Garden Irrigation Project

In late April, we had a pretty impressive hailstorm, which led to us getting a new roof and new gutters. The timing was somewhat fortunate, however, since I had already started putting together a system for catching rainwater that we could use on our garden. I found a 300-gallon plastic tote on Craigslist for $100, and had the gutter company reroute the gutters on the back of the house and combined three downspouts into one that drains into the tank. I really had no idea how long it would take to fill up, and I was astonished at our first hard rain when it took less than an hour for it to fill to overflowing. Now I wish I had bought more than one.

The next phase was intended to avoid the hassle of dragging a hose out to the garden to water it everyday. So instead I buried a “perma-hose” consisting of one hundred feet of 3/4″ PVC pipe from the house to the garden, with splitters on both ends. At the house, short pieces of hose connect both the rain tank and the faucet, so we can easily switch between them depending on whether or not the rain tank is empty. At the other end, another splitter means we can leave the soaker hose in the garden attached all the time, and still have an open faucet for watering our other plants. Because our yard slopes away from the house, the garden is about six feet below the level of the tank, so we have a pretty good head of pressure — not bad for only being gravity-fed.

Stay tuned for the final phase, which is to hook up a 55-gallon rain barrel on the upper patio that we can use to water our herb garden and some other potted plants.

Home Cheep Home

In the middle of our other spring project, the timing was right to get our new pets, but that started the six-week clock for building them a place to live. Because, trust me, you do not want these critters living in your basement permanently. Noah helped me start the framing, and after a full weekend of work, we had the beginnings of a coop. After that, the weather stopped cooperating for a while, so it took a couple of weeks to get back to it. In the meantime, I stumbled across a ridge vent at Lowe’s on clearance for $2 that seems to work pretty good on top. I guess we’ll have to wait for summer to find out if it does a good job of keeping things cool inside.
My design was roughly based on the Catawba Coops design, with some modifications to increase the interior space. It’s also a foot wider at the base. Beware of these design changes, however! You will wind up with a portable coop that isn’t really all that portable — I think ours weighs about 150 pounds. I also got inspiration from the many designs available on Backyard Chickens. Ours combines features from several different ones.
After another full weekend, we were almost done with construction. One exterior wall and the roof got a coat of primer and two coats of exterior paint, while all of the other exposed wood got a couple of thin coats of Thompson’s Water Seal. I also sealed the edges of all the boards with silicone caulk. We ended up taking the fancy waterer back and just ordering some poultry nipples on Amazon and making our own from a couple of plastic juice bottles.
Now for some lessons learned. If you go with a design that involves a ramp, make sure it is no steeper than 45 degrees, and you will want rungs attached to the ramp every three inches, or your pullets will find it difficult to climb. My initial plan involved a removable wall made from a single sheet of half-inch plywood. After the first rain, however, this board warped pretty badly, so I ended up scrapping that and replacing it with hinged panels (patent pending) and some foam weatherstripping to keep the rain out. These have performed flawlessly so far. The most expensive material by far is the wire mesh (which is actually half-inch hardware cloth), but as we have learned from reading up on the subject, chicken wire only keeps chickens in, it doesn’t keep predators out. Another indispensable design item is the “poop tray” which is essentially a litter box filled with Sweet PDZ that completely eliminates the odor and makes collecting the droppings for your compost quick and painless.
We are lucky to have the OK Hatchery nearby for our chicks, feed, and other supplies, and as they have told us, “you chicken people are taking over the world!” Now we are just looking forward to gathering eggs! Stay tuned for pictures of our first omelets!

Landscaping Project

This has been a busy spring. Thanks to warmer than average temperatures in February, we got a jump on our normal outdoor activities and started a couple of projects. The first was a little landscaping of the front yard, which involved giving the existing flower beds a facelift with the addition of a retaining wall. Now that the project is done, I wanted to offer a bit of advice to anyone planning something like this. If you choose to do it yourself, and not hire it done, the single most difficult task is properly estimating the amount of materials you will need. My initial estimates of the amount of bricks and top soil that I would need were off by a factor of two. So while the $60 delivery fee that Lowe’s charges is completely reasonable, to have tons of material delivered right to your driveway, it can quickly bust your budget when multiple deliveries are necessary (three in my case). As a reference, our retaining wall had about 65 linear feet, which is easy enough to compute, but it’s almost impossible to know in advance (without a landscaper’s years of experience) how many courses of bricks you will need to match the undulating topography of your yard and end up with something approaching a level wall. For ours, it took 220 bricks. That also equated to 180 40-pound bags of topsoil to fill in the space behind it.

Before and after shots

I Bought A Cow

I challenge anyone to watch the documentary Food, Inc. and not be influenced to make at least a few changes in the way you eat. More than likely, you’ll change a lot. You’ll look at that half-pound chicken breast and wonder if the chicken was still able to walk, supporting its unnatural weight. You’ll wonder what dose of antibiotics you’re receiving in that burger you just ate. Most importantly, you’ll wonder if cheap food really is the blessing we all assume it to be, when you take into account the hidden costs associated with eating it.

And you may even go off the deep end, like we have, and buy your own cow. Actually, it’s only half of a cow, and it’s in our freezer. But it was raised eating grass on a Missouri pasture not too far from here, it was slaughtered on June 4, dry-aged, vacuum-wrapped, frozen, and delivered to our door today. We figure it will last us about a year and it cost less than five dollars a pound.

Without wading into the debate about so-called “happy meat” and whether it even exists, I’ll just say that the fact that grass-fed beef is healthier for you than grain-fed beef is enough by itself to justifiy the decision. And I believe this method of raising livestock is more sustainable, so there are environmental benefits as well. It may end up costing us more in the long run, but maybe that’s what beef is supposed to cost?