Have you been curious about what’s happening at Growing to Ground?

I’ve been so busy go-go-going since I founded Two Wishes Child Care in January and STEAMer Trunks in April. I’m also continuing to offer services through EmSun as well (transcription, writing, editing, photography, etc.). It seems like every day I’m waking up to another 2,000-item-long to-do list!

Even with all that, though, we’ve been making progress at our tiny 0.3 acre in-town farm.

Chickens

Ramona, Buffy, Willow, Snow White, A Da?, and Ashley are all doing quite well. They’d started to not lay as well and then dropped down to not laying at all, but we think that might have been due to an autumnal molt followed by the dropping daylight hours. All six are healthy, though, and clucking around their little yard like the tiny dictators they are. If they don’t start laying again in the spring, I think we’ll be having chicken stew.

Rabbits

We added two rabbits in mid-April named Banjo and Alice. Banjo and Alice are Netherland Dwarf rabbits and were purchased primarily for the high-quality black gold coming out their tush, but also in case our daughter wanted to participate in 4-H projects. Our daughter “accidentally” (jury’s out) messed up and put Alice in Banjo’s cage sometime in early June. On our daughter’s birthday she came out to find that, sadly, Banjo had expired. He seemed healthy and we had no real understanding of what had happened. We decided to clean and sanitize both cages just in case there was an illness of some kind, and in doing so I found a precious little bundle in Alice’s cage. She had had precisely one baby rabbit (we couldn’t find any evidence of others) while we were on vacation in the days leading up to our discovery.

Laylee

A photo taken of Laylee about a week after she was born.

We decided to name this surprise gift Laylee – short for Ukulele after her Banjo father. Sadly, in November Laylee went the way of her namesake and passed on. We don’t know why, but it was her first winter and it had gotten quite cold that evening after being surprisingly and unseasonably warm.

We had added two other rabbits in late August, which we haven’t named yet. The person who sold them to us told us it was a male and a female, but in looking at them, I was pretty sure they were both female. Just recently I had them professionally sexed and it turns out they’re both New Zealand females! They have been doing quite well. Today, we bought a New Zealand male. Our four rabbits (Alice and the three New Zealands) are living happily in our new greenhouse for the winter. When it gets too warm in the greenhouse, they’ll move out to their summer runs. Lucky snowbird rabbits!

Greenhouse

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Our new greenhouse in the first snow of the year.

Yes, that’s right. I mentioned a new greenhouse! I will go more in-depth into how we built (and are still building) the greenhouse in another post, but for now, I just wanted to state that we did build a walpini-style greenhouse on our property in November. So far, it is showing more warmth inside the greenhouse despite it being uninsulated with large gaps. We’re tracking the temperature with wireless tags placed at various locations within the greenhouse and collecting data right now.

Ornamental-to-Edible

A columnar apple tree in front of our raised beds. The tarragon did fantastic!

A columnar apple tree in front of our raised beds. The tarragon did fantastic!

I’ve slowly been removing invasive buck thorn from our yard and replacing it with edible plants. This year we planted two apple trees (to go with our four columnar apple trees), a cherry tree, two hardy kiwi, and two honeyberry bushes. Next year I’m hoping to plant some more fruit trees and a lot of fruit and nut bushes. I’m thinking currants and hazelnuts.

Raised Beds

I didn’t get nearly as much as I expected out of my raised beds this year. It was a really odd growing season for me and plants just didn’t flourish. I did get a lot of grapes in summer and a lot of garlic late in the spring, though, which was exciting given it was my first time planting garlic. This fall I took cloves that I’d saved and braided, cured them, and then planted them in the garden. If they come up again next spring, I’ll have completed an entire circle. I won’t dissemble; this makes me giddy. I’m looking ahead to next spring, now, and dreaming ahead to when I start seeds in my new greenhouse.

The garlic swayed in the breeze as the rain fell.

The garlic swayed in the breeze as the rain fell.

Little Ass Farm

Things at Little Ass Farm progressed, but we got a lot less food from it than we’d hoped as well. Lots of growth, but not as much fruiting. We also had an immense amount of weeds that we’re hoping we can get under control for next year. Or maybe in ten years. There really are that many weeds out there!

Looking Ahead

This isn’t a true goal-setting post, so I won’t make specifics. I will say that next year we’re hoping to add more edible perennials to our property, we’ll be fixing up and landscaping around the greenhouse (the area is currently a mud pit covered by snow), we’ll add some evergreen bushes around the property to block the view of the greenhouse from unhappy neighbors, I’m hoping to expand my annual garden space for more plants, I’ll be gardening out at Little Ass Farm again (as long as they let me!), and we might even start having New Zealand litters! The jury is still out on the chickens and whether or not they’ll be replaced with the newer, younger model. I’m also hoping to get a system set up for red wiggler worm farming down in the bottom of the greenhouse and maybe even some aquaponics!

How did your gardens fare this year?

 

Chicken Coop Construction: Insulation, Walls, and Roosting

The exterior of our chicken coop may still look like a garden shed, but the interior has greatly changed since when we bought the property in July 2013.

Chicken Coop Construction Continued

My husband, Aaron, essentially did all the work of retrofitting the coop within the month of May 2014. The chicks had arrived eighteen days after our fourth child was born via an emergency Caesarean section, so I wasn’t up for much hard labor quite yet. …Well, see for yourself what I was doing while my husband slaved away. 🙂

Feeding Baby

 

Our chicks arrive as tiny little fluff balls in a cardboard box…

Chicks

 

…and in two weeks, they had become toddlers in a Tupperware container.

Chicks - Two Weeks Old

But soon they were month-old, gawky adolescents itching to be living full-time in the coop instead of in a plastic box in the basement. With the inside of the coop getting close to finished, we plopped them inside for more space and then continued to work on the outside.

Hens - 30 Days Old

Drafts and Cleaning

Funky panorama of the inside of the coop

Funky panorama of the inside of the coop

First, Aaron insulated the inside of the coop between the studs with expanded styrofoam. Next, he stapled plastic over the insulation then installed fiberglass shower panels on the walls and ceiling and caulked all the seams. He then painted the plywood floor white. Somewhere in there, he’d also cut the openings for the nesting box and for the guillotine door.

Insulated Coop
It gets really chilly in Minnesota (-40 F wind chill isn’t unheard of), and we were hoping to cut down on drafts with the insulation, plastic, and shower board. In addition, the walls are very easy to clean.

Roosting

Ladder

Originally I had wanted to install several broom handle or shower curtain rods across the top of the coop at the same height for the ladies to sit on in order to reduce dominance issues, but we were forced into scavenging for hen house parts from what we already owned. We had an old ladder that came from a neighbor back in Mount Vernon, Iowa, that we thought might fit the bill. At first, it just sat propped on the floor, but later Aaron cut it so that it’s completely off the ground. (Picture will be in later post) This allows for really easy cleaning because we just push all the litter out of the door without having to move the roosts.

We quickly learned, though, that there were going to be struggles for dominance as everyone tried to sit on the top rung… and on each other.

Roost

 

 

Ventilation

To date, the only ventilation that has been done is the trapezoidal cut-outs on either side of the stud in the above picture. Aaron lined the vents with hardware cloth and called it good. Eventually, we want to work on making the windows removable so that in the summer we can pop in screens instead.


 

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The chicken coop construction saga will be continued with future posts on: creating the run, guillotine door, and nesting box; how we survived our first winter; and a video tour of the coop now.

Chicken Coop: Then

Our chicken coop began its life some untold years ago perhaps as a simple garden shed. When we moved in, it was this tiny hideaway tucked beside a vibrant Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ (ninebark). Within a few weeks, I started to dream of repurposing the structure into a small chicken coop.

Garden Shed

A lot of work had to be done first. The shed was jam packed full of half-rotten miscellaneous house construction stuff – oh, and many, many, many dead bugs and spiders. With the help of a friend at the end of March in 2014 (as I was nine-months pregnant at the time), it was cleared out lickety-split.

Backyard

The shed was in an ideal part of the backyard. The towering Picea pungens (Colorado spruce) around it provided some nice shade for the hot summer months, and it already had two windows cut into either side. The swinging front door added appeal. The best part, though, was the view from our master bedroom.

Shed

 

I started to research what chicken coops need and sketched out my initial plan. I knew I wanted to tackle eight areas and I took down notes:

1) DRAFTS AND CLEANING – I am taking foam and lining all the walls, roof, and subfloor between the studs with the foam then covering it in shower board to make it easier to clean off poop and stuff. I’m going to make the floor slightly sloped and without any impediments so that I can just use a push broom to drag out all the shavings/poop into a waiting bin to plop into the compost bin and then wash up anything that’s left.

(2) ROOSTING – I’m adding a roosting pole ladder (that will be slightly off the ground so that the push broom can easily get underneath of it) and several different roosts throughout. There’s quite a bit of vertical space in that I can stand up inside the shed.

(3) VENTILATION – I’m adding two secured vents near the ceiling for ventilation in the winter months.

(4) HEAT – We will be able to add a heating lamp if we need one, but I’m not starting off with one.

(5) RUN – On the right side, we are cutting out a secured chicken-sized door and building a ramp that will go out into the permanent, secured wire run (ceiling and walls dug down a foot). There’s tons of room for them in the back corner to roam around, a lot of vegetation above and around to clean it shady and nice during the summer heat. We’ll close them in at night and let them out during the day.

(6) – TRACTOR & FREE RANGE – They’ll also have a tractor to tool around in my garden in and will probably be able to roam around in side the fenced in portion of the yard, too, but the permanent run is so that they can still have outdoor time when I’m not out there to keep an eye on them. With cats and all kinds of other animals around, I want to make sure they’re safe while I’m not looking.

(7) NESTING BOXES – We are cutting out access to DIY secured nesting boxes that I’ll be able to open from the outside.

(8) FOOD & WATER – They’ll have water in the coop and they’ll have food and water (that’ll get secured/removed) at night in the run.

Chicks

Before the coop was even done, on April 8th, 2014, I ordered my chicks: (1) Ameraucana, (2) Buff Orpingtons , (1) California White, (1) Gold Star, and (1) Barred Rock. They arrived on April 29th, 18 days after my fourth child was born. I had dreams about nursing one human infant and six chicks soon thereafter. The race was on to finish the coop, and finally, we did.

To be continued

 

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