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

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.

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.