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Today the hubby and I spent nearly four hours with face masks on and pitchforks in our hands, cleaning out the chicken coop. I kid you not, the straw and poop was mounded 2-3′ high under the roosts. Blehck! Now I see why poop hammocks are so popular. We got around twenty wheel barrows full of poopy, composting straw and sawdust from our 8’x18′ coop with 33 birds. I’d say about half of it was composted already, but hopefully this summer the rest will catch up. We piled it in a corner of the garden and wet it down thoroughly to get it roasting.

The garden will love this free fertilizer. Thanks, chickens!

The garden will love this free fertilizer. Thanks, chickens!

Once the coop was cleaned, I raked it all flat (dirt floor) and spread lime all over. Then I spread a new layer of straw, brought the waterers and oyster shell bin back in, and refilled the nesting boxes with new sawdust. They love their clean coop!

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My husband and our older son also helped get five new fruit trees into the orchard. One of these days I’ll get out there and take stock of exactly what we have. I know we have lots of apples, two plums, seven cherries, and four pears. The cherries and pears are budding and getting flowers now. It’s great to see things coming to life! It took a few days, but we managed to get every tree mulched, pruned, and surrounded by deer-proof fencing.

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You can see almost the whole orchard in that photo above. It takes up most of the south-eastern face of the hill our house sits on. At the bottom of the hill is a low, marshy spot where rainwater always collects. Someday I’d like to clear all the cottonwood and birch out of it to make a small pond. I can imagine geese grazing the hillside in the shade of fruit trees, then taking an evening swim. Ducks, too. It’s probably a good thing the feed store ran out of ducks so quickly every week this spring – I may have got a head start on our duck population otherwise. Someday…

Here is a close up of one of our newest cherry trees. See the leaves? Yay! Spring!

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I also spent a few hours today cleaning up the garden area. I ripped out all of the stout sunflower stalks, then cleaned up the strawberry beds a bit. The strawberries all have a few little new leaves coming up, and the garlic is nearly 5″ tall already. Even the leeks are trying to make a comeback! I thought the remaining leeks were goners after I let the chickens loose in the garden last fall. Those birds ate every one down to the roots. But lo and behold, they’re being resurrected. Here’s a shot of the garlic. I’ve yet to fertilize and mulch it. Maybe tomorrow. The sun is already setting on today, as you can tell by all of these pictures.

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And the rest of the garden… so full of promise!

Goodnight, garden. May you soon wake to find greens and flowers covering your bare naked soil.

Goodnight, garden. May you soon wake to find greens and flowers covering your bare naked soil.

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Yesterday was the Spring Equinox, and this year it actually feels like spring! The snow finished melting a few days ago, and the weather has consistently been above freezing during the day. Blue skies and a shining sun are doing a lot to pick up my mood lately. Oh, spring! How I’ve missed you!

The chickens and guineas are enjoying the warmer weather. Their run is finally solidified instead of being a mud wallow. Every morning I go out and toss some scratch for them. Pretty soon their coop will be thawed enough for me to clean out a winter worth of poop and straw. Not even kidding – it’s about 3′ deep in spots. My garden is going to love all the nutrients from the litter.

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And we’re getting eggs once again. Look at the beautiful little presents I find every morning! We’re getting 8-10 a day… and it’s warm enough outside that the eggs aren’t freezing and cracking within minutes of being laid. Yahoo! You’ll notice a ping pong ball next to the eggs. That is there to entice the hens to lay in the nesting boxes instead of on the floor. Seems to work, though sometimes they toss it out and kick it into the corner by the door, where they like to lay. I move it back whenever they do that. Stubborn, sassy birds.

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My seedlings are doing swell. I’m finished with peppers, and have now started on some brassicas, flowers, and more herbs. Here are some picture updates on them:

Borage in the windowsill. Almost enough to make a salad.

Borage in the windowsill. Almost enough to make a salad.

Basil. Mmm. I love rubbing my hands over the leaves - the smell that's released is amazing!

Basil. Mmm. I love rubbing my hands over the leaves – the smell that’s released is amazing!

Peppers. I'll probably have around 500 when all is said and done. Their sales are going to help build a greenhouse, I hope. :)

Peppers. I’ll probably have around 500 when all is said and done. Their sales are going to help build a greenhouse, I hope. ๐Ÿ™‚

Onions got their first haircut and were transplanted into larger flats. You should see the massive roots on these things. Most of them are on their fourth leaf, which means the onions themselves have four layers each. Hopefully this means I'll actually get decent sized bulbs this fall.

Onions got their first haircut and were transplanted into larger flats. You should see the massive roots on these things. Most of them are on their fourth leaf, which means the onions themselves have four layers each. Hopefully this means I’ll actually get decent sized bulbs this fall.

This last picture isn’t really homesteading related, but it’s beautiful to me so I’m going to post it anyway. This is our butcher block island in the kitchen after I cleared it off and oiled it up. Every time I oil it, it gets darker, richer, and so much more gorgeous. I love our island, and highly suggest this material to anyone thinking of remodeling a kitchen. Oh my. I just noticed in the picture how dusty our light is. I guess when the oil soaks in I’ll be climbing up onto the island to clean the lights. These lights – they’re amazing, but a lot of maintenance.

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Today was a really busy day. I spent most of it in the truck, driving around, running errands. I made a special trip to the UP to visit my mom who has been laid up from a surgery. I brought her flowers for her birthday tomorrow and stuck around for a couple hours making her and my dad a huge batch of pasties and pocket apple pies. As much as I said I would never be like her, I recognized today that I take after her a lot socially. She needs interaction with other people, and being couch-bound for a couple weeks really had her down. Glad I was able to pick her up a bit. If we lived closer I’d be over more often. She confided in me that one of her best friends broke up with her recently. Sucks. My mom is the kind of person who will bend over backward to help her friends, but for some reason most of her friends won’t lift a finger when she needs someone. How hard is it to call or visit a friend even once a year? Or to drive half a mile to spend some time chatting with a friend who is lonely? I’m frustrated for her. At least she has one kid who is there for her, though, and I’ll always be there. I hope our boys are this close to me and each other when they grow up.

After visiting, I went to the boys’ school to help out with the last hour of their Halloween parties. I tell you what – I have mad respect for all of the teachers at that school. They had some wild, sugar-pumped, costumed kids and their schedules were wonky with parties and activities. But were they crabby or frustrated? Nope! I feel pretty lucky that our kids get to go to such a great school, even if it’s small and feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. I really hope I can get more involved soon. I kind of miss volunteering on a regular basis.

From the school we went to a town 30 miles south, where we used to live in an apartment while we built the house. We met up with some old friends and did some trick or treating. I didn’t even think to bring the camera along, but I guess you wouldn’t have seen much anyway. It was a whopping 33 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind was kicking our butts. We made one loop around a few blocks and the kids were frozen, despite being bundled in long johns, clothes, costumes, winter coats, hats and gloves. It was cold!

We met Daddy at a really good restaurant after he got out of work, then came home exhausted, lit the fire in the wood stove, and all settled down on our computers. We’re turning into a family of computer nerds. It’s a bit more comfortable than the 2 hour Monopoly marathon we played on the floor last night.

Not too much else to update. Dear hubby nearly has the sink cabinet done. We might go to Green Bay this weekend to pick up a granite slab for the counter. He finished the medicine cabinet mirror. It’s pretty snazzy, but mostly empty. I don’t know what to do with all of this new storage space! I’m a simple creature, and so is he. Maybe I could fill it up if I wore makeup or wore jewelry or did my hair fancy or used seventeen different soaps and lotions every day. But I don’t, and probably never will. You know, I’ve actually had people assume I’m Pentecostal, especially back when I had hair down to my bum and wore skirts every day. So funny! They never react well when I inform them that I’m actually an atheist.

So here’s a picture of the mirror, because I have to brag on my awesome hubby. Can you believe this is his first time working with wood? We finally got the new pulls, so he’ll probably put all those on as soon as he gets the final cabinet finished and in place.

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And here’s another fun update. We got our first eggs from our Jersey Giant chickens! They seem to be laying them while sitting on the roosts, which is a minor problem. I need to figure out how to coax them to lay in the nesting boxes. This laying an egg over a 3′ drop business isn’t doing wonderful things for the shell integrity.

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One of the eggs was all white with only a small spot of brown. That was strange, but not wholly unexpected. When chickens first start laying, they lay all sorts of nutty looking eggs. Some are tiny (as these were), some are enormous. Some have two or even three yolks. Some are capable of encapsulating an egg within another egg and pushing the monstrosity out whole. Some make dumbbell-shaped eggs, while some come out long and narrow. Within a few months, they’ll be pros – laying regularly and giving us normal eggs.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween!ย And if you know my mom, stop by and wish her a happy birthday tomorrow! Maybe she’ll share a delicious pasty with you. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Every three days I go out and pick whatever looks nearly ripe from the garden, then I let it sit on the counter for at least a day to ripen. Why do I pick before they’re ripe? Because if I wait for them to ripen on the vine, they split from over saturation. We have had rain every day, sometimes multiple times a day or even all day long, for the past two weeks. The ground doesn’t know what it is to be dry anymore.

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This morning I made salsa since I had an abundance of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and peppers. The only thing in my salsa that wasn’t raised in our garden was the garlic – and next year we’ll have our own garlic, too!

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Yesterday I canned up some grape jelly. It came out a really pretty color. I used about five pounds of green grapes and one pound of red.

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The garden is exploding from all of the rain. Our sunflowers are finally out, though it’ll be a couple weeks before all of the florets are pollinated and we see seeds forming. As you can see, the bees are hard at work making that a reality.

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I planted a few bulb and annual flowers along the periphery of the garden. They did okay for their first year. Next year I hope they come back even more full and vibrant. I love the colors!

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Veggies in the garden are doing well, too. The 3 sisters plantings are taking off, though it might be too little too late. As you can see, the squash and pumpkins are just now flowering. I am seeing a lot of male flowers, but very few female flowers. It’s up in the air whether or not we get anything from them this year. The sun was setting as I took the picture, hence the yellow leaves. They’re all really healthy, green plants in normal lighting.

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The cilantro, dill, and basils are taking off so much I’m having a hard time keeping them picked.

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The leeks and onions are kind of wimpy. Next year I’ll start them another 4 weeks earlier and fertilize them more earlier on.

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The few rice plants that survived transplanting into the paddy are bushing out well. No idea if I’ll get anything from them, but it was a fun experiment. Next year I plan on a bigger, better paddy with aeration. I’ll do the goldfish again, too. There are still two living of the initial 10 I put in there. One of them is actually pretty big. Maybe we’ll bring him in for the winter to live on the countertop. We just had a fantastic storm blow through before the picture, so the water is really murky.

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The cabbages are swollen like pregnant bellies sticking up from the mud. It’s nearly harvest time for all 50+ of them. Anyone need some in the local area? I’ll probably give a lot away.

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The tomatoes are kicking ass. Lots of them coming ripe every day.

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Yes, the weeds have overtaken much of the garden, but I’m not worried. I blame the rain, and the fact that I’ve been too lazy to weed. We’re at the end of the season, so it’s all going to get ravaged by the hungry chickens soon anyway. They’re raring to get going in the garden. Every time I open their run door, they beeline for it and I have to slam it quickly. So, because I can’t talk about these funny birds without showing pictures… I’ll let them close up this blog entry. Hope you all had a lovely Labor Day weekend!

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So the site that I was writing for, Heritage Homesteaders, is going under. They will publish my final contribution tomorrow, but have given permission to the authors to reclaim their articles. The following is my final article for Heritage Homesteaders.


I’ve tried every chicken feeder on the market. From the long, squat feeders that sit on the floor of the coop to the hanging feeders that spin on a rope from the ceiling. I’ve tried the ones that have covers with head-sized holes and the ones with a spinning bar across the top to discourage standing in the food. Every time I have purchased a feeder from the store, I’ve been disappointed and frustrated. If the chickens aren’t walking and defecating in their food, then they’re scattering it to the winds and wasting half of it.

I am fed up with store-bought feeders.

My solution came in the form of a pile of scraps from our recent shed-building adventure. We had extra bits and pieces of T1-11 siding, 2×4’s, 2×8’s, OSB, and plenty of fasteners. I sorted through them and came up with a plan. I wanted something that could hold an entire 50# bag of feed. I wanted a feeder that was up off of the floor enough that the chickens couldn’t scratch it all over the place or defecate in it. I wanted something that looked nice and was easy to clean out.

First, I got the general shape of it. It would have a sturdy, wide base. I made it wide enough that it would overlap two wall studs by several inches, that way I could secure it tightly to the coop wall. I used 2×8’s for the base, angling them in toward the 2×4’s that would secure the front of the feeder in place. I added bracing to have something to screw the front to, then cut out the front piece to fit snugly inside the 2×8’s and over top of all of the 2×4’s.

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Once the two main pieces were complete, I took them into the coop and installed the main frame onto the wall. I used a few wood scraps to achieve the height from the floor that I thought I would need. The chickens were happy to help me get the measurements right, the nosy things. I secured the feeder to the coop wall studs with four long screws, two on each stud. It easily held my weight, so I knew 50# of feed would be no problem.

My flock is about six weeks old and six to seven pounds each. This breed will more than double in size before they’re done growing, so I raised the feeder a bit above where they were able to comfortably reach now. Plus, as winter comes closer, I’ll be laying down more straw to give them deep litter. If I need to raise the feeder, it will be a simple matter to unscrew the front and raise the entire contraption up.

Next, I installed the front panel and put a strip of panel across the bottom of the feeder to make the feed tray complete. Note that the front panel was a few inches short of making the top. I fixed that with some OSB. It will all get painted eventually, so I’m not worried about it looking like it was made from scrap. The chickens were so curious what this big contraption was!

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The final touches included putting on the roofs and filling the feeder with some high quality feed. I made sure to angle them thanks to past experience. Chickens will roost on and completely ruin any flat surface. I filled the feeder, and the birds went bananas fighting over who got to eat first. The only ones that had trouble were my little lavender guineas. They are quite a bit smaller than the chickens and royal purple guineas, but they figured out they were just the right size to perch on the edge and pig out. That will work fine until they finish growing.

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So far I’m very pleased with my handiwork. There’s nary a turd in their food and they haven’t wasted a speck by scratching it all over the place. My next project in the chicken coop will be some homemade chicken waterers. If you’ve ever had to use a store-bought waterer, you probably understand my frustrations with them. They’re dirty and wimpy. Sometimes I feel like if I want something to work right on this homestead, I have to make it. Cheers for power tools and ingenuity!

To see how we built our palatial chicken coop, and for future progress updates on its construction, check out my personal blog –ย The Atheist Homesteader.