Trees and Other Ancestors

Late yesterday afternoon a powerful band of wind and rain ripped through North Carolina and spawned dozens of tornadoes, including one that touched down in my city and caused significant damage in some areas.  There are reports of fatalities and injuries as well as homes, vehicles, and businesses lost or damaged.  My home and immediate neighborhood were largely spared but there was a great deal of damage to the old trees in two places that are special to me – Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery and City Cemetery.

I live a few blocks from Oakwood Cemetery and have visited there often, sometimes on my bike, sometimes on foot.  I rode there in a limousine one day a few years ago; my mother is buried there.  Last fall when I was visiting with her late one afternoon, I was completely enchanted by the display of fall color on the stately old trees, and the way the shadows lay long across the landscape.  It was just exquisite.  I went home to get my camera.  Here are some of my favorite shots taken that day and also at City Cemetery a few days later.

These two serene and beautiful historical sites in our city are precious to those who live near them.  City Cemetery was first opened in 1798.  Raleigh’s African-American citizens were buried there until 1872.  Many grave markers and monuments have suffered damage over the last two hundred years as well as normal weathering.

Oakwood Cemetery, founded in 1869, is home to the Confederate Cemetery, the purpose of the original two and a half acres, and the resting place for over fifteen hundred Confederate soldiers..  The cemetery as a whole now covers over one hundred acres.

Exploring either of these sacred places is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon!

I don’t know specifically what trees were destroyed by the tornado but the ones in these photos may be among them.  Whether they’re still standing upright or not, this is my expression of awe for their majesty and all they have witnessed, and gratitude for the comfort and beauty they contribute to our lives……..


Posted in Garden, Tree | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday

Posted in Garden, Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum, Succulents | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Wordless Wednesday

Posted in Blueberry, Garden, Hosta, Lady Banks Rose, Mahonia, Spiderwort | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are you looking at me?

It’s been several weeks since I first introduced you to my girls – the five hens that have become my little friends, soil tillers, compost engineers and food producers.  Things have changed, the flock has grown, and we’re all learning a lot!

Meet Sweet Thing; she’s my new baby doll.  Sweet, smart, and very cute, she seems to like me almost as much as I like her.

These girls never fail to fascinate me as I observe their sometimes cringe-worthy behavior and social mores.  They’re smarter than I expected they would be (in some respects) and very instinct-driven.  Each and every one of them has something distinct about her personality or behavior.  They form alliances.  They communicate effectively (and comically, too).  They’re friendly, curious and they like to keep busy.

I went in on the purchase of several hens a few weeks ago with some other chicken parents in the neighborhood.   I bought two, a Wellsummer, who I’ve named Jewel, and an Ameraucana, the aforementioned Sweet Thing.

Of course, I didn’t consult the five I already had, rather just introduced the new girls that first night at bedtime.  It was almost dark and the event was low-key; chickens are almost blind in low light.  I felt bad for the new girls, just sticking them in an unfamiliar coop in the dark, but I thought it might be easier on them overall.   It may have made their first evening easier but their hazing began the next morning.

Introducing new hens into an established flock is hard to watch for this mother hen.  Always a cheerleader for the underdog, I have a hard time seeing anyone picked on, no matter the species.  I love wildlife documentaries, but turn away when predator overtakes prey, so watching my hens peck and chase away the new members of the family is no fun.  And it’s always the ones that are newly promoted to “peck-er” from “peck-ee” status that seem to exercise their power the most.  Come to think of it, that’s often true of people, too.

It’s perfectly normal, this pecking order thing, and as much as I try to resist anthropomorphic thinking, I find myself worried about their feelings about the rejections they experience after being thrust into a situation they never asked for.  Not a lot, but a little.

The new girls have to wait to eat or drink until the older girls have had their fill.  They get the lesser places on the roost when it’s time to sleep.

So we’ve evolved from this, when there were five……….

…to this, now that there are seven.  The right end of the roost is considered less than.

Sometimes the new girls’ way is blocked when they try to get into the garden.  Sometimes they’re chased away as if they’re trying to crash a social situation to which they have not been invited.

All in all, these are some very happy hens.  I’ve already realized a few mis-steps I made in planning and construction.  I allowed for quite a bit more space per hen than was recommended, but I never considered how much the hens were going to love (perhaps need is a better word) their free range foraging out in the new part of my fenced garden.  I didn’t really plan on them being able to safely graze out there without overhead protection, at least without my presence.  Now that I’ve seen how much they get out of it, physically and mentally, I realize I’m going to have to rethink the area I was going to use for veggies this year.  I’m gonna have to go vertical with the plants, I guess.  It’s made me a committed weeder already.  I want to keep their eager little selves busy making good soil so I’m frequently bringing them piles of weeds to process.   They are highly efficient shredders.  Here they’re doing their best to dismantle what’s left of a Pampas grass, a job that can make a grown man cry.

In the morning, I try to get out to the coop early so they don’t get too crabby being cooped up, but turning me into one who “gets up with the chickens” may be a losing venture.  I’m doing my best.  I hear their chatter as I approach, they turn up the volume when they hear me, then they rush to the door and as I swing it open, six hens come bounding out and run for the garden.  Only one sticks around, that’s my little Sweet Thing, the baby, the one who is usually the brunt of the pecking.  I don’t know if she sticks around for some quality time with me as I check the feed and water or if she’s just tired of dealing with them, but we have a few minutes together before the others come back in looking for breakfast.  Once they’re at the feeder, Sweet Thing has to wait.   She tries to grab a bite or two on her own, but before too long she’ll rebuffed by Idgie and Gilda, the nouveau-powerful Reds.

Sweet Thing does have some security and relief with Jewel, the Wellsummer, because they came together from the same breeder.  Jewel doesn’t overtly protect her, but never bothers her and seems perfectly willing for Sweet Thing to tag along with her.

Jewel is just as new as Sweet Thing, but she’s bigger and obviously outranks her friend.

One more anecdote and I’ll close.  One day a few weeks ago, I was working in my office.  The window was open a crack and suddenly I heard some very insistent chicken hollering.  It was one alarmed voice and I was a bit alarmed when I heard it, so I went out to check.  In the garden area where the girls spend their days, there are two Euonymus  shrubs.   They have proven to be very useful to the chickens as a place to retreat from sun or cold or my dogs outside the fence or any perceived threat.  That’s where I found them, all surrounding Buffy, the Alpha hen of the flock.  That’s her in the center with the bigger red comb.

She’s a pretty cool customer most of the time but it looked like she’d called a meeting and all the attendees surrounded her as she shared some very critical information.  Only Jewel started to stray off until Buffy called her back; the rest stood motionless and silent.  That lasted half an hour or so.

Then, about ten days later, I heard the same sound but this time I was outside, not far from the coop.  I looked in their direction as soon as I heard her and noticed a shadow cross  the ground out of the corner of my eye.  The girls had hightailed it into Fort Euonymus once again and hunkered down.  I looked up at the pine trees that overlook the garden and there was a hawk, perched on a branch 30-40 feet up.  Buffy squawked, then paused and squawked again, and again.  It felt like a stalemate and after several minutes, the hawk flew away.  I felt relieved and impressed with the hens and Buffy’s leadership.  Very cool!  And as much as the hawk unnerved me in that setting, it was quite a sight.    So while I know my girls may fall prey to some animal sometime, I feel better about allowing them some freedom during the day.   I no longer see them as helpless targets.

In upcoming chicken posts – Everything Eggs and more fun Hen Habits!

Posted in Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The understudy takes the stage!

In January of last year, when my gigantic, double-trunked willow oak had to be removed, the crew foreman told me that my dogwoods would go through a period of adjustment during the first season and may appear to be under stress with all the new sun exposure.  That was true last summer – some of the leaves were curled and a little crispy around the edges.  He assured me that they would recover and, by this season, be better than ever.  So far, I’d have to say he’s right.

The oak’s canopy covered my three dogwoods and, although lovely in a kind of ‘Oh, there they are’ way, they never really strutted their stuff.  This year, I’m happy to say, they are fuller, whiter, brighter and I know part of that perception is the fact that I’m seeing them without their former cover, which visually dulled their effect.  But it’s more than just perception.  I really do think they are healthier, happier, and more vigorous.  They’re adjusting well to their new status as stars, understudies no more.

My side deck meets the dogwood behind it at tree-house height, which has always been charming but now, with only dappled shade instead of deep shade, the deck and dogwood both appear crisper, cleaner and brighter than they ever have before.

The front dogwood, which sits near the northeast corner of the house, was directly under the canopy of the oak and now that its oppressor is gone, has seemed to stand taller and prouder as if it’s stretching for the first time.  The shape seems more even and the blooms more full.  I see a bright future for this one.

And then there’s the dogwood in the lower backyard between the pine trees, which is complemented by the burgundy leaves of the young Japanese maple in front of it and most beautifully by the “borrowed” Wisteria that is crawling through the trees in the neighbor’s yard, across the creek.  I get to enjoy it without having to control it…….yet, at least!

Change is tough, but the sad loss of my big oak has led to many gifts, mainly a sunny new space for edible gardening, but also some delightful surprises that were waiting in the wings for their turn on center stage.    I think the new stars deserve a standing ovation!
Posted in Garden, Spring, Tree | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Great music inside; mass (crape) murder outside…..

My son and I went to see Prince last night at our local indoor arena, the RBC Center, in Raleigh, NC.   The venue is the home of the Carolina Hurricanes, our 2006 Stanley Cup winning NHL hockey team, NCSU men’s basketball and a lot of big name concerts that appear in our area.

The show was fantastic – Prince is a genre all his own; funky, sexy, can’t sit still music.  He’s a prolific songwriter whose tunes have launched and/or advanced dozens of careers over the 30+ years he’s been creating music.   A singer, songwriter, keyboardist, guitarist and audience charmer, he’s got the goods and deserves all the accolades he gets, and then some.  But I digress……..

While Mike and I waited outside for the doors to open, I couldn’t help but notice evidence of a crime of monumental proportions that, had Prince seen it, I’m sure he would have written something into his contract that this practice had to stop and stop right now!  I know he’s a vegan and is very concerned about the treatment of animals.  How could he not be shocked and sickened at the sight of so many innocent crape myrtles being mutilated  just outside the doors of his memorable show.

This is what’s been done to the hundreds of Crape Myrtles that line both sides of the sidewalk leading to the East entrance to the arena.  I can only imagine that there is another crime scene equally horrific at the other entrances as well.

Here’s a longer, but still partial, view……….

There’s no need to treat these poor, defenseless trees this way.   First of all, trees are most beautiful when they are left to grow in their natural state.  We humans are notorious for wanting to improve upon what nature creates and in some limited capacity, that’s ok.  If a crape myrtle or any other tree has dead, damaged or diseased branches, crossing branches, branches pointing in the wrong direction, they are ok to prune.  No arborist or horticulturist is going to argue with that.

This happens in neighborhoods across the south, here and there.  What’s terrible about this particular instance is that it’s such a public venue attracting visitors from places outside our city.  It says, “If this is how the professional landscapers at the RBC Center prune their Crape Myrtles, that’s the way I should do it, too” to every visitor who passes the crime scene.  Why would they think otherwise?

Some people prune because the trees are getting too big for the area in which they were planted.   That’s because the wrong variety was chosen when the landscape was designed or the plants were chosen.  Pruning for that reason just leads to years of similar brutality.   In this case, they’ve planted too many.  Just looking at the photos tells me that one line of trees could have been used there easily, but perhaps they were in HGTV mode – make it look full and mature as soon as humanly possible, no matter what happens to the poor plants.

One of the best attributes of the crape myrtle is it’s bark, particularly noticeable during the leafless season.  It’s natural branching is also quite lovely, but this pruning method creates an unnatural (hideous) appearance.   I’ll bet $50 when you look at the crime scene photos above, you’re not admiring the bark or the branching!  What this method does is promote growth, but not the kind that helps the tree or the landscape in which it lives.  It causes thin, spindly branches to sprout out of the cut ends of what’s left of the original branches and they’re too weak to support a good bloom.

I’m certainly not the first blogger to write about crape murder, and I won’t be the last.  Since the crime wave continues unabated and unabashed, obviously we still have work to do!

Here’s a blog written by Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener, on how to prune a crape myrtle properly.  There is also, in the comment section, a how-to on reversing a previous crime, so it’s not the end of the world if you’ve committed crape murder in your past.  Sometimes all it takes to make amends is a change in behavior – we will gladly forgive you for all past transgressions if you just promise to never do it again.

Pruning is one of those if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of activities.   Lose the tools, sit back and enjoy the natural shape and habit of the plant kingdom’s most lovely and persistent treasures – our trees.  Save your strength for weeding!

A very Happy Spring is my sincere wish for you – I’ll be back soon with an update on how the hens are faring and there will be lots of garden news in upcoming posts!

Posted in Crape Murder, Crape Myrtle, Garden, Tree | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It would be so easy…..

to shake my fist at the sky to complain about this chilly, windy morning as contrasted with yesterday’s balmy perfection. Gardeners get a little obsessed at this time of year.  We have one-tracked minds – Spring and all that the word implies – new shoots peeking through the soil, planting our veggies and imagining how our new ornamental delights will look as they grow and blend with the garden beds into which they are tucked.  We know intellectually that frost can still happen anytime within the next month in our gardens, but we want to get started and we want to do it NOW!

As a designer, one of the aspects I need to keep an eye on is how my client experiences the process.  It’s important for me to guide them in many areas, from plant choices and placement to their expectations of how the landscape will look upon installation and as it matures.  There can be stress involved, especially if other construction projects are occurring simultaneously.

I’m working with a family now who are having a garage built and as well as some work done on their roof.  We’ve had to do some revisions to our landscape plan due to budget issues with the other project.  They’ve had revolving sick kids, too, and I sometimes detect a little frustration and fatigue in their voices.   I told the wife last night that I appreciate how challenging her situation is right now and she quickly reminded me that planning a garden is a luxury and actually a haven from the stress.  She went on to say that as long as her family is well and fed and sheltered, what is there to be stressed about?

So yes, I could complain, but I won’t.  Spring is teasing us; it will be here in good time – we’ll be complaining about oppressive heat in no time.  For now, I give thanks for my family, my friends, my home, my garden and the fact that my work can bring people peace and joy.

Even if most of my garden is still under the ground, it isn’t underwater or under the debris of a fallen building.

Spring is coming, all the more beautifully if it is accompanied by gratitude for the truly meaningful gifts that we already have.

Posted in Garden, Joy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Girls!

The house we built is now a home!  If you missed my last post about building the coop, check it out.  It’s called The Chicken House Rules. The girls have been busy getting accustomed to their new home, to me, and one another.  Meet the first two, Gilda and Idgie – they’re 3 month old New Hampshire Reds, a docile and hardy breed derived from Rhode Island Reds.  Here they are the day after I brought them home three weeks ago –

They’re inseparable best friends and very sweet.  The fact that they were my first makes them special.  The fact that they come running when they hear my voice doesn’t hurt a bit either.   They should start laying eggs in another month or so.

A week later, it was time for more!   My newest girls are a bit older – 7 months and already laying.  The coop is designed for 5 hens, so this made a full house.  2 are Buff Orpingtons and 1 is a Dominique.  Buff Orpingtons are a heavy breed, good egg layers and continue laying when days get short in the winter.  They have beautiful feathers and are definitely the Alpha hens in the group.  Here are Buffy and Little Sister (later renamed Pushy Broad)

The last girl is Ripley, the Dominique.  Dominique is a heritage breed; been around for hundreds of years and is considered endangered.  They are similar in appearance to another popular breed, Plymouth Barred Rock, but the comb is different.   Here she is getting a feel for the nest box –

The girls keep very busy – they like nothing better than to spend their days out in the garden, weeding, scratching for bugs and worms, and tilling the soil.

When the girls need a break, they walk back up to the house to eat or drink or, every once in a while……………….

– make an egg for Mom!  Happy, Happy Dance!   Based on the color, this is from one of the Buff Orpingtons.  Soon all the girls will be settled in and mature enough to lay; then we’ll have a consistent supply.

I’d understood that hens lay eggs in the nesting boxes, but they sleep up on a roost, off the ground.  Well, nobody told my girls because they were all sleeping in the nesting boxes.  That caused some pretty messy boxes come morning because chickens poop all night long!  So, on the advice of more knowledgeable friends, I began putting them up on the roost at dusk.  If they jumped back down, I put them right back up.  It didn’t take long; in fact, the third evening into this new ritual, I had a phone call that prevented me from getting out to the coop to escort them in and onto their roost.  I can’t describe what an endearing sight it was to walk in there and see them all either already perched or in the process of making the two jumps required to reach the 5 foot high 2×4 that is their boudoir.

Not that it was a peaceful adjustment.  For a few days, I thought I was back in high school.  Talk about mean girls!  The Buffs were giving the young ones a really hard time, pecking and squawking and pushing them out of the way.  I was struggling with some very negative feelings toward the bullies and it’s a good thing that it resolved fairly quickly.  They still go through a ritual every evening to establish who’s in charge, but the young ones have learned where to go and at least they have each other.  If it was just one, I might have to take her into the house with me at night!  I’ve heard some awful stories!

Back to the girls in a bit.  I want to show you some of the details of the coop.  Here’s an inside view showing the nesting boxes, the inside of the roof and the vents just under the roof – there is insulation covering the vents right now since nights are still cold here –

On the right is the ladder that helps them get up to the roost – the 2×4 that spans the area over my Habitat for Humanity kitchen counter (in pink).   They don’t really need that ladder or the other one leading to the nesting boxes.  In fact, you could say they scoff at my silly ladders.  They jump/fly a few feet quite easily.  Here’s another shot of the counter with some pine shavings on it to prevent poop from sticking to the surface – and when it does get soiled – hey, it’s a kitchen counter, easy to clean!Most of the concentrated poop happens at night when they’re sitting still in one place and this is what I’m going to collect and add to my compost.  The rest is already on the ground and that’s where I’ll leave it and rake it periodically.

Their food and water containers are hung underneath the counter so that nothing falls into them.  It works quite well.  They’re hung with chain on hooks and are off the ground – at just the right height for the hens.

What you also see in this picture is a light hanging from the ceiling.  When I first brought the young ones home, they had been living in a place where the breeders left a 100 watt light on to take the edge off the chill and to keep the water from freezing.  It was in the low 20s that night and I thought I’d offer the same amenities.  It did help, but it was bright.  I’m not sure the girls slept at all that night or the several after.  We’re all learning!  There are no lights anymore.

< I like things to be convenient, so I hung a couple of hooks to keep a few items handy, but up off the ground.

Here’s how I’ve reinforced the perimeter of the coop –

It’s 4 ft hardware cloth, with 1 foot on the ground as an apron and 3 feet up the sides of the run.  The apron will prevent predators from being able to get in under the wire fence.  They don’t know to step back a foot and go under there; they will be thwarted where ground meets fence.  The apron will be covered with soil, plants and mulch soon, but it’s functional now.  I’ll be planting deciduous vines to grow up and over the wire to provide shade in the summer and allow sun in the winter.

Another change that had to be made was the addition of this overhang on the left to keep rain out of the nesting boxes.  Since the wall is fence panels, there is a small gap between each slat which allowed some rain to drip in.  Wetness is not only uncomfortable, but could result in mold in the bedding and respiratory problems for the hens.  So Larry used some lumber, insulation and tin we had left over and solved the problem nicely and it gives me a perfect place to hang a nice basket of petunias.

This picture also shows another predator block with the concrete edging along the side of the house on the bottom.  A determined predator will try all they can to get in and kill the chickens.  It’s the nocturnal ones that worry me the most, so I don’t want to leave any openings.

It’s been a thoroughly engaging and entertaining experience so far, this chicken parenthood.  They’re all unique individuals with their own style.

This morning, I tossed some oats out for them as a special treat.  Now when I call out, all of them come out, front and center, and look in my direction.  They’re not pushovers, but they can be had!

If you’re interested in keeping chickens, do some research – read, talk to people, prepare.   It’s a commitment, but a joy as well.   If there’s a chicken tour in your town, check it out.  In my city, we have a wonderful event every year in May – chicken folks around town open up their backyards and coops for others to get an up close view of what it’s like to have chickens and the variety of ways to house them.   It’s a great way to get outside more, eat healthier, feed your garden and if there are children in your life, a wonderful way to teach them about nature, animals and where food comes from. This is the link to our annual chicken tour. This is where I bought my girls.  There is good general information here even if you don’t live in the area, and a great photo gallery.

See you next time!

Posted in Garden, Joy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Chicken House Rules

Do you keep chickens?  I’ve never heard of anyone who regretted doing it.  In fact, most people say it’s proved to be more fun and more interesting than they thought it would be.  I’ve wanted to add chickens to my urban homestead for several years now but they’ve got to have a place to live; I didn’t have the facilities.   I wanted to be sure this was a good decision for me.  So why should I keep chickens?   Here are the reasons I came up with:

  1. I love animals and enjoy having many of them in my life.
  2. I love good, fresh food – and to this omnivore, eggs are an important and versatile food!
  3. Outbuildings!  I love them!  They create spaces that can be used for both functional and decorative purposes.  They create opportunities for paths lined with garden beds, they’re structures on which you can grow plants vertically, a place to store things, a place to come into out of the rain.   They domesticate and organize a space.
  4. Chickens might help me become an earlier riser – well, that one’s a stretch, because I’ve been fighting my nightowl nature my whole life – but one more farm-ish attraction can’t hurt, right?
  5. I am a composter, always in search of new and better ways to create great soil.  Chickens produce an endless supply of high quality manure!
  6. I love affordable, enthusiastic workers!
  7. It’s a new experience!

This year the opportunity to make that happen, the availability of some great help, and inspiration all presented themselves at the same time, so it was a plan!  Here’s the story-

In December, I visited our Habitat for Humanity reuse center to see what treasures I could find.  I was seeking recycled materials I could use for the coop.  I’d put an item on a community listserv and got a few responses.  I acquired some fence panels, a few 4x4s and a couple of gates, and at Habitat, I was happy to find a kitchen counter and an old window I thought would be perfect – my inspiration piece!   So far $18 for materials – not bad.  The kitchen counter idea came from an article I’d read about easy cleanup of chicken poop – I’ll explain next post.

My plans also included a permanent fence around my edible garden area so that I could keep my three dogs out and allow the chickens access to perform their scratching and weed control activities whenever possible (this is the affordable, enthusiastic workers part).

I chose my site carefully.  Since I wanted it to be adjacent to the garden, it would likely have to be in the sun and would need some mechanism for shade without shading the garden.  I wanted to maximize visibility and ease of access from the house and, if possible, place it uphill from the garden itself, because you-know-what falls downward!

I chose the upper corner of my side yard which, for many years, has served as the “junk drawer” for all things that knew no other home.  It was an eyesore and needed to be renovated anyway, but at the top of a slope in clear view of the house.  Scary what’s behind some fences, isn’t it?

So I drew up a basic plan and invited Larry, my friend and carpenter, over for coffee and brainstorming.  He made a few suggestions but basically, the plan was a go.   Larry and I have worked on several projects here at my house.  I get an idea, we hash it out, acquire materials and get to work; he’s the construction foreman and I’m his helper.  We have a lot of fun, make good time, and solve challenges and errors together as they happen.  I pay him, of course, but my help saves him time and me money.  He likes working with me , he says, because my expectations are reasonable and I understand that adjustments have to be made sometimes.  I like working with him because he welcomes my participation in the actual building of the project and I always learn interesting tricks from him.  Besides, he’s got all the fun tools and lets me use them!  He also knows how to pick out good boards, a skill I’ve yet to master.

So, we cleared the area, inventoried materials on hand, made a list and went shopping.  I’d like to say that we did the whole project for my $18 at Habitat, but that was NOT the case.  However, 4x4s and wire fencing were the bulk of the expense and two thirds of that was for the garden fence rather than the coop, so the coop itself was still fairly reasonable.

We measured and dug holes for the posts, mixed concrete (to hold the posts) right in the holes, put in the posts and leveled them – one at each corner of the hen house and then every four to six feet for the run and fence.  There was nothing more we could do until the concrete set so we took the next couple of days off.

Once we got back to work, things went fairly quickly.  We used recycled fence panels for the back and front walls of the hen house but due to the slope of the land, we weren’t able to use them for the side walls.  As the picture below shows, for each side wall, we attached three 2x4s to the 4x4s at the corners, one near the top, one in the middle and one near the bottom.  To those boards, we attached individual fence boards, gradually stepping them down with the slope.

I wanted to have access to the eggs without having to go all the way into the coop, so Larry cut an opening large enough for 5 nesting boxes, each 12″ wide by 14″ deep.  Here’s what it looked like from the inside as we were putting it together.  We had a large sheet of 3/4″ plywood among the recycled materials, so that gave us a lot of what we needed to frame the nests.

After this photo was taken, we added a lip across the front of the dividers to hold in the bedding as much as possible.  The extra inches across the front allow for chicken walking.  I’ll show you the finished product when I introduce the girls, next post!

With the walls up and the nest box opening cut and braced by mid-December, we agreed we were at a logical stopping point and made a date to resume work after Christmas.  Here’s what happened on the 26th >>>

The snow stayed with us for days since it was very cold.  It wasn’t until New Years Eve day that we got back to work.

Time to put the roof on – we were using corrugated tin panels with a clear panel right down the middle – a sun roof.  We decided to put a sheet of foam  insulation between the framing and the tin to soften the noise – do chickens like rain on a tin roof as much as I do?  We took the cautious route and padded it.  I want serene hens.  We also left an opening all the way around for ventilation and to allow heat to escape in the summer.  The opening will be screened for security.

One side note here:  I DO NOT recommend working on a wet clay slope.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you – that stuff is both sticky and slick at the same time!  There was much clumsiness and terracing done on the fly, just to stay upright.

Once the roof was on, we moved on to the wire for the run and the garden fence.

We measured my inspiration piece window and Larry cut an opening in the front wall……now doesn’t that just say Chicken House???

The nesting boxes were finished.  Larry found a good sized piece of flexible rubber in his garage which was just perfect for preventing leakage into the nests where the lid meets the wall.  We’ll be adding another length of it underneath this one because that lid is actually two pieces of wood butted together.

We attached it with caulk and roofing nails, being careful to break off the tips of any nails that were exposed inside the chicken areas.  It’s latched with a tight-fitting hook and eye.  I’m not convinced that’s enough to keep out a determined predator.

…and there’s Grace.  She’s appointed herself head of the welcoming committee, ready and waiting to meet some new playmates.  That’s an introduction that will be handled very carefully.

Since the building was completed, as you might expect, there have been things I’ve needed to tweak and things I’ve tightened up and improved upon.  Reinforcing the perimeter at ground level is probably the most important thing that still needed doing as well as screening the roof vent.  In my next post, I’ll show you what was done, more specifics about the inside of the coop, and of course, you’ll meet my five new girls!   I’ll show you how they’re adjusting to their new home and one another.   A fascinating study in group dynamics – stay tuned!

Posted in Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

I’m really going to need my garden this year…

In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there

lay an invincible summer. Albert Camus

It’s been a time of change and loss……you know, life doing its thing.  As I face the possibilities and inevitabilities being worked out in my life, I often crave control and certainty.   At the same time, I know there is really very little within in my control and very little of which I can be certain.

Loss is a two-headed creature.  Along with the sadness, there is value.  There’s a lesson included or an opening for a greater good.  Some of us fight it with all we’ve got; others are more able to surrender to it.  I think they are the lucky ones.

Loss etches our hearts as surely as the years carve lines on our faces. There is beauty in both because an etched heart experiences life more consciously than does the heart more gently touched.  We begin our lives with unlimited potential for joy and positive outcomes.  We don’t understand the idea of rare or precious; that awareness comes with life and loss – the idea of savoring our moments because they can be so fleeting, ephemeral by nature or design.   Loss opens that door for us.

As I explore my garden in the early spring, it awakens my heart to see all the ordinary little miracles that reveal themselves each year – the expected and the serendipitous.    It proves the continuity at the root of my comfort, the connection of stimulus to response, my relationship to the earth.  I suppose you could say the same for the mountains or the ocean, eternal and continuous.  But my hands and my imagination are not at work there – it is only in my garden that I am reflected so clearly.  It’s not about each leaf and flower  – they are unique and dependable but ephemeral.  It’s when I zoom out and consider the whole rather than the parts that I see it; the continuity is there for me – the place of comfort and certainty.

Life really does go on and nowhere do I see that more than in my garden.

Posted in Continuity, Ephemeral, Garden, Joy, Loss, Spring, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments