Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Girls Get a New Coop

Coriander and Cilantro finally got some new digs. My husband and I, well okay, mostly him, built a new chicken coop or hen house. I can say hen because He says I can’t have any more roosters...but before you start feeling sad I will tell you that it is okay.

I love to hear a good rooster crow first thing in the morning and one of the evil twin hens actually crows. No kidding - I have recorded it and have witnesses that can attest to the validity of that statement. It is so cool, who knew? God is So Good!

The chicken coop is special to my husband because it didn’t cost him a dime; only his (and my) time and labor. At first he wanted to build something of an A-Frame style…probably because it is functional and easy. When he presented the idea I guess he figured out right away I wasn’t a fan. I explained that it kind of made sense but that style just didn’t have any ‘cute’ factor. If I have to look at it and visit it a couple of times a day forever (or as long as I have chickens) then I would like a something a little different.

He asked me then what I thought and of course I was prepared. I gave him my laundry list of wants.
1. A hinged window where I could see them and they could watch the world go by from their perch and I could open up for ventilation on hot summer evenings.
2. A hinged screen behind the window to keep the girls safe and could swing in for easy access to the coop for cleaning or whatever.
3. A nest box on the outside of the coop level with the floor (so baby birds couldn’t fall out) with a hinged roof for easy access to gather eggs.
4. Boards spaced about an inch apart for the floor with chicken wire stapled to the underside so predators couldn’t get in.
5. A planter on the front where I could put hens and chicks, Sempervivum tectorum…I wasn’t asking for a living roof after all.

He simply looked at our pile of recycled and on-hand materials and said we would have to go scouting for more stuff to make it happen. So, we went over to our friend Paul’s house and rummaged through his leftovers from various DIY projects and found all kinds of cool things we could use; tin, a window, rough sawn planks, and a couple of spindles the dog had chewed.

Another friend, Cindy cleaned out her garage and contributed some more wood scraps to our growing pile in the driveway. She also consulted on the mechanical aspects of making a comfortable home for the chicks while making it easier to clean up….like leaving a space between the floorboards so I could just hose out all the chicken by-product down the drain if you will.

Now we were ready to begin. Because I want to have 6 hens we knew it would have to be at least 12 sq feet. But that really didn’t matter because the piece of tin we absconded with was 3’ x 4’ and that was a perfect roof piece – lucky for me and the girls…exactly 12 sq feet. So that piece of tin was the beginning of our zero cost coop journey. My engineer husband sketched out a rough drawing on the back of a used envelope and we were off and running. It was a challenge at times to piece together a coop to my specifications without running out to the hardware store but my hubby made it happen in just a few short days.

The girl's new coop was ready and waiting. We were giddy with excitement partly because we wanted to see their reaction and mostly because they would no longer roost on our bathroom widow sill by the back kitchen door. It seems they took up residence there while I was in Switzerland last month…hmm, who thought that was a good idea? Chicken poop on the porch…Interestingly they chose the bathroom window sill don’t ya think? Chickens have a pea size brain but sometimes I think they must use a tad more than the 8% we do.

With great ceremony I swooped up both chickens and opened the window and pushed back the screen and let them in. Then I had the brainy idea I needed to put one on the perch with a view. As I put Cilantro on the perch, Coriander flew the coop right through my pretty window. No respect. No worries I knew where to find her shortly as it was getting late in the day. You guessed it perching on the window sill. I grabbed her and told her she was going to love her new home. I gently put her in and stood back to watch. Cilantro was singing in the nest box twirling straw, getting everything just right for her egg. Coriander went to pacing and whining; funny how they have such different personalities.

A few days later, our four year old grandson came for a visit. He couldn’t wait to see the evil twins in their new coop and look in the nesting box which was just the right size. He opened the roof and saw three perfect eggs and the look he gave me was priceless! We gathered them up and took them inside where BaBa made an omelet with ham, cheese and lots of veggies from the garden …Yum, yum nothing like fresh eggs first thing in the morning.

The Dirt on Soil

Spring is in the air...and a gardener’s thoughts turn to dirt, well soil actually as my ole college professor would remind us. “Dirt is what you get under your nails, here at UT we study soil”, he would say. We gardeners look for every opportunity to get our hands covered with the stuff. It is therapy for the soul; the aroma of fresh soil released into the air as we dig is exhilarating. It is also exercise, which one realizes later, after digging in the dirt for any length of time. I usually hurt in places I didn’t know I had muscles, but after a few digging sessions this too passes and I get back to the big strong farm girl that my husband married!

Soil talk need not be boring if you remember that it is the foundation to any garden. In fact soil is probably the most important ingredient to a successful, healthy gardening experience. It is worth the extra effort, patience, time and $$ to be sure it is right before planting anything. By starting with the proper soil, many problems like insect damage and plant diseases can be avoided, giving you a beautiful, lush, productive garden.

Composition of soil should be half solid material and half open or pore space with living organisms (that’s right, soil is alive!), decaying matter and minerals thrown in for good measure. Sound complicated? Not at all! Think like a plant, in order to be healthy the roots need to be able to penetrate the soil and go deep enough to find good moisture and take up needed nutrients. DeWayne Perry, UT extension agent/soil specialist of Williamson County tells me that soil is all about physical structure and content.

Now this is the fun part, become a soil sleuth... What is your soil made of? Is it loose, friable and rich in organic material? Does it drain well after a rain or do you notice that your plants wilt soon after a rain and require additional watering? Has your soil been compacted and is hard as a brick? Do you have a new home and realize the top layer of your soil has been removed and no one left a map to tell you where it went? Next, Find out if your soil is fertile and the pH level by taking a soil test. Your local Ag Extension Office can help you with this. It is simple and in a few days you will get a report that tells you the available levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, minerals and pH levels. This report also recommends amendments to add if needed.

Okay, you have analyzed your soil composition and found out you have perfect, wonderful rich, fluffy, drainable soil. No? Not to worry, we can’t always choose the perfect soil situation in which to garden but we can work with it to make it productive by amending. Armed with your type of soil knowledge and soil test you are ready to get to work. If you are reading this and wishing you could have done something before your garden was planted, it’s all right, test your soil and add amendments now. It will just be more time consuming to work around established plants, but they will love you for it.

Organic matter is the number one recommendation to help improve just about any soil condition. Compost would be my all around choice as it alive with microorganisms, provides nutrients (a natural fertilizer), drainage, texture to retain moisture and benefit root growth. Add a one to two inch layer and work in to your current soil. It also is great to use as mulch.

If you have the brick-type, compacted soil you may want to build raised beds and fill with compost or a soil product.

Be creative and be kind to your dirt, it will be the beginning of something great!

Here are two great places to buy compost in the Nashville, TN area:

The Compost Farm of Franklin. They sell compost in bags or bulk and will deliver.

Second Wind Farm Compost, Pick-up at the farm or get it delivered - call Larry Mochera at 615.943.8354 or email him at

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Garden To Do List for March

Spring is bursting forth in the Upper South region with daffodil, crocus and hyacinth bulbs blooming. Helebores continue to show out while trees like the Redbud and Star Magnolia along with flowering shrubs help to welcome the re-birth of the garden, a beautiful time to work outside.

In the kitchen garden its time to plant cool season vegetables; sow seeds of beets, carrots, peas, kale, swiss chard, mustard, salad greens, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, parley(soak seeds overnight), dill, cilantro and nasturtium directly into garden. Plant seed potatoes, onion sets, scallions, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.

March is a good time to plant asparagus crowns, blueberry, strawberries, grapes and horseradish – all available at your local nurseries and TSC stores.

Start seeds of annual flowers, herbs and warm season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers indoors in a sunny window or in the greenhouse.

Dig and divide perennials and add compost to flower beds and borders.

Boxwoods respond well to pruning in March, be sure to reach in and open up areas for sun and air circulation.