When tragedy strikes your life as it did ours last August with the death of our son, priorities immediately need a re-grouping. Some projects or goals just seem to lose the “importance factor” that they once had. Our chicken coop, although way behind schedule, was not a project that could be dumped as we had new hatchlings ready to inhabit the expansive new home and run.
Below is a video of the project to about 80% complete.
Here are a few pictures of the completed yard and moving the hens from the old coop to join the new family of hens.
We only finished one side of the run, but as the weather breaks in the next few weeks, we will get out and build the other side of the run. With a double run system, we can always keep one side growing in fresh fodder. Hopefully this will keep our hens happy and laying eggs for us on a regular basis.
Just one little note, be very careful if you are going to have two roosters in an enclosed area. You could wake up to this!
Neither rooster died, but you could not tell it from the amount of blood all over the coop.
Although our priorities have changed and we are not as intent on our homesteading life, I intend to keep writing about our life here in suburbia. As a follower of Christ, God put man in charge of the gardens and the soil that abundance may grow to sustain our earthly life. We will do, as instructed by Him, including maintaining our greenhouse, aquaponic gardens, and apiary.
Genesis 2:15 “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. ”
I have always considered myself a Christian, being raised in the Baptist Church, but I have lost sight of what it means to be a true follower. His expectations are simple of me: Love Him, walk away from sin, and grow His Kingdom. These are now my priorities, sustaining life on this world while building up my treasures in Heaven. (Matthew 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal)
Getting the garden in place this year has been a real chore with the deluge of rain we have been getting in the Mid-Atlantic Region. So I have been filling my time, in between raindrops, doing a few little projects that needed done.
First we moved the rabbits out of the greenhouse into their own new digs. The housing use to belong to our chickens, but since we no longer can have them on our property (Thank you Baltimore County), it seemed like a great place to house our rabbits. I just needed to add a small rabbit condo to the mix.
We always have extra wood laying around and in this case I had an old antique secretary desk that was beyond repair. This made for the perfect base and 2 floors for the new rabbit condo. All I really had to do was add a third level (we only have two female rabbits housed here) and some ramps for them to climb.
Overall I think it turned out pretty good for just a few hours work.
Next I had to take the new chickens-our 6 meat birds-and get them out of the house. They were getting too big too quick for the extra large dog cage we were using. We are going to dispatch them next weekend, so I only needed a couple more weeks. I moved them into the greenhouse where the rabbits were to keep them out of sight of our 1 problematic neighbor.
They seem happier in the expanded space, I just hope no one tells them about our weekend plans!
Another project I have been wanting to do was make some dedicated space for our potato crop. We have done ok with potatoes the last few years but I am horrible about adding to the hills as they grow, thus reducing my harvest.
This year I decided to do as a friend of mine did last year: grow my potatoes in barrels! I cut three barrels in half, drilled in some drainage holes, and set them along the fence row where they will get plenty of sun all day.
Once having the barrels set, I mixed some our local dirt (clay), compost, and perlite to formulate a good bedding mix for the new potatoes. I scooped this into each barrel and leveled it at about 4 inches deep. This seemed a good starting point with potatoes.
I did this a few days ago and I just looked into the barrels this morning and saw several of the potatoes growing. When they get to about 6-8 inches I will add more dirt, burying the plants to about 4 inches again. I have already made up an extra barrel of the dirt mix and have it standing by so hopefully I will add more each week to realize a larger potato crop.
My friend that showed me this method got a great yield from his 1 barrel last year so I am real excited to see how this does for me.
This is just a few of the projects I have done over this rainy period. The last few days, there have been enough dry spells to get the garden in, so I will have several updates in the coming days.
I am taking advantage of the nice-but cool weather today to start preparing the suburban homestead for winter. Bees, chickens, rabbits, fish, the greenhouse, the aquaponics systems the garden, canning, freezing, dehydrating, and I am sure there are a few other things that will need my attention over the coming weeks.
This morning started at 5:30, fixing breakfast for the little woman. Yes she still works outside the home, which is why I became here “Homestead Hero”, as she calls me. Hero I am not, but it is a full time job to take care of a homestead-even a small 1/5 acre suburban homestead.
After getting her off to work, its time to gather food scraps and greens (grow in the garden and greenhouse) to feed the chickens. Taking food and water to the chickens is not as easy as walking out the back door since we can not legally keep fowl on our property. (In Baltimore County-must have 1 acre for any chickens) So I have to take a short drive of about 1 1/2 miles to get to the chicken coop on our friends property. This isn’t so bad and I really do not have to go every day since we installed the solar electric door to let them in and lock them up at night. But it’s nice to feed them greens and scraps to keep our feed bill low.
Once back from the coop, I focused on getting the bees wrapped all warm and toasty. We have had a few nights now at 30 degrees, so why wait until the last minute.
I start the wrap with a layer of 2″ foam board around three sides. This is held tight with a metal plumbing strap. Then I can surround the hive with straw bales. These serve as a great wind break and an insulator for the cold weather accompanied by high winds that we usually have here on the east coast.
In the third picture, many of the bees came out to see what was going on, almost looks as if they are getting ready to swarm, but they quickly settled back inside to their routine. I was going to start feeding them today, but with the activity I will just wait until tomorrow before I disturb them again.
While I was outside, I just checked on the rabbits. We have a mating pair of Florida Whites, of which our female is currently pregnant. She is due on the 27th, so I just added some straw in the cage so she could build a nice comfy warm nest to deliver the litter. I have the plastic wrap put up but have not surrounded the hutches with it yet. That only takes a few minutes to unroll and attached to the outside of the hutch, so I can wait until later this month.
Chickens, bees, and rabbits-check, check, and check. So on to the greenhouse. I have not been real active in the greenhouse over the summer, since all of my attention has been devoted to the outside garden projects.
Of course the last few weeks have been filled with canning, freezing and dehydrating our spring and summer crops. “crops” that makes it sound like we have so many acres, but we have just enough for one little homestead hero to handle. You would be amazed at how much can be grown on a 1/5 acre!
Anyway, back to the greenhouse. I wrote a couple of months ago about our cherry tomato plant in the aquaponic grow bed. I figured today was a good day to say goodbye to it-after 11 months of growing and fruiting. Yes it was still delivering cherry tomatoes, but the growth had taken over the greenhouse and the vines had rooted in several places throughout 2 grow beds.
It took some time to clean out the remains of the tomato plant, along with some lettuce, spinach, and mint that the growth had been hiding from me. But now that the grow beds are empty, except for a thriving mint plant in one corner, I can start to plant for winter growth.
While working outside I found some bean plants that had sprouted around my outside grow tower. I guess when I let some stay on the vine to dry for use as seeds next year, they must have fallen off and germinated in the ground around the barrel. There were six small plants that seemed to be thriving, even after the frost we encountered the last two nights. I thought this would be a perfect time to try green beans in our aquaponics system.
I installed one of our larger tomato cages into the center of the grow bed. Then I dug up the 6 bean plants and cleaned the roots for transplanting. This will be a first for me trying green beans so I am excited to see how well they do.
The other grow bed, with the mint in the corner is now planted with seed for lettuce, mescaline, spinach, and arugula. It is nice to be able in the winter to feed our chickens and rabbits fresh greens.
Part of preparing for winter is also thinking ahead to spring, so today I had a full load of wood chips delivered. I use these to spread on paths and walkways between the raised beds, as well as around fruit trees to keep roots warm in the winter.
Anyone like pumpkins this time of year? I did not plant pumpkins this year because it absolutely took over our garden beds last year. But I guess God had other plans for the garden this year as I have a great amount of pumpkins that grew. I think it fascinating that they are hanging from my tomato cages and green bean tunnel.
While working around the homestead today, I had an engineer here all morning checking, measuring, taking pictures and asking questions, readying our house for a solar panel installation. We are really looking forward to adding solar to our property, hopefully to help get our utility costs reduced and be more in line with our belief in sustainability and eco-friendly.
I think this is the first time I have ever written over 1000 words for one post. I hope I did not bore you, but there is always a lot going on at the little suburban homestead this time of year. This hero, although tired, really enjoys the activity.
Well finally we have a working solar powered automatic chicken door! Just in time for the egg laying to begin.
I posted a couple of months ago how excited I was to install our automatic chicken door. If you read the post, it was only a few days after installation that a big storm hit us and the chicken door got fried.
The company, CoopTender, just outside Pittsburgh, was extremely helpful in trying to resolve the issues. They first had me send back the face plate which they replaced, but then found that the inverter, solar panel and battery were also fried. They ended up sending me a completely new door with all the add-ons.
I installed the new door 4 days ago and it has worked like a charm each and every night. Although we are in a very shaded area, the panel gets enough daylight to keep the battery charged, so far. It is nice not having to run to the coop each morning and evening to make sure the girls are all tucked in.
Of course the other excitement around the coop is most of the girls have started laying. I wrote a few days ago about our first eggs and how small they were, but production has increased along with the size of the eggs. We are currently getting 6-7 eggs a day.
Our first flock was all production reds, so we only got brown eggs. This flock is a mix of easter eggers, leghorns, production reds, and a buff orpington. We are starting to get a real nice mix of white, tan, brown, blue, and green eggs.
It is pretty neat to see the variety of colors, but I am surprised at the amount of our neighbors that are “afraid” of the eggs , especially the blue and green. Inside they are the same color and texture as any other egg, but I guess as the old saying goes “people are afraid of what they don’t understand”.
I guess I will just have to schedule a community breakfast and invite everyone down for some eggs and bacon. Once they taste non-store bought eggs, they will truly understand the difference between store bought and free range, not to mention notice no difference in flavor because of the color of the shell.
Well our girls are only 4 1/2 months old but for some reason they are starting to lay. The eggs are very small but I am guessing it is because I just started them on layer feed. I was not expecting any eggs for another 2 weeks or so.
One of the Easter Eggers has layed twice and a production red, not wanting to be outdone I guess layed one yesterday.
Well, we thought through markings on one of our hens that it may be a Roo, so we were finally proven right!
I had to go over to the coop to reinstall the faceplate on our auto door which we just got back from the company. Wasn’t really expecting to spend much time there, but while I was there, the suspected roo crowed about 6 times. Long, loud crows!
Not only is he loud, he is very anxious to let the hens know he is there. He goes from hen to hen with little break in between.
He had never made a peep that we had heard until that day and now he won’t shut up. As you may know, our coop and chickens are on a friends property about a mile from our house. His property is legal and a roo is no big deal legally, but we don’t want to cause issues with our friends.
We have another friend that bought 4 of our birds and we will see if she wants to take the roo, If not, then I will have a roo available if anyone is interested!
NOTE: We are still fighting to get our girls on our own property. If you live around Baltimore County, I invite you to read the story and join us!
Chickens have been an ongoing battle in Baltimore County for the last 5 years. We have stood at the forefront of the battle since losing our backyard flock to county regulations a few years ago. The battle has been hard fought but we seem at this point to be making some progress.
In September of 2013, our county council adopted resolution 73-13 directing the planning commission to research the possibility of allowing backyard flocks on properties smaller than 1 acre. As of yesterday the planning commission finally came up with a set of standards that they are going to put to a public meeting for input.
The proposal will be viewed and discussed by the planning board on Thursday June 4, 2015, with a preliminary public input meeting on June 18, before being sent to county council. Once at council, a second public input meeting will be scheduled, before being voted on by council.
The summary of the proposal would be:
Lot size must be a minimum of 5000sf
Coop building would come under the auspices of the local planning/zoning
Coop and run would need requird square footage to house amount of birds: i.e. 4 sf per bird in the run, 3sf per bird in the coop
No free-range-No roo’s
Annual permit and fee
limit of 4 hens up to 1 acre
I personally have no problem with the permit and fee, within reason, but limiting of only 4 hens seems a little too strict to me. Baltimore City and Annapolis City, have adopted only 4 birds per yard, but they are primarily row/townhomes with less than 2000sf of land. I have 1/5 ac which could easily handle 4 times that amount without issue.
My current chicken coop (the one that now houses my rabbits, since the county took my girls) was built to accommodate 9-10 hens with plenty of room to spare. Sorry rabbits, if this passes we will have to find you new digs!
Now is the time for Baltimore County residents and surrounding county residents wanting backyard chickens, need to stand together to make a strong show for the approval of any bill put forward. We will still fight for the regulations we would like to see, but at least this is a step in the right direction.
UPDATE: 6/7/2015 The planning board meeting on the 4th went without much discussion, just setting the public input meeting for the 18th. Please join and see information in the above 2 facebook groups. Would love to flood the room with supporters that night!
I’ve found that this is a question I’m often asked when I tell people that I raise backyard chickens. How much does it cost in dollars as well as time? So I decided to start taking notes of all my expenditure, the time that I spend on tending my flock as well as what I’m getting out of having backyard chickens. I always figured I kinda broke even, but I was surprised to discover that I actual turn a handsome profit for my labor of love.
I wrote a few weeks back about our new coop we had to build at a friends property due to outdated Baltimore County zoning regulations. I was really happy with the coop and how it turned out, considering it was built from free pallets off of craigslist. The only issue is that the coop being about 1 mile from us, meant having to make the trek every day to let them out and put them to bed. Enter: CoopTender Automatic Door.
We received the new door a few weeks ago and it took me almost 2 weeks just to get the time to go over and do the install. The install was actually very easy, just framing it in and using 4 screws to bolt it to the frame.
I was pretty excited as it is a solar operated with battery backup. It can be programmed to open/close at dawn/dusk +/- X minutes or set to specific times which I really like. It also has the ability to be set to freezing temperatures outside so it won’t open if its to cold for the girls to be out. Once installed I programmed everything and it operated beautifully with the exception of the wifi.
Being out in the sticks there is NO wifi signal any where in the area that I could piggyback off of to get it loaded to the internet. Even tried setting a “hotspot” on my phone, but it would not download. Oh, well, I will worry about that later.
For the moment, I was happy, no more having to rush over or worrying about being there by a specific time at night to close them in the safe and secure confines of the coop. But things are never easy are they?
The 3rd night after install, we had a huge influx of storm systems, one right after the other for 3 days straight. During the first night of storms, something went haywire and the door lost all the programming I had input.
When I tried to reprogram, the keypad would lock up and not allow me into the programming menu. I checked the book, then got on instant chat with the manufacture in Pennsylvania.
I will say that the manufacturer was very kind and helpful, but to no avail. I had to remove the faceplate with all the electronics and ship it back to have it tested and repaired. They won’t even receive it until tomorrow (Tuesday) so I won’t have it back until probably sometime next week.
I am still very impressed with the quality and operation of the door, as well as the quick response and helpful suggestions from customer service. I truly hope they are able to find the issue and repair or replace the faceplate. I am so looking forward to not having to run over at specific times to deal with them.