Chicken Coop & Garden Tour

So, here’s what’s been happening in our yard.

chicken coop construction

Here is the framed chicken coop, with the interior wall about to go in. All window and vent openings are covered in hardware cloth. The main thing you need to know about building a chicken coop and run, if you’re into that sort of thing, is that when they’re inside, the chickens must be surrounded on all sides by a solid surface (such as wood) or hardware cloth. That includes above and under the ground of the run portion — yes, you have to dig up some dirt, install hardware cloth along the ground and attach it to something, be it other hardware cloth or a frame) and then put the dirt back in. Otherwise, you might have wildlife or Rottweilers digging into your chicken run, and nobody wants that. We used 1/2-inch hardware cloth from Amazon, because it was the best price we found.  (When the coop is finished, I’ll let you know how much it cost and provide links to stuff we bought online. For now, I’m living in denial.)

chicken coop construction

The triangle on top here is a vent. One thing I learned from my extensive perusal of backyardchickens.com is that your chicken coop needs more ventilation than you might think, even in winter. So we (well, Ben) put in lots.

chicken coop construction

Here is a view of the beautiful linoleum floor Ben got from Habitat for Humanity. It’s always good to visit places like H4H just to see if you can score any materials on the cheap, or cheep if you’re a chicken. (Sorry.) I was partial to the blue floral linoleum tiles, but we figured a big sheet would be cleaner.

chicken coop construction

Back of the coop, also with a big vent area. The big open space is where the nest boxes will go.

chicken coop construction

View of the other side wall, featuring one vent and one window.

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Looking toward the run.

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Here are the framed and linoleum-ed nest boxes. We certainly don’t need 3 nest boxes for 3 chickens, but we can have as many as 8 chickens in Denver, so Ben designed everything to accommodate as many as 8 chickens.

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Side view of nest boxes. The nest box roof is a door that opens upward, so we can reach in to gather eggs.

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This is the current state of the coop. This weekend, Ben did the flashing on the roof, put in a ton of insulation, and installed the windows (there’s another window across from this one on the other side) and the outer walls. The windows are shed windows, installed so they can be opened and closed from the outside.

From here you can see the human doors to the coop and, on the right, to the run. Both have locks, mainly because we don’t want to risk any child we know opening a door on his own.

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Here you can see the coop and run, as well as the main plot of our garden. Here’s what’s in there:

  • arugula (in a container)
  • mint (in a container — always put mint in a container because it is super aggressive)
  • spinach
  • onions
  • carrots
  • 3 kinds of lettuce
  • kale
  • tomatillos
  • jalapenos
  • Joe E. Parker peppers
  • pepperoncini
  • broccoli
  • brussel sprouts
  • tomatoes, including several heirloom varieties

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This looks like ass, but bear with me. When it comes to gardening, we are passionate about two things: spending as little money as possible and using what we already have. This giant thing used to be part of a trellis that Ben removed to make room for the chicken run. Rather than throw it out, we’re using it to keep the dogs off our plants. Here we have several varieties of cucumbers (marketmore, lemon, homemade pickles, something else, and maybe something else — I want to make pickles this year and cucumbers are great for juice, so I wanted to have as many cucumber plants as possible); edamame; zucchini; and mini eggplants. Way in back are a few more tomato plants in containers — Ben put our favorites in containers: peacevine (which are little), red pear, and early girl.

I planted a few things in the front yard, too: garlic (Soren and I planted some cloves in the late fall and they’re all growing), a few more tomatoes, and more zucchini.

We still have a bit more to plant: more tomatoes, basil, oregano, corn, and some kind of bush beans.

A cool thing about this year’s garden! With the exception of a few jalapeno plants, everything was grown from seed or acquired for free at an awesome neighborhood gardening festival. So if all goes well, we’ll get tons of food without spending much money (for once)!

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As you can see, Sadie is really interested in the chickens all day every day. And we’ve been pretty busy!

Chickens in the Coop

They seem to be enjoying it. (For the record, it’s habitable but not finished. Eventually, what you see here will be painted awesome colors, inspired by grandmas who live in Miami and like to go to the beach, and there will be a chicken ladder instead of straw and a plank, arrrrrr matey.)

Chickens!

Unintentional Easter Chickies

So we got some chickens. It’s about damn time, right?

Here are the deets, not that people still say “deets”:

  • Gertrude is a Delaware who hatched on 3/13 (Delaware was not on my suggested list of breeds, but I figured what the hell. She’s a fluffy yellow chick who’s bigger and louder than the others.)
  • Josephine is a Red Star who hatched on 3/13 (She’s the most mellow of the chickens and likes to sleep. At first this worried us but she seems to be fine.)
  • Margarita is a Barred Rock who hatched on 3/20 (She’s the baby and very inquisitive. She’s named after my favorite book, The Master and Margarita.)

Sorry I only have bad iPhone photos so far. It’s hard to get good pictures of animals who are kind of afraid of you and live in a box with a giant red light over it.

They’re totally awesome. It’s easier than I thought to have baby chickens in a house with a 3-year-old, 3 dogs, and 4 cats. Everybody has been pretty cool so far. The chickens seem to enjoy listening to Lil Wayne, which is good. We’re hard at work on designing our coop, which we’ll have to get ready within the next 5 weeks or so.

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Chickens and Letters to Neighbors

Chickie book, chickie cup

I went to chicken class last night. Chicken class involved three hours of solid information acquisition. I was totally going to live tweet that shit, but chicken class took place in a basement at our local botanic gardens and there was no coverage so I couldn’t. I’ve always wanted to live tweet something (just kidding). So much information was conveyed during chicken class (We even got to see some actual chickens!) that I now feel comfortable actually getting chickens.

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet (If I’m going to become a farmer, I might as well go all the way and start saying things like “bee in my bonnet,” although I say shit like that anyway) about getting chickens for a long time now, but it always seemed kind of overwhelming. There’s so much information out there! I mean, there are several options for even getting chickens in the first place. You can get eggs (bad idea unless you’re cool with roosters). You can get what are typically referred to as “pullets,” which are adult or adult-esque female chickens. This is what I thought I wanted to do, but after attending chicken class, I figured another option was better: itty baby chickies. Itty baby chickies are ridiculously cute, but the important thing is that if you raise chickens from the baby stage, they’re more likely to bond with you and your relationship will be closer. If that sounds totally ridiculous, that’s cool. I’m a weird animal person. I want to have a good relationship with our chickens. The hard part is going to be finding a place for the girls to live in our house for 8 weeks, which is when they can move to their coop, which we’ll be building soon.

Why do I want to get chickens? Because I’m an asshole hipster who wants to be a trendy urban farmer like everyone else. Well, that and honestly, if we’re going to eat eggs, which we probably are, I think having our own chickens is the kindest and most ethical way to go about obtaining them. I’ve heard too many horror stories about how eggs are produced — even the “free range” eggs we always buy. We’re going to treat chickens better than anyone involved in a commercial egg operation will. So that’s good. Plus it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch from stuff we do anyway, like gardening, making as much stuff as we can instead of buying, and being general hippies to the extent we can in our full-time-employment-having/urban-dweller lives.

One of my biggest questions going into chicken class was how to work it out when you have old chickens who don’t lay eggs any more. Obviously, as vegetarians and people who become ridiculously attached to animals, we’re never going to eat our chickens or give them away. The good news is that it’s possible to introduce new chickens to old chickens. In Denver, you can have as many as 8 chickens. So our plan is roughly this: Start with 3 chickens, but build a coop and enclosure that can house 8 chickens. In two years or so (hopefully a little longer), when our original chickens aren’t laying as many eggs, we’ll get two new chickens. In two years or so (again, hopefully a little longer), we’ll get two new chickens. In two years, we’ll see what happens. Chickens have an average lifespan of 8 years.

I won’t go on and on about chickens right now, as much as I’d like to. I’m seriously obsessed. I tell you, the ability of a person with ADHD to hyperfocus is a blessing and a curse.

If you’re interested in backyard chicken keeping, I highly recommend taking a class from someone who knows what’s up (the one I took was called “Backyard Chicken Keeping” and was offered through the Denver Botanic Gardens — you can see upcoming dates here). It’s so much easier (at least it was for me) than trying to assimilate the gobs of information out there on the internet and in books. Before the class, I was totally overwhelmed, and now I’m more like, hey, we can do this. Also, this site is amazing.

I hope to be providing some awesome chicken updates soon!
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Today we received a letter from some random dude who lives in our neighborhood. It went something like this:

Hey guys, I saw your property at [address] and I wanted to see if you are interested in selling.

I am willing to offer you [price approximately $100,000 less than our house is worth], and I would be willing to pay all of the commissions and closing costs. I am buying with cash, so we wouldn’t have to deal with appraisals or lender issues.

Please consider my offer and let me know if you are interested in discussing further.

Thanks!

Random Dude

What? My first thought was that our house must have an appearance such that someone looking at it assumes it’s inhabited by crazy people who don’t know anything about anything. Crazy old people who’ve paid off the house and would consider an unsolicited low-ball offer out of nowhere? I have no idea. Ben thinks we should write back and offer him an insulting price for his house. That might be fun.

I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of writing letters to random people in our neighborhood, asking for whatever we want, just to see if anyone takes us up on it. Hey random guy, I’d like to buy your sweet El Camino for $100. Hi Ms. Neighbor Person, this summer, I would like to sit on your porch swing, drinking beer and eating peaches from your tree. If you could provide some Ranger IPA that would be great! Hi Hippies, I won’t complain about your chickens and your ridiculous barking dogs if you give me a dozen fresh eggs every week. Let me know if that works for you!

Solar SNAFU?

We had our solar audit on Monday. This is where site auditors come to your house, explore your attic, crawl around on your roof, and do whatever they need to do to get the information they need to bring back to the structural engineer, who designs your system. Of course we didn’t get the crawl-around-on-your-roof part done because our roof had a big snowdrift on it, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that we might have encountered a solar SNAFU.

Our roof has to be reinforced so it can support the weight of the solar panels. This is pretty common, from what I understand. The issue is that for years Ben and I have thought that eventually, we might finish our unfinished attic and add one or two bedrooms and a bathroom up there. The added space would be good for us when Soren gets older and/or good for resale value, should we ever decide to move (not likely). The problem is that we’re not sure how the structural engineer is going to want to reinforce the roof.

Here are my awesome renditions of how roof reinforcement might happen.

my awesome roof support diagram

The first option (or an option that doesn’t involve beams running from the ceiling to the floor) would be fine, but the second option would not, because support beams placed like that would eliminate the possibility of adding living space to the attic. We’re thinking that if we have to choose solar panels or the potential to finish the attic, we’d probably go with the attic — but we’re not totally sure.

For now, we just have to wait (my favorite) and see what they design. I’ll keep you posted!

Hippie Adventure: Going Solar

solar house

You guys! I’m totally stoked to tell you that we’re getting solar panels installed on our house!

I’ve been wanting to do this forever, but it’s one of those things I didn’t spend too much time investigating because I figured it’s expensive. It is expensive — really expensive — to buy solar panels. But nobody buys solar panels any more. (Well, super-rich people probably do, but normal people like us sure don’t.) I’d heard about solar leases before but was kind of suspicious of them. Now that I know who’s who and what’s what, I think solar leases are pretty much the greatest thing of all time and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t do it if you can.

Here’s my quick and dirty understanding of solar leases — keep in mind I’m no expert and this is just my experience.

With a solar lease, you can pay absolutely nothing up front. In the alternative, you can make a payment (of, say, $500 to $2,000), which will lock in your rate over the course of the lease. If you don’t lock in your rate, it’ll increase every year, although the increase will be less than the usual annual increase your utility company charges — for example, your utility company might have a 5% rate increase every year, but your solar company might increase your rate by 3% (unless, of course, you’ve paid a bit up front to lock in the rate, in which case it never changes). The other trick is that if you pay a small amount up front, your monthly solar bill might actually be slightly higher than it would be if you put no money down, but as years go by, you’ll end up paying less than you would’ve with no money down. Does that make sense?

The solar people design your system and then have engineer types come to your house to check everything out and do a final plan. (We’re also getting a home energy audit at the same time, but I don’t know if that’s standard. It’s going to be a bummer to hear about how our house has no insulation, but the good news is they prioritize things you can do to increase your house’s energy efficiency, which is pretty cool.) Then they install the solar panels on your house, someone comes and inspects it, and then the electric company comes out and does something to your electric meter, and yay you have solar power! The process takes a while, maybe two months or more — apparently there’s a lot of waiting for the electric company to do its thing.

We can get solar panels only on one part of our roof (facing south). We could squeeze some on the west side of our roof, but the neighbors have a tree that shades it so it wouldn’t be worth it. So, due to limited roof space and how many solar panels can fit, our system won’t make enough electricity for us to be 100% solar, so we’ll still be using Xcel electricity. I think this is pretty common and I’ve read that it’s usually the most cost-efficient to not go 100% solar, but I’m not sure about that. So the bad news is that we’ll have two bills (solar and Xcel) instead of one. But the good news is that we’ll be paying a little less each month than we do now and we’ll be benefiting the environment by using less electricity from coal (or natural gas, which apparently Xcel is switching to soon).

What else? The lease is for 20 years — so another thing to consider is your roof, which should typically last for 30 years (you don’t want to install solar panels on a 25-year-old roof). If you sell your house before then, you can transfer the lease to the new owner. My guess is that this would be a plus for selling your house, but it would eliminate potential buyers who don’t want solar (which is fine because those guys are nuts). You might have a hard time if your roof is flat. You save money over the course of the lease because even if you put no money down, your rates solar rates will increase less than what your utility company charges. The solar company maintains the solar panels, insures your roof against damage, and ours even has an app where you can see how much energy your solar panels are producing (they’re pinged every 15 minutes). If the system makes less than they say it will, you get money back. If you make more power than you need, it’s banked and you can use it later, when you need it. At the end of the lease, you can buy the system, extend for 5 years, or have it taken down (which I imagine you’d want to do because by then there will be new technology).

Solar leases work because the leasing companies make money by getting all the rebates and incentives you get for going solar. So if you’re rich and you buy solar panels and have them installed on your house (the system we’re getting was quoted at $26,000 if we were going to purchase it), you get a bunch of rebates and incentives from the electric company and the government. When you have a solar lease, the leasing company gets all those incentives. That’s how they make money. It’s nice to know that, because otherwise I was kind of WTF how do these people make money installing expensive-ass equipment on your house and charging you less every month than the electric company charges. Rebates and incentives, that’s how.

Colorado, which is very sunny, is ideal for solar. Yay!!

Anyway, that’s all I know for now. I’ll report back when something happens. I’m super excited about going solar!

Things We Make Instead of Buying

Green juice

So we’ve started juicing and it’s pretty much the greatest thing, ever. I want to have this green juice in particular every day for the rest of my life. I know correlation does not imply causation, but when I drink it, I almost feel like I’m on some sort of natural Adderall. I feel energetic and able to focus and really, really good. I follow this recipe from Choosing Raw exactly. I wasn’t sure green juice would be delicious, but it is.

The only downside of juicing is that it’s expensive. Aside from the juicer, you need a ton of produce. We already get a ton of produce every week and now we need even more if I’m going to have my green juice every day. Ben originally wanted to get a juicer because he thought it would be a good way to use our leftover produce each week but man, I’m kind of obsessed and am going to want more than that. Side note: I’m planning to grow a billion cucumbers this summer.

Making juice got me thinking about stuff we make that we used to buy, and I figured I should do an update on that. We’re still avoiding GMOs and trying to be simple and natural and healthy as much as possible. The good news is that the more we make stuff, the more it seems natural to make stuff, if that makes sense. It doesn’t seem tedious or overwhelming or anything — it feels good.

So here’s a list, with links to recipes (mine or other people’s) when available:

We’ve always made our own coffee (we grind beans and use a drip coffee maker or occasionally a French press or Toddy). We also make stuff like salad dressing, pie crust/baked goods, and granola . . . and probably other stuff I’m forgetting, too.

With all this making stuff, we have several single-purpose small appliances in our kitchen, which can get annoying: juicer, ice cream maker, bread machine, coffee maker, coffee grinder, deep fryer, rice cooker, in addition to several general small appliances: microwave, electric griddle, crock pot, food processor, stand mixer, toaster oven, blender (which we never use). We also have a waffle iron (got free) and a donut maker (gift) we haven’t used yet. Why have I not made donuts? I have no idea. I should get on that!

Up next on my to-make list: waffles (Soren loves waffles for breakfast and I’d like to make and freeze some instead of buying frozen waffles), pickles (with garden cucumbers), and more cleaning products. Maybe hot sauce. And one day soon, I’d like to make beer. It’s crazy that we haven’t done that yet.