Saturday, October 15, 2016

The New Additions

I have wanted chickens since I started watching Alys Fowler's BBC series The Edible Garden on a fall day in 2011. When she brought two chickens, named Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, into her garden and sang their praises, I was hooked. There was only one problem--I lived in Orlando, and chickens weren't allowed there.

When we planned our move back to Georgia, chickens became part of the plan. A friend gave me a book on chicken keeping as a farewell gift. Neighbors asked me to send photos of the chickens as soon as we got them. When the reality set in that I could have them, though, I began to worry about whether I was making the right choice. So the chickens, oddly enough, became like the story of my tattoo. I had an initial desire, worried about the decision, and waited three years to finally get one. The only difference is that the chicken decision only took two years to make. Well, two years from when I could get them. Five years total.

Ultimately, I made the decision on a whim. I had been trolling a Facebook list for people selling livestock for more than a year. When a friend at work asked me in August why I just couldn't get the chickens already, I looked at the list that evening, saw a post for week old chicks, and picked three up the next day. The trick was that I hadn't made any preparations for them.

Virginia, Vita, and Vanessa on their first day
with their family

Enclosing the left bay on the barn and building a chicken coop had been on my list of projects for the summer, but the list was long and the coop at the end of it. As the summer wore on, I fretted about spending too much money on accomplishing all of my goals. The estimate on the coop design plans I had was $600, and with the other things I needed to enclose the run, I figured the total cost would be $1,000. I couldn't justify such a significant expense.

But one day, as I was walking the property, I thought about the many structures that the previous owner had built and I hated. Maybe instead of demolishing all of those things, I could reuse or repurpose them. That's when the hideous archery shack started to look a little more appealing to me.

That? Really?

The target inside (which was filled with old
clothes when we dismantled it...ick)

A side view of the hideousness

The measurements were perfect for a coop, and I figured that I could use the planks on our ugly covered bridge to enclose it. That would save me both money and time. It took me forever to get the target out, but once it was, I had a nice pile of wood and trim from it to use on the coop. The only issue left to deal with was that this enormous thing was cemented in. I attached temporary legs to it, and as Turfman braced it, I took the ripsaw to the 4x4 posts that it stood on. Then we removed the temporary front legs, climbed inside, carefully tilted it forward, and began to drag/carry it into the barn bay. I built a new base for it, and then we stood it up again and put it in its final position. We worked on the coop every free moment we had, and the chicks grew on in the large box in the garage as the weeks went by.

Friends came one Saturday in September to help install the framing for the run and hang the hardware cloth, which moved us a lot further along and made the work more enjoyable.

Here's our crew!
We buried the hardware cloth around the entire perimeter to discourage any critters from trying to get in, and we prepped and painted day after day until I thought I might break. But then we made it, and the girls got to move into their new home.

Nearly every part of the coop is repurposed from the archery target and the bridge. Even the ramp into the coop is built from the frame of the target. My dear friend Maureen (pictured in the center of my crew) gave me her old French patio doors that she replaced with sliding doors a few months ago (don't worry, she's getting eggs). We used white paint that the previous owners left behind, and the blue paint was left over from painting the doors to my vegetable garden. All of it saved me a lot of money. The big expense was the huge roll of hardware cloth and the lumber to enclose the run, but after all of that, my expenses came in under $400 for a very lovely coop and a 20'x30' run for the ladies. In the end, I think they love it, and I'm pretty chuffed at the result. Now the rest of you can judge for yourselves.

Welcome home!

Announcing the residents
(sign from reused bridge parts)

Not sure if I'll enclose the bottom for
storage. The girls like to hang out there.

The ramp that was an archery target

I had to buy plywood for the back and
nesting boxes.

The inside, which is dusty. I use a sand bed, and the
girls like to take dust baths in it.

Enjoying their jungle gym

Virginia on her throne

They seem pretty happy

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The State of the Pond, Fall 2016

Turfman loves watching the weather report. A hush must fall over the house so that he can hear every word uttered. He's most often listening for words like "rain" and "high chance." Most forecasts this summer have ended with him being dejected.

I, too, would love to hear those words, but I have come to loathe the weather report, not just for the lack of rain in the forecast but for a curious and disturbing narrative that the reporter invariably delivers. I don't know exactly who the local news stations consider their most important audience, but I'm guessing it's tourists who hope that we don't get rain while they're here. Otherwise, it's locals who have no idea or concern that we need rain in order to have--well, you know--water.

Here are the two basic forecasts one might hear (and I suspect this is true all over the country):

  1. "Well, folks, I have some bad news. We have a 40% chance of rain today, which will make the commute a soggy one."
  2. "It's going to be a great stretch of days. We have almost no chance of rain in the next 7 days, so get out there and enjoy the sunny weather."
Rain is the enemy.

For those who don't garden, it is likely pretty easy to become unaware of how much or how little rain has fallen in a given month. Sometimes a gardener, too, thanks to the aid of drip irrigation, might be less attuned to precipitation levels. But a pond is an unmistakable indicator of rain patterns. I'll demonstrate just how much by sharing a series of photos. 

On Christmas Eve, the pond and its series of draining canals had succumbed to four days of deluge. 

The canals are no longer to be seen

And neither is the driveway

Over the course of the winter, our driveway washed away four times.

The level settled a bit (and we had some pretty flurries)

And over it went again
We were hopeful for a summer of consistent rain, but it virtually disappeared by May. Although we occasionally had rain, it clearly wasn't enough in the face of far too many 90 degree days. It rained yesterday while I took the photo below, so the water level was a little higher than it has been, but the scene is shocking.

That's all the water left. The bridge is just beyond.

The soil is cracked, and sedge has taken over in most spots

Rain in one season does nothing for us in in the next, especially when we have a pond that we don't want to be a serious eyesore. And whatever we see happening above ground, we can be sure is going on below ground in really important areas like aquifers. I hope we all keep that in mind the next time we watch the local forecast and listen intently for a promise only of sunny days. Rain really is one of our dearest friends.