Friday, July 2, 2010

How much room do chickens need?

I purchased some baby chicks earlier this year to eat the slugs in my yard and provide eggs. Of course, now that they are old enough to be outside instead of being under a heat lamp in a box in the bathtub, the weather has gotten to hot for slugs to survive.

I bought materials for a small coop and my neighbors built it for me. It is simply a wooden frame with a hinged top lid, and plastic chicken netting stapled to the wood. I put an old plastic crate in there which the chickens roost on at night. I also cover the top with a tarp to provide shade, and cover entire coop when I put on the sprinklers.

The coop is about 8 square feet. My four juvenile chickens seem to like it just fine. This size might work well for someone with limited space. I would like a much larger area. The chickens love running around, and I'd like more space so they are not running in poop. I would also like to be able to walk in and visit the chickens. Letting them run around my yard is not an option because I am afraid they might get under the gate or up in a bush or tree. If they climb too high they might make it into a neighbor's yard where they will quickly become a snack for one of the 10 dogs in the yards adjacent to mine.

I decided to build a bigger coop. Maybe they do not NEED the extra space. I know they will enjoy it, and so will I. I found a set of coop plans on ebay. When finished, it will be about the size of a bedroom. I will be able to visit my chickens and hand feed them. They will be able to run around and flap their wings. The coop will have an enclosed area for roosting and egg laying.

I am very excited about this new coop. I was thinking about the chickens when I decided I would build them a new home. Now I realize that I will get a lot of enjoyment out of it as well. I plan on placing it where I will have a garden next year. This year, I can plant some things next to the coop for the chickens to eat as it grows through the fence. I was even thinking about placing straw bales next to the coop and planting in those. That way the chickens can eat both the plants and the bugs, and the straw will decompose into nice soil.

So how much room do chickens need? Some farms keep them in cages so small they can't walk. My chickens will get room to try to fly. It may not be complete freedom, but they will be safe and they will even get some quality human attention. They will be part of the family.

P.S. my dog likes to lay near their current coop. I will use the smaller coop for day use in new areas where there are plants and bugs for the chickens to discover.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The best soil on my property

I am very excited. I found some leaf mold on my property - in the air conditioning unit!

Apparently leaves have been falling and landing in the air conditioner. Since the air conditioner has never been cleaned, these leaves were free to decompose into the richest soil I have ever put my hands on.

There is more awesome dirt under the bark mulch near my rose bushes. Fallen leaves and bark slowly decomposed and found a moist home under the mulch. Since there is a weed cloth under the mulch this beautiful soil can easily be harvested.

I wonder where else I can get my hands on this magical stuff?

Slug Patrol with Chickens

I have been unable to grow any plants due to slugs eating them before they can fend for themselves. Of course, the weeds do not seem to have much trouble surviving.

Here are some ways I have learned about to control slugs:

1. Poison. I chose not to go this route because a poison that will kill slugs will also kill my earthworms and other beneficial creatures.

2. Dichotomous earth. This product is spread over the ground and slugs get cut as they creep over it. I decided not to use this because it will need to be replaced after it rains, and possibly after being watered.

3. Copper strips. This may work for containers, but not so much to keep slugs out of a new bed unless the bed is raised and has a place to put the copper. I put slugs on a frisbee that had copper wire attached around it, and the slugs seemed to have no problem slithering under or on top of the wire. Perhaps wider copper strips would work - if I could find them.

4. Chickens. This is the method I am attempting now. I got some baby chicks, and hope they will eat enough slugs for me to grow vegetables.

I purchased the chicks at a farm supply / feed store. I am looking forward to these chicks growing and tending to my garden. In addition to eating slugs, they provide nutrient-rich manure, the mix the soil, they eat other insects and leftover foods, and hopefully they will eventually provide healthy eggs.

The best part is enjoying their company. They are quite cute and I am noticing their distinct personalities. They are a welcome part of my garden and my life.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Toilet Paper and Newspaper

Tomorrow I will be planting my first bed - my compost bed using the compost crop mix from

Today I decided I would like to try an easy way to space the seeds, and prevent birds from getting them. The package states to broadcast the seeds.

I decided to try sandwiching the seeds between toilet paper sheets. I laid down a piece of toilet paper and moistened it with a spray bottle. I then arranged the seeds on the toilet paper piece, and covered with another piece of toilet paper. Finally, I sprayed the whole sandwich with plenty of water. My hope is that the sandwich will dry tonight and will be easy to place in my prepared bed tomorrow.

A problem with using toilet paper in this procedure is that it is designed to break apart in water, so it does not clog toilets and pipes. That is why I hope the sandwich dries out tonight. That way it might be easier to move in one piece. If it does break, I can still recover the seeds and plant them.

I considered using paper towels but decided I would need too many and that they are not cost or resource effective.

I made a similar seed sandwich using newspaper. Newspaper is more sturdy and may even be able to be moved while wet.

My concerns with both toilet paper and newspaper are:

1. I am using more outside resources than necessary.

2. I do not know what sort of effects these materials might have on the seedlings. The extra barrier might be a bit harder for the plants to break through. There might be chemicals in the papers that I do not want. The decomposition process for the papers might change the chemistry of the soil enough to have negative effects on the plants.

Tomorrow I will plant my seed sandwiches along with some broadcast seed. I do not anticipate much difference. I may even find that it would be less work not to use the toilet paper or newspaper, even if I decide to sow each seed by hand.

I will find out soon!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Good soil under rocks

I finally moved into my new home, and am ready to start gardening.

Yesterday I found the most fertile part of my yard - underneath a tree that I think might be a pecan tree. I will have to find out what it is. The most interesting thing about that area being the most fertile is that it is covered in decorative rocks. I assume leaves have fallen and made it under the rocks over the years, adding a good amount of organic material to the location.

Why do I think it is the most fertile? I was pulling up the volunteer clover plants and realized many had small intact roots. In other places in yard where I have pulled up clover, the roots don't always come up.

Maybe this does not mean the ground is fertile. But it does mean that the ground is good and airy. I will make a special effort to save the leaves that fall from this tree next year.

The next best soil I found in my yard was under a fence dividing my driveway from the neighbors. This narrow strip is also covered by rocks. I gathered quite a few earthworms as I pulled up clover plants from this area.

I think both areas were built up from decomposing leaves and other materials trapped by the rocks and fence. I might plant something in these areas.