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.

Precision Pet Wood Treadle Chicken Feeder Review

Precision Pet Wood Treadle Chicken Feeder Review

About 5 months ago I purchased the Precision Pet Wood Treadle Chicken Feeder because of a rodent problem. I was seeing small rats getting into my hanging feeder. I also saw droppings all around the feeder. I was very concerned about diseases in and around the girls.

Precision Chicken Feeder Review

Stop Feeding the Rats

I read that treadle feeders should eliminate or reduce problems from rodents. At the time I only had 3 chickens and I didn’t want to spend a lot on a feeder. I was using a Precision Pet Cape Cod Coop without any issues. The Coop seemed to be built reasonably well; therefore I felt that another one of their products should also be reasonably well built.

Read the Instructions: All the Instructions

The first thing I noticed when I received the feeder was that the instructions were simple to understand pictures. Unfortunately in my exuberance to get it built, I missed the slant board that feeds the food to the front of the feeder. Taking apart one side to install it not a problem. Reinstalling it became challenging because it does help to have extra hands to hold parts in place. This is where the problems started to show up.

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There are small tabs that fit into holes on their opposite piece that if not seated properly will pull the star nuts out of the boards so that it can’t be tightened. Also don’t use a cordless screwdriver because even with good control it is very easy to over-tighten and remove the star nuts (reinserting does not fix it).

Nutty Solutions

The next issue I encountered was the flange nuts used on the moving parts of the feeder work themselves off. I have had to reinstall them at least once a week. The easiest solution would be to change out the flange nuts to nylon lock nuts because you need to be able to adjust the tightness to make the parts move correctly.

Clever Rats, Better Solutions

As I said earlier, I purchased this feeder because of rodents. The first day I had completely closed the feed lid, a rat chewed his way into the feed. The rat jumped out when I checked it that night. There is a small gap behind the treadle cover that with very little chewing, the rat was able to crawl in. I solved this by screwing a piece of plywood into this area of the gap.

bar added to keep rodents out

Help Wanted: Fatter Chickens

As I said, the star nuts are easy to pull out. Thankfully I had plenty of drywall screws to hold it together. If you have the drywall screws, I would add them at the initial build. I recently found out that the cover door was not opening with my lightest girl. The feed had caused the provided screws and nuts to partially dislodge causing the cover to stick.

Chicken Training

Before I purchased this feeder, I read about how to train the girls to use this type of feeder. Many people commented that their type of treadle feeder (multiple manufacturers) had holes to prop up the cover so that the girls would learn where the food was. Many said theirs came with at least two holes so that they could begin partially closing the cover to teach them to step on the treadle platform to open the cover.

chickens having some dinner

6 Week Learning Curve

There are no feeder training instructions nor are there any holes in the side to insert a screw to hold up the cover in this model. I had to drill my own. From what I read, most people were able to completely close the cover in two weeks. It only took my girls six weeks (I think my girls maybe very special), so don’t give up hope, they will figure it out.

Specs

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Cost between $55 and $75

Final Impression

This is one of the items that I believe is very beneficial to have if you have any kind of wild bird and/or rodent problem. However, the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds very true to this product.

Fab or Flub?

Flub. In my opinion, if you have any carpentry skills this would be a good time to break out the table saw and build your own. I am already seeing some plywood delamination on my feeder. If time or skills are not your forte, I would invest the money and look into metal feeders.

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

Talking Smokers…Talking Turkeys

Talking Smokers…Talking Turkeys

 

 

 

 

Talking Smoker

 


Thanksgiving is getting around the corner and it makes me think about the turkey. I started smoking my turkeys about 33 years ago when I received my first charcoal smoker as a wedding present from my father in law. I have gone through at least 12 different smokers over the years. I have had charcoal smokers, propane smokers and an electric smoker. I have also cooked on custom built trailered, wood smokers.

 
Different types of people who smoke meat


There are all levels of people who use meat smokers. The spectrum goes from the 26 weeks a year, traveling competition teams with rigs that cost more than my house to the guy who read about smoking on his grill and threw a pan of wood chips and a hunk of meat on his grill and hoped that it produce something edible.

Different types of Smokers


I will start off and say that charcoal and wood smokers do an unbelievable job when it comes to fantastic flavored meat. After so many years of using a charcoal smoker my, my father in law bought me a propane smoker in 2003. One of his buddies said it did a really good job and made life much easier.

I was very skeptical because I was violating the unwritten code of smoker purists. I also have never had a failure with my charcoal smokers. Why try something new?

Liking something new


I have to tell you that it turned out to be awesome. Once you get the temperature adjusted it is very easy to go back to the control knob and repeat the settings for your next meal. The biggest advantage? I could go back to sleep after putting the turkey on for Thanksgiving. I didn’t have to stay up and get the fire just right.

I used my propane smoker for 10 years. I have smoked everything from brisket, turkey, sirloin, chicken to a standing rib roasts (prime rib), with great, consistent results.

Off-roading??


I was very active in Boy Scouts for years and we always went to the Colorado Mountains and built our own summer camp. I would bring up my smoker and a friends smoker and cook some of the meals for 60 to 100 adults and youth. One very important lesson I learned was home smokers do not travel off road very well. Maybe that is why I have gone through so many smokers… go figure.

Electric Smokers?


After reading some blogs and reviews, I bought an electric smoker last with all the bells and whistles, digital thermostat, temp probe, remote, stand, and glass doors. I was also told by an acquaintance what a fantastic job it did.

Final verdict: if you are looking to cook meat outside without a lot of smoke flavor and you love gadgets then an electric smoker might be what you want. If you like smoked meat this is not what you want. I sold the smoker after two uses and decided to go back to propane.

Back to Propane


I purchased my 13th plus smoker last week and decided to break it in with one of my favorite, smoked chicken legs and thighs. They were delicious and smoked all the way through. Everyone was very pleased with the outcome.

Thanksgiving Turkey 2014!


I am definitely looking forward to Thanksgiving. And lots of Smoked Turkey!

Life Skills

Life Skills

Last weekend my 24 year old son came up to me and thanked me for teaching him how to use all the tools that I own. When he said this it got my wife and me thinking about this and our current society norms.

The importance of teaching your kids life skills

I realize that people who garden, raise livestock or work with their hands may never think about this but if you are imparting your knowledge onto your children you are developing a level of self sufficiency that is becoming obsolete in our society.

We have become such a throwaway society.  No one knows how to fix anything themselves and its often just cheaper to replace something than to hire someone to fix it.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with replacing goods when they need to be replaced. That is what keeps the manufacturing industry alive.

I think most people have forgotten the personal satisfaction we get from knowing that we fixed something or created something new.  We could spend our hard earned resources and just buy the “thing” or we could look around and see if something else could be “re-purposed” or built from scratch.

Case in point, my son just got a big screen television He decided that because of his limited space, he needed to build a stand for the TV so that he could put the DVR under it. He could have gone to the store and purchased some kind of base and be done with it.

He decided that because money was not falling out of his wallet he would come up with a better solution. He had and old speaker that didn’t work anymore that what just about the right the size. He pulled the guts out of it and reinforced the inside with 2×4’s to give it structural strength, found some plywood in my scrap pile for the TV base, cut a hole for the DVR, painted it and created a nice looking stand.

My wife and I decided when the kids were born that we would home school them for numerous reasons, none the least is that there are more things in this world to learn than just reading, writing, and arithmetic.

We strongly believe that

“show your kids how to do everything and you eliminate the opportunity for them to discover or invent it on their own.”

We loved giving them parts of things and watching to see where their imagination would take them. However, we also believe that they should have a basic skill set that would see them through life.

Before my children began driving I spent the time to teach basic automobile maintenance. My daughter was not raised to be a helpless prissy girl. When I changed oil in the cars she was under there with me. These lessons were not to make it so that she had to change her own oil.  That’s Daddy’s job, thank you very much!  But I wanted to give her the knowledge to know what to expect the end result to look like, if someone else did it for her. That way she would not become a victim of some unscrupulous merchant. It also gave her the confidence, that if she had to do it, she could.

There is nothing wrong with having AAA card that can they can use if they have a flat tire or need a battery jump.  My concern is what happens when they are out somewhere where it will hours before a service can come out take care of the problem. God forbid that one of the horror stories that crop in the paper about the tragic outcome because our children were helpless in a given situation were to take place.

When my daughter moved out she had a very specific color palette she wanted for her first apartment. Not my particular color choice but I am not living there so who cares. She loves pink, black and white so she took an old chest of drawers that we had and asked me how to refinish it. I gave her some basic instruction and then sent her to Lowes to talk to them about the proper paint to use.

She came home and I showed her how to sand and prepare the chest and left her to do it. She would periodically come get me to ask or verify that she was on the correct path. When she had finished she had a new TV stand  that she created and  was very proud of going into her new apartment. She made it hers.

Dresser to TV Stand

I was very active in Boy Scouts for many years which gave me the opportunity to have my son grow up learning how to do things. I was the quartermaster of the troop and one of my responsibilities was maintaining the trailers that our troop used. Every summer we went to Colorado for summer camp, which required the bearings to be checked before the trip. One year when my son was 13 we were coming out of the mountains into Espanola, New Mexico on a Saturday night about 4:30pm, when I receive a frantic phone call from some of our adults who had left several hours ahead of us.

They told me that one of the wheels of the trailer had sheared off all the lug nuts and came off. They stopped across the street from a car dealership who informed them that they were closing and that they would take care of it Monday morning. When we got there my son jumped out of the truck, went to our trailer and pulled out the floor jack. He took it over and jacked up the trailer, tried to pull off the brake drum but couldn’t. We realized the brake had seized and I had to cut the electric brake to release it. What was very interesting was that we had four adult men, who didn’t have a clue as to what needed to be done. They even asked my son if he knew what he was doing and he said yes because he had worked with me on doing the bearings.

I worked to include my children in everything that I worked on so that they would be prepared in life.  How many of you have woken up on a Saturday or Sunday morning only to find out that you don’t have any hot water? If we don’t teach our children the simple basics of how a water heater works they may immediately call the plumber. Then they have to pay time and a half or double time to have him come out to replace a thermocouple or a heating element (both relatively simple repairs). I have absolutely no problem paying a tradesman what he deserves. I do have a problem paying a couple of hundred for a $20 part because I didn’t want to figure it out.

I truly believe it is our God given responsibility to help our children be successful in life. We can do that by giving them the basic skills and a safe place to learn and to play.

I HATE Flies!

I HATE Flies!

I thought today would be a good time to talk about a maintenance issue that I have had in the past. I hate flies. They annoy me immensely.  When I got chickens, I quickly came to the conclusion, that I would need to up my maintenance habits. I have two dogs which require daily poop shoveling to maintain a relatively sanitary backyard. Unfortunately,  I have neighbors that don’t spend as much time doing maintenance that also have dogs.

Since I have a very small backyard, don’t have a lot of room to spread my different projects out. My compost pile butts up against the chicken run. I had to figure out how to get additional assistance in the fly eradication business. I looked at the hanging fly strips and decided with my luck I would be the one to get stuck to it.

Disappointment

I went to a local feed store that I frequent and purchased a Fly Trap by Starbar called the Captivator®. Couple of things that I didn’t like about the Captivator® is that since I try to minimize my trash, I knew that if I had to empty the jar, I would be releasing any flies that hadn’t died. The attractant refills cost 3.50 each. I have to tell you that I was very disappointed, the directions were followed explicitly and I caught two flies. If that was all the flies I had I would have been impressed, but that wasn’t the case. I called Starbar and was told by them, sorry it didn’t work just take it back. I didn’t have the receipt anymore, so that wasn’t going to happen. It was about $10 so I wasn’t very happy about it.

A couple of days later I was at Wal-Mart and went into the garden dept. to see if they had anything different. They carry a product called Rescue® Fly Trap for about $5. Not a bad price. Once it is full, close it up and dispose of it.

Success

I have to tell I was very pleased with this product. I placed it according to directions and it started to collect flies within an hour. I went out and purchased a second one to put near the coop to catch any stubborn flies. There weren’t that many in the coop trap so I am thinking that I got outside assistance in filling up the trap in the yard from the neighbors’ dogs. Around mid season I disposed of the full trap and moved the coop trap to the yard.

Resue Fly Trap Works

A couple of things to be aware of:

1. The trap bait does stink, so make sure keep it away from your normal hanging out areas in your yard.

2. Make sure you follow the directions as far as placement is concerned.

3. Make sure you follow the directions on how to remove the yellow funnel or be prepared with some tape to repair it.

I hope you are blessed with a fly-less season

but if you aren’t, you may want to try the Rescue Fly Trap.

A woman walked into the kitchen to find her husband stalking around with a fly swatter.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Hunting flies,” He responded.
“Oh, killing any?” She asked.
“Yep, three males, two females,” he replied.
Intrigued, she asked, how can you tell?
He responded, “Three were on a beer can, two were on the phone.”