Monthly Archives: February 2016

Oh, Tennessee

A poem I wrote 18 months after returning to the United States upon the end of a seven year career with the Air Force living on three continents.

Uniformity is Unnatural!

Thought I’d share a photo of some eggs from our farm.

Eggmobile: Bauernhof Kitsteiner Style

An EggMobile (a term created by Joel Salatin, I believe) is a mobile chicken coop for laying hens. It allows us to easily move the coop anywhere on the property. This lets us target where we let our chickens free-range. We will sometimes use a poultry net fence and sometimes we will truly let them free-range. But we finally have our new EggMobile out in the pasture. I use the term “we” loosely. I designed the basic EggMobile, I found the trailer, and I helped a bit, but my father really took this project over. He doesn’t like to be called a master carpenter, but that is truly what he is without the certification. He took my basic design and ran with it.

The goal on our farm is to find the balance between classy and frugal. I visited a number of farms before we finally bought our place, and I’ve seen such a wide range of quality, aesthetics, and function when it comes to farm structures. I entirely understand building things for as inexpensive as possible. I also understand wanting something to look good. A farmer can quickly go broke if they didn’t pay attention to the bottom line, but a farm can quickly look like a junkyard if the farmer doesn’t pay attention to appearance. This is the constant ebb and flow for us.

We chose to build on a used trailer, but with mostly new wood. We want this structure to last a long time, so we built it with quality in mind. A nice coat of paint is an extra, sort of. We bought partially used paint from Habitat for Humanity to be used as a primer. It was only $1 a can! When all the partial cans were mixed together, the color was an off-purple. We chose to pay a bit more for inexpensive barn paint for the final coat. But the paint also has a function; it protects the wood from the elements allowing it to last longer. Everything was sealed between coats.

I am very visual, and I know a of you are as well. So I took photos during the entire process so we can share exactly what we did.

Here we go:

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We bought a used trailer off CraigsList. It had a base of plywood we needed to remove.

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Here is the frame without the base.

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The initial floor framing.

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The floor that extended beyond the edges of the trailer needed extra support.

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This is how we attached the floor to the trailer frame.

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We covered the floor with 1/2-inch hardware cloth. This is comfortable for the chickens to walk on when they need to, but it also allows their manure to (mostly) fall through.

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Attaching the walls to the floor required some creative bracing.

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Attaching the walls to the floor. This is one of the doors.

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Wall framing is done. There is one door on either end. It is large enough for us to get in and out, and to put in their roosts and remove them when we need to, but we do not plan on getting in the coop very often.

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We added a double brace to give more support to the long walls.

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The walls were covered with plywood.

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Nest boxes will be along both long walls.

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From inside the EggMobile. The nest box area now has dividers separating the individual nest boxes.

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The roof was built separately.

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More roof details.

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Another shot of how the roof was constructed.

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The roof was covered with plywood and then a metal roof was added on top of that.

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Underside of the roof.

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The metal roof was attached with matching screws. Theses were put on the ridges to prevent leaks from developing.

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We had to lift the roof up on its side to move it out of the garage. It was quite heavy. We estimated it weighs about 500 lbs.

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Due to the weight, we were unable to lift the roof. So we asked our neighbor to help us with his tractor.

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Strapping, chains, and a tractor were used to get the roof in place.

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Using the tractor to put the roof in place.

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Roof in place. Just have to remove the braces from the side of the roof, add wood to the gables, and add the doors. You can see the nest boxes have a separate roof that is lifted from the outside to collect the eggs each day. These are low enough that my children can easily collect the eggs.

The completed EggMobile!

The completed EggMobile! Towed into place. We use a couple of cinder blocks to support it. We have a small door and ramp for the chickens to exit and enter. This lifts up and locks in place each night and while moving.

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Chickens finally in the EggMobile! They haven’t figured out the roosts yet.

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The hens checking out their new nest boxes.

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The chickens finally out and about… and the snow started!

 

 

Time to start a Forest Garden!

It has begun! We have owned our land for just over a year, and have lived here for almost 9 months. We have experienced all four seasons. We are significantly more tuned in to our land. We are finally ready to start designing our food forest.

A food forest, also known as an edible forest garden, was one of the first unique ideas that introduced me to Permaculture about 15 years ago. While forest gardens are not the sole domain of Permaculture, an affinity exists between the two. And this concept, a small forest containing plants which provide for our needs (the 7 F’s: food, fuel, fodder (feed for our animals), fiber, fertilizer, farmaceuticals (plant derived medicines), fun), was so intriguing to me that I soon became a bit obsessed with Permaculture.

The first goal on our farm was to start producing food for ourselves. We started with animals as they have a fast turn around and could be started on our land as it was. We are finally really getting into a rhythm with their care and maintenance. Any overages (chickens and eggs) are sold for a small profit – well, more of decreasing a small bit of our costs at this point. The next stage is to start our plant production systems. Trees are going to stay put for a long, long time, and so we wanted to make sure we knew the right place to put them. This is why we took a full year before we even started the design process of our food forest. Of course, there are many plant systems other than a food forest, and we plan on incorporating many of these onto our farm.  But we are going to start with the food forest.

We chose a location that was close to our house. It is a southeast facing slope (we are in the northern hemisphere). It is one of our more flat (i.e. less steep!) areas on the farm, so managing it for decades to come will not be as taxing as other locations. There is also an area of lower elevation that holds a lot of water and is just begging to become a wetland/marsh. This will allow us to grow plants that like drier roots up top and water-loving plants down low. Diversity is king… and it’s a whole lot more fun!

A view of the future forest garden.

The site of the future forest garden.

We are currently pulsing our animals through this area. Of course they will be adding a fair amount of manure to the soil, and this is great. Another reason we will be using the animals is to remove the grass in this pasture. The geese and sheep primarily will go after the grass, but the chickens, ducks, and pigs will also eat their share. After this is done, the geese and sheep will be moved off. The pigs will rotate with the chickens and ducks to remove as much of any grass and other plants in this pasture. We will of course be supplementing the feed for these animals at this time. But the goal is to let the animals do the plowing and rototilling for us. I know that there are some folks who do not want to use animals to do this kind of work. I understand. I love to give my animals fresh, green pasture as often as possible. But this is not a permanent set-up. They will get in, do their thing, and we’ll get them out. The pigs will especially enjoy it.

The area of the future forest garden as defined by DaftLogic.com

The area of the future forest garden as defined by DaftLogic.com

I highly recommend DaftLogic.com when you are working on design plans. This is a free site that allows you to measure area and distances. I use it frequently, and it is very user friendly. As you can see, our future forest garden is right at 2 acres (0.81 hectares). This is not small! It will take a lot of work and many years to “complete”, but we are so excited to get started!

This is a google map's image of the area of interest.

This is a google map’s image of the area of interest.

You can see we’ve already been improving the soil with our sheep and pigs (far left) and our chicken tractors (center). The patchwork appearance is due to the daily, or sometimes twice daily, moves of the tractors. As mentioned above, this rotation will become more intense as we near the time of planting.

The area drawn to scale.

The area drawn to scale.

It’s important to have a basic scale drawing of the land we are designing. This drawing will be used over and over again as the master template that all mock-ups and samples and ideas are based on. This particular drawing is very simple. It took me about 5 minutes to make. It was made by shooting the google map image onto a wall with a projector. I simply traced the important features onto a piece of paper. The only slightly difficult part was zooming in and out until the scale matched a usable distance on my architect scale.

Some major features of this area.

Some major features of this area.

These are the main features on this drawing:

  1. House
  2. Garage
  3. Fence – The entire property has a nice, tight woven fence of about 5-6 feet (152-182 cm). This fence was put up by the original owners to keep coyotes IN. They ran a coyote hunting farm. The bottom of the fence rolls toward the interior of the property (see the photo below). This worked for a hunting property, but causes some trouble when we want to grow something (or clear weeds!) next to the fence line. We are still trying to decide what we want to do about it, but it does work to keep rabbits and other unwanted creatures out of the forest garden area.
  4. Gate
  5. Main road
  6. Bottom of the valley – This is where water collects and flows during the rain. The closer you get to the lower portion of the property border (bottom left), the more water there is and the longer it stays after a rain.
The fence

The fence rolled under at the bottom – like a letter “L”. Lots of plants have grown through, including some trees. This really needs to be dealt with so that we can avoid “weed” problems in the future.

 

Basic topography on this site.

Basic topography on this site.

This is a basic topographic map (not drawn to scale by any means). I made this just to show the general lay of the land. #1 by the house and the #1 on the far upper left represent hills. The land slopes down and then back up at #3 toward the back of the house. If you keep going along that interior road, the land would continue to rise. But that is out of our area of interest for this project. #2 represents the start of the valley floor. A line connecting from #2 to #4 represents the run of this valley. When it rains, there is water in this location running from #2 to #4. After the rains stop, there will be standing water at #4 for 1-2 weeks, sometimes longer.

Soil in this area.

Soil in this area.

  1. The soil around the house is decent. Much of this soil was either placed back after excavation for the house or it was trucked in. All of the area from #1 down the long, steep driveway to #7 is currently planted to lawn. The soil here ranges is depth from a few feet deep before hitting rock around the house, to fairly shallow toward the lower and northeastern (right side) of the drive.
  2. The slope is steep in this area. The soil in this area is poor. It is only about 1/2 – 1 inch deep before hitting a lot of rocks. There is space and soil between the rocks, but not much. This is a difficult area to regenerate, but not impossible.
  3. As the slope is a bit gentler here, and we are a bit further downhill, the soil is deeper. I can dig 6-12 inches before hitting rock. And the rock is spaced farther apart.
  4. Toward the lowest end of the field, the soil is the deepest. I can dig to 24 inches before hitting rock. This area has no standing water after a rain, so the drainage is still good.
  5. This is toward the highest part of the valley floor. This has running water during rains.
  6. This is the lowest part of the valley floor. This has standing water after the rains.
  7. These are areas that were planted to grass (just like #1 above). These areas have fairly deep soils.

The soil on this property is generally poor. It has a very high, reddish-brown clay content. Little organic matter. All areas that are currently pasture have been compacted to some degree by tractors and continuous, open-grazing of cattle. It would be wonderful if the soil was great, but that’s not how it is. We deal with what we have, and fortunately, with good management, there is a lot that can be improved. Our animal rotation is one way we are going to improve the soil. The second is with cover crops. We will take about a year to grow cover crops  with a variety of functions. Here are a few plants we will be using, for example: buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) for biomass; clover (Trifolium species) for biomass and nitrogen fixation; borage (Borago officinalis), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and radish (Raphanus sativus) as deep-rooted/tap-rooted plants to break up the deep layers of the soil. Also, these plants are ones I don’t mind growing in the established forest garden if any of their seeds survive and reseed. We are still toying with the idea of spreading rolls of old/less-than-prime hay over the area to further suffocate/mulch the existing pasture. Of course, these rolls of hay will come with their own seeds, but we will use the chickens to de-seed as much as possible as well. These are just a few of our strategies for improving the soil of our forest garden before ever place a permanent plant.

Next week, we will be taking the next step. We will be collecting soil samples to be sent off to a few labs for analysis. Fun stuff!