Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chickens

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.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

new heat for my old shop

I've been spending a lot of time in my shop lately on a variety of projects for our home and garden. Including a bunch of re-purposed garden tool chairs and benches (and things for my Etsy store) but that is for another post.  My newest project for the shop is a better heating system- a couple of weeks ago I bought a used pellet stove (a Quadrafire, Mt Vernon).  This concludes a 1.5 year search on Craigslist and Home ReSource.  I am really excited about heating the shop in a more sustainable way. For about 13 years, I had been heating the shop with a small kerosene heater. That heater works really well, and heats the shop up quickly, but the cost of kerosene has more than tripled over that time. When I first stared heating with it, 5 gallons of kerosene was less than $12; now it is around $45. Plus, it is kerosene, and for all the reasons not to burn petroleum products it is bad. 

Pellets are made mostly from  wood waste, and there lots of options on wood source and several companies in western Montana produce the pellets.  I am really glad about having this sort of locally made option, and especially one that uses waste from other industries.  For example, one company is primarily a furniture business, and converts its lumber scraps into pellets.  

Other nice things about pellets are their low emissions, and the abundant, pleasant heat produced- the same kind of heat as from a wood stove.  Plus, it is thermostatically controlled. The downside is the high initial cost, but with the low cost of fuel ($4/ 40 lb bag), I will break even pretty soon.  Even if it took me much longer to break even, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

With a kerosene heater, I would use about 20 gallons a year to heat the shop, so at these prices it would be around $200/ year to heat. If the price doesn't go up any more, I figure I will break even in 2-3 years.
For those in the city of Missoula or the parts of Missoula County that are in the "air stagnation zone," you can install pellet stoves, but they have to meet the EPA emission particulate guidelines (that is, emit less than 1 gram/hour) be on the approved list.

As for as the installation, I got nearly everything used, from Home ReSource; including the majority of the venting, electrical and wall materials.
I decided to tile the surround, but the nice thing with pellet stoves is that they have very low set backs to combustibles. For this stove, and the way I have it oriented, it could be as close as 1.5” to the walls. 
So although I didn't need to surround the stove with a non-flammable material, I thought it would be an opportunity to add a little pizzazz to the shop to break up the monotony of the OSB covered walls. Plus it makes me feel better knowing the stove is surrounded by concrete, ceramic and grout- not OSB and dry wood!


I found this interesting tile at Home ReSource, so I figured I'd give it a try.  It looks like wood, but it is ceramic tile.   I thought it would be the perfect tile for a woodworking shop.
On the same trip, I got all the tile, grout (that I totally over bought), concrete backer board, grout sealer, a GFCI receptacle, outlet box, and thermostat wire, for only, ...wait for it… $36! Thanks Home ReSource!
I am happy with how it came out, but more importantly I am glad to be heating the shop with a renewable, and locally produced resource.