New Coop Part Two and My Hectic Life

This post promises to be as discombobulated and full as my life has been lately. The chicken coop is perhaps the most exciting piece of news, but I also can’t not post about the incredible progress the gardens have been making and the spring feast that I shared with Dave, Meg, and Stanley last night.

Perhaps someday I’ll get back to those short one-topic posts, but not now. There’s just too much going on.

First, the coop.

As I shared in my last post, my brother Ben built the coop inside the garage two weekends ago. He didn’t have time to do the run until last weekend, so in the meantime we let the girls out into the yard (supervised of course) to stretch their legs. They had fun, but it became very apparent that they would ruin the lawn in a matter of a few days, so they spent most of their time cooped up in the coop.

It was fun to watch them become accustomed to their new chicken door. Here’s Blondie thinking “I got out of this thing, I wonder if I can get back in?”

Might as well give it a try. Red Hen is a bit taken aback by all the unnecessary flailing.

It worked! Red Hen, by the way, has completely gotten over her broodiness. Whew! I was hoping the move would do it, and it looks like it did.

We were gone on a three day camping trip this weekend, and when we got back on Sunday, Ben had this much of the run finished. The wood is all cedar – very nice! He and my other brother Dave worked on it for most of the day on Saturday. It pays to have brothers! Stanley and I dug a 6 inch trench around the inside of the walls and buried chicken wire to keep any digging predators out. Raccoons are my biggest worry. I feel pretty certain that they will not be able to get in here.

We let the girls out for one last graze in the big yard, and they happily dust bathed and scratched and did everything they could to destroy the lawn before they got stuck in the run.

Putting the last of the screws (this took a bit longer than expected as his ratcheting screwdriver broke and he needed a new one) in the galvanized roof. What a beautiful run!

Here it is today, with the girls all moved in. As expected, they’ve just about destroyed all the grass. I’ll probably put straw down so it doesn’t get too muddy.

The side toward the street…..

….and the back side with the door. I plan on getting a padlock just in case someone decides to mess with them when I’m not around.

As you can see, the girls are very visible from the street, which is awesome. There are a lot of pedestrians that pass by and it’s really fun to see them notice the coop. There’s just something about chickens that makes people smile. I also really like how it’s changed the look of our house – it’s no longer just a house with a garage on a corner. It’s a house with a garage on a corner with a chicken coop!

OK, I know that was enough for one post, but June doesn’t stop just because I’ve got a new chicken coop……

Friday was my birthday. I was by myself in the morning, and I decided that the thing to do was to pick strawberries. Most of the u-picks were closed, but I did find Berry Hill Farm, a 2 1/2 acre farm on the edge of town that was open for picking.

I soon learned why all of the other u-picks were closed. It has been raining a lot this month, and the strawberries are hurting because of it. About half of them at this farm were either rotting or moldy, or both. The hot weather we had early in the season brought the crop on earlier than normal, so I had missed the peak. That, on top of the rain made for disappointing picking.

I got 3 quarts. These two I froze right away, and I brought one camping with us. Hopefully next year will be better.

Not to be discouraged, I headed to our Main Street garden to see what could be harvested.

Holy potatoes! I’ve never seen such big healthy plants! There was one that had fallen over, so I dug underneath to see what was there. Potatoes! Still small, but they’re there. We’ll be harvesting them all in a month of so. I wonder how many pounds we’ll get……

I was afraid these tomato plants were too small when I planted them just a few weeks ago. How wrong I was. They’re growing like crazy, and a few flowers are starting to form.

My row of peas is doing really well. Between Dave and Meg and Stanley and I we’ve been picking them about every other day, and there have been plenty to go around. It’s quite overgrown and when I can afford to I’ve been thinking of buying a cordless weed trimmer to help manage the growth.

The cherry tree is ripe too!

Is there anything as beautiful as a ripe red cherry?

More tomatoes. We’re going to have a canning bonanza this summer.

The peppers are slowly plugging along. They’ll get there.

The summer squash are looking good.

Baby concord grapes. The vines are just loaded.

The pole beans thinking about starting to climb.

Here’s what I brought home. a quart and a half of cherries, a few black caps (wild black raspberries that grow in back of the garden), peas, and a few token potatoes.

I went back on Monday and came home with this haul. More peas and black caps, more potatoes (for a special solstice feast), lots of lettuce, baby dill to dry, and cilantro and dill flowers for a centerpiece. I love June!

OK, almost done, I just have to show you a few pictures of the meal we had last night. It’s worth it, I promise.

I am really bad at pie crusts. It’s mostly lack of practice, and I know I’m only going to get better if I do it often, so I decided to go for it and make a crust for the berry pie I had planned. I made it with lard and butter, from this recipe on Epicurious. It actually worked!

Stanley went to the nearby park and heroically picked 5 cups of black caps for the pie. The mosquitoes are getting bad, so I believed him when he said that he lost about a pint of blood. It was worth it. I never use measurements for a pie like this. I added something like 3 Tablespoons of corn starch, 1 cup sucanat, the juice of 1/2 lemon, a little honey, a little salt, and I think that’s it.

Even the latice worked!! I put a dab of butter in all the holes, brushed it with milk, shook on some cinnamon, and put it in the oven. 15 minutes at 425, then about 45 at 350. It’s hard to turn your oven on to 425 degrees on a hot muggy day, but it proved to be worth it.

This was dinner. Burgers from The Rustic Table, salad from the garden, potatoes from the garden (coated with oil, put in a loaf pan, and cooked on the grill – YUM!), and cream of tomato soup.

I didn’t get any pictures of the soup. The milk curdled and I was too embarassed to let it be seen. It tasted good though. Onions and garlic browned in butter, add a bit of flour and cook a while longer, add a bunch of milk, a few bay leaves, a tiny bit of sucanat, and salt. Cook till it’s thickened, then add tomatoes. I still have some frozen puree from last year, which is why I made the soup in the first place. It really did taste good, but it sure did look bad.

I’ll leave you with this picture of one of the nicer pies I have ever made. The crust was flakey, the berries weren’t too juicy….. I’ll have to make a point of making more pies this summer until I get it right every time.

The New Coop Part One

Happy chickens in their new home….. well, freaked out and confused chickens in an unfamiliar coop is more like it, but I’m sure in a day or two they’ll feel right at home. Ben, my older brother who’s a carpenter with a construction firm in town, came over yesterday and today and roughed out this coop for me in the garage. It’s amazing how fast a professional can do something that might take me at least a few weeks….. Thanks Ben!

Here’s what we started with. The galvanized roofing and the cedar posts are for the as yet unbuilt run (that will be part 2 of this post). The rest of the lumber and the OSB board is for the indoor coop. I needed some tools which I got hold of cheaply. Ben gave me a list and for the life of me I never knew what an oscillating multitool was before. 😉

The idea was to build the coop into the garage to save room in the side yard for a large covered run. OSB isn’t the most attractive choice, but since that’s what the inside of the garage is made of, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to continue the look.

The framing. The structure is 4×8 and leaves just enough room to park a car in the garage. The consensus on Backyardchickens.com is that chickens need at least 4 square feet per bird in the coop and 8 square feet in the run. 32 sq ft leaves plenty of space for the girls in the coop, plus they’ll have a 13×5 run, which gives them way more than 8 sq. feet of outdoor space. It’s a little smaller than the coop they’re used to, but it should be plenty of space.

We decided it would be best to give the structure its own roof so that chicken dust doesn’t permeate the rest of the garage.

Ben bought the door used at our local Restore. Again, we weren’t going for looks in the inside part of the coop…..

At this point, Ben ran electricity to the structure and installed an overhead light on a switch.

Here’s how he left it Sunday night…. chicken observation window installed, overhead light connected and working…..

Today he added the pop door, an outside window, and the roost, nest box, and feeders. Here’s the hole for the chicken door.

He cut the door itself from an old ugly light cover from Restore. It’s cute – I may have to paint it red though, just so it matches the rest of the house. (I took the price tag off right after I took the picture…. $3.99)

The hole cut for the outside window. The chickens have an excellent view of the neighbor’s TV. Maybe they’ll start following her soaps!

Here’s the window going in in the rain. We bought the cheapest window you can get at Menards, and we got what we paid for. Luckily chicken’s aren’t picky.

The finished garage coop, or the OSB Hut as Ben puts it. It’s cute! I think I may paint it eventually, just for kicks. You can see our red fence through the outside window in this picture.

This is just to the left of the door. Roosts, poop board, and nest boxes. The roost is at 3’6″, with the poop board 6″ below that. I’m a little concerned that the girls won’t be able to easily get up there, but I don’t think it will be a problem. The nest boxes I bought online for $20. Basically just a bunch of plywood that Stanley and I screwed together. I think eventually we’ll build something a little fancier, hopefully making it so that we don’t have to go in the coop to collect eggs.

I will have to get some linoleum for the poop board soon, so I can easily scrape the girl’s nightly poos into a bucked for composting. The OSB board will do for now though.

The wall mounted feeders I got from eNasco, a local mail order company. They were only about $5 a piece, and worth every penny. I’m really hoping that they won’t waste as much feed as the trough feeder in the old coop.

Today was the last day of my lease at the Marquette Street house, so I needed to get the girls over here. I woke up early and went over to clean the old coop. In order to do that I had to kick the chickens out, leaving them out in the rain for the majority of the day. They seem to be adjusting, but there’s no doubt that it’s been a hard day for them.

I found them this evening all piled up in the corner by the feeder trying to sleep, so I picked them each up and put them on the roost, which they seemed to appreciate. They’re all sleeping peacefully now…. tomorrow we’ll let them out into the side yard to free range a little. Ben should be back to build the run sometime this week.

Before I sign off, I wanted to show off my new composter. I had thought about trying to make something like this, but I didn’t have the time or inclination, so I bought this one from Rainbarrels and More, an online company based in Indiana. They’re repurposed pickle barrels that originally were used to ship sweet pickles from India. My plan is to fill one and let it compost while I’m filling the other. It should allow me to have an easy continuous system for chicken poo and food waste. They rotate really easily, which should help them compost quickly.

The lids are cool – almost like a Ball jar with a ring that screws on and holds a cap in place. Lots of airholes for ventilation, and to let rainwater it.

The bars that go through the middle should help the compost get mixed well as we turn it. Pretty cool!

Look for part 2 of the new coop soon!