready to go!

To start a vegetable garden, you can have an area tilled. You can turn it by hand with a garden fork or shovel, removing grass, weeds, large stones. 

You might need a fence to keep out those who would eat your garden faster than it can grow.

Another way to start a veggie garden is with raised beds. Dig out existing plants or solarize with black plastic until plants there are dead. Dig out any roots.  Build a boundary for your bed out of untreated wood. Hemlock is inexpensive in my area. Untreated pine or spruce is also a good choice. Yes they will rot eventually. But pressure treated wood is toxic and will leach chemicals into your soil (and food). Fill the beds with garden or potting soil. Use organic potting soil to avoid the many problems of high nitrogen fertilizers.  Don’t line your raised bed with any kind of barrier. It prevents proper soil life.

If a patio garden seems just right for you, watch Joyce talk with WCAX about container gardening and transplanting into containers

Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about Getting Garden Beds Ready

Make it yourself - Save money and skip the harmful chemicals 

If you want to move away from health and beauty products with labels that look more like cleaning supplies than something you should be consuming or putting on your skin, read on.

I am cautious with using plants. Some of them contain very powerful components and it is important to know what you are doing. There are many books on using herbs for medicine and skin care. Do your research. 

A great example is comfrey. It is soothing to the skin and promotes rapid healing. However, if you have a puncture wound, comfrey is not a good choice. It can lead to the skin healing over before the body is able to clear and drain properly an infection within. This can lead to an abscess. By leaving comfrey out of my healing salve, I make sure that no one who uses the salve can have that problem. I still use comfrey, but not in a general salve. 

St John’s Wort flower
St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort Tincture: 

St John’s Wort has long been used to lift feelings of depression.

 I find it very useful for the draggy feeling of light deprivation which is a given here in Vermont. This plant appears in fields that are mowed once a year or so. It is a simple flower with tiny leaves. Both the flowers and leaves are used to make this tincture. It is harvested in mid summer.

Some sources say that St John’s Wort can cause photosensitivity (ie. you could sunburn more easily), but I have not noticed it. Perhaps that is because I typically take it in winter. It can also be used by people experiencing depression at all times of the year. So be cautious of sun exposure until you are accustomed to its effects.

NOTE: With all plants, do your research. And ask your doctor or naturopath. Some beneficial plants have poisonous look alikes. Some medicinal plants react badly with prescribed medicines.

Making a tincture:

NOTE:  Make sure that you are gathering plant material from an area free of chemical treatments or contamination.

Gather the aerial parts (leaves, stems, flowers), wash and air dry as needed and place in a quart sized  jar ( think spaghetti sauce sized ) about ⅔ full - roughly an ounce of plant material.

Put the plant material in a quart sized glass jar with a tight fitting lid. A canning jar works great for this.

Cover the plant material by filling the jar with unflavored, high quality vodka - minimum 80 proof, better yet 100 proof. Cheap vodka can leave an unpleasant taste in your tincture. A mid-priced vodka will do just fine. 

Cover tightly with the lid and give it a shake. Store in a closed cupboard where you will see it daily and give it a shake. 3-4 weeks later, strain through a fine mesh sieve or an organic cotton cloth if the strainer allows bits to remain. Store in a dark cupboard in an airtight jar or individual dropper bottles. 

2 - 3 droppers full once or twice a day as needed to lift the spirits.

Make sure you label your tincture with the ingredients and the date started. 



½ cup coconut oil

2-3 Tablespoons of baking soda

2 small packets of stevia powder or equivalent liquid

15-20 drops of peppermint or cinnamon essential oil


Melt or soften coconut oil.

Mix in other ingredients and stir well. If you are using melted coconut oil, you may need to stir several times as the mixture cools to keep the baking soda incorporated.

Put mixture into small glass jar (I make separate  ones for each family member)

Let cool completely.

To use: dip toothbrush in and get a  small amount onto bristles. You can also use a small spoon to put on toothbrush.

Note: In really warm weather, the coconut oil can become quite liquid again. In winter, it can become quite stiff if your bathroom is very cold. Adjusting the amounts of baking soda / oil can help to create the perfect mix for the season you are in. 

Vinegar for your skin

Put raw apple cider vinegar in a squirt bottle and use it on your skin at the end of your shower. Rinse it off. Your skin will feel the benefits. It helps to clear the skin of excess oils and soften the skin. Try it on your hair as a non-oily conditioner.

Oils for your skin

Olive oil is very healing as is coconut and both are said to have antibacterial effects. Both take a moment to soak in. Coconut takes the prize for its lovely fragrance and I love how soft it makes my face. I use it often in place of body lotion. 

What’s to Eat? 

Cooking does not need to be difficult, expensive or overly time consuming. 

Aside from making food more digestible (in many cases) there are many benefits to cooking your own food:

A conjoined tomato
A conjoined tomato! How cool is that?

1) Preparing food can be a wonderful way to reconnect with the earth. Every bite you eat comes from the earth in one way or another. You simply could not survive without plants. 

But it is more than survival. 

2) Humans have developed millions of ways to adapt their foods to their needs and tastes. The best way to prepare food for flavor and nutrition is to start with fresh food and prepare it yourself with minimal processing and no preservatives or chemical additives..

3) We have created tremendous social and cultural meaning and history around food and its preparation. Dipping into tradition and history by continuing the craft is a wonderful way to connect to what it means to be human. 

4) To experience involuntary attention where you are at ease, interested, enjoying yourself is very restorative. 

 Here are some tips for enjoying this ongoing adventure with food:

A green pepper cut in half showing all the seeds.
How many seeds inside of one pepper would grow how many peppers in all?

 As you prepare your food, notice with your senses. The scent of the onion, the smoothness of a radish, the loveliness of a perfectly red tomato, the sound of chopping celery on the cutting board. Enjoy the wonder of the food you are preparing.

To experience involuntary attention where you are at ease, interested, enjoying yourself is very restorative. 

When I learned to slow down and pay attention to my food at every stage, my relationship with food changed.  I began to experience food preparation as very soothing and grounding as well as a great way toward a healthier and delicious diet. 

You may be wondering how you could ever make this work in your busy life.  Start right where you are,  even if you are pulling a grocery store pizza out of the freezer, begin to notice the food, the preparation, the serving, the company if others are eating with you.

Come back often for more tips and ideas on what to make for supper (or lunch or breakfast).

Don’t know where to begin? Consider an ingredient 

which might be in abundance because of the season, your garden, a sale or a gift from a neighbor. For example, 

The Incredible Edible Egg 

Sometimes at my homestead, eggs are in abundance and I shift to using more of them in my meals.. 

There are so many delicious foods you can make from eggs. Per serving, they are an inexpensive way to get high quality protein. Here are a few specific ideas of what I do with this particular abundance.

Whip up an omelet from your produce drawer

Saute up some mushrooms, broccoli, diced onion, whatever veggie you have that are good cooked (leave out the lettuce). Set aside. Grate some cheese. Beat up a few eggs and add a splash of milk. Warm a clean skillet with butter until it begins to sizzle. Pour in the egg mixture and immediately turn the pan down to medium low. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook until the eggs are set. Spread the sauteed veggies over one half and sprinkle the cheese on top. Flip one side over to achieve a half circle. Put the cover back on and let the cheese melt. Serve with toast if desired.

Note: If your omelet breaks when you flip it, don’t flip out. Serve it however it comes out and call it a scramble. 

There are many egg dishes that can make a meal 

Poached Eggs on toast with mashed and salted avocado worthy of a nice brunch
  • Fried egg sandwich with ham, bacon or sausage
  • Egg salad
  • Deviled eggs
  • Hard boiled eggs 
  • Poached eggs
  • Baked eggs
  • Goldenrod eggs on cornbread
  • Souffle 
  • Custard

None of them take a lot of time, money or ingredients.

Consider a cooking method such as…

The grill - especially if you particularly enjoy grilling and grilled food

Check out that produce drawer again and see what you could toss  on the grill beside the meat?

It can be helpful to have a heat safe rack or pan for cooking veggies on the grill.

The oven -

Save money and energy and prep ahead

Roast two squashes at once and set the second aside for a dish later in the week or freeze it for next week.

If you are roasting a chicken, slide in a tray of veggies to roast. 

If you are baking some bread, have the squash ready to roast when the bread comes out to prevent needing to heat up the oven twice. 

Crispy, delicious meringue cookies made with leftover egg whites left over from another recipe.

The Slow or Pressure Cooker -

Beans and rice are very inexpensive food as well as being fast and easy in a pressure or slow cooker. How else could you use the tools you have to make your cooking easier?

Consider who you have with you

How could you use this time of food preparation with someone you love? 

Making food together is bonding. And it is also a wonderful way to teach children where their food comes from and to give them tools for making delicious, high quality meals. 

Or maybe you would like, sometimes, to cook all by yourself. The solitude can be quite refreshing. 

Maybe those with you don’t want to be involved. Sit them down with a snack or beverage and chat about their day while you cook. 

Stop wasting Food

Tomato, feta, walnut salad with balsamic vinegar, oil and a sprinkle of salt

For your wallet and for the planet, stop wasting food. 

Compost all food scraps, trimmings and food that goes bad in the fridge.  Food that is put in the garbage  takes a very long time to decompose inside of a garbage bag. It releases methane into the air all that time. Food in the trash is a major contributor to environmental damage. Composting is efficient and easy. Nature does all the work for you.

If you have chickens, they will love your vegetable trimmings. I often hear that avocado and solanaceous vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant) are not good for chickens.

Plan out your meals ahead of time so you don’t purchase too much food. Keep an eye on the contents of the refrigerator.  Shift your plans when you see something that needs to be used while it is still fresh. If you see the mushrooms won’t last much longer, saute them up while you are cooking your meal and save them to toss into the gravy or pizza later in the week. 

Lunch in a wrap!

What’s in the produce drawer? Some things lend themselves to cooking. If they don’t, consider a salad.

 If they do, how about fried rice or an omelet? 

Make it ahead and take it with you!

It takes only a few minutes to spread some pesto on a wrap, toss on some veggies, maybe some cheese, whatever you would put in a salad.

Slow down and enjoy the process

Produce drawer pizza on flatbread with sour cream, herbs, sauteed vegetables and cheese

Making food can be a very pleasant part of any day. Slow down. Turn on some music. Chat with people near you. Pour a glass of wine or cup of tea. Notice the foods you are working with. Are they smooth? Hard? Soft? Notice your senses - sight, sound, scent, taste, sensations. Enjoy this very moment while you prepare for one of the most delightful parts of being human - eating delicious food. Enjoy your efforts. Enjoy the company, even if it is solely your own. Enjoy this relationship with the earth’s plants, for even if you are eating meat, the world’s plants are sustaining your life. 

With attention, you will continue to grow more creative and more efficient in making your own food. Questions? Drop us a line. 

Chicken challenges happen. What to do.


Feathers get damaged over time. Molting is the process during which chickens lose their feathers and grow new ones. It usually occurs once or twice a year. Sometimes it is gradual and slow. Sometimes it is dramatic.

One morning you go into the coop and there are feathers everywhere! You’re sure something has gotten into your coop and made off with one of your birds. But wait! The head count shows no one is missing, but one bird looks absolutely wretched! This is often called a “hard molt.” 

A chicken in a hard molt
Butterscotch in a hard molt

During molting, chickens can be more vulnerable to illness. You can help.

Minimize stress

  • Consider removing your rooster to a separate space if he is mating hens in a hard molt. New feathers are vulnerable and can bleed profusely if broken.
  • Don’t choose this time to introduce new flockmates or a new dog, for example.

Feed high protein supplements - such as mealworms, tuna, etc. in very small amounts.

Remember that a chicken eats only about ½ cup of food per day. It is recommended to give no more than a TBSP of other foods as it risks unbalancing the nutrition of her high quality layer mix.

Don’t handle the hens  unless it is really necessary. Feathers come in surrounded by a rigid shaft of keratin as you can see in Butterscotch's picture above. It is painful for hens to have these feathers pushed about. If they get broken, they will bleed.


A chicken with a severe mating injury covered with a piece of apron cloth
Buffy after a severe mating injury which was covered with an extra wide apron to keep it clean and prevent further injury and pecking.

Chickens operate primarily on instinct and they are opportunistic omnivores. Their first approach to anything is - Can I eat it? 

They peck at anything that might be food. They seem particularly tuned in to the color red and if there is blood, they cannot be deterred. If one of your chickens is injured, the others will peck at the blood, worsening the injury and can ultimately kill the injured bird. They are not being cruel. They are just doing what chickens do. 

They also peck to establish their place in the flock. This type of pecking can be worsened if there is not enough roosting space or not enough space for birds of lower rank to get away from those at the top. This type of pecking can worsen and become entrenched behavior. Once pecking causes an injury, it is a serious problem. It is best to notice it right away and eliminate the cause.

Flock behavior is a way that certain species of birds survive. Even the chicken at the very bottom of the “pecking order” has a place. 

However,  if the flock is stressed, it can become a habit or way of coping. It can cause escalating stress as well as injury to your birds.

If you have a hen who is continually bullying others, it can be helpful to move her out of sight of the others for a few days. This can be accomplished with a dog crate with a sheet over one sight so they can’t see each other. When reintroduced, the pecking order will be changed and her position will be reset.


Injuries can be caused by pecking, overmating by a rooster, predator attacks, contact with a sharp object.

Chickens have an affinity for the color red. And they are omnivores. If an injury is visible, they will sometimes peck at a wound until they kill the injured bird. Keep the injured hen separate until the injury is healed. It can be helpful to keep a folding dog crate on hand to deal with such situations, as well as feeders that can be used in the crate. 

If there is bleeding, use styptic powder to stop it. This will not stop pecking but it will stop blood flow. Some people say that cornstarch or white flour can be used. Styptic powder is inexpensive and a very smart thing to have on hand. It stops bleeding immediately.

Each injury is unique. Bandaging is pretty much a losing game.

Some injuries can be covered by an apron and thus protected. If you choose to keep an injured hen with the flock, you MUST keep a very close eye on her to make sure the wound is not being reopened by pecking.

Buffy after a severe mating injury which was able to be covered with an extra wide apron

Sometimes the hen will peck at the injury herself and it will not be able to heal.

Buffy, had an injury under her wing, caused by a large and clumsy young rooster who adored her just a little too much. She pecked at her injury off and on for a couple of days.  

This did not seem to cause bleeding so I left her alone. After a couple of days, she stopped pecking at it. The 4” long gash, located along her side, was problematic because big movements such as fluttering up or down from the roost would open the wound again. For some time, I kept her in a crate so that she did not have the opportunity to reinjure herself. 

Because it was out of sight under her apron, I put her back in with the flock as soon as the skin had closed over the injury.

If the injury is  severe enough that your hen cannot move or feed properly, you will need to consider euthanizing her. If she can feed and have a safe place in which to heal, it is pretty amazing how quickly a chicken can heal even a serious injury.


Mites are  parasites that take up residence on chickens. 

If you move their feathers out of the way, you will spot them under the wings and around their bottoms. Good hygiene can help to prevent them. 

When I clean the coop, I dust the edges (where the wall meets the floor) with a little diatomaceous earth. I use a kitchen shaker for this - such as a large empty spice jar with big holes. Wear a mask as it is harmful for you to breathe it. Then add bedding as normal. Diatomaceous earth dehydrates all life stages of mites and helps to prevent them from breeding in tight, damp spots. It also dries out those corners that tend to be a bit damp. 

Diatomaceous earth is not harmful for chickens to eat, but is damaging to their lungs. Do not use it for dust baths. Diatomaceous earth is not recommended because it has minute sharp edges and can be very irritating to chicken (and your) lungs and eyes. 

Don’t be afraid of the deep litter method in winter. If you add clean shavings when it becomes dirty, the balance of waste (nitrogen) to carbon (wood shavings) creates a natural biome that will help you to keep a clean, healthy coop. If you are seeing more than 50 / 50 manure to shavings ratio, it’s time for more shavings. Toss some shavings on top of the places where waste accumulates under the roosting bars. If there is a strong ammonia odor, you need to add shavings or clean the coop.

Provide dust baths for the chickens all year around. In summer, they will create dust baths by digging outdoors. In winter, provide a tub with 3 or 4 inches of play sand (without salt or additives). I use a deep rubber feed tub. Keep a cat litter scoop on hand to clean out bits of poo that get dropped in there. Add more sand as the level gets low. 

There are several products available for treating for dust mites. Some require an egg withdrawal period.  Elector PSP features Spinosad soap which is safer for your chickens and the environment. Plus there is no period of time during which you must discard the eggs after treatment (egg withdrawal period). 

Something not covered here? Drop us a line. We will add more topics as they arise or are requested. 

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