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!

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!

Swamp Coolers

Or evaporative coolers if you want to be correct and less, um, swampy.

evaporative cooler

We live in a 124-year-old house that does not have central air conditioning. In the past, we made do with one or two old window-unit air conditioners, but for how much it cost to run those things, they didn’t do a very good job of keeping our drafty house cool.

So on a 90+ degree day a few weeks ago, we bought and installed an evaporative cooler (we got this one). All I can really say about it is that it’s the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Please note: This is not a sponsored post. Sorry if it sounds like it is. I’m in love with an appliance.) (Also if you want to learn more about evaporative coolers, check out the Wikipedia page.)

Within an hour, the swamp cooler (Ben and I both independently determined that he should be called “Bob,” which is weird and annoying and I promise we are not in the habit of naming household items) cooled the temperature in our living room/dining room from 81 degrees to 70 degrees. We left Bob (sorry) running all night and woke up to a 60-degree living room (brrrrr).

Unlike our old air conditioners, Bob cools the whole house. The trick is — and this seems weird — to leave doors and windows open in the areas you want to cool. Generally, we leave our back door and bedroom window open, which helps to distribute the cool air throughout the house.

Another awesome thing — in Colorado, our electric company (Xcel) offers rebates when you buy an evaporative cooler (more info. here). We’ll be getting $250. When you add that to what we’ll save in energy costs this summer (running a swamp cooler is way cheaper and more environmentally friendly than running old, inefficient air conditioners), Bob will have almost paid for himself (sorry, that’s just weird but now I can’t stop) by the end of summer.

If you’re not familiar with evaporative coolers, there’s one thing you should know. They smell when they’re running, at least for a while. At first, the smell was really strong and bothered me. Since then, it has mellowed and now it’s either gone or I’m used to it and don’t notice it. According to Ben, the smell comes from the cardboard filter, which is made from aspen trees. So it’s nothing chemical/unhealthy/creepy — it’s just a little different.

At least now we’re ready for this shit, which, as I am wont to say, WTF.

yeeeeeesh

Former Homes

Here are the places Ben and I have lived. Pretty exciting, huh?

Oak Park

Oak Park, Illinois. We were in the front of the building, on your left (behind the tree), on the top floor. This building was designed by E.E. Roberts. You’ve probably never heard of him; he designed some stuff. I loved this place because it was awesome and it had a window that was the perfect size and shape to be referred to as the kitty window seat. (There are a few more pictures here. I made an awesome (for 2003 and considering my skill level) virtual home tour on my first ever website when we were trying to sell by owner (this didn’t work but a bad-ass 900-year-old realtor who climbed those stairs like an elderly mountain goat sold the place in about 5 minutes), but I can’t find the pictures from that. I’m much more organized now.)

Nederland house

Nederland, Colorado. Moving from Oak Park (which is right outside Chicago on the west side) to Nederland was kind of a trip. Nederland has a population of approximately 1,300 and is in the mountains 17 miles from and 3,000 feet higher than Boulder. The weirdest things in the early days of living in Ned were adjusting to the altitude (oh man working out at the one gym in town was really hard for a while) and how freaking dark it gets up there. And quiet! Our street wasn’t paved and we had to go to the post office to get our mail. We had to get some obscure satellite internet and take our garbage to the dump and pay them to take it (they took recycling for free). It was cold as shit up there in the winter but the summer was glorious. You don’t need air conditioning in Ned. They have the best 4th of July fireworks I’ve ever seen (although, to be fair, I’m biased against the ones in Chicago not because they’re on the 3rd but due to an unfortunate incident involving Gino’s East Pizza, Dove bars, unbearable heat, projectile vomiting in two modes of transportation, and my mom’s misguided attempt to cover up the smell by spraying Georgio cologne in the car so it smelled like vomit and Georgio for the next 100 years) and there’s a good chance the guys doing the fireworks are high as shit and after the grand finale, when everybody is leaving, they’ll just randomly start lighting more fireworks and that’s kind of how Nederland rolls. The people who worked at the beer store were usually Cubs fans. It seems like most people don’t live in town for long. Although Ben and I are really city people, if I didn’t have to have a job, I wouldn’t mind living there again. I wouldn’t mind, someday when we’re rich (haha), having a tiny little cabin in an unassuming town like Ned where we can hang out with Soren and the dogs on weekends.

Baker

We lived in the upstairs apartment of this place in the Baker neighborhood of Denver. We never used the front door; we parked in back and climbed the somewhat scary (especially when it was snowy) stairway that led from the back yard to the living room. The living room was small and the kitchen was like a closet and the bedrooms were gigantic — it was kind of like the opposite of every other place I’ve lived. We liked this place (very cute!) but the downstairs neighbors complained about how much noise we made all the time. They called the landlord to complain about us. One day, they complained about the noise when Ben was playing a keyboard while wearing headphones. At that point, we figured it was time to buy a house. So that’s what we did and it’s a-whole-nother adventure.