Chicken Coop Complete

Homegrown Neighbor here:

As you may recall, I volunteer at a local high school where we have been working on building a chicken coop. Last fall we started taking apart the remnants of the old coop. It has been a long, slow process, but I am proud to announce that we are finally finished. The students did a lot of the work themselves and many had no building experience when we started. It was pretty great to watch them figure out how to use a drill.

The coop is big, 10 feet by 20 feet. The first four chickens have moved in and are very happy in their new home. These first four chickens needed a home and the school was happy to provide them one. In the future we hope to have up to twenty chickens at one time.

There is a spacious fenced in area for them to roam in during the day, with a big old oak tree providing valuable shade.

And the usually surly teenagers really enjoy the chicken’s hilarious antics. While digging in the orchard we unearthed some grubs and took them to the hens. One chicken grabbed the first grub and proceeded to run around the perimeter of the coop with all of the others following after her and periodically pecking at the prize in her beak, trying to steal it. Finally, the teenagers found something at school that they find worthy of their attention- chickens.

Poison in the Compost

No, not that Poison

I’ve blogged about the dangers of  herbicides in compost before, but it’s worth repeating. Mother Earth News has been doing some excellent reporting on two herbicides, clopyralid and aminopyralid, that can decimate your garden for years should your compost get contaminated by them. I received the following note from Mother Earth news:

“As the garden season ramps up, we at Mother Earth News want to let you and Homegrown Evolution readers know that you may want to screen any hay, grass clippings or compost you bring into your gardens, to assure the materials are not contaminated with persistent herbicide residues (most often clopyralid and aminopyralid). As our reports included below indicate, these chemical residues can kill plants or severely stunt their production, costing gardeners money and time.

What do you need to know about contaminated compost?

  • Affected plants show signs of curled, cupped leaves, wilting new growth and poor germination in tomatoes, peas, beans, lettuce and other garden crops.
  • The chemical residues causing the problem can be present in grass clippings, in manure of livestock that has eaten sprayed plant matter or in compost made from contaminated materials. These herbicides do not biodegrade during composting and can persist in your soil for several years.
  • Contaminated materials have been found in municipal, organic and conventional bagged compost.
  • To prevent contamination, ask questions before buying manure or compost that contains manure. If the seller doesn’t know if it’s safe, don’t buy it, or use this cheap and easy home test to be sure it’s safe.
  • Anyone who suspects they have detected contaminated material should notify their local Extension agent and news media, as well as Richard Keigwin at the EPA and the product manufacturer (if purchased).”

[email protected]>

[email protected]> I’ve done the home test linked to above and so far I’ve not found any problems. My friend Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms has done the same and also found no herbicide residues. That being said, it pays to be careful. And let Mr. Keigwin at the EPA know that, as organic gardeners, we’d all apprciate that these poisons not be used in the first place.

Pallet Mania

A chicken coop built from pallets

I’m a sucker for anything built with pallets. Why? Quite simply, they are the most useful bit of detritus in a constellation of easily scavenged items that includes used tires, milk crates, futon frames, headboards and shopping carts. Reader Mike “Garden Daddy” Millson from Jackson, Tennessee, who blogs at www.gardendaddy.blogspot.com sent me an interesting link to a Canadian pallet enthusiast who has built some nice structures and saved himself a load of Canadian dollars. Check them out here:

http://summerville-novascotia.com/PalletShed/

The amateur architect critic in me will note that many of these structures look better before they were completed, but I’m in a much more forgiving climate that allows for open air experimentation. Note the wise practice of keeping pallets whole and using them like large bricks. Smart, because the things split up like crazy if you try to take them apart.

Now will someone please build a house with those headboards and futon frames?

How to Raise Poultry

How to Raise Poultry (How to Raise...)One of the great tragedies of modern factory farming is the loss of biodiversity in our livestock. Robust, diverse genetics have been sacrificed in the name of cheap and abundant, but low quality food. To use a poultry metaphor, we’re putting all our eggs in one genetic basket, with the consequence being that our whole agricultural system feels like a ticking time bomb. We’ve seen how these short sighted practices have decimated commercial beekeeping in recent years and I fear we may see a similar disaster with our poultry soon. Author Christine Heinrichs, through her books, blog, and work for the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is countering these trends which is why I was delighted to get a copy of her latest book How to Raise Poultry.

How to Raise Poultry covers our familiar feathered friends, chickens, ducks and turkeys but also details the history and husbandry of everything from swans to emus. While I may never keep ostriches, it certainly was entertaining to read about them (don’t mess with an angry one and get yourself a very tall fence!).

Throughout the book Heinrichs stresses the importance of preserving our agricultural heritage through keeping rare breeds and out of favor fowl. Paradoxically I can assure that there will be more geese by eating one. As Frank Bob Reese, a farmer Heinrichs quotes in the book puts it, “The best way to save the old-time poultry is to return them to our dining tables.”

The lavishly illustrated How to Raise Poultry will get you thinking about where your food comes from and what we’ve lost by our over-reliance on just a few varieties of poultry such as the Cornish Cross meat chicken. Hopefully it will inspire hobbyists and farmers alike to bring back the amazing diversity and beauty of thousands of years of living with domesticated birds.

Birds on a Wire

A neighbor told me this morning that when the house next door to him was for sale the owners asked him not to hang laundry on his clothesline because it would, “bring down their property value.” And, of course, many housing developments have the same anti-clothesline restriction. Is it some distant cultural memory of 19th century tenement buildings, an id-based Ralph Kramden, an intense fear of anything urban? Maybe this clever design by Fabian van Sprecklsen might tip the balance for the clotheslineophobes. The ends are shaped like telephone poles and the clothes pins are shaped like little birds. I’m tempted to pull out a saber saw and make a copy, but that would be stealing! Via Doornob, an inspiring design blog I highly recommend.

Keeping Chickens by Ashley English

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. The people have been demanding a concise, clearly illustrated guide to raising chickens for eggs in urban and suburban situations and Ashley English has delivered the goods with Keeping Chickens All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. You may remember Ashley from our first, and so far only, Homegrown Evolution podcast. Keeping Chickens covers breeds, how to get chickens, how to build a coop, hatching eggs, feeding and more. There’s also a few really nice recipes for what to do with all those eggs including an omelet recipe I’ve been using since I got the review copy. You can see that recipe and a few sample pages on Ashley’s website Small Measure. Good straightforward advice here, all delivered with really nice photos. If you’re thinking of starting a backyard flock I’d pick up this handy book. Now go out and build that coop!

Bantam Returns

Homegrown Neighbor here:

I’ve been busy in the garden and letting the neighbors focus on their book, so I haven’t been blogging in a while. But today something very special happened that I have to share with you, dear readers.
My bantam chicken, Debbie, the lighter colored chicken in the photo, disappeared last week. She simply didn’t come in at chicken bed time. This is very unusual. The chickens usually all line up and go into the coop at night in a very orderly fashion. But last week, little Debbie didn’t come home to the coop. I assumed a hawk ate her or that she jumped the fence and was eaten by one of the many dogs in the neighborhood.

It was sad, but I was at least relieved that I didn’t have to deal with any bloody remains- one of my worst fears with the chickens. Every night this week when I put the chickens in I rather morosely counted six, instead of the previous seven. But I moved on, assuming Debbie was gone for good, being digested in some hawk’s belly.

Then, just in time for an Easter surprise, Debbie came back to me. I went over to my parent’s house for Easter dinner. I returned home to find a note on my door. I was hoping it wasn’t an angry note from a neighbor complaining about my chickens or messy yard. I was elated to see that the note was from a neighbor saying he had a tiny chicken sitting at home watching TV with him and he wondered if she belonged to me. I immediately called him and he brought the bantie back home. Apparently he was weeding in the yard this afternoon and she popped out of the bushes. I’m guessing she made a nest in a wild corner of their yard and was brooding until he disturbed her.

So I am happy to say that the chicken is back home. And of course my neighbor who found her got some eggs for so kindly bringing her back. A happy Easter gift for both of us.

A Redneck Rocket Stove

From Wes Duncan, the “High Tech Redneck,” a rocket stove made out of cinder blocks. I’ve built one of these too and can confirm that they work great. And you can’t beat the price. Time for some redneck cookin’!

Update: As several readers have pointed out, this design ain’t safe. Cinder blocks can explode and were not meant to be placed next to a heat source–that’s what fire bricks are for. See our post about our backyard rocket stove for a safe design that uses metal pipe.

Garden Edibles

We’ve pretty much just been growing Italian vegetable varieties for almost ten years now and have never looked back. Which is why we were really excited to hear that Homegrown Evolution pal Craig Ruggless has a new website: www.gardenedibles.com that imports seeds from the Larosa Emanuele Sementi company of Italy. Craig reminded us recently about something we remember from our trip to Italy a few years ago that, for Italians, vegetables are like wine. Wine comes in many varieties, so should vegetables. What a shame it is that when you go to a supermarket here in the US there is often only one variety of any given vegetable even at high-end stores.

So you gotta grow your own. Coming soon (again, as soon as book #2 is done), we’ll list what we grew this winter and what we plan on growing this summer. From Garden Edibles, this summer, we’re planting San Marzano 2 tomatoes and Rosso Dolce Da Appendere peppers. We always have some San Marzanos growing because they are so damn reliable. But we’re particularly excited about the peppers. And the tomato at left? It’s been rescued from extinction by a group of farmers in Puglia. It’s that region’s answer to the San Marzano–Pugliese families use to make their winter tomato sauce.

Ciao! Back to the book . . .

A Humanure Powered Prius!

 Photo by Thom Watson

Our days as struggling bloggers are over! This morning Toyoto Motors announced an exciting new partnership between their Prius division and Root Simple. Toyota is forming a task force, that includes Root Simple, to explore the most abundant fuel source on the planet: gassified humanure. Toyota anticipates a hybrid methane/electric Prius vehicle in showrooms as early as 2012. “We’re accelerating the research and design process and we predict that methane/electric hybrids will be a major movement in the automobile industry,” said Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda.

As part of the pilot program Root Simple will be saving human waste in five gallon buckets–an ordinary dry toilet! The waste will be added to proprietary inflatable bladders located in the basement.

 Photo by Nic Pepsi

Waste will ferment in the bladders for a three week period. Pressure caused by the expansion of the bladder automatically forces the methane into a storage tank located in the garage. Methane is then pumped into a specially modified Prius during the evening hours using a pump powered by rooftop solar collectors.  “Ed Begley’s people are jealous” said Root Simple blogger Erik Knutzen, adding, “I can finally ditch the bike–it’s dangerous anyways with all that slippery paint the city uses to stripe bike lanes with.”

Jenny Craig has signed on as a project partner to develop microwavable entrees that maximize enzymatic methane production, increase fiber and help us all lose those extra pounds. “We’re looking at integrating our brand into the transportation sector,” said Jenny Craig spokesperson, Leonora Bertwhistle. Jenny Craig is particularly excited about the use of agave syrup to replace sugar in the meals. “Agave syrup has been shown to break down into more highly fermentable compounds that will increase the efficiency of the fuel production process,” adds Bertwhistle.

“If this proves economical we’ll be looking at other human fuel sources,” says Knutzen. “If we can harness one end of the human waste output stream, think about the other. What if we could tap into the energy used for speech, typing, press releases and blogging? We could literally power our transportation sector on hot air.”