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Eggs have arrived!

My first egg.

Two weeks ago, my first egg arrived. Rose has always been a few weeks ahead of the others. At first we worried she was a rooster. But she has proven her woman-hood with the little baby.

My first egg next to a normal grocery store egg.  Very tiny!

I took a picture next to a grocery store egg for comparison. They are still working out how to lay eggs … so they are still small!

Hard working chicks

Today I was so excited to find my first blue egg. My Amerucana, Zeus, has also convinced us she’s no rooster.

I put the egg next to Penny for a cute picture, as me holding it in my gym clothes looked rather lame.

Penny poses with egg

Penny of course, only has one thing on her mind. Snacks.

Penny eats egg

So I washed it off again, and put it safely away with the others. I am a chicken farmer now!

I'm an egg farmer now!

As previously discussed, I realized I couldn’t build my own coop from scratch, yet my DIY ethic prevented me from buying one outright. So I started with a large cedar dog house.

Step 1: Buy Dog House
The coop, when it was a dog house

Both my dogs can fit inside this doghouse — it’s huge! The measurements are 4ft by 3ft, giving me 12 square feet of indoor space — much more than needed for 3 chickens. (The average recommended indoor coop space is about 2 sq ft per laying hen.) I bought this used for $75, and the very nice guy selling it to me strapped it to the back of his minvan, and drove it 45 minutes on the highway to my house.

Step 2: Build Run

And Curious-er

Building the run is really easy, so I recommend starting here for novice builders like myself.

    A note on materials:

  • We chose lightweight cheap wood (1 x 2s and 2x2s) because I really didn’t want to spend much money and I wanted to be able to move it with one or two people later on.
  • Despite the warnings that hardware cloth is the only thing that is truly predator proof, I did go with twisted small gauge chicken wire instead. I had to drive all around the city looking for hardware cloth, and when I found it, it was just too expensive to use for the whole run. I bought a few feet of hardware cloth for my coop, and just stuck with chicken wire for the run. I do live in the city in a completely fenced in yard, this may not be a smart idea if you live somewhere with less protection.

We built the basic frame. (Don’t procrastinate, or you’ll be building in the rain too!)

Building a chicken coop in the cold, west coast rain

I spray painted mine black.

Adding the chicken wire

Then stapled on some chicken wire.

I can use a stapler!

We made some really basic plans for this, so basic they never even made it outside the hardware store. The run can be any shape you want — we chose to add a slant to ours but many people just make a straight box.

The run should be as wide as your doghouse and not too long, or else you won’t be able to reach the entire floor without crawling in there. When measuring the height, remember wooden doghouses will have to be propped up on cinder blocks (or something like it). You can prop it up to prevent the floor from rotting and to protect the chickens if your yard gets puddles like mine does! See the photo below to see how my run fits right under the roof with the house raised up on cinder blocks.

Finished run with unfinished coop

I read a lot about predator-proofing, which in the city is mostly my dogs, cats, raccoons, and hawks. I knew the run had to have a roof, because of the cats and hawks. With dogs and raccoons, you have to worry about digging. I have found that the “bib” approach works amazingly well and is a lot less working than digging chicken wire 1-2 feet down into the ground. With the bib, you just cut the chicken wire a foot or so longer than your frame. It lays on the ground, deterring digging. I watched my dogs trying to figure out how to dig into the coop, never putting it together that all they had to do was take a step backwards and dig from there. I think in this picture you can really see it:

Free at last

When the run was in place, I pinned it down with rocks and stakes so you can’t even see it through the grass anymore.

Step 3: Transform Doghouse into Coop

I started with ventilation. I did some reading and was convinced I needed about 10 times more ventilation than I thought I did.

I pulled off the front two shingles and covered them with hardware cloth.

Tons-o-ventilation

Then I cut out a slit at the top of the wall that was covered by the overhang of the roof. For paranoia’s sake, I also covered that with hardware cloth.

hardware cloth on the vents

Next came the roost. I found a branch on a hike since dowel rods were $$$. The chickens love it!

Roost from a branch

Cutting out the pop door was hard, since the cedar was so brittle. I had to put down the jigsaw and use a handsaw. I frame it out, since the cedar was starting to split. My door is on the tiny size, about 12in tall and 8in wide. Most people recommend something much larger, but my hens are OK so far with this. They just have to duck!

Framing the door

I liked the idea of using the door as the ramp.

Door folds down

At first I was going to just use latches, but then I read that raccoons can open anything that a toddler can. So I opted for locks. I bought a 4 pack that all open with the same key.

Raccoon safe

Lastly, I needed a “people” door. Putting on my sewing hat, I traced a pattern with some cardboard.

Tracing the door pattern

Cutting out the door

Apparently, this is not the way you do things in construction, but it got the job done. A pretty black door!

What a pretty door

Step 5: Add Chickens

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Snack on the ramp

Video of my chickens in their new coop:

Bonus: What I Learned

– I am really glad I went with a “mini” coop. I was worried about not being able to stand up in it for cleaning purposes, but for 3 chickens, a big shed like thing would have just been too much.

– You don’t necessarily save much money by building your own chicken coop, unless you have tons of time (months) to find discounted parts. My coop and run probably cost around $300CAD, and you can get some nice prefab things for not much more and save tons of time.

– Start early. This is going to take much longer than 2 weekends.

– I wasn’t counting on the high cost of hardware like locks, hinges, etc. I didn’t even think of looking for those on the cheap until it was too late.

– It annoys me to no end that little bits of bedding (straw, wood chips) fall out of my people door. I have no idea how to stop it. I’ve tried. Make it so yours doesn’t. Somehow.

Ok, happy building!

Garden … Planted!

I finally planted my garden on Saturday, and am feeling entirely inadequate about how late I am. I came across this link to an article in the Charleston Daily Mail about why garden procrastination is superior. It is written by another newish homesteader, except she’s made the move to the country already. Jealous!

Skipper is off taking a sailing course this week, so I am sure much more gardening will be happening in my long quiet evenings this week. However, she also took the camera … which means you have to wait for pictures!

Green with Envy

These people grow all their food for a family of four in the backyard. With extra to sell to restaurants. I have homesteading envy. I must go home and keep digging.

Double Digging

My parents bought me an organic gardening book for Christmas, and in it, it says to prepare a new garden, you must “double dig.”

The first thing you have to do is remove the sod. When you guesstimate how long this will take you, multiply your final number by 3. Then square it. That’s probably how many hours you’ll be tossing grass chunks around your yard.

My New Plot, Free of Sod

Once the sod is removed, it’s time to get digging. Mentally square off (or rectangle off) a small portion of your bed, probably only 5 or so sq feet. Then start digging, setting the topsoil aside in a wheel barrow or other out of the way space. You can stop once you’ve reach the second layer of soil, normally a different colour, type, and consistency than the top soil.

Top Soil and Sand Below

When I was a kid on the East Coast, the second layer of soil was clay and often very close to the top. It was very hard to dig through, especially for a little 40 pound weakling. Yet I really loved to “help” my dad turn over the soil in the garden with my kid sized shovel. I loved the treasures I found hiding in the dirt. Like old chicken bones, I remember imagining that were dinosaur fossils.

Someone's Garden Glove

I found this garden glove yesterday, long abandoned and decomposing. See the roots growing out of it? Treasure hunting is still fun as a grown-up.

As I kept digging for what seemed like forever, I couldn’t help but remember wanting so very badly to dig to China as a kid. My parents being the awesome people that they were let me try once. I didn’t get very far at all. I don’t think I cracked the top soil. I do remember coming away with the feeling that if I worked hard enough, I could reach my dreams .. I just hadn’t worked hard enough yet. A good take away lesson, I think. Anyway, it helped me get through the next 2 hours of digging yesterday, until I struck gold.

Sand

Or well, yellow dirt. On the East Coast it was clay, but on the island, not surprisingly, it’s sand.

Sandy Soil

After you’ve reached the end of the top soil, you fill the hole with compost or manure, and use a pitch fork to dig it in a big further. Then fill up the hole again with the dirt you’ve set aside, layer with compost on top as well. And you’re done. With that little section. Many more to go. The good news is that once you do it once, you shouldn’t have to do this again for your garden — as long as you don’t step on your beds and compact the soil.

This is either torture, a chore, or a nice meditation technique. You can take your pick.

I have to admit when I moved to the West Coast, I readily told people I didn’t believe in recycling. This is like being in South and saying you don’t believe in Creationism. The reactions weren’t good, suffice to say.

When I got my first job, I zipped through cleaning up my inherited office by throwing almost everything right into the trash can. My office mate, also new, dutifully followed behind me like an aftershock, opening shrink-wrapped instruction books to sort into paper and plastic recycling, removing CDs from their paper (recyclable) wrappers, and compacting the little trash he had left into a tidy pile. I thought this was very silly and told him so, but I was in Canada now and people are much too polite to contradict you. They just follow apologetically after you, move things into the blue bin.

I was finally moved to recycle when I was asked to vote for a video by a local elementary school in a Green Competition to win $50K. The school wanted to recycle their soft plastics, since they already recycled or composted everything else, and made a video about their successful efforts.

Picture 1

Soft plastic is probably the majority of what you through away at home — styrofoam, foil-lined wrappers, milk cartons, plastic bags … things like that. And as a new home owner, I my trash habits were not going to be good on the wallet. We are charged $5 per bag over our one tiny trash can per week limit. With 4 adults, 3 chickens, 2 dogs, and 4 cats living in our house … it was time to recycle. Plus, if a place as bureaucratic as a public elementary school can reduce their trash to one bag a week … then my comparably tiny household should be able to do it too.

So I looked up the program that McTavish elementary used, called Pacific Mobile Depot. The come to your community center or school once a month, you give them all your junk, and it doesn’t go into a landfill. Brilliant!

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This is two month’s worth of soft plastic, really compressed. I have a small bin under the sink to collect it as I go, then move it out on to this big bin on the deck.

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The puppies went with me to take it to my community center on my designated weekend. I setup a reminder in google calendar to tell me when its my week again.

Recyling is good

I got there right when it opened, and it was very busy. It’s always busy. For just $2, I get to recycle all this stuff. Cheap and eco-friendly. And even a 5th grader can do it.

I worked really hard this weekend on the garden, despite the looking gray clouds. It was an epic battle, who would win?

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I tore up some more sod for my veggie patch. This involved some tree chopping down. I hate ornamental trees. I also hate grass. They are slowing disappearing. Garden:0, Me: 1

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I created these incredibly cute min herb pots! Tasty, and cute! Garden:0, Me: 2

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There is STILL sawdust falling out of the front of my chicken coop, despite my extensive modifications to the inside of the coop this weekend. I normally don’t care about things that are ugly as long as they are functional … except for the fact that my precious puppy thinks that this is her personal wood-shavings-and-chicken-poo-buffet.

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Silly puppy. Gravity puts the first point for Mother Nature on the board. Garden: 1, Me: 2

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I did come back with these cute little planters to beautify my coop. Look at me, investing in flowers! Skipper asked me what kind of flowers they were, and why I picked them. I said … they were $1.50 for four? They are supposed to get much bigger. That’s pretty much all I know about them! Garden: 1, Me: 3

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My mother-in-law wanted some berry plants, so we picked up a few raspberry bushes for a few weeks ago. I worrying about what the hell we were going to do with THREE raspberry bushes, until we were out Saturday morning and a very nice sales guy sent us home with TWO more raspberries, TWO tay berries, TWO blueberry bushes, TWO kiwi trees, SIX strawberry plants. It was hard to find enough full sun for them, since our APPLE tree and PEAR tree are starting to leaf out.

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We now have berry alley, in the back of the yard. I envisioning laying in my hammock with a bucket of fruit in my lap, berry juice running down my face … almost eating myself to death with tasty berries. Garden: 1, Me: 4

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Unfortunately, despite my lead, the garden may have the last word. When I went to go stir up my compost pile, I noticed that we had unwelcome visitors. All mixed in with my delicious black gold were the nasty, thick, white roots of Morning Glory. Morning Glory, the most evil plant in all the world. So invasive, the smallest speck of root or stem can cause a brand new infestation wherever it falls. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to dig out.

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There are only really two ways to tame morning glory, though it can rarely be cured. One is to cover the offending area in complete dark for a year. I may have to try that for my compost, as I can’t dump herbicide everywhere in a compost. But in the rest of the yard I can … and I will.

But a blow to the compost pile like that, it’s really disheartening. Someone violated the innermost garden sanctum … the source of nutrients for all your plans. And it’s totally ruined.

So despite a lot of fun and progress in my garden … I am feeling totally dejected. The hours I will spend ripping the tops off of morning glory are stretching ahead of me … the compost I must buy at the store … the plastic compost bin I must buy to protect future compost from infestation … it’s just depressing.

So I will try to cheer myself up…. with a puppy.

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(And that always works :D)