I have gone a month and a half with less than a quarter of an inch of precipitation and daily highs in the 60s to 80s. I haven’t watered since early May. That’s 6 weeks ago.
With all of the issues that our country is having with water shortages, I thought that I might share my personal garden approach. It is by no means perfect, but it worked with what I had going and requires very little maintenance. That is essentially my entire philosophy in gardening… initially higher effort, but then almost no effort for the same reward. Low maintenance is key for me. I have so many projects and interests that keeping all of my plates spinning can be difficult when things require constant effort and attention. There is a permaculture technique called “Hugelkultur” wherein you make a mound of logs, branches, and stumps, then pile soil and compost on top of that and plant things on the mound. These mounds are called hugels, and in permaculture, they are generally planted with trees/saplings and other bushy things to stabilize them. This can also be done below-ground where you excavate, bury your woody stuff, and then pile the soil back on top. This gives you less surface area, but you don’t have enormous mounds in your yard either. The way that we made this concept work in our yard was with our raised beds, which we use to keep the dogs out and theoretically keep things neat. Our raised beds are 2 feet tall to prevent dog intrusion or dog pee from making it onto the edibles. The way that we have executed hugelkultur is kind of a weird hybrid.
Above is a super fancy illustration of my tomato bed, which is just a little more complicated, in that I’ve also installed these ABS pipes with holes in them to direct water directly to the root zone and re-saturate the wood. When I water the tomato bed, I just stick the hose directly into the pipes and water that way. It keeps the tomato foliage dry which helps prevent disease and reduces water consumption because the top layers of soil don’t benefit from being wet and are the first to dry off.
Here is a shot of my tomato bed where you can see the pipes in action. This was taken 2 nights ago. This puts us at 6 weeks without a single drop of water.
This is another tomato bed, but without the pipes. This bed also doesn’t have a tent covering it, and you can see how the tomatoes haven’t grown nearly as quickly. I’m tellin’ you, these row covers and tomato tents work! Heat-loving veggies thrive in them. I have a weather station probe in my tomato tent and it regularly hits 90-110 in there.
This bed is 2 tomatoes, a few cucumber plants, and some sort of volunteer winter squash. At this point the squash are only an inch long or so, but based on their shape, I’m guessing they’re either butternut or spaghetti squash. I did break down and water this bed last night, so it only made it 6 weeks. The other beds are holding steady at totally unwatered. Strangely enough, the only thing that’s not doing so hot is my strawberries! They are new to the bed and perhaps not totally established, but they look pretty rough and will probably need a bit of water soon. The zucchini plants in the bed with them seem happy as clams though!
Total cost: $3
If you don’t have a hole saw or 5 gallon bucket, add that cost to the build. Among much of my obsessive research about how to effectively manage a flock with as little effort as possible, or at least preloaded effort where I can spend some extra time and fuss once to make my life easier and reduce maintenance in the long term, I found a neat DIY on the chicken forum. So I got to work. Or rather, I didn’t get to work and I made a version of this and tried to cut the hole out using a dremel and hated myself for it. That said, I was able to wedge the elbow in and use it to feed the ducks and it worked swimmingly. But I gave it away with the ducks, so I had to make a new one. And when I bought a super cheap hole saw set at Harbor Freight for the duck pond, I realized that it was a much better option than the stinkin’ dremel! This go-round was way easier.
Start with your elbow. If you are like me and could only find double female ended elbows, you will need to cut the female end off of one end so that it doesn’t flare out at all. This can be accomplished with a hack saw and a steady hand, a chop saw, or father in law and husband who you’ve bribed with beer and the promise of a meal.
The hole saw that I used for my 3″ pipe was the 3″ hole saw blade. The hole that the saw made was a hair smaller than the exterior diameter of the elbow, which allowed for a tight press-in fit. The bucket was left over from a work lunch catered by a local Mexican restaurant. It was full of tortilla chips. Cat litter containers work well here too. Round buckets are also an option, but the lids can be total pains to open. If that’s the case, for ease of use, I recommend the Gamma Lid, but they’re like $15, so quintuple the cost of your project. Square buckets have lids that don’t seal as tightly usually and are easier to open.
For spacing (you need some space under where the elbow sits to allow food to flow in) I used a scrap of 2×4. That puts my opening 1.5″ up off the floor of the bucket (which is not the same thing as the bottom of the bucket as measured from the outside, there is a lip). I just looked through the slightly translucent bucket and used a pen to make a little line marking where the bottom of my hole would need to be. Then I came in with my hole saw, lined it up, cut out the hole, and jammed the elbow in there. It fits snugly. Then you just pour about 25 pounds of feed in the bucket, elevate it to a height that makes sense for the chickens, and allow them to go to town.
I have been working on converting the old duck pen (yeah, I gave the remaining 3 ducks away – we were not a good match) to be a better match for chickens. It has taken a few weeks of pretty regular work over evenings and weekends, but I got the final large puzzle piece completed on Sunday, which was installing roofing material (chickens don’t care for rain, whereas ducks love it). That night, I checked the local thread on the backyard chickens forum, and just a few hours prior, someone nearby had posted saying that he is moving soon, can’t take any of his chickens with him, and he has 3 3 month old Faverolles mixes that haven’t been integrated into his flock yet and he is willing to give to me. It was excellent timing! But I had a mad rush to finish up the few final details of the enclosure, like getting the water and food situation worked out. Chickens don’t need to submerge their head to clear out their nostrils like ducks do, so there are a lot of significantly cleaner ways to ensure they have water. This makes the whole watering situation much lower maintenance, reduces water waste, and can potentially be healthier for the birds. There are a few options as far as auto watering goes, but the preferred methods are chicken watering nipples and chicken watering cups. There has been some discussion on the chicken forum regarding which is better, but it seems that some birds just prefer drinking out of pools of water, and the cups are easy to clean, so I figured I’d try them out. There is a benefit to using the horizontal chicken nipples, and that is during the winter when it freezes, the cups will freeze and be useless. If you have the horizontal nipples, you can put a plastic rated stock tank heater in the bucket and the entire system should theoretically stay above freezing, giving your chickens access to clean and liquid water. But I will cross that bridge when I come to it. At this point, I was focused on getting things ready for chickens, and reusing my duck waterer setup was at the top of my list. So I bought a short section of PVC, 2 caps, and a T to set up my waterer.
The first trick is determining the correct drill bit size. I was totally unsure, so I started small and worked my way up. I used the end of a PVC pipe to drill a hole and see if I could thread one of the cups into it. When the hole was too small, I swapped out the drill bit for the next larger size, drilled the same hole open a little more, and then tried again. I finally determined that 3/8″ is the correct size for these particular watering cups. If it’s helpful at all, I bought them on ebay, but the company selling them is www.beaktime.com
I decided to put the cups on the connectors. I don’t have any rhyme or reason for why I chose this, except I thought it might look a little nicer, so I went for it. It was easy enough, I just drilled the holes.
Then I assembled the entire thing. The PVC pipe and valve coming off the bottom of that bucket were already there from the duck adventure, so I just press-fit the T and caps onto 6″ lengths of PVC and pressed it all together. This makes it entirely removable in case I need to fuss with it at all. Now when the chickens want water, all they have to do is drink out of the cup. When they stick their beak in there, they’ll bump the little plastic lever and water will come out. If I were to start from scratch, I probably would have mounted the bucket far lower and then just screwed the cups directly into the sides of the bucket. Less fuss for sure!
When my in-laws moved, they had some really nice shelving units in their garage. The garage of their new house had a bunch of even nicer built-ins, so Craig and I inherited the shelves. Due to the layout of the garage, we haven’t been able to use all of them in the garage. When we got rid of our gas grill and switched entirely to the Weber, I lost my little bit of counter space to set food on that was out of the reach of dogs. Without wanting to spend any real money on a proof of concept, I set up one of the garage shelves under the covered deck area and began using it. And it has been really great. A few weeks ago, I dragged everything off the deck to pressure wash and stain it (it’s been 3 years since it’s been done!), and finally felt comfortable enough with the cure level of the stain to start bringing things back onto the deck. It wasn’t until that point when I saw just how shabby the shelf had become. Despite being under cover, the melamine covered particle board had absorbed humidity and in addition to getting discolored in spots, had begun warping and overall just gotten icky. My first thought was to build a freestanding shelf out of that black plumbing pipe and fittings. But then I went to Lowes and just the pipe and fittings would have been over $100 for something sufficiently stable. And frankly, I didn’t hate the existing shelf $100+ worth. So I sat with it and mulled it over for a little while, and decided that since there is nothing wrong with the framing portion of the shelving unit, and it is actually very stable. So I decided to replace the warped shelf boards with lumber. From there it was just a matter of figuring out how to fill the 18″ depth of the shelf in the most efficient manner. Remember if you’re using dimensional lumber, you should subtract .5″ from each dimension of the lumber. So a 2×4 is actually 1.5×3.5. Don’t ask me why, that’s just how it works. Anyway, we determined that 5 2x4s would fill the space with half an inch of room to spare, which could easily be made up by spacing the lumber like deck boards.
So I went to Lowes. And I spent 15 minutes digging through their pile of 8′ 2x4s. Dimensional lumber isn’t designed to have a pretty appearance and smooth finish, so it takes digging to find a few boards that look nice. Take note that one side of most lumber will have printing on it. It also usually has large tooth marks on it from feeding through machinery. I wasn’t concerned with the printing and the crump on the back because it was going to make up the bottoms of my shelves, but it proved tricky to find 5 boards that weren’t super rough (If I had been willing to spend more than 5 minutes sanding things, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but I wasn’t) and full of divots and dings and whatnot. You have to remember that this needs to be easy to wipe off, as I’ll be setting food on it. Buying 8′ boards allowed me to just have them cut in half as my shelves are 4′ long. Once I found my lumber, I tracked down someone to cut it for me (seemed easier than cutting it myself). Total cost was about $15, but I also bought 2 throwaway paint brushes to apply the stain with, so I guess I’m looking at about $20 after tax for the cost of the shelf update.
When I got home, I unloaded the boards, laid them out in the gravel area near the deck and knocked down all the edges with a sanding block. If I came across any rough patches, I’d sand them a little there as well. All in all, I spent about 10 minutes sanding. Then I dug into the garage and found some spare brown stain and went at it. It was super hot, so by the time I had stained all 4′ sections (stain the bottom first!), I was able to flip them onto their sides and then eventually do the tops of all of them. I did the ends last. All-in-all, this probably took 30-45 minutes. I let it sit out to cure for about 24 hours in 80 degree weather, and came back the next evening to assemble.
Assembly consisted of placing the boards upside down on the shelf (printing side up!) and spacing them evenly (remember that I had to make up 1/2″ overall). For this, I was able to just use the screws that I was using to hold them together. I found some more scrap wood in the garage. Ideally, I’d have used 1×2, but I forgot to get any at the store and wanted to get it done, so I just used some leftover cedar decking from when we built the deck. I cut it into 16″ pieces, so that it would easily clear the supports on the sides of the shelves. I could have used some metal strapping, but a) I didn’t have any, and b) I wanted to tie the boards together with something stiff to help support the middle boards along the 4′ length, and tying them to the side boards with something rigid should help with that.
Then I just lined it up and used some old deck screws (that were short enough not to go through the boards and poke out the other side) to secure both of the ends before screwing the middle boards in. To pull some of the boards in, the screws ended up digging pretty deeply into the soft cedar, but the screws didn’t go through, so no biggie. Then the shelves just got flipped and set into their unit.
Our friends Jeremy and Kial got married on March 14. In case you don’t understand the significance, the date (at least in the US) is 3.14.15, or the first few digits of the number Pi. Which also makes it Pie Day! When they got engaged, I begged them to let me make their wedding cake, and when they told me they wanted pies, I was over the moon excited. And then I started thinking of the logistics of making enough pies for an entire wedding. And I got a little concerned, but then I got to planning, which I am great at. We selected 4 different pie flavors: Strawberry rhubarb, cherry, key lime, and candy bar. And I got to it. We needed at least 9 pies for the 80 people addending the wedding. In my experience, if there are different flavors available, people are more likely to go back for seconds to try another flavor. I decided to err on the side of caution, and bring a dozen pies(3 of each type). But I didn’t want to count on not having any terrible mistakes happen, so I made 4 of each type of pie so that if something went horribly wrong, I’d have alternates. First off, I needed 16 pie plates! So I appealed to my local Buy Nothing group, and was able to get 5 plates donated. The remainder were picked up for $3 each at Ross and Goodwill.