garden and coop

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It’s been a mild fall here so far; hopefully I didn’t just jinx Michigan.  Only a couple of nights where it got below freezing, and generally pretty nice weather for late October.  Makes for happy lettuce.

With the changing seasons in mind, I putzed around in the girls’ coop.  Picked up a roll of faced insulation to put on their walls.  I’m not sure whether they’ll bother it.  So far, so good.  But if they start pecking it, I’ll need to get out the drywall tools.

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I also found a junk piece of plexiglass in the barn (full of pretty letters and arrows) that went up over the windows for keeping out those west winds when the temperatures dip to minus 20.  Not sure how much warmth it’ll keep in because there are roof vents directly to the outside, but from what I understand, drafts can be dangerous, but ventilation is necessary.

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My little blueberry bushes are still plodding along.  I’m pretty sure they’re not growing as well as they should be.  Our soil is naturally very alkaline, and I added natural sulfur to it last year, but the crude soil test I did still says it’s in the alkaline range.  I decided to mulch with naturally acidic spaghnum peat moss and see if that helps.  I you have any hints for blueberries, I’m all ears.

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the chicken poop plan

I’m sure there are as many ways to handle coop and run litter as there are chicken keepers. But this is what I’m trying.

For a while I used pine shavings everywhere; in the coop, in the run and on the poop board under the roost. The method didn’t seem to fill my needs, and it ran through a lot of savings. Shavings also take a while to decompose in a compost pile.

A different solution that’s worked pretty well so far is a 3-pronged poop attack.

First, I’ve been using a product called Sweet PDZ on my poop board. It’s an all-natural, non-toxic product created for horse stalls, but it also does a great job of neutralizing ammonia smells and absorbing moisture in chicken coops. I just use a 1-2″ layer on the poop board and filter out the droppings with a cat litter scoop daily when I get the eggs.

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The droppings go into a 5-gallon bucket that I keep just outside the coop. Almost pure poop, and it’s easy to gauge amounts when adding to garden beds and mixing with browns in the compost piles. One bag of Sweet PDZ seems to last forever when used like this.

The second poop prong is the coop floor. Pine shavings seem to work best for me there as long as I keep them 5-6″ deep. Once the shavings are too pooped to pop any more, I shovel them out and move them to the outside run. This keeps the run from getting muddy and compacting (when combined with the third part of my poop party). It also continues to break down the shavings for the compost piles.

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In the run, mixed with the used coop shavings, I’ve dumped a thick layer of fall leaves. The chickens love to scratch through them looking for goodies. They do a better job of shredding and mixing than my mower, with less work and no gas (-oline). The leaves and shavings should help keep chicken toes warmer through the coming winter too.

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By spring, there’ll be a nice big pile of leaf/shavings/poop to goose up my compost piles.

evaluating the chicken project

My last forays into raising chickens ended disastrously, with chicken carnage at the hands…paws…of predators.  What made me give up was the loss of my daughter’s County Fair chickens.

Looking back I can admit that it was completely my failure. The the pen wasn’t secure. I know that I overlooked problem spots because it was simply too much trouble for me.

What retirement can do is wonderful. It lets you focus on stupid little things, it lets you obsess freely.  It lets you pay attention to things that are too much trouble.

Four months ago I delved back into chickens. And after living with the new arrangement, I grade myself 100% happy.

There have been no signs, zero, of attempted forced entry into the pen or coop.  I haven’t seen any signs of rodents. The actual construction (which seemed a huge project at the time) has worn well, and I find it really useful and convenient.

One of my biggest concerns was wasted food and dirty water.  Check. All good.  The heated 2 gallon waterer with horizontal poultry nipples is a joy. I refill it maybe once a week for six chickens.

I researched all sorts of homemade feeders, mostly made of PVC, before I decided just to roll with a commercial feeder with little dividers that prevent the chickens from flinging feed sideways.  It’s awesome, and I don’t notice any waste.

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The outside ramp was a little concerning, because it necessarily had to be really long.  The chickens took to it without even sneezing.

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Likewise, I,wondered whether the limited floor space would prevent the girls from having enough take-off and landing room. Again, they didn’t even have second thoughts.

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The poop-shelf works flawlessly at containing their night-poops.  It’s really easy to clean off. And the little chicken ladder I pounded together is happily used as a perch and as an access to their main roost.

The only real problem I had was keeping the girls from roosting everywhere except their roost. Even on top of the waterer!  That was solved easily with a chicken wire cone above the waterer, and some well-placed boards elsewhere.

I’ve probably jinxed myself by writing this, but I’m pretty happy.

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twiddling my thumbs

Yesterday was one of those brilliant warm May days that makes you wish it was two weeks later so that you could plant your tomatoes. Busy hands help distract short attention spans.

So out to the little woods to clean up some of the mess that Mother Nature rudely left over the winter.

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I was happy to see that not all of the big bass in the pond had been made into fish Popsicles over the past two miserably cold winters…

The little Isa Browns are feathering out and enjoying their digs. I added a ladder to encourage them to enjoy different perspectives (like maybe from the roost girls?)…

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And it looks like the extra grass clippings added to the compost piles has started working…

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all’s well with the world

It gets tougher and tougher to post things as the weather turns nicer and nicer.  It’s a gorgeous, sunny, windless day in the 70s, and hard to stay indoors.

Likewise for my Isa Brown chicks, who today for the first time went exploring down their ramp and into the pen.  They were a little awed at first…

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But after some quality alone time and then a big bundle of chickweed fresh from the garden, they warmed up to the idea…

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The early tomato and onion seedlings got a morning dose of sunshine too…

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All’s well with the world.

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Using a chainsaw is tiring but rewarding work. I fired mine up yesterday and took care of a lot of the leaning trees and winter deadfall in the woods before the poison ivy has a chance to come into its glory. A good feeling, cleaning things up and getting a jump on next season’s wood pile.

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The chicks look like junior high boys trying to grow beards. The Isa Brown feathers that will eventually cover everything are popping out randomly, making them look like bag ladies. I installed their big girl feeder (which of course was no problem for them to figure out) and the heated nipple waterer I made. I spied on them through the the window for a while and at least one enterprising girl has figured out what the red things are for.

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And finally, I moved another of the compost bins to its new spot down the front row of the garden. The only remaining bin is full of black gold from last year. One year old composted horse manure, black and sweet and full of home-cooked goodness. Bake at 140 degrees for three weeks and let it settle for 11 months. A decent supply that will be the source of contention between myself and my wife. “We got this from my friend’s horses,” the wife will say indignantly. “Why do you get so much and I only get a little freakin bucket?” “Wait, I was the one who lifted and hauled and checked temperatures and turned while while you girls were eating bonbons and painting toe nails”

Or something like that. Should go over fantastically. I know what women like to hear.

I’m pretty proud that I was able to hold back this much composted manure for that long. It’s really tempting to raid the till whenever some is handy, but then come Spring ya got nuttin. I love being able to add a scoop or a shovelful of compost as seedlings go into the garden, and planning ahead with restraint is remarkable for me.

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