Tag Archives: greenhouse

Little leafeaters

I wonder why my pepper plants have no leaves?

Maybe it has something to do with these little scamps.

Who, us? Surely not!

It’s also a mystery why they enjoy pepper leaves so much.  They must be sweet.  The hot pepper plants don’t get defoliated (the eggplant leaves are ragged too).  Doesn’t bother me.  They leave the peppers alone, and the plants will be out soon anyway.

There are 12 chicks in the GH, with two Silkie moms.  They have they’re hands (beaks?) full.

They’re at this point where the Silkie chicks (coming into fluffy tails), are the same size as the Chanticleer babies, who are eventually going to be huge. 

They all mostly get along.

Sunflowers

When the sunflowers all tipped over what seemed like the same day a few weeks ago –

Timber!

I thought it was annoying, and that maybe their heads finally got too big for their roots.  I intended to tie them back upright with string.  It didn’t occur to me that they were mature.

And since I’ve been sadly neglecting my greenhouse, and never did get around to re-erecting them, by the time I hacked my way in there, now on a salvage mission since the stalks were dead and yellowing, the heads were on their way to mold (!).

Totally mature, fat seeds and plump kernels inside.  So there I go.  The birds will enjoy this year (only a couple heads were lost).

Sunflowers mature extremely quickly in the greenhouse, it appears, and I suppose I planted these early (beg May).  The ones I have outside are far from finished.

I feel like I need to explain giving good GH space to sunflowers: for some reason I have very little luck growing them outside.  They are very attractive fodder for various munchers for far too long- until they’re some feet high, I think.  And then, the wild birds empty the heads before the kernels even ripen.  I have more room in the GH than I know what to do with, so why not stick some squash and sunnies in there?

Movin’ on up, up, up

The guineas are at this age where they just get into trouble all day.

They’re falling in the drink, getting stuck in or under stuff, and practicing perching anywhere they can.  I get called outside frequently by the panicked shrieks of the mortally assailed, and I find chicks…

How did it get in there?  Last year I planted a highbush blueberry and set a cage over it so the chickens didn´t uproot it through their vigourous appreciation of mulch.

I routinely found wailing chicks “trapped” in the chickery until I set it up on its side.  Now it´s a perch.They’ve got that guinea vase shape and they´re starting to turn speckled from striped, but they’re still brown.

Then I was brought outside at dusk by some particularly sustained alarm calling.

To find this:

The chicks were getting up on the greenhouse.  And they were really nervous about it, making  a lot of consternation noises.It started with the grownups.  They started inching up onto the greenhouse from the sky coop while mama was sitting with her brood on the perches.

A couple of days ago, they started roosting on the peak.

Not to be outdone, the chicks just decided that’s the place to sleep now.

First they flap up to the arch from the coop Then they scoot up until they gain the peak

A few of them are content to stay on the coop, which I think is smart, but I’m sure they’ll be leveled up in no time.

I have a theory that this started with the weather vane.  If that bird can get up there, then so can we.

Their additions are not very attractive.  They’re adding a lot of nitrogen now to the water I’m catching off the greenhouse.

No, they don’t puncture the plastic.  It’s tight at night in the cold.  It makes loud rumbling as they all scurry back and forth across it.

What’s funny, is that there’s not much space at the top.  It´s kind of a one way street.  Yet they insist on going back and forth, and when they pass each other….

If anyone gets more than a few inches from the center, they start to slip, then run in place, flapping, and either they regain the summit or abort, and push off to fly to the ground and then begin the quest again.

Eventually they line up like beads for the night.  It looks like an owl buffet to me, but I don’t have any ideas how to stop them.

Chicks in the greenhouse

There´s a tribe of chicks in the greenhouse.  One mom has 5 Chanticleer chicks, and the other has seven Silkies.

The Chanticleers

They never shut up!  PeeppeeppeepPEEPpeeppeeppeepPEEPpeep. Wow.  I don´t know how the Moms handle it, unless lots of it is inter-chick chatting that they can tune out.

Otherwise, it´s Mom, Mom, Mom!  MOM, Hey Mom, Look at this Mom, Hey Mom can I eat this?  What about this?  What´s this Mom? Look what I found Mom, Look at me Mom, I flapped!  See how fast I can run? Watch this, Mom!  

All. Day. Long.

The Silkies

The Silkies are a week older than the Chantis, so they´re all the same size (so far).  The Silkies are already entering their scruffball transition from fluff to feathers.  There’s three white and four brown.

Most of these chicks I’ve never even touched.  They´re going to be the wildest bunch yet. They were born in a box with an open door, and Mom’s been totally in charge from day 1.  I don´t even see them every day.

But boy do I hear them.

They’re all so happy and safe in there, savaging the low-hanging tomatoes, rearranging my mulch, tasting stuff.  It’s a rooster-free zone.  One Silkie rooster is wont to stand looking in the screen door, fantasizing.

The pigs are rooting.  I give them a nice new grassy area that looks like a green pig paradise for about an hour.  They like to customize their environment, which means turning over every inch of sod. Very diligent workers.  And fast.

Holy eyebrows, Batpig!

When they were small…

Now they are scampering around outside with the big flock wearing proper wings and tails and surely thinking they are all grown up, but when they were merely days old…

I was working in the greenhouse, the Chickery was in there with me because the chicks were brand new (they have a few chickery days in the greenhouse before going outside), and the Blondies and their mom were rummaging around in it, as they do.

I noticed she seemed to be digging with unusually single-minded determination in one corner.

I looked in on them once and she had dug a hole.  I thought, any minute, a chick is going to be able to slip out of there.

Before I turned away, one did.

Then another. 

 

When she would pause her digging efforts, a chick would dive in to see if there was anything interesting in the hole, and retreat when dirt started flying again.

Once all the chicks were popping in and out like electrons, I decided it was time for them to go outside. 

I popped a box over top of Mom (highly offended noises), lifted the chickery off and wrestled it outside while the chicks cheeped in the corner.

Then I grabbed the chicks and introduced them to grass.  Then I went back to the grumbling, rattling box, and returned mom to the chicks. 

Outdoors time!

Putting gutter on the Greenhouse

This has got to be a crazy people idea:  Cover a whole bunch of plants with a plastic roof, that keeps the rain out, and then, pump water in to them.  Or in my case, carry water.  When you think about that, it just doesn´t make sense.

Last year I emptied a well into my greenhouse, by hand (off-grid), and it could have happily absorbed two more wells worth.

This can´t go on, I thought (dreading another summer of schlepping water).

So, I figured out how to put eavestrough on a greenhouse, to catch the water, to put it back into the greenhouse.  Slightly less crazy.  Easier than taking the skin off every time it rains, which honestly would be my first choice, if it were practical. Until they invent one-way 5 mil plastic.

I doubt I´m the first to think this up , but I didn´t google it because I preferred to figure it out for myself (go ahead and google it now).  I didn´t want to know how other people´ve done it.   Much as that might have made it easier or faster. This is how I did.

First unsecure the bottom of the long side of plastic and undo the wiggle wire up the side.

In my case I redid all the wiggle wire on the side/gables in order to take a layer of plastic off.  In my style of off-grid, I´ve got no business having an inflated greenhouse.  Although I made it work, it just never made sense.  Most of the time it wasn´t inflated.  Now I´m saving the second layer of plastic for when my greenhouse needs its next skin. 

Essentially I installed a lip part way up the wall, creating a drip edge to catch the water from.

I ripped 2x4s (all rough cut for me) with a bevel and screwed them on to the top of a 1×6.  2″ screws, from the 1×6 side into the beveled strip. I did this in advance- measuring the overall length, so that I could lift each piece into place.

I cut through the exposed wiggle wire track on the side- only had to remove one screw, and cut out a four inch gap.

It´s four inches because the top track comes down over the 2×2

That bottom piece of track gets screwed into the rib again

When I measured each end, I made a four-inch overall drop.  35″ inches from the base on one end, 39″ at the other end.

So I lifted my prepared 1×6 piece into place, propped it up to attach the end, and then secured it, and its mates, to the ribs of the greenhouse with plumbing strap, eyeballing for  a nice straight line.

Plumbing strap is a bit hokey; I´ll get some of the proper brackets next time one of us in the area is ordering greenhouse parts.

My three pieces of 1×6 (36´overall greenhouse) were set up to overlap, so that on install, I could attach them.  Then I didn´t have to think about where the ribs landed.

How it looks from the inside.

That´s the bulk of the work- the wood.

Back to the outside, I put 1×4 strapping under the drip ledge and screwed that down.  I chose 1×4 to have 4″ of surface to mount the gutter on, and to have some room to play with the slope. Hence 1×6 behind the plastic.

This tightened up the skin quite nicely.  The wiggle wire goes back in now too.

Then the base securing goes back in:

The addition for gutter uses up about 2″ more of the plastic, but if you have less than 2″ of plastic at the base, you´ve got bigger problems (unless you trimmed it, oh well).

When I built this, I dug a shallow ditch and buried a strip of hardware cloth against the base.  Some squirrels and chipmunks have dug around my barrier, but it´s holding up very well.  I haven´t seen that since I built it.

Install the gutter, and voila!

I used vinyl gutter with brackets that you can lift off of their little mounting hook.  I´ll definitely be removing the gutter before any snow comes!

The greenhouse has never looked so good, now the plastic is more taut.

I´ve got two downspouts (with two elbows each side), to direct water into a stock tank, with has a threaded plug, which with a pipe-hose adapter I can put a garden hose on, and then put the water back into the greenhouse.  The guineas are inspecting.

Doesn´t that look good?  I thought so too.

I felt good and smug for about two hours until the rain came.  I´d been racing the forecast, determined to catch all the mm that were on the way.

I got up in the night to go check on everything.

The water was running the wrong way!  That is, what little water it was catching.  Slope could be fixed (I do need the 4″ of the 1×4  to play with), but there was a bigger problem- the water coming down the plastic wall was turning the corner of the lip, following back (as water does) and soaking into the 1×4, not falling in the gutter.  I should have seen that coming.  I should have seen that coming.

I stayed awake for at least an hour until I could figure out how to fix it.  Not simple, but it should work.

The only way was to take off that ripped 2×2 and change the angle on it.

This time the base didn´t have to come off, just the gutter, and the 1×4, and the wiggle wire on the ends.

Significant wrinkle- on the inside, I was using 2″ screws for the plumbing strap, through the 1×6 into the 2×2, for strength.  But now the 2×2 had to come off.  All 13 ribs!

Clamps came in handy, I backed out the screws, and I marked the wood against each rib.  I took the opportunity to adjust it all for more slope while I was reinstalling.

Also because I didn´t undo the bottom (the better to keep curious chickens out), once I got all the 2x2s detached, I had to pass them out the end.  And back in.

I put them all through the table saw again and put a bevel on the second side, creating an acute angle for the drip edge.

Slid them back under the plastic and reinstalled.

Now the business edge is sharp and angled down.

Waited for rain, now with less confidence.  Still didn´t work.

These pictures don´t quite show it.  There is a full inch of overhang on that lip, and then the gutter mounting holds the gutter out 1/4″, so there is 3/4″ of lip hanging over the gutter.  Not enough.

The water comes down, turns the corner and travels for about 1/2″, now neatly dripping on the back edge of the eavestrough, or  right behind it. Don´t underestimate the power of surface tension.

One more tackle.  I thought about cutting ditches in the wood to recess the gutter mounting into, to suck the gutter right against the wood, but opted instead to screw on a strip of aluminum flat flashing, to kick the water farther out into the middle of the gutter.

Success!

Totally works.

Adding the flashing was the easiest part of all; took, like a blink.  I got a roll of 6″ flat stock, cut it in half lengthwise (to 3″ wide), and I meant to put a bend in it and screw it into the 1×4, but instead I left it flat, and in one length, and tucked it between the plastic lip and the top of the 1×4, and put in just a few screws, pointed up, into the twice-ripped 2×2 component.

My conclusion is that this is pretty ideal, and despite having made it up along the way, I wouldn´t do it over differently (except putting two angles on the 2×2 on the first pass- definitely do that).  It´s usually much more straightforward to cut the wood right in the first place.

With the wood alone, it would be next to impossible to get enough lip protruding to shed water well – wood is heavy and that would get too bulky to hang off the greenhouse ribs.  The flashing is essential, and the 2×2 is perfect for adding it to.

Cost of about $400CA for gutter, wood, and flashing.

I approve.

 

 

 

 

Planting in the greenhouse

This is from a month ago, May 1, but I  was so demoralized by how the day ended that I didn’t finish posting.  Until now.

The chickens no longer live in the greenhouse, and it’s time for the green things to go in.  I got in there with the broadfork, breaking up the rows.  Tomatoes first, against the north wall.

After having all the birds wintering in the “chicken dome”, the soil looks, well, awful.  It looks compacted and desiccated.  It would have fooled me.  But that´s not the case. 

The top quarter inch or so is dry, and compacted.  When I crack it with the broadfork, that top crust breaks up in scales, and right underneath, the ground is wet as anything, no harder than anywhere outside where chickens haven´t been trampling, and so very full of worms.

Worms everywhere.

Really big worms.

 

So the hens got very excited.  They were following right on my fork, poking their heads down into the holes to fish out worms, and vigorously scratching up the flakes of crust.  They were feasting.

Until I decided they were being a little too hard on the worms, who didn´t have a fair chance, and I evicted the chickens.

I hung up a sheet of row cover (if there´s anything else around I use for so many things it wasn´t intended for, I don´t know) the length of the greenhouse to wall off the side I was working on from the side I wasn´t going to get to today.  The birds can play on that side.

I let one chicken stay with me – my favorite low chicken. 

She can use some extra worms.  She was actually perturbed at being alone with the others on the other side of the cloth (they could see each other through it), but she was consoled by the worms.

You see, it was a rainy day.  A drizzly morning, forecasted to be a thundering downpour day, so I didn´t have the heart to shut my birds out of the greenhouse to crowd, disgruntled and soggy, under their coops.

The guinea´s thinking about it  Looks drier in there.

As it got wetter, the birds steadily found their way into the vast shelter of the greenhouse. 

Inside, I kept working, attended by low chicken, while the rain drummed on the plastic and the birds all trickled in, chirruping and shaking off, pleased to be let back into the greenhouse.

 

 

 

It was really very cool to spend all day with my birds.  It´s nice to listen to them chat, complain, brag;  I could peek over and see what they´re up to.

They´re always doing something funny: piling up on the hay sacks, trying to have a bath in the roots of the fig tree (naughty!)

Planting the tomatoes out is a big day.

From past experience, I just break up the ground a bit with the broadfork, and plant directly into the ground as is. No turning! After I drew the rows with the broadfork, it was time to plug tomatoes.

Here´s where I found out how well my newspaper pots made out: the answer- excellently.

I tore off the top ring where I had written in Sharpie the kind of tomato, and left that by or around the plant as a marker.  Then I tore off the rest of the paper and was left holding a tall root ball.

On the other side of the wall, the chickens had the time of their life shredding all that scrap newspaper that I´d put in a box, and littering it all over the room, the scamps.

Chickens, I´ve observed, spend a lot of time lounging.  Most of the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing, dirt bathing, combing their feathers, or napping.  On this rain day, they were piled up, murmuring, dropping their heads for a nap or settling right down into sleep pancakes.  Others would be active, picking at something – they never all fall asleep at once, but it seems like someone´s always contentedly napping in the afternoon.

 

At the end of the day, tired, with 70 tomatoes and a few pepper plants planted, I turned in.  It was still pouring rain and the chickens were awake, so I just them in the greenhouse.  There´d been no attempts on the wall, or breaches, so I was confident.

I was working on this post, before going out to close them up.  There had also been a surge in squawking I was wondering about. …

Disaster!  Carnage!

The wall was breached- one end down, and every single tomato plant was defoliated- not a leaf left!  Just a roomful of puny green stems.  A couple of hens not gone to bed yet, finishing off the devastation.  Next time you can get wet, you ingrates!

Before I went to bed I planted some more tomato seeds, but to say it was a major loss is a major understatement.  I had some spare plants, but not an entire spare crop.  I was NOT HAPPY.  Completely defeated, more like.

As it turned out, despite the significant trauma of being beheaded, the same day as transplanted, almost all the tomatoes survived.  Only five were broken off by the hens and therefore terminated.

It was a definite setback, but in the next couple weeks they regrew some awkward leaves, and then left that early bad memory behind.  Now you wouldn´t know it had ever happened, although they might be a week or two behind where they might have been.

Tomatoes today:

 

 

 

 

Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

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…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

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Long necks- everyone is curious

I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch.  img_4595While stored in the greenhouse, the bales  are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds.  And carbon for the ground.

I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room.  There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay.  The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.

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The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes.  The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.

The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.

You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent.  They’re that busy.  Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.

All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.

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Tentative inspection
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Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

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I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results.  In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.

 

 

Look up, look way up, it’s the new guinea coop

I’m starting to worry about the guineas sleeping out “loose” in the greenhouse.  The hens are all secured at night in their respective coops, but the guineas are not safe, should a weasel come in, and now the GH is breached with multiple tunnels, one easily could.

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@#$% squirrel

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The guineas have a collective mind of their own though, choosing different places to sleep every night.  They used to like snuggling between the hay bales and the plastic, or perching on the top of the open screen door, which is funny.  They’ve just moved up one better though, and are roosting on the top of the door header.

img_4661It’s funny, approaching the GH and seeing their little shadowy silhouettes above the door in the dusk.  There were only four the first night!  I went in to shut the coops wondering if one was lost (a constant fear).  She was fine.  She was pacing along the roof’s edge of the layers’ coop, the nearest high point, trying and failing to muster up the bird courage to flap up and join the others.

I waited awhile, as it got darker, before I intervened.  I walked right up to her, smoothly reached out and grabbed her by the legs.  How well this went surprised both of us.  She eep-ed once and wobbled a little to get her balance as I readjusted her to stand on my palm, and I lifted her up almost level with the others (I’m a bird elevator).  She stood there for many seconds before she took the 6 inch hop.  After that night she’s made it up on her own.  We take the opportunity to pet them at night, which they do not love, shuffling nervously and squeezing together.  But I think it’s good for them.

So I built them a house.

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Hardware cloth floor
Hardware cloth floor

I put it on top of the straw bales for their examination (the layer hens are the most curious and adventurous of the bunch).

And then I put it on legs.

img_4646Knowing they want to be at the highest point in the room, it’s up in the air.  In fact, I won’t be able to take it out of the GH without taking the legs off, so…it’s either going to stay in the GH forever, or dismantling it is, to move their coop outside.

My big idea is to get them to roost IN the coop every night, and then in the summer they will continue to sleep in the coop, instead of the trees, where I can shut the door and they will be safe.

That’s my big idea.  Chances are good that the guineas have other ideas.

The first night, HW moved them from the header to the coop.  They were unimpressed and jumped up to perch on the top edge.  That’s ok with me.  Sleeping on their coop is a good start.  Maybe when it gets colder they’ll have more interest in huddling.

It has a protruding stick so that they can fly to it and then shuffle inside.  The roof is partial because I don’t have a piece of plywood the right size handy, so I set some scrap on it.  No door yet either.  That can come after they sleep in it.

It’s a big playground in the greenhouse now

I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy.  ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG!  The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds.  Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland.  I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.

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When they were small

img_4449 First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.

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Hey can we come in there?

Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.

img_4604Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed.  The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.

img_4578Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen.  A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in.  Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused.  The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.

The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop.  The reason:  one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop.  He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some.  Life’s hectic for Snowball.  He’s got a lot of responsibilities.

They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH.  These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.

And then, miracles!  they all just … got along.  The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been.  Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes.  They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them.  The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off.  Staredowns, with their necks stuck out.  I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.

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The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen.  YES.  I’m so glad it’s working!

Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.

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Or behind it
Or behind it

They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things.  Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.

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Now there are five.  One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days.  Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play.  In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep.  All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still.  I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.

They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long.  So funny/cute!  They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff.  They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day.  Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.

I “cleaned it up” some in the GH.  Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.

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All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them.  Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster.  They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers,  dig, and dirt bathe.  It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too.  They always like standing up on things.img_4586

There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to.  It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp.  My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.img_4574 img_4577

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At first the layers weren’t sure.  They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out?  They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in.  Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me.  This was a bad idea!  All the food’s in there!

Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster.  He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle.  I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight.  Because the Silkie would lose.  This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.

I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow!  The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings.  I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.

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The mother of seven sleeps in here, and lays in here

All the birds love salad.  I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful.  I’m going to do it on purpose next year.  The chickens love a good salad.  I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony.  Makes it quiet real quick.

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The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond.  That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground.  It works about as well for the chick, but they try.

I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.

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The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped.  The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel.   I hope he gets pecked.  Chipmunks are gone.

Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend.  Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs!  The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.

In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers.  They know.  They can hear, and they grumble!  The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces!  Every morning.  He knows she’s in there.

 

Jungle hens

The greenhouse is a jungle.  I don’t know why I didn’t really believe my tomatoes would grow into monster vines taller than me.  They did.  Just like everyone else’s.

The layer hens have been going in there sometimes.  I haven’t shut them out lately, as everything is too big for them to harm now, and they haven’t been terribly interested in it anyway.  Usually they are too busy playing Jungle Fowl in the edge of the forest.

But, there were a few in there the other day when I brought in a couple buckets of grey water to dump.  The vegetation in there  is pretty dense now, and the squash leaves are like patio umbrellas to a chicken.

So, keeping an eye on the chicken I saw scuttle into the tomatoes, I quickly chucked my bucket of water safely away from her, and scored a direct hit on a hen that I hadn’t seen!

Oh, the screaming!

 

Patching the greenhouse

It appears that some raptor or another hit my greenhouse.

Perhaps it was hoping for a chicken.

Let me just make a plug here for Lee Valley’s UV tape, which is awesome for taping up greenhouses.  It sticks like Tuck tape, but is clear (and thicker), thus avoiding those visually compelling Tuck tape accents.

While I was up there patching, I got a bird’s eye view of Smokey watching the Silkie channel:

The coop and end of the run is bagged for some extra rain shelter, but this shows the Silkie fortress.  There’s a foot of hardware cloth turned out and weighted with rocks to thwart diggers, hopefully, and the fence/run detaches from the coop, making them both portable.

The dog is thwarted, and he’s not happy about it.  He wants a Silkie nugget.

The whole run pivots around the pine tree (and favorite anthill/dustbath).  I couldn’t part them from the pine tree, so I had to incorporate it.  The non pine tree area has bird netting on the top.

Planting in the greenhouse

Finally, I’ve planted the greenhouse.  Sheesh.  Embarrassingly late, but it is a season extender, after all.

We had to build screen doors for the greenhouse to keep the hens out before I could plant in there, too.

A while ago, we threw a truckload of wood chips in there, hoping to mitigate the baking of the already packed down bare soil (post chicken habitation all winter).

It worked far better than I expected.  The chickens have been in there still, especially on rainy days, kicking around the chips, which are so light and crispy dry in the heat of the greenhouse that I worried if it was a fire hazard.

However, when I raked away the chips from a swathe of dirt for a garden bed, the soil was dark and moist.  Wow!  Best of all, no sod!  The hens took care of that this winter.

Exactly as planned.

The top crust of dirt is very black (due to hen fertilizing, I’m sure), and since there is no meaty layer of tangled roots, the broadfork worked completely differently.  Instead of lifting out a big chunk of sod, it just sank in and made a line of neat holes.  Like sticking a fork into a pumpkin pie.  More or less just a big aerator.

So I did a pass with the broadfork/sodbreaker, and then a once over with a pitchfork, to lift and loosen it a bit.  I did not bother turning it, or making it all fine and crumbly garden soil, just disturbed it a bit.  Lazy.  Plus I think the soil is super moist and properly strata-ed already, so the abundant worms will keep it as loose as it needs.  time will tell.

The chickens were in the greenhouse with me, very well behaved (ie, ignoring my starts).  I had one sharp-eyed shadow, though, watching every plunge of my fork for any glimpse of a worm in the cracks of the upheaved earth.  She’d pull them out as neatly as pulling a sewing needle.

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Inflating an Off-grid Greenhouse

The short answer: a bilge blower fan on 6v.

The first question to ask yourself if you’re considering an off-grid greenhouse, is, should I choose an inflatable?

It’s more work stretching the plastic perfectly tight over a non-inflating greenhouse, but, then you’re done.  An inflatable is stronger, and warmer, but, is it worth it?

If you have a robust solar system and can hardwire your inflatable greenhouse into it, great.  Otherwise, say if there’s a possibility of having to carry batteries from a charging station to the greenhouse, you may want to choose more work up-front vs. more ongoing work maintaining power to the GH.

We  have an adequate solar array,  not a generous one, and it is set up too far from the GH to directly wire it or the batteries stationed there into the controller.  Therefore, we assumed from the beginning that we’d be carrying batteries.  How often was another story.

Choosing an inflated GH off-grid, the first hurdle is the inflator fan. AC fans are readily available, but DC fans are not, and the issue is not readily answered by Google either.  That’s why I’m writing this.

I’ll spare you the harrowing hair-pulling details in this quick overview of our journey to get our off-grid GH inflated:

1) Can the squirrel cage blower be detached from the AC motor it came with and be retrofit to a heater fan out of a car?  Yes.  It depletes a 12v battery in a few hours.  Not sustainable.

2) Go see an electric motor specialist.  Can a DC motor of appropriate specs be obtained that will run the squirrel cage at the right rate?  In theory.  It’s $349, and wait, no, it’s out of production.

Feeling very much trapped inside the box, 3) Call Inventor Dad. In 48 hours, he found the right thing.  A bilge blower fan from a marine supply.  It’s cheap ($25ish), it’s made to run on 12v, it’s the right size, and compact into the bargain.  Yay!!!!  This one is from Binnacle.com.

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Our troubles are not over…

I hooked it all up, plugged it in, it started blowing like it was born to, filling the envelope entirely in about 7 seconds, and then it kept blowing, and blowing.  Oh crap!  The plastic started to strain and at about 12 seconds I lunged to yank the leads off the battery before it blew.  Far too powerful.

4) Try a 6v battery.  Perfect.  It runs for two days on a charged 6v at exactly the right pressure.  Are we done?

Not quite.  The 70lb 6v batts that we have are, to put it mildly, no effing fun to carry back and forth from the cabin where our solar panels are mounted to the greenhouse.  Put a panel by the greenhouse?  A possibility, but there’s nowhere to mount ON the greenhouse, so it would require its own stand.

One last attempt. 5) Aha, I think, a dimmer switch.  An AC dimmer switch does not work in a 12v line.  DC dimmer switches exist, and are super cheap on eBay.  I thought this would be the final answer.  12v batts are no prob to carry, and the dimmer would cut it down to 6v.  The dimmer blew up on the first day.  Turns out you really can’t load them with a motor.

If this sounds bad and you’re wondering how much hair-pulling I left out, just imagine 100s of trips over months at all hours, in all weather, carrying batteries, and add in periods of despair (while carrying batteries) between each breakthrough.

Especially sucky is that in the winter, when you really need it inflated, there’s no sun to keep the batts charged.

Our reality: Most of the time it is not inflated.  That’s because we still have to carry 70lb 6v batteries back and forth, and it just doesn’t need to be inflated 100% of the time.  We turn it on for windy and snowy days and nights. I was a nervous Nellie at first about it, but the first winter it saw was one of the worst for snowload ever in the Maritimes, and it handily evaded Greenhouse collapse disorder.  I tightened up the plastic much more assiduously than usual for an inflated GH,  to quite smooth, and cold, there’s hardly any slack to flap.  In the heat of the summer sun, I’ll have to reevaluate how often it needs to be inflated, and perhaps dedicate a panel to it.  Then the battery-carrying might be eliminated or limited to the wintertime.

The moral of the story: think hard about inflating vs. not, before you buy.

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May 2015- We dedicated a panel to it.  Built a simple frame with legs.   It rotates manually:)  It’s working really well, now that the summer time sun is here – now we just leave GH inflated all the time, as it was intended to be.  It’s a bit of a waste for a 120W panel, perhaps, from our home system, but then, maybe it will be just right for the shorter days of winter and be not such a waste.

Red letter hen day

This was the very best day of 2015 so far, according to the chickens. A day above all days.

Oh, may we come out?
Oh, may we come out?

 

Freedom!  Go go gogogo!

Freedom! Go go gogogo!

I’ve been opening the door for some time, but there’s just nothing attractive outside for the chickens.   They don’t especially enjoy walking barefoot in the snow.  The first really warm day, though, put a real dent in the white stuff, and the area in front of the greenhouse cleared right up.

The chickens were very, very pleased.

This is their favorite, hiding in the scrub.  Can hardly see them in there, until the bush clucks when you walk by.
This is their favorite, hiding in the scrub. Can hardly see them in there, until the bush clucks when you walk by.
In no time at all they were in the woods.
In no time at all they were in the woods.

 

 

New greenhouse residents

The chickens are moved into the greenhouse.

We did night moves, transporting a couple surprisingly heavy boxes of birds (that’s a robust rooster) and setting those in the greenhouse to quiver and grumble.

Then we took the roofs off the coops (most of the weight is in the roof of each coop) and trudged the coops royal litter style across the field and into the GH.  Reassembled, refilled with straw, added disgruntled birds.

I rigged up a length of canvas to separate the big birds from Silkieland, clamping the ends of the fabric to the GH ribs.

In case they peck at the plastic, I filled all the gaps with feed sacks.  One fits perfectly between a pair of ribs.

I left the bale of straw, still banded, in the GH, thinking nothing of it.

I released the birds from their coops in the morning, then when I went to check on them a couple hours later, I found this.

IMGP8345That explains the worrisome silence, like ignored toddlers.

Birds are like “Oh, we were almost finished!  We just needed a little more time.  The bands slowed us down”.

Since the straw was supposed to last for a long time for refreshing the coops, not one morning’s entertainment for the birds, I bagged it up and dumped it on the Silkieland side, where I expected it would be much safer.  The Silkies don’t alter their environment much at all.

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Greenhouse!

Got the greenhouse up!  An inflatable with aluminum ribs and a steel ridgepole, it’s a beautifully designed structure.  It’s my first GH, but I’ve seen a few, and I’m impressed with this one.  I’m glad we were encouraged to buy from Multishelter Solutions.

It’s been a flatout race.  My hens are getting picked off and I’m desperate to get them under a roof, and the winter is coming fast.

As it turns out, it is possible to erect one of these alone, but as you can see, it’s not safe building practices, and I do NOT recommend it.  I survived, though.

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The ridgepole come in sections with tabs that hold 8 ribs, four on either side.  I put two on one side, walked it up the ladder with another rib in my hand, connected it.  Very dodgy.IMGP8274

As soon as I got the second rib on the other side, it was stable.  One stable section.  All the ribs sleeve onto pins pounded in the ground.IMGP8277

All the ribs installed and purlins.  So this section can torque, but will not come down.  The “foundation”.

Next comes the next section of ridgepole, that connects to the first.

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Even dodgier.  Yes, it is now supported only by that ladder, until I can get the ribs attached to that section.

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And the very last section of ridgepole, now pretty late.

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Then there was a couple days of end framing, installing the baseboard along the perimeter, cross bracing, and lots of bolts, before it was time for plastic.

I was beyond exhausted driving to get this done, so we’re lucky I took any pictures.

For plastic day we had a crowd of lovely people come to help stretch the poly on the ends of the greenhouse, and pull the big sheet over top.

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All done.  I cut the doors in later and framed doors on the end.