Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chicken House

I know, I know, it's been two months. So sue me. It's problematic that Don and I both work full-time (and then some, in his case), so the time we have to devote to these projects is minimal. BUT, we have finished the chicken coop and have adopted three lovely Buff Orpington chicks. So, here's the coop, in various stages. It's in two parts: a sturdy moveable coop and a lightweight moveable run to go with it. Here's the run, in the beginning:

And this is the beginning of the coop. The back is two big doors that open fully, for cleaning and other birdie chores.

The front has a little door to let the chickens into the run-- still need to build a ramp for them to walk up and down, but they can fly a bit. It also has a plexiglass, awning-style window, for light and ventilation. We put down linoleum flooring for easier clean-up of the birdcrap:

Further ventilation is under the roof at the edges: air can flow freely through here, the screen is to keep out insects and predators.

Here's the roof going on:

And, the finished coop:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pretty, pretty floors

... is the butt-ugly flooring in our house. Nasty old carpet that is never truly clean, and is an allergen-trapping, dog-hair-clogged nightmare. Also: very bland, peeling-up vinyl in the kitchen. But THIS:

... is what's beneath it. Anyone else seeing the possibilities here? For background, our house is almost a hundred years old, and for lack of any discernable style, it must be labeled a "cottage"; simple, sturdy and straightforward are the only way to go here. Fancy moldings or delicate detailing is all wrong. I see those pine floors refinished, glowing under some low-key wax finish, nail-marks, flaws and all. The kitchen is trickier. Because it seems to have been built at a different point in time, it doesn't have the same subfloor as the rest of the house (you know, the three other rooms), just plywood under the vinyl. There's almost no way we could match the existing eighty-year-old wood, or worth the effort to even try. Stone or tile would be too heavy for the foundation, not to mention too expensive for our poor budget. I'm thinking of maybe sticking with vinyl, but changing to a kitchy, black-and-white checkerboard pattern. It would fit the vintage of the house perfectly-- what's more 1920 than a checkered floor? (Something like this, just the floor part.) We could even investigate real linoleum instead of vinyl, see how much more that would cost. But, that's all a wintertime project; right now we're still working out-of-doors. So here's a picture of the chicken-coop-in-progress:

... and one of Don working on the windows. Ignore the red, plastic shutters; those are going to go as soon as we have time to build the real shutters. (You know, when everything more important than that has been finished...)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Survey and Rot

Finally had the survey done. The cost makes me want to cry a little bit-- a LOT of money to spend just determining where the corners and edges are. But now we can start the fence, after which we can start the garden. So that's good. Plus they're going to give us neat maps and things, which could be useful, or at least interesting.

The back of the property is just where we thought, thank heavens. (That's the side bordered by neighbors who are not so very friendly. We were told that our side went straight up to their little concrete retaining wall, and it does, within a few inches.) One side is further towards our other neighbors' house than we figured; that might be an awkward conversation later on... "hey, it turns out we own more of that side yard between our houses than we all thought!" But they're the cool neighbors with the band and the friendly dogs, (and only occasionally have lecherous, inappropriate house guests), and the only thing they use that side yard for is to access their AC unit. So that should all be OK. There's a lot more road-clearance than we had guessed (meaning that a lot more of "our property" belongs to the city)... something Don wants to ignore now. It seems he was worried about fencing accuracy on the two neighbor-bordered sides but not the two city-street sides, which seems backwards to me because you can talk to or negotiate with neighbors but not so much with the city, especially when there are power line right-of-ways involved. Not to mention that our two "pretty" fences (i.e. the expensive, permanent ones) are going on the street sides, while the backsides are just going to have utilitarian wire fencing, to keep our animals in and other animals out. I told Don that I'm willing to let him make the call about where the fence is going, on the condition that should we ever have to move them, I get complete I-told-you-so rights, including bringing it up every year for the rest of our lives. He remains unfazed, says that pine tree is OURS no matter where the flags are.

Don is working to fix the drainage problem on the north side of the house and repair the damage (inside and out) that it's caused. We finally had a chance to really see the interior water damage, and this project has shot to the top of the priority list, since we really shouldn't rent the place until it's fixed. I didn't catch everything but it involves replacing the sill (?), building a retaining wall to hold soil away from the side of the house, some kind of drainage system, replacing the drywall inside, and (eventually) replacing the gutters, since they've been spilling water on that unfortunate spot all the time.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Coop Dreams

I don't like using the circular saw. There, I said it. I hate the noise, the blade, the vibration, the fact that I can never exactly tell where the blade is going to slice into the wood, and that it's clearly meant for right-handed use. And cuts are so final. Drill a hole wrong-- oh well, patch it back up and drill somewhere else. Saw something wrong and you're screwed. Maybe it will be different when we have a proper setup with sawhorses and everything but nyeh. Icky. I love the power drill, the circular sander, even the table saw. But the circular saw is evil and I can't do any more work on my chicken coop until Don gets home to make these cuts for me. Everything takes so much longer than anticipated.

The plan for the chicken apparatus is like this: two movable, attachable structures, one of them a secure house raised about 18" off the ground, the other a pen. It will look something like this, except slightly bigger and with the two parts coming apart for easier moving. The idea is that the house and pen can be moved very frequently, so that the chickens get fresh ground all the time. That way they've got fresh grass, new bugs, and they're separated from the previous day's chicken poop. This method is much healthier for the birdies than being kept in a static run; it approximates free-ranging but is safer and more convenient, especially in an urban setting like ours. It's much better for the land itself, too, because the birds can be very destructive if kept in one place too long: they will eventually eat all the plants, scratch the dirt into a dusty powder, and poison it with too much of their very high-nitrogen droppings. With the movable coop, I can control the effect the chickens have on the land, getting all of the benefits chickens bestow-- their manure, that mini-rototiller-like clawing and scratching, and insect eating-- and then move them before the balance tilts the other way. Since we have a (very) small bit of land-- only 1/8th of an acre-- and I have a LOT of plans for how I want to use it, being able to both keep the chickies contained and move them wherever I need to is critical.

I'm basically killing time this weekend by working on the coop, which could be put off a few more weeks, when I really REALLY want to be working on the gardens. But that has to wait because: Survey--then fence-- THEN start garden. The survey is next week. Do you know what those cost? Yeah, I didn't either. Holy cow, it's more than eight hundred dollars just to find out where your property edges are.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Soil Tests and Garden Plans

I bought a soil test kit yesterday and tested the pH in two places, the backyard (home of the future kitchen garden) and under the pine tree (home of the future blueberries, I hope). Results: 6.5-7 under the pine and a solid 7 in back. Both are much more alkaline than I thought; I'd guessed (hoped) that we had somewhat acidic soil out back and quite acid under all those pine needles. At least it's reasonably neutral, though, rather than out-and-out alkaline. Now I can add as much of those spent coffee grounds to the compost as I want.

Don asked a coworker who has horses about manure; it turns out that she's got (literally) tons of the stuff, already aged, just waiting to be hauled off. So once we get the beds roughly in place, we can cover them in the good stuff. Living in a place like this-- a small city surrounded by countryside-- certainly has its advantages.

I can't till the beds, spread manure, or plant a cover crop until the fence is in, partly because I don't want to trample them to get the fence put up, and partly because until we get the survey done we don't know how far back we can put the fence and the gardens. So:

1. Get survey done.
2. Build back fences.
3. If there's time, put black plastic down to kill the grass.
4. Remove or turn under grass.
5. Cover with manure, rototill it into the soil, use a digging fork to get the soil as loose and deep as possible.
6. Plant a cover crop of buckwheat or clover to keep it all from washing away, and to further break up and fertilize the soil.

Working backwards from our average-frost date, I should really have the cover crop planted by... a week from Saturday. So some of those things may not happen, like the black plastic, but I want to have two beds ready for spring planting; one for asparagus and one for raspberries. Unlike the vegetable garden which gets retilled and refertilized every year, these are perennials, so this is our one chance to get their dirt right. The vegetable bed we'll prepare the same way. I hadn't originally planned on renting a rototiller, but that was before I tried digging into this hard, red clay we have here. I couldn't get the shovel in at all and even Don was sweating over just digging up the soil under the compost bins. So we'll use one for these three beds, and if we need to next fall, get one again for the new beds. That might not be necessary due to the chickens, but it's hard to predict in advance.

7. Build chicken coop.

I found out about a chicken meet/swap/sale that happens the second Saturday in September where I hope to start my flock, so I really really need to get both the coop and the fence built by then. Speaking of which, Alice and I were walking down an alley near our house and found... chickens! in a backyard. Apparently we're not the only people in our neighborhood doing this! It makes me feel slightly less nuts knowing that there are others.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Finished: Compost Bins

One project done! We built these compost bins from pallets from Don's work that were going to be thrown out, old wire hangers, and some scrap wood. It was easy and cost nothing. Tonight Don grubbed out a weedy shrubby tree thing that was growing right through one of the bins-- you can see it in the picture-- and turned the soil beneath, and I got the heap going with some brush, weeds, and a big sack o' coffee grounds from Starbucks. Right now there are two bins, each about four feet square and a little less than four feet high. Eventually I'll probably add a third bin, so that I can have a three-pile system: one to actively add to, one that's full but still 'cooking', and one that's full of ready-to-use compost.

The rest of the weekend was spent working on the window frames and designing the vegetable gardens and chicken coop, respectively. (I probably don't have to specify who was sweating outside, and who was indoors on the sofa with a notebook.) One of the truck tires went spectacularly flat when Don ran over a curb, and getting it replaced ate up a lot of time Sunday that would have otherwise gone to the windows. Bought a ladder though while we were at Sears, so that we can stop borrowing the one from the hotel. We'll need it for the windows at the back of the house, for roof/ gutter work, maybe for some of the pruning.

These are in the very back corner of our backyard; in the background are the neighbors' house and concrete retaining wall. I hope we can back our fence right up alongside that wall, but we won't know until the survey is done.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pine Tree

This is the best tree on our property. Okay, there are only three; one of them is the dying, trunk-only maple, the other is an overgrown dogwood. But this pine is quite nice, all things considered. I just want to limb it up a bit, so that we can create a garden area beneath it; we'll remove the lower branches up to maybe four or five feet from the ground. That way we'll be able to run our four-foot boundary fence around it since it's on the corner of our lot, and plant some things beneath it that would enjoy the pine-needled soil below the canopy: azealeas, blueberries.

World, don't punish me for writing this out loud, but this should be a fairly easy project. We're just going to get the Tree Dude to trim the branches and run them through his chipper-shredder. Easy-peasy.