Log Splitter

Yardmax Log Splitter

When you buy a new property you plan for many expenses.  You also know that you will have unexpected expenses and the log splitter was of those.  We had a dozen or so trees on the property that had to come down before they fell during a storm and hit a car or building.  But luckily they were punky wood and we were able to use them in the raised bed garden.  But one of the things that we found easy to do in the city was call up tree trimming companies and have them drop off their shredded “trash” that we could use around the house instead of buying mulch.  Free!  Is isn’t as pretty as what you buy, but we used so much in our landscaping,  that we just didn’t care.  We would buy a couple of pretty bags to put on top to finish it off.  But the thick layer was down and free.

When we moved out here, we knew we needed lots and lots of mulch to help amend our sand.  I started calling around and didn’t find many companies that would deliver out here in the boonies.  I needed some immediately to help fill in my garden bed and put around the beds to make them look nice.  So I had to go buy my first load.

Free Wood

Then I got lucky and and found someone who would deliver a load to me, free.  But he said it would have some logs included.  No problem.  We have a fireplace.  We have a fire pit.  Bring it on out.

Wood for the new log splitter

We need a log splitter: NOW!

We did a little bit of research and decided that we needed a 27 ton splitter.  When we went to buy it, they didn’t offer it in our area, so we got a Yard Max 28 ton for the same price that we were looking at.   As we told you about in out mower article, you cannot get an 18 wheeler down our driveway.  We met the truck on road.  He put the crate in our pickup and we brought it out to the barn area.  When you order one of these off season and get it delivered, you have to assemble it.  It will take at least 2 or 3 men to put this thing together.  It is not difficult, it is just heavy and unwieldy to handle.

Looking forward to winter!

We got a beautiful load of mulch and a ton of wood.  Lots of wood.  We have split about 3 cords of wood from our first delivery.  We need lots more mulch so we are expecting more wood.  This log splitter makes it so easy to do.

From this stack of Wood

The above stack of wood become the stack below!

Wood Pile from Log Splitter

Wood Pile from Log Splitter

Garden

The Garden

After gardening on a zero lot line property for over 30 years, I was very excited at the unlimited possibilities of gardening on 20 acres.

Reality

Gopher’s, Deer, Sand

The reality hit me really quick: first it was the sand.   We are talking pure sand.  Beach kind of sand.  Great for drainage.  Nutrients in the soil, not so much!  Then we can talk about the gophers.  Sometimes you can look out at the field and it looks like an old world war two practice bombing field.  Craters everywhere.  Then deer.  We love deer.  They are so sweet to look at.  People come out to visit and we tell them we have deer and and they ask if they can come shoot them.  We say sure, as long as it is with a camera.  But seriously, they can really hurt a garden.  So bad soil, gopher’s to eat the roots and deer to eat the tops.  Great garden potential.

Solution One: Gophers

So the first line of defense is raised bed garden, with a 1/2 inch hard cloth underneath..

Bottom of Raised Bed Garden

Solution Two: Sand

I am doing the hugelkultur method that I have used before.  I have topped it with compost and potting soil that I picked up on clearance at the end of the season last year.

Raised bed Huglekultur Garden

We treated the wood with the Shou Sugi Ban Method to hopefully make the plywood last a long time.

Raised Bed garden with Shou Sugi Ban Plywood

Solution Three: Deer

To keep the deer and birds at bay I will building a structure like the chicken run with deer netting.  It will be enclosed on all sides as well as the top.   It will be next to the run and they will share a wall and I will have a door from the garden to the run.  When the garden is done at the end of the year, I can let the chickens in to clean up the old plants.  Treat for them!

We have started with two raised beds, but I will be enclosing enough area for a total of 5 large beds.

Huglekultur beds are ready for planting

We’ve Moved!

We Moved

While I can’t say that we have not planned for this, it still happened in a very quick and sudden way: all good, mind you- but still still very quick.

A Dream

We have dreamed of owning property all of our married life, well, at least 20 of the 36 years.  I mean, who really has 4 chickens in a zero lot line yard unless they are dreaming of more?

So we had been updating our house slowing over the last five years.  We just always found one more thing that needed to be done.

Collections

Then, there was the STUFF!  20 years of collecting stuff.  I am talking more than a Dr Pepper collection or a vintage cane collection (guilty of both plus many more).   I am talking “lets pick that up, we might need that on the property someday” collection.  So we had stacks of wood, cinderblocks, tons of nails from garage sales, etc, etc, etc!  It was just so overwhelming.  I mean seriously, who does this?  Collect so much stuff for a future dream, that you have so much stuff that the thought of moving it is almost paralyzing?  how stupid, right?  Welcome to my life!

Again, we lived in a zero lot line 1800 sq ft home on a hill.  The garage had been converted into a bedroom so my dad could live with us.  We ran a business from home, so we had rented storerooms for work and tools.  I am not even going to admit to how many and how much money we were wasting!

Kick in the Pants

So my wife finally reached a point last April 20th.  She said we are putting the house on the market by August 20th or we are just going to admit that we will never move and we will start getting rid of all the stuff.

She is really smart, it was the kick in the pants that we needed.  We have always worked best with a deadline.  We finished all the house projects, called a real estate agent and got the house on the market 3 days before her deadline.

Sold

Then we sold the house in 3 days.  OH $#!!

We had not even started looking for our dream home.  Now we had exactly one month to find the dream and move the STUFF!  EVERYTHING!

So we drew a 2 hour circle around the DFW area (we still needed to be close to work) on Zillow and set out our priorities on what we really wanted.  While we thought we would be willing to go any direction, when push came to shove, we only “found” houses to look at in East Texas.  We found a total of 5 properties to look at.  We spent one week, found the dream, made an offer and here we are…

The DREAM

20 acres, pond, workshop, barn, nice house with view of pond, and the bonus was a barndomium so our son could come live out here with us and run his youtube business as well.

Our first major projects will be a garden and chicken coop…..so stay tuned.

Texas Heat VS Free Rocks

Texas Heat VS Free Rocks

Texas Heat vs Free Rocks

The Side Yard- The Less is Better Principle

After I finished the front yard we knew we needed to do something with the side yard. I had to deal with the shade issue but I also had to handle the situation that the yard had a steep slope that made it very difficult for the water to not just run off. I knew I couldn’t do anything about the shade, but I might be able to fix the slope.

I thought about terracing the yard but with my son’s truck and my truck in the driveway it would create a trip hazard that I didn’t want to deal with. My wife said that since it was now June and the Texas heat was quickly sneaking up on us, this was a project we would tackle in the fall.

But the Rocks are FREE!!!

Actually, they are mini boulders. And they were free. Did I mention FREE! I called my wife. She said no. She did not want me to get hurt moving them. I assured her I had a pain free plan… well I knew I would think of one!

You see, I was doing the floors on a jobsite while another contractor was excavating what looked like white Austin stone boulders. Another epiphany moment occurred. They said that the boulders were going to be hauled away and put in the landfill. NO! I paid the excavator operator $10 to put 8 boulders in the back of my truck.

These Guys Were BIG!

They ranged in weight between 200 and 600 lbs. Side note: if you have never really watched one of these guys work the machine, do it. They have an unbelievable amount of grace in using the controls. Not one of the boulders was dropped into the truck, they were moved around so that they all fit without damaging the sides of the truck.

The Rocks

Rocks still on the jobsite

The Pain Free Plan

My next issue was how do I remove the boulders from the truck? I took a tow strap, wrapped it around the boulder, backed the truck up to tree, tied the other end around tree, and drove forward. Not the best for the tailgate but job accomplished. No injures! I rolled the boulders around until they were where I wanted them.

The Project Begins…Sooner Rather Than Later

So we have boulders and no plan. We look at them daily for about 4 days. Then my friend with the playhouse, he has an oak tree, a very large oak tree that didn’t fare well during our 35” of spring rains. It ended up crushing part of his roof. It was coming down.

My wife and I headed to Pinterest for ideas. We know we have to create a small retaining wall and like what we saw using the wood upright. Since my friend doesn’t have a wood burning fireplace I asked for some of the logs for my landscaping project. I loaded up the truck a couple of times and brought home various sizes and shapes of logs.

Retaining Wall Retained

I knew I had to level the yard to begin with. My idea was to plant 2 ft. logs and back fill from there. I dugout the trench and placed the 32-2ft logs in upright. I needed to create some kind of deadman to keep logs from being pushed out. Walking around Lowes I couldn’t find anything that I thought would work. I decided to talk to the Pro desk where the solution emerged (thanks Lowes). We talked about using 20 ft long flat iron to band one side of the logs.

Retaining the Retaining Wall

Boxes are put down to keep weeds to a minimum.

I marked the iron where the gaps between the logs were. I had some 5ft lengths of rebar welded on and then concreted that in to act as deadman. I backfilled the logs and solved my first dilemma of a sloping yard.

To help keep weeds down I covered the entire area with flatten boxes. Then I covered the boxes with a layer of mulch. Now it was time to take a break and figure out what to do next.

Log Slices

Two years ago I saw on Pinterest, paths being made with log slices. We had done this on the mailbox side of our house and I really liked this look. We decided to put more of that tree to good use. I had to dig out the dirt in the easement between the sidewalk and curb on this side of the driveway. I dug down 6 inches and put the dirt in the side yard for later use. We came in at the end of the project and filled it with sand.  I also did my side of the driveway so I had a bit more room for my Ford F250.

tree slices to drive over

Log slices are cut at least 6 inches wide and buried before they are surrounded by sand to lock them in place.

No More Lost Water

Now my wife and I had to figure out what we wanted the yard to look like. While we had gotten rid of a huge hill that had let all of our irrigation water run off for 30 years, we do not like flat yards without any interest. So we created small rises and all the leftover dirt was put to use.

Now flat with no runoff

Now flat without any water runoff.  Success!

Creating Zones

We created a couple of “zones” using some long 4” dia. branches as borders and different colors of mulch. Then it was off to the garden center for a couple of plants and we were done. While our yards may not be officially Xeriscaped, the turf is all gone and we were ready for the next drought. And while we shouldn’t have been surprised, but the next drought happened this very summer. Yes, this is Texas. Two year drought, 34 inches of rain in the spring, official drought again by Oct 1st, 8 inches of rain by the end of Oct. Gotta love Texas.

Stack of Rocks

Finished Before the Heat of Summer

Luckily the summer started late this year due to all the rain we had in the spring.  In the end we turned a shady, dirt area into a shady retreat, complete with bench made from my free stones!

A place to reflect on the day

This photo was taken in a few months later when the sweet potato plant had a chance to grow in.

A 30 Year Project Is Finished!

A 30 Year Project Is Finished!

The Evolution of our Front Yard

Have you ever started a project with the intention of just completing it and getting on with life? That is what I planned to do during the spring of 2015. I live in North Texas and we had an extremely wet spring. When I bought my zero lot line house 30 years ago it was in a new development. I picked the lot that was the highest in the neighborhood as a safeguard against flooding.

Front Yard is Finished

Fast Forward 15 years

Everything was fine for about 15 years. I was talking to my then neighbor and he mentioned that water levels were getting close to the back door. I also noticed the water was taking longer to drain out of my backyard. I decided to install 4 surface drains at the low areas with a pipe to the street to move the water out faster. This took care of both of our concerns. Flooded Backyard

I don’t seem to have any photos of the flooded front yard.  But the backyard drains into the front.  I know this is a horrible photo, but it was a horrible night…..

Fast forward 13 years and I was finding that between the dogs and the chickens the drain pipes were getting clogged with dirt and not functioning well. I decided to install a French drain with gravel and landscape fabric (next to old drain) to improve the drainage. FYI, this is not inexpensive both in energy expended as well as money (we live with clay soil).

The Pile in the Driveway

I ordered 4 tons of river rock gravel which was too much, but a blessing in disguise. I think I overestimated the actual size and volume of the trough. Once the drain was in and covered with the rock (but not dirt at this point), my wife and I saw how beautiful the rock actually was as a path. By utilizing the excess gravel as a path we could create a low, low maintenance yard. Rock Pile

This photo does not do this pile justice…my back will tell you that the pile was much bigger.  I moved the rock in 5 gallon buckets in a two wheel dolly barrel.  Many buckets! 

Coming out of a severe drought, this sounded like the responsible way to go. I should point out that for 30 years I have tried many different yard styles (mostly different types of grass with NO luck) because this area is heavily shaded with oak trees. So this really solved many different issues for us.

Winter before Reno

You can see from the “before” photo that there were no elevations and not much interest in the yard.  Just lirope and the cannas during the summer. 

Two years ago I tried to cover the yard with lirope just to give the yard some life and even that failed. I got a few patches to grow, but nothing attractive. The only thing that grew well was the cannas. Time to start thinking outside the ’neighborhood’ box, everyone had some type grass yard and I wanted something different.

Digging the Trench

The very first thing we did was call 811 before we started to dig and waited for them come out and mark all of our lines. 

Lines marked by utilities

Utility Marking…different colors are for different types of lines. 

With the digging of the trench, there was a lot of dirt in piles that started to take of a life of their own. Instead of piles of dirt they created different elevations to plant on. The clumps of lirope stayed in their oasis as did the cannas.Trench with rock layer

After I dug the trench, I put down landscape cloth and a layer of the river rock.

pipe and drains added

Then I laid in the covered pipe and tied in drains where I knew the water really pooled. 

Zips Ties were used and drain covers added

I used zip ties to attach the pipes to the drains and put the covers on the keep the rocks out of the pipes. 

Covered the pipe with landscape cloth and rock

I covered the pipe with landscape cloth and covered it with the river rock.

A number of years ago we bought field stone to outline some of the paths and borders we tried to create. We had a lot that no longer defined anything and some were buried.  It became a treasure hunt to find the rocks.  We then started to move the stones around and redefined the yard.

With the drain installed I decided that the excess gravel would be used to create the path over the drain pipe thereby eliminating the need to add dirt back over the pipe and help increase the water flow into the drain.

This last weekend we had 7 inches of rain in three days and I must say that there was very little water pooling and that was only when we had an inch drop in 15 minutes. I think this can be attributed to the fact that I used flexible corrugated pipe with slits in it instead of rigid pipe with ½” holes.

The Cost Rundown

What did this cost? The biggest expense was the drain system which includes the gravel-around $300. The plants and mulch another $75. So for under $400 we now have very nice place to sit outside and enjoy our little slice of heaven.

The view from my chair

From Playhouse to Chicken Coop

From Playhouse to Chicken Coop

From Playhouse to Chicken Coop

Around three years ago we decided we wanted to raise chickens. If you have read any of my previous articles you will see what a relatively quick coop and run I put together. We bought the coop online and it was cute. I built the run and truth be told: it was ugly. I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on something that may not be a long term desire.

After losing three of the original five girls to possums (they are just plain mean suckers) our enjoyment hasn’t waned; it has just grown. We recently decided that instead of fixing the defects in design it was time to just start over.

Run=Ugly

My wife finally shared with me that she thought the run was really ugly and that she wanted something a heck of a lot more attractive than what she had to look at. Plus, I think she could see I was getting very antsy not doing anything after a very busy spring redesigning the front yard (another story sometime).

I was going to build from scratch and create my own unique design (and probably spend way too much money). I had the basic essentials (waterer, feeder, etc) so all I had to do was build around these things and I would have a new coop.

Ugly Runthe after photo of the new coop

The wall next to the house:  Before and After

As you can see, the tarps and buckets were taking over the small space.  But even my wife will admit, the run did keep the girls happy during wet or bad weather.

Pinterest for Ideas

I spent a good deal of time and scoured through various articles in Backyard Chickens and Pinterest trying to come up the perfect idea for our backyard. I guess I should mention that my wife loves to watch the girls out of her office window. Of course, the girls also love to tell her when it is time for a snack whenever the backdoor is open.

the girls at the back door

A Friend Helps

I have always believed the good Lord will provide when the time is right. About a month ago I told my best friend my plans to build a new coop. He told me that his adult daughter had a playhouse that she was ready to get rid of because her daughter had a new play/gym house. He sent me a picture and I immediately saw possibilities. It was definitely smaller than I envisioned but I thought I could make it work. I picked it up and brought it home.

the playhouse brand new

The Build Begins

The first thing I did was temporarily put it together (without the roof) so that my wife and I could figure out what to do with it. It is important to understand that the dimensions were approximately 43”x 43” x 62” tall. It was way too small and I wasn’t going to fit in it to be able to do the chores needed. One of the biggest problems with the old run was it was too short to get into and stand up. I was tired of doing the crab walk!

The Floor for the Chicken Coop

I am a collector of building materials. I had been given a 4’x8’ pallet l with OSB board on it. At the time I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. When I got the playhouse, it fit on the pallet with room to spare. We tore down the old run, moved their coop and I started the project.

Pallet Floor with vinyl and hardware cloth

I first leveled the ground for the pallet. I took ½” hardware cloth and wrapped the pallet below grade to minimize digging from unwanted critters under the pallet. I had some reinforced vinyl that covered the pallet to make it weather resistant and prevent splinters into the girls’ feet. I left playhouse put together off to the side so that the girls would get use to going into it and on it.

After the pallet was ready I moved the playhouse onto the pallet. Time for the real work to begin. The first idea was to raise the roof about two feet so that I could stand up in it. We decided to use transparent corrugated roofing panels for the wall extension. We used panel closures on each end to minimize any drafts.

The Roof of the Chicken Coop

Next I stripped the “shingles” off the roof, rebuilt it with plywood and tar paper to make sure it was dry inside. I reinstalled the “shingles” and the roof was ready. I used 2×4’s as the support legs. I used bar clamps to set the roof.

I put the clamps at the desired height, my son and I lifted the roof over the supports and set them on the clamps which made adjustments very easy. The actual opening was 21.5 inches to account for overlap of the panels on top and bottom.

Plywood added to the roof for strenght and warmth

roof remodeled

We closed all the openings and added some decorations.

Chicken Nesting Boxes

The first item was to replace two of the four small windows and build two nesting boxes for them. Because of the small size of the original coop there wasn’t any room for a nesting box on the inside. The girls would either lay under the old coop or hide the eggs. As soon as I built the box they took to it, even with all the noise from construction.Nesting Box Open  Hinge on nesting box

A hinge makes it easy to collect the eggs from outside the coop.

Bike innertube to keep out water

A silicone bead along the hinge and along where the box is attached help keep the water out.  But the innertube on the hinge should really make the difference.  Our first rain is this week and we will know for sure.

nesting boxes seen from inside the coop

Here is a view of the nesting box from inside the coop.  We have wooden eggs as recommended.  The girls took to the new boxes without any problems.

Chicken Poop Hammocks

The girls were still not sleeping in the new coop because I didn’t have a perch for them. I wanted to make an easy to clean system. I knew I would be using sand on the floor but I still didn’t want to get on my hands and knees so I added small poop hammocks behind each roost bar. Occasionally they sleep the opposite direction but for the most part they have performed as expected. They and the roost bars are removable for easy cleaning.

Poop Hammock Explained

The Chicken Coop Doors

I needed to build doors before I let the girls sleep in their new digs. The playhouse came with two openings for the kids. One was just a 43”x 17”opening and the other was a43”x17” opening with a little door and window in it. The opening became my door, so that I could installed a full length door albeit only 17” wide.

On the girls door I took the play door out turned it upside down and made the window the new chicken entrance. To close the door I used single shelf tracks and cut them to size. Much cheaper than using “C” channel. I had an old rigid chair mat that I cut up for the door so that it slides up and down. I am in the process of building an automatic door opener out of a car antenna (still have a few bugs to work out).

Chicken Door from inside coop

Chickens Door from the Run

Human Door

You can see the transparent corrugated roofing panels that enclosed the Coop extension here.  This makes it bright for the chickens while they are in their coop during inclement weather.

extension panels

Here is a good view of the transparent corrugated roofing panels before the chicken run is attached.

The Chicken Coop Windows

There were three more windows that I kept intact. I put ½”hardware cloth over them and then attached two tracks to each one so that I could install clear Plexiglas when the weather turns colder and wetter. I am leaving them open now while the weather is nice.

window with removable plexiglass

The Run

I purchased 48” wide hardware cloth so that I could build the chicken run without any overlaps. The run is 4’x8’ which is small for 4-6 chickens but girls are only in there when the weather is bad. I covered the chicken run with polycarbonate roofing panels to keep them out of the rain and hail. I used plywood for the back as a wind and rain screen. I built a two and half ft. wide door so that this winter I can put a hay bale inside to help keep them out of the mud.

perches and dusting box

We added a bench from the old playhouse front porch for a perch along with a branch.  We also have a dusting box with sand and ash.  They use that every day.

Water and Feed

I attached the waterer from the old run to the back wall and kept the bucket outside. I decided to keep the feeder in the run because of room as well as keep rodents away from the girls at night.

chicken waterer with chicken nipples

Another thing that I built was a feed catcher. My girls are very sloppy and throw food out of the feeder. This was adding to the rodent problem. Now I can recycle the feed back into the feeder.  I already see savings!

feed catcher

Weather Protection

With the reinforced vinyl, my wife came up with the idea to make a removable wind/rain screen on the screened sides. We hang them on the outside of the chicken run during inclement weather. They tie off at the bottom with bungee cords and eye hooks.

Ready for Rain

rain tarps are stored in the chicken runDuring good weather we roll the weather protection screens up and store them inside the run out of the way.

How Much Did This Puppy Cost????

And for the final question you might have…how much did it cost?  Well, remember that I got a $600 playhouse for free.  I also mentioned that I am a collector of building materials, so all the wood you see in the photo above, free.  I did sell the old coop on craigslist for $125.00 so that offset a lot of the cost.  I paid for the hardware cloth, the roof panels you see above in the run and the transparent corrugated roofing panels.  Also had to buy the panel closures for those panels on the coop.  I bought some odd and end pieces of hardware like the brackets you see above.  I did reuse hinges and door latches from the old run.  I had to buy the shelf tracks for the doors and windows, but I had the Plexiglass and I had the plywood for the coop roof.  Lets see, what else…oh, the door lifting system that doesn’t work yet.  That is a whole other article.  As soon as it is up and working, I will let you know all the details.  But at this point, I think I am out about $75 bucks.

Best of all, my wife is very happy with it.

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur Garden

After another year of drought, I started to investigate gardening styles that use less water.  I live in North Texas and our summers can be brutal even without a drought. We have been in a twice per week water ration for a couple of years now and so I thought it time to investigate gardening alternatives.

I came across an old gardening technique called ‘hugelkultur’, that has the benefit of drastically reducing the water to maintain it. The exact origins are sketchy but from I can find, this was a old German farming technique.  It would provide both a way to dispose of larger pieces of wood and branches as well as building up the nutrients in the soil.

Simply put, it is taking old decaying wood and burying it under soil, then planting on top. I can see a couple of ways that hugelkultur would come about. Using old, dead rotting trees that would be very difficult to move is one way it could have happened.  The other way may have been after clearing a wooded area, piling up the unusable wood and branches without burning them up. What they would be doing in essence is composting this organic material to create a long term nutrient feeding source for their crops.

One of the interesting concepts about this gardening technique is that you can create natural micro-environment areas within the garden with these mounds.  Depending how they are orientated, you can have plants that need less sun on the north face and full sun on the south face. Plants that are more delicate than others may be able to utilize the mounds a wind breaks.

There are a couple of different ways to construct a hugelkultur. One of the more common methods which utilize existing soil is to dig out a trench 1 to 2 feet deep, fill the trench with rotting wood, branches and logs. The basic idea is to lay down the largest wood on the bottom, next medium size logs or branches and then twigs. What you just created is airy environment for the roots of your garden. On top of this, add some grass (this can be clippings or sod that is overturned on the pile) or straw, add some leaves, then add a layer of compost and top it off with the dirt from the trench. Remember you have built a mound that is close to 3 times the area you dug out. Be sure to water each layer as you go to help maintain the moisture throughout the pile. It is not uncommon to make a hugelkultur bed 6 feet tall with the trash wood taking up most of the space. The wood pile maybe 4 to 5 feet tall. So with some of the pile buried you can reduce the overall height without reducing any of the benefits.

Instead of just planting just on top, you plant all over the mound.  This increases your garden area without using up extra land. The first year you will have to water as usual. As the wood decomposes it will act like a sponge and adsorb the water as it trickles down. With each progressive year the wood decomposes more and more and will be able to water the roots. Experiments have been done to show how the plant roots will attach themselves to logs and be able to have constant supply of water.

Another way to build the mound is right on top of ground using the same building technique.  I have built my in my raised bed garden box because I have an extremely small space and this helps corral it.

The more seasoned the wood, the better.  As the wood decomposes the organisms need nitrogen to build cell structure. Wood is considered a carbon source which organisms use for energy. So by using seasoned wood some of the nitrogen needs have been met.

What I have just described is the “textbook” hugelkultur recipe. As I have said before I have a very small yard and chickens so I needed to design a bed that uses a very small footprint and I could protect from the chickens. This year have two raised beds 7′ x3’x2′ feet. I half filled up the beds with rotten wood. Then I layered leaves, grass, alpaca manure, compost and dirt from an old garden I had. I will be using compost that I have been producing as mulch once all the vegetables are established. One of the reasons I started with leaves was so that I could fill in a lot of the holes around the wood. Any holes or low spots I will fill in with compost. I built these two beds in December so that it would have time to start composting and settling before my first plantings in February

Last time I tried this method I had limited success on one of the beds. The reason I redid this is because I only had about 3 or 4 inches of soil material for the plants to grow in. When I pulled the tomato plants at the end of the fall, I noticed that the roots were not as large volume wise as my plants that had 1.5 feet of soil.  I broke the bed down and rebuilt it with less wood and more soil and amendments. I am very excited to see if this program is going to work as well as everything I have read says it will.

The best way to garden is to put on a wide brimmed straw hat and some old clothes.

And with a hoe in one hand and a cold drink in the other, tell somebody else where to dig.

The Chicken or the Egg?

The Chicken or the Egg?

I have mentioned in the past that I have a small yard with a limit of six chickens to my property. That being said, I am finding it very disconcerting at the number of people who are giving up their chickens. When I have nothing better to do, I enjoy going through Craigslist and to see what others are giving away. I have been noticing the last couple of months an increase in the number of people giving away or selling off their flocks.

The good news is, that in many cases, someone wants them. In other cases, it’s bad news and animal shelters are turning into their short lived home. I have spoken to a few of the craigslist donators as well a number of animal shelters. There seems to be reoccurring theme about wannabe chicken owners,  “lets get chicks or chickens because we will have fresh eggs everyday”.

The Chicken or the Egg

Chicks for Sell

They trot off to the feed store, see some chicks for sell, “hey they are only a few dollars, lets get a bunch of them”. Some of the time someone in the store will instruct them on what they need to help the chicks survive.  These wannabes will figure out real quick that the initial investment is not cheap in both time and money.

What generally happens at this point is one of two things

  1. They don’t have the money to maintain the chicks’ or chickens’ needs or they don’t have the desire to provide for a healthy environment. Do they have shelter for them to protect them from the elements and/or predators. Do the birds have a place to free range or are they going to be locked up in a small run. If that is the case it would be much cheaper to just buy organic eggs. They may not realize that because they did not clean up after the dogs in the yard on a daily basis the chickens are eating around all the poo. Side note how are the existing pets going to take to the birds. Do they have the funds and space to provide a separate area to protect the birds.
  2. They don’t have the time to give to the birds.  Daily coop maintenance is essential. Chickens leave a lot of poop at night that must be cleaned up regularly to minimize diseases from infecting the chickens. Most urban chicken owners don’t have large acreage to provide all of their nutritional needs, so who is going to maintain the food and water needs.

Why do you really want chickens? If it is only for the eggs, remember that if you get chicks, it will be 4 to 6 months before you see your first egg.

Is it because you want to teach your children to be responsible? Remember the “ fun factor” will wear off sooner than you may expect.  These are living, breathing, thinking social animals and they require regular attention.

Please Research Before You Buy

These points may seem insignificant at first, but if it isn’t thought through, the birds will be neglected and then dumped. As a new owner if I may impart a bit of advice, that if this something that you and your family really want and desire, please do your research. The internet is a huge source of information on everything that you could possibly need to know about the birds. If you haven’t read as much as possible, you could be the next person dumping chickens.

I am not trying to talk you out of raising chickens because the benefits far out weight any inconvenience there may be. My wife is out of town and to help break up some of her daily activities I will text her pictures of the girls doing something silly.

“Chickens are very fun, loving animals to be around, as long as their needs are being taken care of.”

Compost Screw Up

I got my soil test results back and I guess the easiest way to describe it is,

“I screwed up!”

Those of you who have been following me know I have talked about the benefits of composting. I have not changed my mind about the necessity of composting. What I am changing is how to use compost to its most productive result.

Compost Screw Up

Shocking Results

I have included my soil test results from the University of Mass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory, and I was shocked by what I did to my little raised bed garden.

When I was researching the “how much to add to a poor quality soil” I read everything from add 1” to 2” of compost every year (good advise), to grow your vegetables in straight compost (bad advice). In my mind, I thought that a 50/50 mix of soil and compost should have tremendous results.

Off The Charts

As you can see from the soil test results I am well over optimal levels for most of the micronutrients (and NO, more is not better in this case). One of my biggest problems is my phosphorus is off the chart. This is going to inhibit the intake of some of the other micronutrients.

Dead Seedlings Make Me Sad

According to the lab people who did my testing, I may get great plant growth but no fruit or I am going to get stunted growth or no growth in other plants. Another problem that I wasn’t able to recover from, was I started this years tomatoes in my compost, that I sterilized first. They got very leggy then stopped growing. This week they all died. Thank goodness I got the test result at the same time, so I knew what had happened.

After speaking at length with the Lab, I was informed that you should add no more than 1” to 2” inches of compost at a time. Gardens do better with an organic level of about 10% to 15% total. Mine is closer to 50%.

Everyone Composts Differently

That being said, it is generally recommended to add 1” to 2” each year to help replenish nutrient depletion, depending on what the garden needs.  Since everyone composts differently, especially with what is being composted,  one should never assume to use a general rule of thumb without knowing what their particular situation requires. So I recommend having your soil tested every year. For the curious, my compost was comprised of oak leaves, 1 yard of coffee grounds and filters, 35 gallons of spent brewers grain, 25 lbs. of alpaca poop, and a small of amount kitchen waste.

Salvaging The Beds

The other 50% of my garden was bagged garden soil and bagged compost/humus.  The other piece of information I was given is that they may have been over fertilized by the packager to make the dirt more attractive to consumers. I am going to try to leach out some of the phosphorus by flooding these two beds with water. Hopefully this will bring the amount of micronutrients down enough to salvage the beds this year. Since I am on top of red clay, the chances of it leaching into the water table, is very small.

Best $10 Bucks I Spent

The one piece of advice that I can give to anyone that is new to gardening or just starting a garden in a new area is to get your soil tested before you add anything to it. It cost me $10 for the test and I got a wealth of knowledge.

Soil Results-page-001a

Soil Results-page-002

HARDCORE Composting

HARDCORE Composting

Let’s talk about composting. I started to get hardcore into composting about June of last year and have already used two large piles of “brown gold”. I decided to call around and see what a yard of compost would cost. In the Dallas/Ft Worth area it’s about $35. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad price until I was told that it was 60% compost and 40% sand. Not what I was looking for. Plus I found out that the “greens” were trash from landscapers with no regulation on what chemicals maybe mixed into it.  I decided it would be much better to make my own.

Hardcore composting

What Are You Throwing Away?

Before I go any further let me give you some background on my experience with compost. Another reason I wanted to get into composting was because I started to look at what was being thrown away every week at my house.  I realized that maybe I would be able to use some of that to improve my hard red clay soil, with very little cost. I have lived in my home for 30 years and have never had any success at growing grass in my front yard.

“New” Way of Thinking

In all of my research, looking for ways to change my ground situation, I came across an article/video/movie about a man who has started a “new”way of thinking.  He lets Mother Nature naturally change the landscaping conditions. The man’s name is Paul Gautschi and his website is BacktoEdenfilm.com. The film is almost 2 hours but I highly recommend it and it is free. After watching the film I decided that it sounded like the easiest way to improve our unsightly conditions.

Starting Backwards

I didn’t have the money to spend for compost to cover everything that needed covering so decided to do this backwards. I called a number of tree service companies asking for their tree chippings. Within two weeks, I had 10 yards of ground up tree in my yard. It only took my wife, my 23 year old son and me about 4 hours to move all the pile. Don’t get overwhelmed by the pile, the first time you see it. A couple of tools that will make the job go easier: a long handled manure fork, a good wheelbarrow and a sturdy garage broom.

Mulching

Many websites talk about mulching almost as if was a separate part of gardening. I have noticed that the natural mulches are almost considered an “after the fact” of the natural organic program. I would like you to think about a forest floor and how the trees drop their leaves to protect the soil, all the while, breaking down to feed the soil.

Ground UP Trees

When you are putting out all the wonderful free mulch you can pile it on high. We piled it 4″ to 6″ deep everywhere. Within 3 months it has settled to about 3″. One important note, if you put this around trees make sure you pull the mulch back about a foot.  This prevents damaging your trees from insects and fungus.

Moist Soil

You will notice that the soil will begin to stay moist. As the wood begins it decompose, the soil will become easier to work. As I said earlier I did this backwards. A couple of months ago I was reading about coffee grounds being a great “green” material for composting.

Coffee Grounds

I started to look for a source for for the used coffee grounds. The first place I checked was a Starbucks in a local grocery. I was told that company (grocery store) policy would not allow the giving away of the coffee grounds that Starbucks has been known for.  I continued looking for a source that had a large enough volume to make it worth my time to use it. As luck would have it, I found a coffee store 10 minutes from the house that was more than happy for me to pick up the grounds.

After talking to them about the best way to do this, I picked up four- 5 gallon buckets with lids (our name and phone number neatly written on them) from our local mega hardware store. You want to have buckets that look good at all times, because they may be in view of customers. I leave two buckets with them at time and pick them up every other day.

Doing a quick calculation, this averages out to be about one cubic yard of coffee grounds per month, free of charge. From what I understand, some municipalities refuse services charge by the pound for trash.  This helps keep a great compostable product out of the landfills and may help a local coffee store save some money on their trash bill.

Some things to consider before embarking on a coffee ground hunt.

1. Will you be able to pick up the grounds in reasonable amount of time on a consistent basis. If not talk to them about your needs so that you can set the proper expectations.

2. This is a lot of coffee grounds each month make sure you have a place to store or use them. Remember you will be getting wet grounds if they sit in the bucket they will mold.

3. Remember to leave the pick up area better than you found it.

4. You will find coffee filters mixed in. Great, if you are using this in a compost pile just mix your filters in and they will become part of the “browns”

5. Coffee grounds are a great source for nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus

6. Coffee grounds will not acidify your soil. The acids in coffee are water soluble and leach out into your cup of coffee. That being said this will compost down to very close to neutral pH in your compost pile.

After I used up my first cubic yard of coffee grounds mixed with leaves I needed another usage area and that is where I decided to spread the grounds out on top of the mulch. This will help breakdown the wood chips and turn it into easy compost for my yard. I spread it around and then rake it out to make a thin layer so that it won’t mold. I will see if this helps keep the snails and slugs this spring.