Chicken Tractor!

last month, my dad and I collaborated on the construction of a chicken tractor. a chicken tractor is a small, mobile chicken coop, that you can move around on pasture so the birds are contained & protected from predation, but always on fresh ground. we used the design that Herrick Kimball outlines in his blog.

so far, it has been working out great!

here's a shot of the whole thing:

from one end:

and the other end:

detail of the door:

detail of the vertical angle braces:

super close-up of the back wall, with pvc hoop, angle brace, and wire:

bottom corner with angle brace:

and here's the information i wish i'd had when we set out to build this thing. :)

this tractor is 3' tall at the center, and the base is 6x12. it's actually a bit longer than 12', because we put the end pieces on outside the long pieces when we built the rectangle that started the floor. if i were to do this over again, i would place the 6' pieces inside the 12' pieces in making the rectangle, ending up with a 40" center height, and a 6'4" width. that would also use the plywood sheet that the back end is made out of more efficiently, as well as increasing the height of the whole structure a bit.

to build this, first we made a rectangle out of the 2x4s, 6x12. i regret not photographing this process in order; i didn't think of it until we were pretty much done. but i'll describe, in case you want to build one. we put small blocks of scrap 2x4 in the corners, so that each screw is driven into crossgrain, not end grain, so that this thing will live longer. we did the same thing when attaching the rafter to the top of the end pieces, for the same reason; if you drive a screw or nail into end-grain, your project will crack much sooner.

having built the rectangle, we used a carpenter's square to make sure the angles were really 90 degrees, then cut and installed the horizontal angle-braces, to keep it that way and to add strength. these are cut from 1x4s. Then we cut the back out of a sheet of 1/2" plywood, and screwed it to the end. We cut the door from the remaining bit of the plywood, having measured it against the back end to get the curve right. We made uprights for the door from leftover 2x4, cut down to 2x2, and installed them on the inside of the base rectangle (because we had set ourselves up for failure if we put them on the outside -- the rafter is a 12' 2x4, and because we had put the 6' boards on the outside of the 12' boards originally, we made a 12'4" long tractor, that had to use a 12' rafter...either the ends had to suddenly bend in unnaturally, or we had to do something to compensate. the door is a little angled, but putting it inside the rectangle made a large difference in how badly it's off). we put the outward-opening door onto the uprights, with hinges on one side and a hook and eye catch on the other side. we cut four 10' lengths of 3/4" pvc down until their arc matched that of the back end, drilled 1.5" deep holes in the base for them, and installed them.

Then we had to figure out how to do the angle braces, to increase the structural rigidity of the thing so it can survive windstorms and being moved a lot. we cut them out of 1x4s, with each end at a 45 degree angle so they sit flat to the rafter & base. then we toenailed the screws into them.

having gotten all that built, we painted the whole thing with linseed oil so it can live in the sunlight without undue deterioration, then put the pvc hoops back in and covered it all with chicken wire. then we took it off those blocks and onto the ground, and moved the broiler chickens in!

we now have a tarp covering the back half, so the birds have some shade & wind-shelter, and in the event that it ever rains again, shelter from rain.

so far, i'm moving it by pushing it around one end at a time, but i intend to install wheels on the back so that it is less of a pain in the neck to move.

sumer is icumen in

with flowers. this lovely mallow, in particular.

it's an explosion of color. now that the yellow rose has ceased blooming for the summer, the mallow is taking over the job of being cheerful right outside my yurt door.

tomatoes in bloom:

corn is up!

we have about 70% germination, i think. we're going to interplant in the blank spots with sweet annie, an artemesia that prevents corn borers, and broom corn.

beans! we put in more beans this year than ever before. These are Early Contender bush beans, interplanted with okra.

the rows greening up.

butterfly bush on the garden edge, a gift from Brian:

butterfly bush flowers

we've had two pomegranate bushes die on us, one each of the last two years, but we are determined. here is Pomegranate The Third.

Tattersall appreciates the shade from the solar panel. also the bean patch. he managed to lay down exactly between the beans, not squishing anything.

which is so cute you get to see it again.

twice. 'cause i'm like that. i think this one is my favorite.

gaillardia about to blossom

egyptian walking onion, beginning to "walk"

and one of our new interns, Lily, gave Thistle a haircut for the summer. the dread-dog becomes a sheep-dog!

elms, beltane, garden

We've had zombie elms for quite a while (they come back from the dead, you know), but this is our first vampire elm.

it's growing *inside* the Grandmother Cottonwood, in a thin space between the giant root and the trunk of the great old tree. We couldn't manage to uproot it, but we did cut it back to nothing after documenting this unacceptable transgression.

my lovely Alan, out hiking in the grey windy weather last weekend.

Joseph, an awesome human being who is interning with us for a little while, painted the heater! we've been meaning to get around to this for an unspeakably long time. i love it. he did a great job with it, too.

i spent a fair amount of quality time at last weekend's Beltane festival painting faces. This is Amber, wearing Saturday's masterpiece:

whom I painted to match the butterflies on her earrings.

and Yulia painted me.

the weather got cold and grey over the weekend -- we had our annual late-April freeze the last two nights, so summer really should be on its way now. the peas loved the grey cold, and grew a foot.

raindrops (for some definition of rain -- the air got wet for a moment, anyway) on pea vines.

the garlic has been growing fast, too.

lettuce, nasturtiums, spinach, and one overwintered chard, going to seed in the back. it's furthering my secret agenda of a self-seeding garden.

chard and spinach in the foreground, potatoes & radishes in the background.



lettuce and carrots

i'm still in love with my rose. we have a steady thing going. she brings me flowers every day, to make my mornings easier and more wonderful.

that's a purple butterfly bush, gifted to us by paganboi_nm, behind the rose. i hope to get it into the ground this weekend, having picked a spot last night.

rose, rose.

and here we are again: the afternoon light in the Grandmother Cottonwood. one of these days i'll get you some early morning light in that tree, too.

meanwhile, spring.

other things are going really well. we've been blessed with fantastic help so far this year. the garden is doing well, baby chickens & turkeys prospering, progress on other projects proceeding apace.

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One of the most amazing things about working with interns is the relationships we develop. Our first intern of the spring, Yulia was here for about four weeks, and left last night on a bus to Denver, to follow her continuing adventures.

I came in this morning to find this on the table:

you can see that it's a picture of the Sunflower River (sunflowers, river)

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Drip System Basics: class at Sunflower River

Interested in installing an automated drip system, but not sure where to start? Jenny at Sunflower River is offering this course to help you learn everything you need to know to install your own drip irrigation system.

We'll look at the pros and cons of drip irrigation, system components, types of systems, and tools. We'll tour the assorted Sunflower River irrigation systems, draw garden maps and plan out a potential system for an example garden, get some hands-on experience putting parts together, and go over the basics of maintenance and repair. At the end of the day, you'll come away with a map of your garden and a components list for setting up a drip system.

Saturday, April 16th, 1-5pm at Sunflower River

Class is $40; all materials provided. Work-scholarships available; just email us, or message us here to set something up.

Please RSVP, either here, via email or our facebook page, so that we know how many students to expect.

Spring! projects, the wall, and a photo update

spring is springing. it has stepped in by degrees this year, starting the week after the alarmingly northern freeze. a bit early, and quite a lot dry, but spring nevertheless. the quince behind my office are starting to bloom (photos when they hit full bloom in a couple days) and the forsythia out front are a cascade of living gold. i swear they glow. i absolutely adore forsythia.

anyway, we have been frightfully busy, but also making enormous headway on our Infinite List. we started several projects more or less simultaneously -- installing irrigation gates so we can flood our field, running real plumbing underground to the barnyard to replace our highly-freezable hose system, remodelling the pump house, installing a new washing machine (arguably part of the pump house renovation), remodelling the garage at Caer Aisling into a bedroom, all while attempting the spring planting and continuing to work on the wall.

you know, Tristan's email signature says, "you can do anything, just not everything." i'm not sure that we haven't begun to try anyway. simultaneously, i mean; everything has been on the list all along.

at any rate, we had a great work party that moved the barnyard water project along, and then two trips to the hardware store (oh, plumbing, why must you be so fiddly?) and then Rev busted butt on the plumbing project all day yesterday while the rest of us also worked on various projects, and the sum of all that is that the barnyard plumbing is done. the washing machine is almost wholly installed (needs a test run and one more part-- see above, plumbing is fiddly), the pump house is closer to done (one more stretch of drywall mudding & taping, then same stretch painted, then we're on to putting in the freezer and building some shelving in there), the spring planting somehow got done (yay!) and its drip system is together and fuctional, the small ritual ground's drip irrigation system is fixed (see plumbing, fiddly, etc), the brooders are set up and have new baby birds in them, and we pulled down the damaged parts of the wall.

wait, what? well, we said we were going to build the wall out of earthbags so that we could make all our mistakes on it, and then make an earthbag root cellar with no (or many fewer) mistakes. and we sure are pulling that off. we have had to take apart two 20'+ stretches of the north wall, and will have to rebuild. the area behind the compost started leaning over so badly I could barely get between them, and we were afraid it was going to topple onto the compost and create a massive biohazard zone. fortunately, we were able to take it apart in a controlled manner before that happened. we also had a stretch up front, on the north wall, that was leaning from about 3.5' above ground and up. It was not leaning as drastically, but it was definitely on the move, so we took it down (to the point where it was still straight) as well. now we're investigating the rest of the wall carefully to find out if we have to tear down any more work before we can rebuild.

we think what we did wrong was not not mix enough sand (and in some areas, not enough moisture) into the clay that we used for the wall, and we didn't screen the clay, which we now think we should have done all along. we also had a little too much "oh, that'll probably be okay" and not enough in the way of rigorous standards when it came to enforcing the precise vertical plumbness of every single bag.

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couldn't start the truck this morning. this had, no doubt, to do with last night's record low of -14 (not counting a substantial windchill) plus the truck spending two days sitting in the shade covered in snow. Argh. very frustrating. i needed to drive, rather than bus, because i'm taking this thursday evening class, which gets out after the last Isleta bus heads south. fortunately, the VW Beetle (25 years older than the Toyota, but smaller and German) started. roughly, with effort, but she started. I've actually never had a VW be that hard to start; this weather is phenomenally cold for Albuquerque.

I arrived at work to a building with no heat -- which at least answered the question, why did UNM close for two days on one inch of (dryish, powdery) snow? the snow wasn't the issue at all; it was the temperatures. the university is heated by a boiler system, and many buildings' hot water pipes, which bring heat to the buildings, froze. my heat came on around 1pm.

now we're being sent home at 4pm, and all classes with start times from 3:30 onwards are cancelled; tomorrow we are already on 2-hour delay. i may as well have taken the bus. ah, well. Much of the Southwest is hit with natural gas outages today, presumably from record low temps throughout the desert states prompting folks to use more gas to heat their homes. rolling blackouts in Texas are causing shortages in NM, including the Abq metro area, where over half the population of the state is concentrated. we heat our house wiht natural gas, but we do have space heaters and good insulation, and if we really need to, we can all crowd into my wood-heated yurt. yesterday, we threw together an eastern wall on the 3-walled chicken coop, to shelter the birds from the wind chill, and hung another heat lamp in there, as well as providing them with extra scratch (more calories help them heat themselves better). no losses so far, and the weather is supposed to warm up tomorrow and over the weekend. UNM is closing because of the natural gas shortage situation, as I understand it. if we are closed tomorrow, I will get the spring greenhouse planting done, and maybe run up to home depot for some more drip system mainline to install sunday. might as well get caught up. it's supposed to be in the 30s tomorrow; downright balmy.

when i get pics of the garden uploaded, I'll post them here. it's snow-blanketed right now, rich with loam. perfect timing-- we composted everything last weekend, and then this storm hit, so some moisture can soak through it all. we have finally succeeded in making really good soil. 3 years-- not bad.