For many years, I have wanted chickens. They are silly, totally incredibly dumb, and they make delicious delicious eggs. By the time I actually got serious about wanting chickens, one of our friends’ girlfriends had a few, and they were fairly noisy. This was not a great way to convince Craig that they would be awesome for our yard. You know, because we live in the suburbs and we have neighbors on all sides of us. After years of nagging, I finally got him to grudgingly agree to build a pen and let me get muscovy ducks, because they’re the only poultry that I could find that are essentially silent. But after several months with the ducks, I developed a heck of a rat problem which was exacerbated by the existence of the beautiful in-ground pond that I built. The rats moved in under it, and there was no effective way of getting them out from under the pond. My attempts at flooding their tunnels and allowing Boris to catch and kill them tended to result in success, but I was never able to fully decimate their population. The duck pond was not a viable option for the long term success of my ducks. Also, despite the extreme amount of research that I did, I was woefully underprepared for the sheer volume and gooeyness of the poop that came out of those things. With a slightly guilty conscience, and a heavy heart, I gave the ducks away to an acquaintance up the street. Then the duck pen sat empty for 6 months(without the duck food around, the rats moved out pretty quickly). I finally decided to use a week of vacation that was going to expire to put some effort into de-duckifying the existing pen, and get it retrofitted to chickens. You see, my main stumbling block with getting chickens had always been that I suck at carpentry and it was imperative that Craig and his father build the actual “frame” of the pen, otherwise it was going to collapse and kill whatever poultry that I had living in there. Once the duck pen was built, and then subsequently emptied of the ducks, the hard part was done. All I needed to do was retrofit for chickens and then actually get chickens. The arrangement that I made with Craig regarding the chickens is that we try to avoid getting any noisy chickens, and if we end up with any troublemakers, they either go into the freezer or into someone else’s flock. This keeps our relationship with our neighbors better. Also, once we and the neighbors are getting some eggs, that should help smooth over some of the potentially rough edges.
And so I got down to it. The first trick was excavating and removing the pond. Once I managed that, I arranged for the lady that took the ducks to also come collect the pond, getting it out of my hair! Then it was mostly a case of rock removal, building a roosting loft, and the most expensive part of the entire ordeal, installing corrugated plastic roofing. Because chickens aren’t fans of getting wet. This isn’t a standard chicken coop setup. The chickens will have access to the run 100% of the time. I have (for the time being) repurposed the hinged-roof duckhouse into a nesting box area, although the chickens mostly seem to stand on top of it and poop, so I will be happy to get rid of that and replace it with something that they can’t sit on top of.
The roosting loft is my own invention and time will tell how successful it ends up being, although I have high hopes. I put up some hardiplank siding that I got for free, cut and painted for exterior siding to help provide a little bit of a wind/rain break in the winter. The rest of the frame will be used to support removable walls that will be built soon and then put in place once it starts cooling down in the winter. This allows the chickens the benefit of a fully “open” coop in the warm weather, and also the benefit of an enclosed coop when it is chilly. The bottom of their roosting loft is going to be a simple “poop hammock” which will just be long dowels and some feed sacks that have been sewn together to form a sling. This should keep most of the breeze from cooling their fluffy little bottoms, and collect the manure that they produce while roosting, making coop maintenance a little simpler. Ventilation is very important in chicken coops, especially during the winter. An accumulation of humidity (from chickens breathing and pooping) overnight combined with freezing temperatures can result in frostbite on their combs. The top few inches of the roosting loft will be open (and the whole area is protected from rain by the clear roofing) so they should get plenty of air exchange.
By the time my week of vacation was over, I had the pen totally ready for chickens, with the exception of having a feeder and waterer completed. Tired, a little sore, and feeling victorious, I posted on the chicken forum, and shortly thereafter, got a reply from someone living nearby that is planning to move, and needing to liquidate their 30-something chickens. He had a group of 3 pullets (not yet laying hens) that were mutts(this doesn’t affect egg-laying ability, it just means that they aren’t desirable for someone wanting to breed them). The father is a faverolles (totally silly feather-beard alert!), and then they have 2 different moms. My favorite (but also the noisiest of the group, so she’ll have to go) is half welsummer and the other 2 are half speckled sussex. All 3 chickens are entirely wild. They want nothing to do with me. They weren’t handled as chicks, but they are healthy, and minimally aggressive to each other (which is especially important when you are going to be keeping them in close proximity to each other.) They were 3 months old when he gave them to me, and now are about 4 months old. Chickens usually start laying eggs between 4 and 6 months, so we should start seeing some eggs shortly. I have spent some time hanging out with the girls. I dragged a lawn chair into their run and occasionally go out there, have a cocktail, and either browse the internet or read a book, while talking to them every now and again to get them used to my presence.
The chicken guy has 4 favorite laying hens that are about a year old. He wants to make sure that I get them because the rest of his hens are going to one person and he doesn’t think they’ll be able to give special attention to his favorite girls. 2 of the hens are Speckled Sussex, which are an old timey dual purpose breed, docile, friendly, and really very striking. They are a reddish brown with white speckles all over them, and the speckles are often ringed in iridescent black. The other 2 hens are Dominiques, which is the first chicken breed developed in America. Also a dual purpose chicken, these ladies are barred with very dark and very light grey. I am pumped to have them in my flock. I should probably be getting those ladies in a few weeks. I am wanting to build a permanent nesting box that will allow me to collect eggs from outside of the run built prior to getting them, so expect to see that at some point.
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.
Ok, so I totally didn’t make this jacket. Obviously, because it takes me like 6 hours to sew a skirt. I don’t have great sewing machine skills. Anyway, a few months ago, I happened across a post that someone made about waxing a cotton jacket that they had. It was pertinent to my interests. Craig has a waxed cotton trucker jacket that’s pretty neat, and he had a whole drink spilled on him at a bar a while back with none of it actually wetting the fabric. I’ve been on the lookout for a decent spring jacket that isn’t like something from REI (which I also have and love, but it looks better with sneakers than heels). I found this military style canvas jacket from Old Navy for $45, and figured at that price, I could afford to experiment with DIY waxing to make it more weatherproof (have you heard? Seattle gets lots of rain). So I bought it and went to town.
|This is the jacket in the Old Navy dressing room. I find that I am able to make more objective decisions about clothes if I look at a photo of myself vs just looking in the mirror.|
The wax that I used is Fjallraven Greenland Wax. I got it for $10 on amazon. Basically, once you’re sure the jacket is clean (you won’t be able to launder it after it’s been waxed), you just rub the wax all over the jacket, working in sections. With darker fabric, you may be able to work more willy-nilly, but with something like this camel color, at least attempting to get a slightly even layer is useful. Thicker deposits of wax ended up making slightly dark spots on the jacket. I may go over with another layer of wax in the future, and I am thinking of trying to hit it with a cloth-covered iron to even out some of the darker spots, but overall they don’t bother me and will contribute to the jacket “wearing in” and developing creases and stuff in the creasy zones.
Once the wax has been rubbed onto an area, you just hit it with your hairdryer and let it melt into the cotton. The cotton absorbed all of the wax in my case. With subsequent coats, I expect that it won’t be so absorbent, but will also be more weatherproofed .
The process was actually surprisingly time consuming. I’d say that the first coat took me probably 2-3 hours. Luckily, I just set up on the kitchen island and watched TV while I rubbed the wax on. The hairdryer part was extra boring though.
|Here’s the difference in color between waxed and unwaxed. The waxed areas have taken on a slightly darker color, and you can also see some of the spots in the upper right hand corner of the photo where the wax is a little darker looking.|
|I look so concerned here. Promise I’m not.|
A few weeks ago, I came across some block printed tea towels for sale online. They were $20 apiece. And I am crafty. So I thought to myself “Self, you could make these for way less than $20 apiece.” And when I was in high school, printmaking classes were my favorite elective, so I have some experience, but it’s been a while! So I went to Dick Blick (they didn’t sponsor me, but I wish they would….ahem!) and ordered all of the stuff I thought I’d need, and then eagerly awaited the arrival of my package. When it came, I jumped in with both feet. I drew out designs and carved several blocks. When I had time, I went to the Costco business center and picked up a few dozen flour sack tea towels, and then did nothing for a little while. I’ll write a real post with better photos about the start-to-finish process at a later date, but I mostly just wanted to show you how the towels turned out!
As a way to dust off my skills, I started off small with some gift tags and a 5 golden rings design that I’m using for labeling Christmas gifts.
Rolling and mixing the ink. I went with a yellow-green-red combo for the artichokes.
Depending on how much ink is on the glass, how sticky it is, and how hard I press with the roller while I’m inking the block, I have some control over the darkness of the print and whether ink goes into the lines between flat areas.
This was a canvas bag that I did. It is much more 3 dimensional than the tea towels, and it was the tail end of my green ink, so it ended up printing much lighter than I had desired. The bags will take some additional practice.
I’m really happy with how the broccoli turned out. I wasn’t expecting much from it when I carved, but I think it’s pretty neat.
This octopus proved to be a bit challenging. I had to have a very light hand with the tentacles, as the “back sides” with the suckers had a tendency to get blacked out with too much ink.
My stand mixer print actually looks better than the photo (it was a weird perspective), but the block does need to get fine tuned a bit. The ink was just too thick and ended up filling in all of the voids. I am pleased with myself that I was able to get the color almost exactly what I wanted. The mixer print that I ended up getting on a canvas bag actually turned out beautifully.
This one’s my favorite. I love the happy llama. 🙂
Sock cat is more of a personal joke that I have with Craig, and I thought it would be a funny block. It is. I mean, it’s pretty creepy, but also pretty funny.
The beets were toughies. They were the only thing that I printed with 2 different blocks. I did an awful job of lining them up properly, but I think if I come up with some sort of index mark, I’ll be able to figure it out. Also, I lost a lot of detail in the leaves, so that is going to take some fussing with in the future.
Here’s the brisling (sardine) print that I did. Above you can see it on the tea towels, and below it is printed on the back of a piece of scrap paper. There is a huge difference in the clarity of the lines between fabric and paper. This was one of the few prints that I tried to work with a gradient. I wanted the belly of the sardine to be lighter than the top. It kind of worked, but wasn’t as dramatic as I’d have liked.
Here some of the prints are drying. Once they dried overnight, they were still a little tacky (the ink is oil-based, which makes it capable of handling a wash cycle, but it takes a long time to dry). Based on the Speedball Ink’s recommendation, it doesn’t need to be heat set, but many fabric inks do, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. The next morning, I hit each piece with an iron, and it did seem to help set them a bit. I’m excited to give these to my friends and family as Christmas presents!
I will be the first to say that there are many things that I hate, but one of the top contenders is people billing things as stuff they’re totally not. “Totally FREE DIY Compost Bin!!! – All it took was 16 pallets, my contractor husband, several sets of hinges and 14 hours of backbreaking labor!” This was closer to “I have minimal carpentry skills, and some scrap lumber that I’ve been trying to come up with an occasion to burn, plus some random lengths of wire fencing I had hanging out around the yard from previous compost bin experiments.
So when we got the house, my mother in law had an old compost bin sitting around her work that she gifted to me. It was the type that’s basically big flexible sleeve with some holes in it, and then a round cap for the top and bottom. Theoretically that type of compost bin may work OK, but in my experience, you can not adequately stir it, it doesn’t get much aeration, and it’s very difficult to get the actual compost OUT of it. I’ve made cylinders out of 2×4″ welded wire mesh. Those worked about as well as the big cylinder, however using more narrow ones resulted in them toppling over on the relatively light slope we have in the area of the yard that I choose to compost. Forsaking all of the bin methods, I most recently switched over to a “pile” which has bee fine, however it looks very messy, and the dogs start going through it trying to find high-value kitchen scraps, like watermelon rinds and corn cobs. It’s not a pretty situation. With the recent education I’ve had on just how messy ducks are, I learned that I would be needing additional capacity to get all of the poo-soaked bedding rotten enough to safely use in my vegetable beds.
Knowing that I’d need a 2-stage setup – one stage for “maturing” compost, and the other to have an active pile that is being added to regularly, I figured I’d just build a sided bin. So I did some figuring, and looked around at the random pieces of welded wire mesh I’ve had cluttering the back yard, and figured out my dimensions. The bin would be 3x3x6′, with a divider in the middle. And I got to planning it. It’s certainly not the most elegant solution, but for the first time ever, I didn’t have to go to the store for ANYTHING to make this operational. We have a pile of 2x4s leftover from the duck pen project and from removing the pantry a year and a half ago, so I just used those for my 3′ sections, and used the 6′ pressure treated 2x4s leftover from the first iteration of raised bed trellises. Besides the wire and lumber, the only other things I needed were screws and staples. Staples I had leftover from the duck pen, and screws I have hundreds of. Every time I have a project, I buy a box or three, and now we have hundreds of mismatched wood screws.
After monkeying with the bin a little, I have decided that I probably will want to get some U-channel or something similar to make an easily removable wall for the front to hold up the compost (this will also help keep the dogs from collecting treasures out of the bin). This will require a trip to Lowes, and probably some money also, but the compost bin is currently fully functional as-is.
Here’s the materials list
3x – 6ft 2×4
12x – 3x 2×4
3x – 3x3ft wire mesh
1x – 3×6′ wire mesh
30-40ish hammer-in staples
25-30 outdoor wood screws
*I started by making squares out of the 3ft 2x4s. I made 3 squares, and then stapled the wire mesh into each of them.
*When they were done, I stapled the wire mesh into each of them and then set one aside.
*I screwed the 6ft lengths to 3 corners of the squares, then measured and stuck the third piece in as a divider, and screwed that in. Then it was just a matter of stapling the last 6ft piece of wire mesh on, moving the bin to its final location, and filling it with what had been in my existing heap.