Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SponCon's Coming...

This Saturday (September 20) is our favorite event of the year- Spontaneous Construction! This is Home ReSource's annual festival of creative reinvention. It is a celebration of reuse and a building competition where teams have 7 hours to build anything they want from stuff found at Home ReSource. I love it! Seven hours of designing and building fun. It is a great event for competitors and spectators alike, including lots of fun activities for kids.

As usual, our garden coaching business (Butterfly Properties) is a proud sponsor of the event and we will also have a team.  Though this year our team is smaller - just me and Marilyn. Our friend, expert welder and craftsman , and loyal team member is taking a well deserved elk hunting vacation. So, Marilyn and I will have to pick up his responsibilities the best we can. 
It is always helpful to divide up jobs for this sort of project, so here is the division of labor this year:
  • David: designer, welder, woodworker
  • Marilyn: chief information officer, custodial maintenance engineer, and paint application specialist.
Each year we build something for the garden. Who knows what we will make this year, but here are a few projects from the last three years:

2011- a mobile garden cloche (my favorite of our projects)
2012- a garden bistro table and chairs, made from garden tools (and the full Butterfly Properties team of Barry, me, and Marilyn)
2013- an outdoor garden shower


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bird list

Although I’ve been spending a lot of time posting on this blog about birds, and spending time in the garden watching birds, it has been our new chickens
However, after a social at our garden, I was reminded it was time to update my garden bird list. After some investigating, I realized the bird list on my blog had become woefully out dated (and I realized I was not the Montana "Chicken" Gardener, but the Montana "Wildlife" Gardener). I hadn’t formally updated the bird list on my blog since about 2009. 

Despite that I spend a lot of my time at work building, maintaining, accessing and editing databases, evidently my bird list is not in one! So, after some copy and pasting, and tediously searching my blog, I have revised my bird list. And here it is.

For those interested in exclusively the number, that number is 71.

Some details about my bird list, this list probably under-represents some species (like flycatchers- I don’t even really try with those!), and I only count birds that use the garden. That is, I don’t count fly-over’s, or even birds I can see from my yard- they have to be doing something like scratching on the ground, gleaning insects from leaves, bathing, nesting, eating one another, etc… To me flyovers are just happenstance- they do not reflect what I am trying to accomplish in the garden, that is, to create habitat for a variety of wildlife using plants native to the Missoula area.

I was struck by several things after reviewing the list.

  1. Apparently I need to spend some time reading my own blog. This year I remarked that the vesper sparrow as a new arrival in the garden- they same way I made that proclamation in 2010. 
  2. Birds that were once annual common like common redpoll and pine siskin in the winter, I haven’t seen in 10 years. 
  3. A lot of common, local birds aren’t in the garden, and some uncommon local birds are. 
  4. If I counted fly-over’s, I would have a lot more birds on my list (bald eagles, red tailed hawks, osprey, great blue heron, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks, Canada geese, canvasbacks, blue winged teal, mallards, California gulls, etc…) regularly fly overhead. Even rock doves. 
  5. I grudgingly acknowledged the trash birds- the one’s I try to keep out; house sparrows, Eurasian collard doves, and European starlings in this list
In all, it is pretty cool to see this list. I can remember almost every one of these species, and I am really excited about attracting them to our little garden on 8th Street. And it all comes down to the fact that birds eat insects, and insects need our native plants.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


The coop is complete, and full of chickens.

We were the highest bidders at the 4H/ FFA livestock auction on the GRAND CHAMPION layer pen!  It was an exciting day.  Not only did we get some beautiful Rhode Island Red hens, had fun at the auction, but we got to support 4H and some young livestock producers.  My wife was in 4H when she was young (she raised steer) and has a lot of very fond memories of it, so it was really gratifying for us to be on the other end of the auction and be able to buy some animals from kids.
If you have never been to a livestock auction, and in particular a 4H/ FFA auction, you are missing out of such an important part of the community.
The auction was a lot of fun- it was a great and supportive crowd full of local business people supporting the kids and the organizations, the auctioneer was excellent and the spotters were super engaged.  It is wonderful to see the kids with their animals, and the fair and auction represents a culmination of months of work.  All, when asked what they were going to do with their money, said "it was going toward savings".  It makes you feel good about the world.
We were only looking for two hens (based on space and the number of eggs we eat), but we ended up buying a pen of three, now we have to decide what to do with the third.  We asked about donating it back to the auction, but that was forbidden.  So I think we are just going to have three hens.  Perhaps expanding the run, too.

So, are these backyard chickens and example of sustainability?

These chickens will provide us with local eggs, and we can control how they are kept and fed, which is nice, but fiscally, this endeavor is not sustainable. I have enjoyed designing and building the coop, and the opportunity to support 4H has been great.  Between the cost of the annual permit, building materials, the Grand Champion layers, it will take us roughly a decade to save money on eggs!  We don't even eat many eggs.  However, we have met our goals on this one.
Proudly displaying our framed chicken permit in the coop.  It has only been recently (2007) that backyard chickens have been allowed in Missoula, and like most things in Missoula, the passage of an ordinance to allow up to six hens was controversial.  Like roundabouts and most things that are proposed, opponents actually said, that if passed, this would kill many children (I am not making this up).  Like the roundabouts, and backyard chickens, they passed. My wife was part of the city council then (and now), and a strong supporter of this ordinance when it was adopted.  So, when I say the permit is proudly displayed, I am proud as a chicken owner, but really proud of my wife's work on council for so many things, including this ordinance.

Here are some pictures with some more coop details:
 On top of the run is a green roof where I planted strawberries.
 Miles (our wired-haired Chihuahua) does not know what to make of the new residents.
 A couple of the roosts.

Yes, I embellished the rafter tails by cutting eggs...
it only made sense after cutting a hen-shaped vent.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Progress on the Project List: chicken coop update

I have made a lot of progress on the garden project list,

but the one item I have been spending the most time with recently is the chicken coop and run, and it is nearly done.

With the exception of some paint, staples and some insulation, everything was reused, re-purposed and reclaimed and everything I purchased for the project (with the exception of the tin roofing- Craigslist) came from Home ReSource.  So, like many of these projects I have been accumulated parts and pieces as I find them for some time.  That means my little shop has been full of stuff for a while.  It is nice to see some space opening up, but that just means I have some room for the next project!

So, although the chicken coop and outdoor run are not done yet, here are some pictures of the progress and some details...

 The nest box is a re-purposed kitchen cabinet and the perch is an oak towel bar.

Access to the enclosed run is provided by a little sliding barn door.  The hardware is from a sliding closet door.
Yes, that is a chandelier.  The interior paneling, roof sheathing and other interior and exterior details are made from my old cedar fence boards when I replaced some panels last fall (click here for details of that project).
 The exterior (and interior) is made from salvaged tin roofing and cedar shakes.

The coop fits in nicely in the vegetable garden.  

You can see the repetition of a theme with the divided light door, trellises etc..

The outdoor run will have a green roof (in progress).  The plan changed; originally the run was going to be south-facing and in the native plants, but now it is to the north of the coop and in the vegetable garden.

So, in keeping with the vegetable theme, I will plant strawberries on it. That means now I will have about 100 potted Sedum lanceolatum, that I have been growing since the winter and babying all summer, to deal with...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A lot going on in the garden...

Spring is such an exciting and ever changing time in the garden.  This year is no exception.

New birds are arriving daily, others are nesting, including red breasted nuthatches, northern flickers and black capped chickadees.  All the nest boxes have cameras, and as the action heats up I will stream live video form each (now we are streaming from inside the nuthatch box http://www.ustream.tv/channel/red-breasted-nuthatch).

Just yesterday, 3 nuthatches hatched.  Here is a short video of them getting one of their first meals.

And of course, I have been busy with garden projects.  Here are some photos of what is happening now and some updates on projects...
Featured prominantly on the wall of my shop- I keep a list to remind me of the projects I want to complete.  
This floor grate was an early one on the list (I made it this winter from old wrenches) and replaces a dilapdated, temporary wood grate I made several years ago.  Beneath the grate is our compost furnace.
The greenhouse is really filling up.  

And so is my little nursery.
I have been growing these sedum (Sedum lanceolatum)  for a green roof on the chicken coop I will be building...
The coop will occupy this space- the corner raised bed in the vegetable garden that gets too much shade to be really productive.
In the meantime, these shovel chickens enjoy the space.

In what has become a rite of spring, we moved our composter.  This change was set into motion by our new back gate, and fence rearrangement, that was prompted by storing our camper in the garden (click here for my wife's blog about our camper- a project in itself)

It fits right in. 
My plan is to build a pergola over it.  On the list.

 New garden furniture has been on the list for some time. And this winter I made a lot of progress. 
 Several new shovel chairs and benches replaces our dilapidated bent willow chairs.
 Even the birds got new furniture- a new bird bath to match the chairs and gate.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The garden as a bird feeder

In general, our garden is our bird feeder- we planted native plants and created habitat to suit birds' primary food- insects.  And it has worked well, though it is not your traditional "birder's garden".  I feel like I have written this post before (and probably better), but it is a good reminder this time of the year.  For several years I have had mixed feelings for bird feeders, and I have stopped using bird feeders through summer, spring and fall.  I have stopped using seed feeders altogether, and occasionally and seasonally use different forms of suet feeders (see below), including native plant suet we prepare ourselves (click here).

Our goal is to make our garden our feeder by planting native plants and providing habitat and this sustains a variety of birds, insects and other wildlife. This has been our goal, and even in a small, city lot, you can have success.

Our giant ant hill in our front yard is a Northern flicker's favorite.   Through the winter, flickers dig this up for tasty grubs (and defenseless slow moving adults in the cold).

In winter, we add some feeders for birds, but not the typical ones people are used to seeing, though non-traditional feeders, yet they are more natural. for example, my favorite, carcasses.
These parts and pieces are left overs from butchering our game meat during hunting season.

Although the aesthetic might not be for everyone, carcasses (from winterkill, and predator kills) are the original suet feeder (click here for more information). 

Even a little scapula can be an enticing feeder for chickadees, nuthatches, flickers, and downy woodpeckers.

In addition to providing housing for native solitary nesting bees, mason bee boxes, aka "larvae feeders" provide food for nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and chickadees that pick the overwintering larvae out. Here a chickadee uses its wings for improved leverage to get one out
But perhaps more important in our garden are the natural and original nest boxes- snags.
Birds are a source of food too. With a lot of birds around, come things that eat them.
Here a sharp-shinned hawk eats a cedar waxwing in our garden.
All that it left was the beak
So this winter, consider your feeders, and perhaps shift to some natural or unconventional feeders.  Feeding birds is a lot more than seed feeders, and it is a lot more effective with non-traditional means.