Friday, June 3, 2016

Late Spring Updates

We've been busy!  So busy that finding time to blog lately has taken a back seat to actually getting things done.  I'll do my best to stay current, so here's what you've missed:

The chickens live in the garage for the time being, at least at night.  Unfortunately, the garden shed that was being converted into their coop heaved when the snow melted.  I have an 9-inch gap between the ground and the bottom of the shed on one side, and the other side has sunken into the ground enough to make it impossible to open the door on that side.  My trusty landscape guy is going to shore it up, and figured that the previous owners never put down gravel before the concrete, which caused it to heave.  Lesson learned on taking shortcuts!

Cue running around like a fool
With the help of my friend, Reilly, I got the raised beds in last weekend.  I'm just now waiting for trusty landscape guy to deliver my topsoil, which will hopefully happen this weekend.

The kitchen backsplash has been complete for a few weeks, delayed by a miscalculation on my part when I ran out of grout and only had about 8 inches of tile spacing to finish.  It looks amazing, though, and I've decided on my days off that involve rain, that I can work on getting the kitchen cabinets painted and the countertop done.

The back porch walls have been painted.  I picked up some Sherwin Williams' porch enamel so that I can paint the floor next week.  Once that is done, I'll be moving furniture in and making it a usable space.

What's left?  So much!  Here's the list of projects that still need to be tackled:

  • Paint both of the girls' rooms.  
  • Paint Evie and Emily's bunk beds
  • Finish removing glue from the entry and paint that.
  • Paint the master bedroom.
  • Decorate all of the above.
  • Install a pea gravel patio in the back yard.
  • Finish chicken coop and chicken run.
  • Paint porch floor; decorate porch.
  • Plant the gardens.
  • Paint kitchen cabinets and swap out hardware.
  • Resurface kitchen counters.
  • Remodel bathroom.
  • Add some curb appeal to the front door.
I'm sure I'll find more to add to the list.  For now, I'm just going to be exhausted for a bit.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Chicken in Every Pot... or Bedroom?

Liz & Biscuit

The chicks arrived last Wednesday on the heels of a cold snap that dumped nearly 7 inches of snow on our town.  I had planned on keeping the brooder in the garage until the coop is completely finished, but with 19-degree nights, I was worried that it'd be way too cold for them to survive even with the heater.  What room in the house is totally off-limits to the dog and the cat?  My bedroom.  I've been falling asleep to quiet little peeps and waking up to the occasional ruckus of the attempts to establish a pecking order.

It hasn't been all fun and games, though.  One chick arrived somewhat on the lethargic side and sadly, didn't live more than a couple of days.  Two more chicks quickly succumbed to something unknown and a week in, I have eight survivors.  Their deaths were definitely not a good experience, saddening all of us with each loss.  Right now though, we're focused on taking care of rambunctious chicks.  I think the hardest part at this moment is keeping their food and water clean.

They endlessly kick wood chips into their water and food.

And stand on the waterer.

And their heater.

And they poop a lot.  I'm starting to think they're trying to poop their own body weight each day.  Their bedding will be composted and eventually added to the garden (cue Elton John singing "in the ciiiiiiiircle the circle of liiiiiiiife....")

First day
Compared to when they first arrived, as tiny peeping balls of fluff, they've started to feather out this week.  I still can't tell the Welsummers from the Speckled Sussex chicks.  I think the two black chicks are the Cream Legbar chicks, but I guess I'll find out in a few weeks.

I'm still hoping that I don't have a rooster.

6 days old

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Ruler!

Someone, somewhere on Pinterest printed out a load of Instagram photos, framed them, and made a rather fabulous photo wall with them.  I set out to do the same, only I didn't want to have to use a tape measure or a ruler to evenly space my frames.  The whole thing just screams of tediousness, and I'm not about that.  I wanted an easy, foolproof way to hang my photos.  I had my photos printed through Snapfish, but I've also used PostalPix.  Just use whichever printing service you like, as long as you can get good quality 4x4 prints.

Here's what I used:

  • Tiny Mighty Frames - I ordered these from Amazon in the 20-frame package.  It may look pricey at first, but once you tally up ordering twenty 4x4 wall frames individually, it's actually much less expensive.
  • 3M Command Strips - I used a value package of 4 medium and 6 large, then cut them all in half.
  • Graphing paper - I have a strange affinity for the stuff
  • Frog Tape or other painters tape
  • A level
  • A pencil
Lay out your frames on the floor before you hang them on the wall.  
The first thing I did was apply a vertical line of tape to the wall, making sure it was level.  Then I laid out the filled frames on the floor until I liked the composition.  I tried to make sure that I didn't have clusters of pictures that had either one or two people in them; I wanted to spread that out so that the image as a whole would look balanced.

This is what the wall should look like when you hang your first photo
Taking out my trusty graphing paper, I laid a sheet over the frames on the floor.  The spacing I had was about 4 blocks around each frame.  I traced a frame onto the graphing paper, moved it over 4 blocks, then traced another.  All four of the frames don't fit on the paper, but what you really need to take away from it is the idea that you're just graphing the spaces between the frames.  I had a space to the side of my frames due to the margin on the paper.  In hindsight, I could've just cut them off and aligned the frames with the tape.  Then I simply cut out the squares that the frames made and gave them to Emily to use for drawing paper.  I taped the graphed grid to the wall, making sure to line up the side of the paper with the tape line.  After level-checking the top of the graphing paper, I stuck a Command strip to the back of the first frame, lined it up with the opening in the graph paper, and stuck it on the wall.  I worked in blocks of 4, so that I had two frames over two frames before I moved the graphing paper.  

When your first block is done, move the graphing paper.
Realign it to the taped section and the frames above/beside.
Stand back every few rounds to make sure you're not off track, or that you don't have an off-kilter frame.  When you're done, stand back and admire!  I love that the photos can be switched out and changed by season, or holiday, or by whatever you feel like just by changing out a Command strip.

Here are a few views of what it looks like:

I posted this on Instagram the other day.
Lily was begging Liz for her coffee!
The view from the couch.  Art3mis seems to know whenever I'm trying to take a photo.
My pets are definitely hams!

View from the kitchen and dining room.
I like that I can see it from different rooms.
Also, we have plenty of amazing ideas, just no chalk at present!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hopping the Fence

I stare at the shed in the back yard while I'm washing dishes.  There is barely anything in it.  I prefer to keep my lawnmower, garden tools, and whatnot in the garage, so the shed is just barren.  It also has that weird added-on roof that scares the bejeezus out of me.  I mean, look at that support post just barely hanging on to the concrete brick there.  There's a small pile of firewood under that roof that could easily be relocated.

I've also been taking a look at my finances, and my student loan, new car, and tax repayments are going to swamp me for about three years.  It's unlikely we'll be vacationing for more than a few days away from home, if at all in that time period.  To sum that up... I'm going to be staying home and I'm going to be living on limited means for a while.  I'm perfectly okay with this, as I'm soon going to be starting a position that is literally a two-minute drive from my house (that alone is a $300/month savings in gasoline as my current commute is nearly an hour and a half each way).

So, I'm getting chickens.  I'm converting the shed into a coop and building a run so they'll have a place to scratch and play outside without worrying about dogs, hawks, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes.  It gets cold here, so the chickens I chose are breeds that are exceptionally cold-hardy.  I've also chosen breeds that are friendly and lean toward not being broody, since I'm not going to be hatching chicks.

But, back to the shed:  This front corner of the floor definitely needs to be addressed.  Not only is it an entry for predators, it can expose the chickens to drafts.  It looks like the concrete pad crumbled and bricks were used to support the base of the shed.  Pavers were thrown down to even out the floor.  I think some excavation of the crumbled bits has to happen, and some concrete needs to be mixed up and poured to remedy the situation.

 The interior of the shed needs to be cleaned out, but there is plenty of room for 7 chickens, roosting bars, nesting boxes, and a quarantine space for sick or new chickens.  Once again, the floor needs to be leveled out and repaired.  There is plenty of ventilation in there, which is important for healthy birds.

I love that the doors of the shed open wide and allow for easy entry, which should make gathering eggs and cleaning the coop a breeze, but the locks need to be revamped.  Raccoons have finger dexterity and can figure out most simple locks rather quickly.  The main latch on the door doesn't latch very well at all.

We're going to build a run similar to this one, but one that is taller because I want to be able to get inside of the run to rake it out and replenish supplies without having to stoop over to do so.  The other change I'm making is using 1/2-inch hardware cloth instead of chicken wire, since predators can easily break through chicken wire.

Now, for the fun part:  the chickens!

The first chicken breed I chose is the Speckled Sussex.  They're just so pretty!  They're also prolific egg layers.  The speckling is more pronounced as they age, so early on, they'll mostly have brown feathers with a few hints of white.

The second breed I chose is the Buff Orpington.  They can occasionally get broody (sit on their eggs in an attempt to hatch them, which won't happen since we won't have a rooster).  They're known for being great layers, but also for having a sweet temperament.

We'll have seven hens total:  4 Sussex and 3 Orpingtons.  As an added bonus their litter can be added to the compost tumbler, and they'll happily eat veggie scraps, slugs, and other garden pests.  We're not letting them free range as we live on a busy road, every one of our neighbors has a dog, birds of prey are everywhere here, and they'll be more than happy to not only clear the bugs out of the garden, but they'll also voraciously eat seedlings.

The day-old chicks will be arriving April 4th or so, and there's a lot to do between now and then.  They will be living in a brooder (baby chicken house) for a couple of months before they're introduced into the coop, but we still have a lot to do between now and then.  Don't forget that we're also taking delivery of trees for the orchard, assembling the garden beds, and digging 40 million holes for plants and trees.

Here's the list I'm working with:

  • build chicken run panels in the garage 
  • clean out the coop
  • excavate loose concrete in the coop
  • patch holes and cracks in the concrete floor
  • use self-leveling concrete to even out the coop floor
  • relocate firewood
  • remove roof
  • replace latch
  • cover windows with hardware cloth
  • predator-proof perimeter of coop and run (buried hardware cloth)
  • assemble run
  • cut out door to run
  • build roosting bars
  • install cleaning boards under roosting bars
  • install nesting boxes
  • install feeding/watering/dust bathing stuff

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Living Landscape

Ouachita Blackberry
I have a lot of digging to do.  

My garden and orchard plans have snowballed into a near full-on farm.  In addition to the quince, apples, and peach tree I initially planned on, I've added several other trees, a rather large handful of berry plants, and a couple of elderberry bushes.  

So, what's new?  I've added a Blenheim apricot tree, Illinois Everbearing mulberry, Stanley plum, and a Brown Turkey fig that'll spend winters inside.  I've added a collection of northern highbush blueberries, Boyne raspberries, Koralle lingonberries, Old North Sea strawberries, and Ouachita thornless blackberries. I nixed the Queen Cox apple altogether.

I'm going to go off on how excited I am for a minute.  The Blenheim apricot is the benchmark of apricot flavor.  They were grown at Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and at Blenheim Castle in England.  Despite the royal pedigree, they don't tend to sell well at market because they don't take on that perfect light orange coloring.  In fact, their shoulders tend to stay on the greenish side.  Oddly enough, they just appear to be under-ripe.  Inside is a veritable explosion of apricot flavor.  Blenheims are in danger of disappearing for the simple reason that Americans like their food to look pretty, and commercial farms are pressured to grow varieties that do just that, despite what may be a sacrifice in flavor.
Blenheim apricots
Initially, I was going to build raised beds on my own, but I've decided to go with pre-made that requires minimal assembly.  It's quick and dirty, and I can spend more of my time digging holes for the bazillion trees I'm planting.  I'm putting them directly on top of the soil, so I don't have to have a deep bed.  I'll just have to remove the turf and turn some dirt over to loosen up the soil.  

I got four beds that measure 4 feet x 8 feet x 10.5 inches, and three beds that are 4 feet x 4 feet.  

Emily wants to plant corn, so one of the four-foot beds is destined for a patch of corn for her.  

The other two small beds are earmarked for asparagus and strawberries, respectively.  The large beds will have our usual staples like beans, peas, beets, tomatoes, peppers, greens, squash.  I'll likely get another bed for just herbs.

Due to our current rodent situation in the lawn (voles and moles), I've decided against my original plan of building a compost bin on the ground.  Instead, I've used my Amazon gift cards to buy a compost tumbler.  This one has two sections so that each side can be in different stages of breakdown.  Until I have leaves to rake up, I'm going to use some coconut coir potting amendment as my "browns" so that my compost will cook and not turn into a slimy bog (which is what happens when you have too many greens).  

We're still on the fence about chickens.  It wouldn't take much at all to convert the backyard shed into a pretty solid chicken coop.  The issue is that we'd have to be home or to have someone feed, water, and tend to the chickens when we go on vacation.  Maybe once I've finished all of my digging I'll have some time to think about adding chickens to the mix next spring.


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