Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Vegetable Bed

I don't have a lot of flat space around my house so this little patch is pretty valuable. Part of it is taken up by the chicken tractor that has since become the brooder coop. My first two chickens were happy with it as long as they could run around in the yard too.

I decided to try to get a little more use out of the space and build a raised planter for vegetables

I built it out of 2x10s, with hardware cloth on the bottom.

This is to keep the gophers out. I first time I saw the gophers I thought they were kinda cute. Then I watched one pull an entire creeping fig vine into its burrow after it had eaten all of its roots. Now I plant everything with mesh around it.

I filled it with two truck loads of free compost from the Griffith Park Composting Facility. John likes to joke that it is full of elephant dung because the facility is right over the hill from the LA Zoo. It might be true. This stuff is like black gold.

I can never get my act together to grow from seed so I used started plants from home depot. I planted tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and threw in some radish and beet seeds. They look so dainty here, but I had planted way too much. My friend Sora warned me that the tomatoes and squash were going to battle for supremacy. She wasn't kidding.

I'm not sure who the winner was. The squash took up more space but the tomatoes lasted longer. I was still getting tomatoes just a month ago, and I still have butternut squash waiting to be made into soup.

My plans were to clean this all out and plant a winter garden but I never got around to it. Once the squash was gone there were little radish plants trying to grow underneath. They ended up getting big and bushy with gnarly twisted radishes about a foot long.

The last batch of chicks did a pretty good job of cleaning the bed out before they went up to the big house. Now I just need to replant. I'm thinking that this year I'll grow the tomatoes and squash in their own self watering containers and reserve the raised bed for vegetables that are a little more delicate.

A Look Back

I get so excited by the things going on in the moment that sometimes it's hard for me to look back. Nevertheless I thought I should add a couple posts that I probably should have started out with.

This is my first box of chicks. I ordered with a friend and we ended up with 50. The hatchery added some extras to make sure the box was packed with enough chicks to keep each other warm. They came in the US mail and spent 2 days in transit. The extras are the yellow ones with red dots on their heads.

Chicks are so cute and fun to have around, but it's possible to have too much of a good thing. They were OK for the first few days when all they seemed to do was eat sleep and poop. But after only a couple of weeks they had tripled in size and were a rambunctious group of dust monsters.

I ended up making a 4'x 1o' corral for them in the living room where they had more room to run around, but they grew a lot faster than I expected and were more aggressive then their little fuzzy butts would lead you to expect. I had only had them for about three weeks when I woke up to the neighborhood roosters crowing as usual. It took me a few minutes to realize that one of the crowers was a lot closer than the others, he was in my living room. One of the little cockerels was practicing and doing a pretty good job. He sounded a little like a tin wind up toy but I could hear the potential.

I got to work building their permanent home.

My yard has an incline ranging from about 30 degrees to 75 degrees. I chose a spot near the end up my property under this white sapote tree. It would offer shade from the afternoon sun and it wasn't quite as steep as other parts of the yard.

I wanted to have a dirt floor so that I could use the deep litter method inside the coop. I had to dig out the back end to make room for the foundation. It was a lot harder than I expected. Even though this spot initially looked reasonably level, as I spent a weekend excavating, it started to seem steeper and steeper.

It took me the whole weekend to get this far. So little, and yet I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, matched only by my desperation to get the chicks out of the house.

I spent the next weekend assembling this metal shed that I got cheap off of Craigslist. I probably could have built it cheaper from scratch and it would have looked more charming, but this was fast and easy and I could carry the piece up the hill by myself. I can't imagine what it would have been like to drag a bunch of plywood up there.

The shed had crappy little sliding doors that I didn't have much confidence in. I made two new doors meshed with hardware cloth. This provides light and ventilation but should still be secure enough to keep predators out.

I put the hasp on the door and started carting the chicks up to their new coop. They seemed to adjust pretty well. The shed is 10' x 8' so they had more space and they loved scratching around in the dirt.

It didn't take long though for them to outgrow this too.
Look how big this mofo is. This is one of those little yellow chicks with the red spot on the head.

It took me another month to finish the run that connects to the back. I don't have a good picture of that but you can sort of see it here, almost overgrown with grass.

The metal shed has been easy to work with and modify as necessary. I've been able to use a pocket knife to cut through the sheet metal to create more ventilation and to make a door into the run. I still think it's kind of ugly but one of my neighbors said that she loves to see it as she hikes along the top of the ridge. She feels like she's almost home when she see it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chicken Shuffle

So the latest batch of chicks have been living in a box on my desk.

It makes it easy to take care of them and I can see them as I work. The problem is that their constant scratching and running around sends up a plume of dust that settles on everything. These chicks are two weeks old now so I decided to move them somewhere a little more appropriate.

This is my first coop. I built it to house two hens. The wooden part on the left is the actual coop and the part enclosed on the right is the run. Theoretically the chickens run around in the run during the day and then go into the coop to sleep. I say theoretically because the last batch of chicks, which are 6 weeks old now have other ideas. They only use the run. They sleep in a pile in the corner next to the food and water. For the first few days I would move them into the coop every night thinking that they would get the idea but they never did. Now during the day they run around in the yard if I'm home and then go into the run to sleep. This leaves the coop entirely unused so I thought I would move the new chicks in. They'd have twice as much space and it would keep them out of my hair.

That was my plan until one of the hens in the big coop went broody. This means that she wants to sit on the eggs rather than lay them. You can tell a hen has gone broody when they hunker down like this and by the mean look in their eye.

I love a broody hen. If they are willing to sit on the eggs it means that I don't have to incubate them and raise the chicks myself. The broody hen does it better and saves me all of the work. The problem is that a broody hen needs a secluded place to hatch out her eggs. I have four nest boxes for my ten hens and they all lay in the same one, the same one that this hen has claimed for her own. In this photo she is sitting on about 12 eggs laid by all the different hens in the coop. That's not so bad except that all of the other hens will continue to come in here to lay their eggs and the broody will scoop them up and try to hatch them. Eventually she would be sitting on a pile of eggs that all started incubating at different times which would be a recipe for disaster.

I decided to scrap my original plan to move the chicks into the little coop and move the broody in there instead. She would have a dark, private place to hatch and there wouldn't be other hens to lay more eggs. Again the chicken had other ideas. I made a little nest for her with some eggs to give her the right idea. I put her in the coop thinking that she would see the eggs and settle down on top of them. No deal. She shot out of the coop into the run and struck up a loud ruckus. She was totally agitated and mad and wanted nothing to do with her newly dubbed broody coop. I caught her again and shut her into the coop this time so she couldn't get out. She never settled down and went so far as to over turn the nest box and scatter the eggs. I guess the environment was just too foreign and she was nervous.

I finally gave up and moved her to one of the unused nest boxes in the big coop and that seemed to satisfy her. Here she is looking much more comfortable:

This isn't a perfect solution since the other hens might decide that they like this box now too. I could close this box so the others couldn't get in but the broody needs to get up once a day to eat drink and poop. I'll have to keep an eye on things and make adjustments later.

So I returned to my original plan to move the chicks into the little coop. They have a light for warmth and food and water. When the older chicks move up to the big coop in a week or two I'll open the door for these guys and let them out into the run.

So I was feeling that I had bought myself a little time until I went up to the big coop this morning and saw this:

This is a different hen. I think she's broody.
: /