Coop Construction Part 2

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThis summer has been one of starting projects and not finishing projects.   I started the new chicken coop in April and have not yet finished the task but I have made a lot of  headway and I am close to completion.  My last coop post left off with my completion of the floor framing.

coop base finishedThe next step was to put down the plywood floor which was nailed to the base.

coop 1I cut holes in the floor for the chickens to enter from under the coop via ramps.  I built the framing for the back wall  to which I nailed plywood and finished siding which I painted barn red.  I then framed the walls, divider and front.

coop 2coop 3I installed linoleum squares to make the floor easier to clean.  It does make the coop a little slick for the chickens to walk on.

coop 5I then framed simple nesting box dividers which I nailed in place which has an exterior door for egg collection.

coop 4coop 6Then the weather looked like rain so I had to get the roof plywood, felt and shingles in place in a day. I installed drip edge before shingling.

coop 7I then installed the rest of the plywood walls and front.

coop 8I made a simple roost bar and nailed it to the floor. I also placed some edging around the floor entrance to keep the wood shavings from falling in the hole.  I built a ramp which has turned out to be a little steep so may have to rethink the angle.

coop 9The new chickens have been laying very small eggs.  Funny but perfect minis.

coop 10For a month or so the new chickens were given the old coop and run while I kept the older hens in a fenced in area with access to the new coop to roost at night.

A week ago I opened the door to the old coop and allowed the birds to meet.  There was a little butt kicking but overall the pecking order was established pretty smoothly and all are doing well.

I am not in a big hurry to finish the coop as the roof and overhang keeps the hens out of the weather and as hot as it has been lately, the ventilation of the open coop is a plus.  All I have left to do is nail siding to one side and the front, paint the rest of the coop and install another roost, one more entrance ramp and two doors.  As fall approaches I will finish the job and get the coop wired for the heated water base and lights.

I will reclaim the wood from the rooftop garden of the old pen which I will use to build the base of a new hoop house I plan to build once the summer season winds down.    All in all this project has turned out pretty well.  This was a design build project with no plans other than ideas bouncing around in my head.  There are always things I would do differently but all in all I am pleased with how it has turned out.  I will install permanent fencing once I tear down the old coop and run.

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Blessed Sacrament School Garden is Installed

blessed sacrament gardenLast year a small group of parents talked the school principal into allowing us to start a school garden.  We started small with approximately 200 square feet.   This small start created a lot of interest and the school  applied for a grant from Whole Foods.  We were fortunate to get the grant which we used to expand the garden an additional 1000 square feet and we put in infrastructure including a sprinkling system, compost bins, a worm bin, compost material and miscellaneous tools.  My role in the garden has been labor including the lawn tear out, I built the three bin compost system and worm bin and I dug the trenches for the sprinkling system.  One of my good friends is a plumber and he agreed to donate his time to install the valve box, sprinkler lines and sprinkler heads.  Thank you Ken Paxton for your hard work.

beds preppedLast Friday evening we had a garden planting party and the turnout was outstanding.   School staff are commonly skeptical of school gardens, believing they will die off in a couple of years.  With the amount of support and interest in this garden, I am not worried about a lack of commitment moving forward.   The parents and children jumped right into the planting.

garden plantingflower plantingThe kids had fun painting the worm box and installing the worms was a big hit.

worm box paintingThe garden turned out beautiful with straw lined path ways, mounded garden beds, a welcome trellis and a white picket fence.

new sectionnew bedsAnd the sprinkling system works great.

sprinklersLooking forward to possibly having another school garden of the year.   I hear that the Westlake garden has doubled in size and they are ready to defend their title.   I still like our chances.

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New coop construction

chicks 2I purchased new chicks two weeks ago with the understanding that I needed to get going on the new chicken coop but I have been so consumed with real estate school that I had not started the project.  I passed the State licensing exam on Tuesday and I received my real estate license yesterday so now the learning really begins.  I woke up this morning with about fifty things on the agenda and the coop was no where on the list.  On the drive home from dropping off my son at school I decided to move the coop to the top of the list.

coop first sectionI took a detour to Home Depot and picked up enough materials to build the coop base.  Now this coop is not going to be any regular coop.  This is going to be a combination coop with a brooder section, an immature bird section and a laying hen section.  I decided on a 12 foot long by five feet deep coop.  To assemble the base I notched 4×4 posts to fit standard 2×4’s.  I built  front and back frames and I used five foot 2×4’s on the ends to build the squared up frame.

coop baseOnce the frame was built I installed the floor joists.  I had a bunch of old joist hangers in the garage but unfortunately they were for 2×6’s so back to the garage they went and I just nailed the joists in.  I will not be standing on the frame so no joist hangers are really needed (I just wanted to get rid of the hangers).

coop frame floorIt took a few hours to finish but the base turned out pretty nice.  Once I finished the framing I leveled the base but I need to figure out how to nail on the back framing with it being so close to the fence.

coop base frameNext step is to put down the floor sheeting (plywood), and then I will frame the multiple sections of the house followed by the roof which will be the subject of future posts.   I plan to shingle the roof and place a gutter to catch water to a storage barrel on the side of the coop.

coop base finishedI plan to tear out my old coop and pen in the fall once the roof top garden garlic and onions are harvested.   I will use the wood to build my cold frame in the fall.

Today’s project would have been much easier with a little help but I managed to only smash my thumb with the hammer once.  I did learn a valuable lesson building in an existing chicken run.   Never put anything in your mouth that has been on the ground in the run (like nails).   Funny how things taste a little funny.

This coming weekend I plan to get going on the Blessed Sacrament Garden expansion.   I will rent a sod cutter and tear out 1000 square feet of sod, I will build a three bin compost system, a worm box and I need to install some railroad ties for edging.  I hope to get these projects done by the end of next week.   I have a winter market on Saturday at the Rio Grande Depot from 1000 to 2:00 so if you need something fun to do on a rainy day come on down.  The market area is covered and has roof heaters so it a pleasant environment.

I even managed to plant some onions today.   Tomorrow I need to finally clean my truck.   That will take longer than the coop I think.

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Spring is here

Spring is finally here and the task list is very long.  I have been busy the last month taking the on-line real estate courses which I finished today.   I will take the state test in the next couple of weeks and barring any testing hick-ups, I will be a licensee in April.  Cramming 120 hours of training in a month, I was still able to accomplish quite a few other tasks.

brooder boxI built a chick brooder box a couple of weeks ago and my son and I picked up laying hens and meat bird chicks at IFA and Cal Ranch.  I usually like to wait until after Easter to get chicks as KSL is usually loaded with chicks for sale from people who bought them for the holiday without a plan for the future.  This year I wanted to get started so we went ahead and bought them.   We picked up one each of the following breeds; Buff Orpington, Americana, Golden Wyndotte, White Leghorn, Black Australorp, Rhode Island Red and a Delaware.  The meat chickens are Cornish Crosses and they will go in the freezer in about eight weeks.   As always the chicks are cute and my son and the neighbor kids have been playing with them.

chicks 2chicks 1I have visited the bee hive a few times over the past several weeks and today I fully inspected the hive and all appears to be going well with plenty of capped brood.  I filled the sugar water container and I took one sting on the lip from a bee that got under the netting.  Will see how fat my lip will get in the next few days as my reaction to stings is usually slow.

bee cleaningMy experiment of lining the outside of the hive with black leaf bags and straw has been a success and today I removed all of the insulation and to my surprise I found a little nest with seven chicken eggs.  Funny where chickens will hide to lay eggs.

The school garden has been a struggle keeping watered as there is no water turned on to the garden yet.  We have been hauling five gallon buckets of water every few days but the plants don’t look very good.  We will have to replant once the sprinkling system is turned on.  grow light saladgrow light lettuceWe have been enjoying spring salads from the grow light system.   There is a farmer at the winter market who grows all kinds of spring greens and I plan to experiment with other greens such as radishes and sunflowers.

winter marketThere was a downtown winter market yesterday and we enjoyed a growing crowd.  I had a friend bring some folks from Scotland to visit my booth.  They purchased a couple of birdhouses that I made from old compost boards from my bins.  They will take them home to my ancestral homeland.   I wonder what kinds of birds will inhabit them.

I bought a shitaki mushroom growing kit at the market yesterday so I am excited to see how that new experiment grows and tastes.

I have been trying to get my own yard cleaned up and I will plant my spring vegetables this week.  I have not had the time to build merchandise so I need to get going on that and I need to get started on my new chicken coop.  My lazy winter is over and I should be able to get some rest in say December.

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Spring planting at Blessed Sacrament School

spring school gardenSpring is definitely in the air and today several eager gardeners planted the first phase of our spring garden at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School.   We cleared off the straw ground covering from winter which we used to make walking paths between the rows.  We planted peas from seed, and broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage from plants.  Next week we will plant onion sets, carrots, beets and other spring seeds.   The garlic we planted last fall is coming up nicely.

school garlic

school broccolischool cauliflowerWe recently received great news that the Blessed Sacrament Garden was awarded a $2000 grant from Whole Foods.  This money will be used to expand the garden an additional 1000 square feet, compost bins will be installed and a worm bin will be constructed to compost the vegetable and fruit waste from the school lunchroom.  We plan to have a tool shed built and we hope to make the garden self sufficient by having a weekly vegetable market for the school, staff and parish.  We hope to have surplus to donate to needy families.  The teachers are planning fun gardening educational activities for the students.  Big plans for this second year garden.

grow lightsOn a personal note, I have used my grow light system for leeks, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach.

The lettuce will be cut and used for fresh salad in the near future.

grow light lettuceThe leeks germinated well.

leeksThis spring I have let the chickens roam the yard digging up all the beds looking for whatever unlucky bugs they happen upon.  I recently put in a temporary fencing to keep them in check so I can get started on my own spring planting.  Going through my pictures tonight I realized I have not taken any pictures of my garden lately.   It’s a mess at present so probably a good thing.

I have been feeding my bees with sugar water and yesterday I had a chance to inspect the hive and it is going gang busters.  The bees have already been out collecting pollen and the two super boxes are fully drawn in comb.  I went ahead and put my third box back on the hive to give them room to hopefully avoid swarming.   I will inspect the hive again weekly, weather permitting, and if I find any queen cells I plan to use one to start a new hive.   No stings so far this year.

The downtown winter farmer’s market continues every other Saturday from 10:00 to 14:00 (2:00).  The next market is on March 22nd.   I look forward to the downtown summer market season beginning in June.

In addition to my compost bin business I have decided to join my spouse in the world of real estate.  I have realized this winter that money doesn’t grow on dormant trees so I need to expand my financial horizons.   I have a week or so left of schooling and then I will take the state exams to be a licensed real estate agent for Exit Realty Plus.   It’s good to be busy and I am excited for the new challenges.   Finding homes with great gardens will be my specialty I think.

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Big compost move

compost turnedAs mentioned in a previous post, I have a pretty big bucket list for the summer which includes a new chicken coop, redworm bin area and moving the compost bins to another area of my garden.  First step was the relocation of the compost bins to an area of my garden that has become less productive due to an abundance of tree roots sucking up all the nutrients in the soil.

new localI decided to take advantage of the warm weather yesterday and took on the compost bin move.  First step was to empty the contents of the four full bins.

emptied binsThis created a mountain of mostly composted material.  The four bin has been sitting in this one place for the past thirteen years and it was a little stubborn to get loosened from the ground.   The main problem was that I was alone but determined to get the bins moved.  After loosening the bins I tipped them out on the fronts.

composter tippedNext step was to pull the bins out of the mountain of compost I had in the way.   During the process, the fourth bin came apart so I am back to my original three bin system.

composter draggedI am used to dragging around three bin systems so the drag to the new location was relatively easy.  After positioning the bin in the new location I squared the bins, tightened a few nuts and pounded a few nails.  I decided to replace the front slats in two of the bins and I reused old slats for the third bin.  I had contemplated building new bins but they were in good enough shape to survive the move and should last for several more years.

compostnewlocalThe next step was to start the screening process to use the finished compost in my garden and move the unfinished material to fill the bins in the new location.  Contrary to popular belief, compost does break down in the winter and I have a lot of ready to use material.

compost sI am not finished with the move but I screened out five wheel barrels full of finished compost which I used to mulch my raspberry and strawberry beds.

screened compost2

I also used my redworm screen to separate worms from the finished compost.redworm screenredworms1I will finish screening and moving the remaining material tomorrow if the weather permits.  Once the material is moved I can start the new chicken coop construction.

With the weather being so warm, my bees have been flying around cleaning out the hive of dead bodies and they are collecting water.  I will take advantage of the next nice, non windy day to open the hive and inspect the contents.  I will rotate the top and bottom boxes and I will start feeding them sugar water.   I hope to harvest a little honey prior to medicating the hive for foul brood in the next month or so.  Glad the bees survived the winter but March is generally the month when hives are lost due to starvation so I hope the weather allows me to tackle the hive needs soon.

bee cleaning

On another note I built a new ladder planter shelf for a friend this week.  She plans to stain it a dark brown.  It turned out pretty nice for my first try at this type of project.

plant shelfLastly,  I planted my Christmas Amaryllis too late in the fall so it is just now coming in to bloom.  Better late than never.


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Taking Steps for a Simpler Life

simpler lifeI was looking through my 2013 photos while reminiscing on last year’s accomplishments and shortcomings in an effort to establish my goals, both personal and professional, for 2014.    This photo of me strolling through fresh compost was goofy at the time but it represents where my mind keeps taking me when thinking of the future.   Since I retired from law enforcement two years ago I have felt a constant desire to take steps to live a simpler life.   I have really enjoyed the weekend farmer market lifestyle. From my beginning with compost bins to my progression into the world of backyard birds, bats, produce baskets and school gardens I am truly on a path with no solid destination.   Contrary to my type A personality and fear of failure, I am not overly afraid of the unknown but rather I am excited for life’s possibilities.

I can honestly say I have not missed working in law enforcement.  I loved my job but I had enough.  What I have missed, to some extent, is the what ifs, if I had stayed working.  I have struggled some with news of the promotions of my former peers.  I think of increased financial security that promotions may have provided while I have worked so hard to find my direction with Urban Compost Systems.   It has taken me awhile but I am at peace with my place in life and building a small business from the ground up.   I have really come to enjoy the process of building products that people appreciate and are willing to spend their hard earned money on.   I have enjoyed the people I have met and the new friendships I have made with like minded “gardening people”.  I am learning new skills and am sharing what I know with others who also want a simpler, more self sufficient and healthier lifestyle.

To me living a simpler life means focusing on making the efforts of my day directly correlated with my life.   Growing my own food, raising chickens, tending my bees, grinding wheat to make homemade bread, making cheese, yogurt and butter, providing shelter and food for wildlife, and building products to help others do the same are some of the things that currently interest me the most.   I find little interest in material things and rather than desire more I often think of living happily with less.  My only wish for having more involves land for agriculture and solitude.

Looking at my simple life goals for 2014, I want to build the pvc greenhouse that I did not get to last year. I want to move my compost bins to another part of my yard and in its place build a new chicken coop and pen that is more user friendly to keep clean.   I want to build a new red worm bin area with a rooftop garden.  I look forward to building a new brooder and raising a new flock of chickens.  My bees have been out flying on warm days and I look forward to splitting the hive into two hives.  I plan to build a soldier fly larvae bin to take care of all my meat and dairy kitchen waste that doesn’t go into the worm bin.   I would like to put in a backyard pond but that won’t be this year.   I plan to get more into canning my fresh produce and better utilize my grow light system for micro greens.    Funny how none of what currently occupies my mind involves living in the rat race.   I can’t say that necessity will never lead me to the corporate world, but I can say I will always look to the simpler life for happiness and well being.  If only money would grow on trees…..Maybe it will someday.

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