Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pumpkin shenanigans

Every year I plant pumpkins with grand schemes of raising a thousand plus pounder for the fair. Visions of blue ribbons and that $100 prize money consume my common sense and lead to me planting 3/4 of our backyard in pumpkins. Every summer I lovingly tend them, catering to their every whim, chasing the bugs from their leaves and making sure my special organic compost tea infused watering system is working 100% properly. 

Actually I mostly ignore them in favor of Star Trek reruns.

The result of my neglect is a yard full of 4-8 pound pumpkins that thoroughly shame their 500 pound parents. Given that all those in the know swear pumpkin seeds are a natural livestock wormer, it isn't a total loss. Do they really work as a wormer? I have no clue, but I've never met a critter who didn't love pumpkins so if the pumpkin eating orgy going on in my back yard now is also resulting in the purging of parasites, I'll consider it icing.

Cochie Mama chows down
This year I planted 4 Jack 'o Lantern type pumpkins (Howden), 4 Cinderella type pumpkins (Musquee de provence), 2 pie pumpkins (New England Sugar) and 4 mini pumpkins (Jack Be Little). Thanks to heat, neglect, lack of water, and laziness on my part, I wound up with:
0 Howden
2 Musquee de Provence (one was stunted and deformed so really, just 1)
14 New England Sugar Pie
56 Jack Be Little

I probably had a lot more of the mini pumpkins, but the vines in the front yard wound up overtaking the entire bed and running into the driveway. I didn't keep track of how many the Mr. ran over every morning as he left for work, or the ones my neighbor's kids swiped to throw at passing cars.

My Runaway Jack Be Little Pumpkin Vines

See those branches sticking out there on the left side? Those aren't sneaky weeds, those are desperate rose canes trying to get a little sunlight. The first time I planted Jack Be Little the vines were as miniature as the pumpkins. I must have gotten some seeds on steroids this time. The upside is that my roses hated that spot anyway because of the wind and I'd planned to relocate them this winter. The pumpkin vine gave them protection and believe it or not, they bloomed underneath all that!

From a survival standpoint, I'd go with the mini jacks. Sure they're small, but they thrived where others died. Properly hardened off and stored in a cool, dry location, they'll easily last the entire winter. The only drawback as far as feeding them to animals is the rind gets so hard you'll need a hacksaw to bust into it.

Next up was the New England Sugar Pie, but they took up a crapload of room, and while the minis suffered no ill effects from being denied the ability to root along their vines, I'm not sure the NESPs would fare as well. If any regular size pumpkin can grow vertical though, it's them thanks to their mad crazy thick stems. I may give them a vertical try next year. Having stored them in a cabinet in the kitchen two years ago, I already know they'll last 4-6 months... probably longer but I didn't have any left after 6 months.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A House for Lola, aka Rabbit Cage House Part D'oh

Most of my rabbits do just fine in their cages. They eat a lot, sleep a lot, and crap a lot. Sometimes I let them run around in the yard, but for the most part they're cage bunnies and they're ok with that.

And then there's Lola.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Chicken Coop

Our chicken coop has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a chicken tractor barely big enough for three hens. I couldn't find a photo of it when it was new. This was the day I drug it to the back gate to give to someone else. The chickens had long since left it. I'd used it for rabbits for a little while, then some baby chicks I raised for someone else, but it was falling apart and the time had come to say goodbye. 

I sat down with pen and paper and came up with a coop design that would allow me to up the number of hens to around twenty, plus not require I get on my hands and knees to catch a hen should she need catching. I wanted it to allow for plenty of airflow for our hot summer months, but also have an enclosed roosting area with decent ventilation but no drafts. I also wanted nest boxes that I could access without going inside the coop.

Since we live in city limits, it had to look nice. I may live in the sticks, but there's no shortage of grouchy old busy bodies out here with nothing better to do than call the city and complain about them damn outsiders dragging down the property values. They'll still talk smack, but it won't go past the lunch table at the town's Senior Center.

The foundation consisted of concrete blocks from Home Depot. Notice how we made zero attempt to make them nice and level? This failure will be cursed many times by the Mr. as the build progresses.  You can already see problems developing as this first wall frame section goes up. :D

Rather than fix the foundation while we still could, however, we plowed ahead full steam!

Somehow I managed to not take any photos until nearly six months later, after it was finished and the far end was sinking into a crater that soon turned into a pit just off the edge of the newly installed storm cellar. That's a whole 'nother story for another day though.

I had to include a pic of the chicks when they arrived in the mail. CUTE! :)

The coop has since been divided in half, with the far end being converted to a rabbit room with one of the fish tanks for the aquaponics system in it. The rest of these are of the nest boxes and the roost section.

Nest boxes from inside roosting room

Outside the coop, nest boxes

Inside the coop looking at the roosting area and nest boxes. The end where that hen is, is wire mesh to allow for air flow 
Nest boxes with lid open

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pallet Project: Rabbit Cage House

Since we got the pallet planter done so quickly I figured I'd add another pallet project to the mix. After all, I only have 3 partially completed projects so what's one more?

When it comes to rabbit housing I don't do wood, at least not anywhere they can chew or pee on it. You simply cannot get wood clean after a buck has spent half a year liberally spraying the entire back wall of his hutch. HOWEVER, I've doodled up a plan for a cage house where I'll use all wire cages, but mounted in a wooden frame that is a) out of reach of their teeth, and b) protected from flying pee.

If you like to design stuff but don't have any thing more modern than a pencil to do it with, I suggest you check out Tinker CAD. It's free to tinker with CAD online.

Using pallets we have, we'll rip the 2x4s from them for the framework of the cage racks.

Amazing how fast they turn into just so much scrap

Next I'll build 8 of these pieces (or 10, need to measure area this is going). Each opening will be 37" wide and 19" deep. My cages are 36" wide and 18" deep. The idea is to slide a cage through that opening into a slot where it will rest on metal hangers. It will take 2 of these frames plus the side braces to hang one cage, and then I can attach these horizontally to hang more cages on down the row. I'm going to do this facing our fence, and run a roof from the top edge of our fence down to the back edge of this hutch frame.

After putting together the first cage holder, it became clear I was going to need a lot more pallets. A lot of these 2x4s are beyond salvage, others have those notches in the worst possible place. I thought I had enough to make two of these, but one was all I could pull off, and that was after I retrieved a 2x4 that's been sitting in the yard all summer long. Least it wasn't too warped to use!

This is the frame that will hold the cage. It's 2' by 3' plus 1" on each side, which will allow the cage to sit slightly back from the wood frame. It's held together with 2.5" wood screws. Notice I've already begun to ignore my original plans above. This was bite me in the butt on down the road.

I added 2x4 legs, and don't ask me what size because I didn't measure them. Probably 42". I measured 4" from the top edge, marked that, then from that line measured 19" and screwed the base frame on.

Then I screwed these L shaped things on, flush to the top edge of the base frame. The rabbit cage will rest on these. 

Here it is all put together. When I build the next one I'll build it the same way, but minus the legs on one side. I'll screw it onto this one through the horizontal side braces.

Or wait, maybe not exactly like this one. 

Remember how I ignored my own design plans? I didn't think anything of it until I went to slide the cage into the opening and found it was wider than the gap I'd left. If I'd followed my plans it would have worked, but I got fixated on the opening in the base and forgot about the opening I needed in the front. I still got the cage in, but had to go in from the top. Not a huge issue, but an annoyance nonetheless.

This group of cage holders will be roofed off of the side of the rabbit house so I don't have a cover on it ATM. For now I'll probably just throw some sheet metal over the top and call it good.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pallet Project: Raised Bed

I have finished a project.

More accurately, I started it and my husband finished it before I could abandon it for something more entertaining. I do love this man. :)

Click For Full Size
The uncovered lower edge is intentional. See how the pallet to the left notches up under it? I'm going to run that same size pallet along the front edge and down around the building to the rabbit room door, and the walkway will notch up under there. I'll screw through from the bed to the walkway to anchor it together.

Underneath and wrapping up the inside walls are cardboard boxes. I get them free, more than I know what to do with, and they do a good job of smothering weeds and unwanted grass. Or at least they're supposed to. Traditionally I put a layer down, and the bermuda gobbles it up by July. This time I went about 6 layers thick, all crisscrossed and interwoven, so hopefully the grass will find somewhere else to infest. On top of the cardboard went about an inch of old chicken crap from the roostbox, then about 4" of three year old, very rotted straw. Then came a liberal dose of old coffee grounds courtesy of Starbucks, followed by a few buckets of rabbit poo and about a pound of kitchen scraps. I'm picking up a load of topsoil tomorrow and will throw a layer of that on, then go from there.

Click for Closeup
I'm probably going to throw a layer of water sealer on there just to keep it looking nice. 

You can see it in its earlier stages in this post.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pallet Projects

I have a source of unlimited free pallets, but it wasn't until recently I decided to put them to use. Up until last week or so I just hauled them to the new retreat to be torn up for everything from firewood to building supplies to fencing. However the trip costs me a tank of gas there and back, and I've been feeling cheap lately. The last trailer load just sat in the grass by our drive, looking bad and annoying the neighbors.

Thankfully the daytime temps have begun to drop, thereby encouraging me to emerge from the blasting a/c and get some work done. Of course it wouldn't be me if I didn't start four projects at once and then quit halfway through, so naturally I plotted out four different projects for my pallet bonanza.

Chicken Coop Deck
Last winter we got a lot of snow, which resulted in the path from the back door to the coop turning into a muddy, slushy mess. Since our winter is predicted to be a bad one this go-round, I'm building a deck to run along the side of the coop, allowing me to gather eggs and get into the coop without having to go mud bogging. The Mr. gets these great little pallets from work that are perfect for this project. The slats are wide and thick and placed close together, and the size is perfect for the walkway back to the back door steps.

Of course I didn't bother to level underneath it before slapping the pallets down, so now I get to go back and do that after the fact. I'm getting a load of dirt in on Monday, and will level the ground out. Then I'll bolt the sections together, and run an end cap along that open edge to both stabilize the deck and make it look better. It's redneck engineering and in a wetter climate would probably rot to pieces in a few years, but out here where rain is an anomaly it'll last a good while.

Chicken Coop Planter
I'd put in a half assed bed here last year but within a week the bermuda had taken over. Have I ever mentioned how much I despise bermuda? I can't kill it all off because the Mr. is determined that it cover our backyard, so all I can do is try to thwart it's determination to take over my garden and flower beds. This raised bed is made from the narrow pallets ripped lengthwise. The top board comes from the pallets I source, which have rounded edges and are practically new so they look nice. I'll wind up covering the entire front with these since the pallets I used for the framework are rather ratty. The inside is lined under and inside with cardboard boxes that I get for free from a friend who works at the newspaper. Once I get it all lined, I'll layer in a mix of the powdered chicken poo from the earlier coop cleaning, rotted straw, topsoil, bunny poo, kitchen scraps, leaves, etc. This will be planted with smelly stuff to both sweeten up the coop smell, and drive off bugs. Rosemary, mint, lemon grass, marigolds, etc.

Chicken Yard Fence
These are those awesome pallets I get from my unlimited pallet source. They've only been used once, left indoors, and have those great rounded edges. I'd been letting the chickens out to run around the entire yard, but between pooping everywhere and eating all the grapes, it's time to restrict them to their own yard. I'm going to do a cheater foundation by pouring Quickcrete between the bottom two slats and framing a little on the outside. This will go down an additional pallet, then angle back towards the fence to make way for the garden. The gate will be a pallet on the angle, which can be closed to keep them in their yard, or opened and latched to a pallet garden fence to allow them into the garden during the off months.

Those license plates there shingle the hinged lid to the nest boxes. I got those free from the tax office, make great shingles!

Please excuse the horrible mess. That trash can is full of trimmings from the Mimosa in the chicken yard, and the bucket and duct and wire and whatnot was all stacked neatly but when things get in my way I tend to toss them wherever and deal with it later. Probably should have picked it up for photos...

Aquaponics Greenhouse
This won't get started until probably next month or so. I need to level the area it will be at. Think pallet walls, with PVC pipe arched from one side to the other going through the top rail of the pallet walls, then greenhouse film over that, for an 8' x 16' or 20' cold frame hoop house.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fall Coop Cleaning

I am terrible with remembering dates. I may be woman but my genetics fail me when it comes to birthdays, appointments, and anniversaries. When planning our wedding I'd initially planned to have it on 9/11 thinking, at last, a date I can remember! Wiser friends dissuaded me from this scheme and instead it wound up being on 9/12, preventing me from offending many and ensuring I'll never remember the date.

Like today.

The chicken coop gets cleaned twice a year, spring and fall. I use deep litter and though there's poo aplenty in it, it stays dry and doesn't smell. Since my allergies were already running haywire this morning I thought today would be the day to get this out of the way. It didn't take long to clear the night box deck of six months worth of poo and straw, most of which had long since crumbled to a fine powdery dust that quickly filled the air, my hair, eyes, nose, and of course my long suffering, asthmatic lungs. I needed to take the pressure washer to it, but since it's buried in the garage and I'm not feeling THAT energetic I decided to make the Mr. dig it out for me when he got home and deal with it later in the evening.

The evening of 9/12.

So here I sit, a liberal dusting of powdered chicken poo in my hair, grimy hand clutching my nebulizer, huffing myself into a stupor as I wonder when the two allergy pills I just took will knock me out cold. I'm filthy, wheezy, in dire need of a bleach shower, and due to pass out in about a half hour. That's when it hits me.

Today is our anniversary.

Oh it ain't like I *remembered* it. The Mr. just sent me a text asking if I'd figured out where I wanted to go out to eat tonight. His suggestions all require that my hair be did, my makeup be on, and that I be at least semi-conscious.

I have two hours to shower, scrape, spackle and style. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pass my venti iced chai latte sugar free vanilla please

Six months later I return. What can I say, it's been a busy summer. Gardening, building stuff, plotting governmental overthrows, selling rabbits, canning. Naw I'm just kidding, I haven't actually been canning. What I have been is lazy with a capital Z.

I call it Prepper Burnout. I'm sure you're familiar with the symptoms. Obsessive binging on depressing news, rising prices of everything and anything, layoffs, urges to hoard toilet paper, followed by the desire to never get out of bed ever again. Once this passes, the sufferer will be overwhelmed with the need to say FUCK IT! head for the nearest Starbucks, and bleat like a fat sheep.

What set this off was my inclusion into a loose knit group of preppers. At the helm of this group is a tough old bird who has graciously put up the land for a retreat, if only we will help turn it into one, but he doesn't want to be the Grand Poobah Leader... and the rest, while likable, are clearly followers. If my years of playing the leader have taught me nothing else, it's that I always wind up being the ant to a herd of grasshoppers, and so I'm not volunteering for the position either.

To get this group together for anything more than the occasional online posting is like herding cats, and so I find myself wondering if we are better off going with our original plans of hunkering down here. Once I returned to the reality of doing it all by myself, my usual obsession with being self sufficient has gone the way of a wet witch in Oz. I want to watch bad TV and drink Starbucks and pretend Obama really is the Dear Leader my parents insist him to be.

Except I can't, at least not for long, and so I'm back with my expired grits and cordless drill and Homer buckets and barely broken in Doc Martins.