Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Better Hoop Coop

     Randy, the mason who worked through the basement repair project with me, also happens to be a fellow flockster (That means chicken keeper in Harvey Ussery speak).  When he saw our hoop coops he liked the concept and decided to build one of his own.  I have to say that he made some impressive improvements to the design.  For those that missed it, pics and plans of our hoop coop can be found here.  Below is a series of pictures showing some of the finer points of Randy's coop.

     He used a slightly shorter frame giving an overhang to the structure.  It's a nice look and offers some shade and protection for the front wall though it also makes the interior slightly smaller.  On the front are two brown barn steel panels that he had laying around, complete with j channel and bottom trim pieces.  Makes for a sturdy and attractive front wall.

     On the front of the plywood person door is a guillotine style chicken door.  I can see the advantage of this type of door, as our chickens sometimes push their hinged door shut and lock themselves out of the coop.  The ones inside are not smart enough to push it back open when that happens.

     Both screen and hardware cloth cover the vents in the front.  On the roof  are a couple of small solar cells powering led lighting inside the coop.   Randy and his family really love this feature so far, the fixtures stay on low all the time to give some ambient light all night.  They can be switched to high when someone is working in the coop. 

     The Led fixture, seen above, has a photocell to turn it off in the daytime.

     One of my favorite innovations about this build is the curved 1x4 on the edge of the cattle panels.  This gives some framework to the corners and makes attaching tarps and screen much easier.  In order to flex the 1x into place, Randy first cut a bunch of shallow kerfs into one side of the bord.  Then, after thoroughly soaking the wood, slowly pushed it into place against the cattle panel and secured it with a 2x4 in the center.  Tricky stuff, but it adds a great finished look to this project.

     The frame is covered by two tarps; a large canvas one and a smaller plastic one.  The ends of the tarps are held in place by lengths of shock cord that he happened to have a spool of.  For the canvas one he threaded the cord through the grommets but the plastic tarp is folded over creating continuous pocket for the cord to run through.

     The cords are tied to an eye bolt in the base of the coop.

      The sides are secured with bungee cords. 

     Inside the coop, straw bales give some structure to the corners and support a 2x4 perch.  A row of feed bins serve as nest boxes and clear plastic panels let in some natural light across the back. 
     With so many options, truly this is a building that is unique to each builder.  Thank you Randy for allowing me to publish pics of this fine example.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Some Forest Garden Wins

     Despite a sparse germination and our almost total neglect of the baby forest garden, there were some things that worked quite well.

The mammoth sunflowers came up strong; providing shade, structure, and food for wild birds.  There is still plenty of seed standing, so I occasionally break off a head and drop it for the chickens, supplementing their food supply in this time of limited forage.  The plant also provides some nice, semi-woody, rough mulch that can capture blowing leaves where we need them.

     The millet has worked in a similar way, coming up in scattered clumps from the seed balls.  The wild birds don't leave very much standing, but I am guessing the chickens find some dropped seed in their foraging as well as what we drop for them. 

     With all the construction and other craziness going on this Summer, we only managed to work on two paddocks this year, keeping the birds concentrated on each area in the turf killing phase way longer than I originally envisioned.  We were able to add enough high carbon mulch to keep things smelling and looking ok, basically doing the deep litter method over a large area.  The above shot shows the first paddock, which was seeded in June, and had about a month to rest and germinate before housing 2 broody hens and 6 chicks for the rest of summer.  Since the the other birds have very little respect for our (non-electrified) premier net fencing, they would find their way in as well, to help themselves to a sampling of the fine insects, fruit, greens, and seed that this paddock already offered.  The netting did discourage them enough to allow some plant growth.  We don't have total control of the flock at this point, but if we drop the fences they will roam much farther throughout the day.  With the netting up, about 1/2 the birds stay in the paddock, and the rest don't wander as far, and hopefully stay out of the neighbor's yard.  Hooking up the charger I'm sure would help, but I really don't want to zap our neighbor's dog, who is a total sweetheart and patrols the gardens daily for us.  Also it seems like such an encumbrance to us in our daily chicken chores.  I think we will only resort to the zapper if we run into a bad predator situation. 

     The second paddock is plenty killed and mulched at this point.  I am planning to get seed and make new seed balls over winter for the new section.   It will end up getting planted in early Spring.


    The harlequin marigolds germinated and grew quite well in place, though I can see many of them lost the distinctive striped pattern that makes pop.  I am going to have to be very aggressive with rouging out non conforming blooms if I want to keep the genetics on this heirloom true.  The good news is that I still have a ton of saved seed and at least 1/2 a clue which batches came in better.

     Daikon radishes and zinnias dot the area.  Arugula coming up in patches, surrounded by clumps of millet.  The green snow fence helps to restrict the flow of chickens through the paddock allowing the plants a chance to thrive. 


     The hatch-lings loved living in the shade of the pear tree and helped clean up the bumper crop of pears that we never got around to harvesting.  Mayo Indian Amaranth on the right just in front of a clump of Comfrey.


     The Daikon Radishes shown above can be a tasty crop for people, though we only managed to harvest one, just to sample it, this year.  More importantly though, the large taproot is able to break through hard pan and loosen compacted soil.  The arm sized roots will be left in the ground to rot providing pathways of organic matter that earthworms and other composting critters can follow down along with moisture and oxygen.  Eventually the organic matter will get mixed into the soil in an orchestra of precision micro-tillage that goes many feet deeper than our mechanical tillers could ever reach. 

     Plantains, Dandelions, and Pig weed dominated earlier in the summer.  The pig weed I pulled and dropped as rough mulch, hopefully before it formed seed.  The dandelions and plantains were left in as forage and dynamic accumulators.  Garlic cloves sprout randomly throughout the paddock.  Various lettuce and strawberry spinach plants are scattered in the mix.  Four clumps of comfrey grow on the drip line of the pear.    The chickens pecked at them a little throughout the warm season, then ate them to the ground when things got cold and forage became scarce.

     The legumes showed poorly despite my attempt to add a dried packet of nitrogen fixing bacteria starter to the seed balls.  The occasional pea or bean thrived in the middle of the paddock.  The hairy vetch got off to a wispy start and then vanished.  There has been no sign of the white clover, Siberian pea shrub or black locust so far.  I am thinking this is due to high Nitrogen from the chicken waste, but that is just a guess.

     An unknown squash climbs it's way through a mass of cherry tomatoes and tangles itself in the fencing.  The Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes that were in the seed mix came up in abundance and ripened just in time to give the chickens a quick snack before the frosts hit.  There were also some oddball volunteers that I am guessing were planted by the chipmunks from the hybrid Roma tomatoes I grew two years ago.  I wonder if there are quicker to ripen varieties which would work better growing from seed like this. 

     Overall I feel pretty good about what we have done so far.  However, my vision for the layout of the back yard and my ideas about how to incorporate the birds into a working forest garden are all  changing quite a bit.  One of my goals for this winter is to produce and publish some better drawings of the evolving permaculture design for this property.