Chookie Home Near the Garden

May 2nd, 2010

In between the rain it’s time to catch up with everything, and everything is growing!   It’s amazing how fast the grass, vegetables and even the weeds can spring up with a good bit of spring rain.  But it’s that wonderful time when everything starts, and we dream of what the garden may become. The roses are blooming too- are they early?   I’m not sure, but in a month or so they will struggle under the assault of beetles, so it’s nice to enjoy their blooms now.

This is Blanc de Coubert, or the White Rose of York… actually one of the two of the famed Wars of the Roses. 

There are so many other flowers…   which is a good thing for the bees.  We’re now into the peak month of May for the spring nectar or “honeyflow” for the bees.  They will use that abundance of nectar and pollen to grow the hive and store honey, and I’ll layer extra supers or boxes to hold frames for them as they expand.    I’ve been amazed at the number of bumblebees around this year too, which is especially good for plants such as tomatoes and squash.

The garden is doing well- I got seeds and starts in the ground almost a month earlier than previous years, hooray!   It’s not very big compared to those of you who put up tons of vegetables for winter, but with luck and a good season it will produce a lot of fresh food and enough to carry us into the winter months with peas, beans, potatoes and tomatoes.    

The sugar peas are growing very well and love the cooler weather…   but the beans have made a slow start since I planted them early.

The bean plants are the “Bush” snap variety that will produce months of fresh and tender string-style beans.  I haven’t planted pole beans yet, but I do provide supports for these and it helps them. They cook up so nicely with butter and garlic, and freeze really well for storage after blanching.   Like the cucumbers however, the beans  didn’t take off in the cool weather, but now are coming along nicely.   I’ll plant some more beans in June and see how they take us through summer. 

I planted one good row and a separate patch of potatoes.   In this loamy corner I put in a good dozen red pontiac seed potatoes that I carried over in a brown bag from last year.  But don’t these potato tops look different?  Look at the two types of foliage in the picture:  One is shorter, with greener stems and smoother leaves.  The leaves in the background have shot up much taller with reddish stems and rough, crinkly leaves.  

They have looked that way for a couple weeks, but I thought came from the same potatoes, although they sure don’t look like it.  Maybe I mixed a different seed potato in there?

I planted a good dozen tomato plants of differing varieties, and a dozen pepper plants as well.   I’m really hoping the tomato plants do better than last year… we had some type of wilt fungus that held back growth and turned leaves spotted and yellow.   I changed their placement and will fertilize more this year and see how they do.  I’m always searching for that perfect variety, but honestly my tomato adventures are more like experiments each year.


Speaking of experiments, it’s nearly time for our chickens to move outside.  Except they really have no where to go yet!  Look at these monsters… they’re growing like crazy.   They’re now four weeks old, and everytime I feed and water them they jump on my arms giving me a chicken stare that says, “Hey! We’re not house pets you know!”  

I know, I know…   I’m getting there.   I tell them its been really rainy and muddy out there, and just to be patient (I don’t just talk to the yellow lab anymore, now I’m talking to chickens).    And now I’m really in a mess, because two of them even have names.   Anyway, the white leghorn mix at top left is “Snowy” and the Barred Rock at top right is “Pepper.”   Have to wait for more feathers on the other ones…

So I’ve been busy gathering some lumber and other materials, and leveling a spot for their new coop.   We are challenged to find level ground closer to the house, so I finally realized that there was room near the garden if I built the coop off the side of a small garden shed.   We weren’t really using the space, and I just removed a couple of rose bushes while packing down a soil base.  It’s not far from the house really, and has the advantage of nearby water and electricity.

The little shed is a quarter century old, but standing up very strong.   I’ll build on to the east side of it, and the chickens will have both afternoon shade in the summer heat and a break from the prevalent western winds throughout the year.   So in between rain storms I’ve been “playing in the mud” for several days, and it was time to sink a couple posts for support.   At least the wet ground was easy to dig, and after setting a gravel base and pouring concrete, I used stakes to level and stabilize the posts while the cement dries.  

There’s not much more than dirt and two posts to see, but if you can imagine a slightly lower roofline extending from the left under the eave of the shed at a downward angle for about six+ feet, taking the shape of a coop with 5 foot tall sloping sides and an 8 foot end/front?  Overall it should make for a coop dimension of about 40 square feet. 

I can’t imagine having more than ten chickens right now, which gives them about the recommended four square feet of space per bird.    Not quite sure where to put the nest boxes either, e.g. inside versus hanging outside, but maybe I could cut a rectangular box extending into the little shed? Enough to fit four nest boxes?  Then you could walk inside the shed to get the eggs…   of course we need a new door on that shed.  It’s a tiny door at less than two feet wide by five and half feet tall…

Perhaps I’ll build the coop off the ground a foot or two, and then will extend a run of fifteen feet to the right.   I’m also trying to decide what to put down on top of the dirt for the chickens, if anything.  It’s just so muddy when wet, but eventually I could get some gravel for a base?  Mulch?   I don’t know, but the next few days are going to be filled with cutting, nailing and generally trying to put something together.  If you’ve got some tips to share, don’t be shy,  any ideas are welcome!


After setting the posts in concrete late yesterday, another series of storms rolled in overnight.   I like to mound the top of the concrete around the posts for drainage, so to prevent any damage from the rain I took two plastic garbage bags and set them over the posts, staking them with large nails like a tent.

In the picture below you can see the left side of the old garden shed, and behind the fence you can see the “little red barn” or new shed that is finally (mostly) finished.  It holds the beekeeping equipment and related tools and is a relief to keep things “high and dry” in their own place.  Should I paint the garden shed and chicken coop to match?

Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and nature, looks over the garden.   He is set among plantings of salvia, blue fescue grass, lemon balm and even pumpkins, tomatoes and squash.   If the pumpkins do well, they’ll take over the patch…  I’d love to see that!  

Soon there may be chickens in the garden… well, near the garden is more like it, if I let them out of the run while supervised. I don’t want them tearing up the vegetables, but would like to see them chasing bugs and critters.

Otherwise, the remaining little dwarf Northstar sour cherry tree is coming along fine this year.   One of the two little cherry trees died over the winter, but this one is doing fine with few dozen cherries developing.   If it continues doing this well we might just have a basket of cherries in a few years. 

Everything takes time. I planted a little apple and pear orchard across the pond a few years ago, but the trees are still too small to produce anything. Years of growth, one after the other. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but I’d love to look around in twenty years and see how things have changed…

8 Responses to “Chookie Home Near the Garden”

  1. Vincent

    You are at least a month ahead of us. And I’m grinding my teeth thinking about it. That Rose would not flower until the first week in June here with us. With us though it will flower for linger as it is the heat that will send it into a form of dormancy, it might flower later at the back end. But I do not really want to think on that just yet.

  2. Gee, thanks for another post reminding me how little I’ve accomplished this Spring.

    [Smiley face thing]


  3. Ed

    Everything is looking good down there.

    If memory serves me correct since it has probably been 25 years since my parents raised chickens, we put straw down over dirt in their coop once a year. I also suspect that there may have been sawdust involved when they were still small chicks to facilitate them getting around until they got bigger.

    I think farms are more pleasing to the eye when the same theme of colors is used for the outbuildings. My parents would thus qualify for having a white steel theme.

    Thank you for that name. I’m pretty sure my sour cherry is a Northstar, a name that escaped me until you mentioned it. Our trees must be about the same maturity level as we will probably get several handfuls off of it this year. I say maturity level since due to our neighbor kids near constant pruning due to it being “home plate”, it got off to a really slow start for several years.

  4. Vincent-Is it cooler and more moist where you are? I love that weather…. I was suprised the roses bloomed so early here, but we did have a two-week warm period, and I pruned them back in February. You’re right, most of our roses slow down in the heat and humidity but really come back in the fall.
    Randall- Ha, perhaps a bit of an overstatement… I have surmised how busy you are! Someday you’ll have other time, but then perhaps traveling may appeal more… give me about ten years and I can think of a lot of interesting places to go!
    Ed- That’s an idea I’ll consider, re. the straw over dirt, and the price would be right. Our house is brown/red brick and wood, and the bigger equipment barn is brown. Someday I’d love to paint that red and white to match! Your cherry is home plate?! Funny… good luck getting much from that one :)

  5. pamela

    Your poultry palace plans sound excellent. You might want to consider netting over the run to prevent inviting hawks in for a buffet. As for my color vote- I’d paint the buildings varying shades in the same color family.

  6. Your place is so neat and beautiful; makes me very jealous! :D
    looks great though. i like the idea of the coop and shed being the same color.

  7. You have a beautiful garden… thanks for sharing it with us, now if you can just find a way to send some tomatoes through the internet :)

  8. Pamela- Good idea about the netting, and thanks for the input! That may be the plan with leftover paint :)
    Annie- Thanks… I wish, but I’m just showing the nice pictures :) Don’t ask about weeds….
    Sage- Thanks too; I’m not counting my tomatoes yet, but hopefully they’ll be a good bit this year!

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