Saturday, June 29, 2013


So when I was on my soapbox yesterday I mentioned that I wanted to get more animals.  Today we did just that.

This wasn't a spur of the moment thing.  I've wanted rabbits for a while.  We got serious about getting them a little over a week ago.

What was the motivation?  I was inspired by Joel Salatin.  I ordered his "Getting Your Hands Dirty" lecture from Amazon and listened to it at the beginning of June.  He made the point that children need responsibilities and that between the ages of 7 and 10 is a good time for them to start a business.  They learn responsibility by taking care of something and get rewarded with the money they earn.  He does not believe that kids should get an allowance.  No one should get money for simply existing.  I have to agree with him. 

My daughter decided that she wanted to raise rabbits and sell them as pets.  I couldn't convince her to raise them for meat.  My wife took her to the library and she got a book on rabbits and they read quite a bit of it.  Then they got on the computer and did more research.  She was really motivated.  So they got on craigslist and found a used rabbit hutch for $50.  We had to drive nearly an hour to get it, but it was perfect!
The lid didn't open properly because the trim was broken.  It was easily repaired.  It was also in need of some major cleaning.  I sprayed it down with bleach and then pressure washed it.  Now it looks great.  It has upper and lower living areas which will allow her to have two rabbits.  There are two pullout trays so cleaning the waste shouldn't be too difficult.  I asked her if I could have the poop for the garden.  She said, "Well... OK, but only if you're willing to clean it out."  She's a smart cookie.

After getting the hutch she had to decide what kind of rabbits she wanted.  It changed every 15 minutes.  First it was Holland lop.  Then Mini Rex.  Then then it was something else, and then it'd be Holland Lop again. She went back and forth a lot!  Finally, she settled on Holland Lop.  We got on craigslist and found a place that had them.  We went and she picked one out last week, but it wasn't old enough to come home with us until today. 
8 week old Female Holland Lop.
I've never had a rabbit before.  I don't know how long it'll take for it to adjust.  I imagine it must be quite a shock for the thing.  I've got my fingers crossed that this works out.  If it does we'll get a male in a few weeks and see what happens from there.  With any luck we'll have baby bunnies in time for Easter.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Movie Review: A Place at the Table

When I'm not busy doing stuff around my house, I like to watch movies.  I had the opportunity the other night to watch A Place at the Table.

The movie was a real eye opener.  It's a documentary that explores hunger in America.  Fifty million Americans suffer from food insecurity.  What's food insecurity?  It's not knowing where your next meal is going to come from.  It's having to go without food for a time, maybe even days.  There were kids in the film who sometimes only ate at school because there was no food at home.  It's very sad.

The film spent plenty of time criticizing the Federal government for cutting food assistance programs in the 1980's and for not increasing funds in recent years.  The cost of food has risen, but the assistance provided has not. 

There was some criticism (but not enough) directed at the agriculture subsidies that go to big corporations.  Those subsidies are directly responsible for creating cheap processed foods that these low income people eat to survive.  This has a direct impact on their health.  They dispelled the popular belief that hungry people aren't fat.  It's actually quite the opposite.  People who suffer from food insecurity are likely to be obese.

This is a rare documentary in that they actually offered a solution.  In true Hollywood fashion they said that all that needed to be done was for Congress to take charge and spend more money!  And this is my complaint about the movie.  I know it's a tire old cliche, but it's true.  Give a man a fish he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.   

At no time in the movie did anyone suggest that people need to become more independent and more self sufficient.  The people interviewed had a victim mentality.  They lost a job and needed government assistance to get by.  Then they got a job, but it didn't pay enough to buy adequate food.  It also meant that they had an income and no longer qualified for government assistance.  So they were not better off.  I get that.  I feel bad for them.  I really do.  But what does it take to get people to take matters into their own hands? 

Not everyone can keep chickens in their back yard.  I get that.  But, seeds are cheap.  Grow something!  Even urban dwellers can grow tomatoes in a window box.  Find a park or other green space, and do some guerrilla gardening.  Talk to neighbors and start a community garden.  Grow stuff on your roof.  There are a lot of options.  I just takes a little resourcefulness.  

I can't tell other people what to do.  What I can do is take care of myself and my family.  Watching that film as given me the motivation to do more.  I want to put in more raised beds.  I want to harvest more rain water.  I want to get more chickens, and maybe some other animals as well.  I don't ever want to be in the position of not knowing where my next meal will come from.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Backyard broiler update -- Week 6

Last week I said that I had to buy a 40 lb. bag of food on June 14.  Believe it or not, I had to buy another 40 lb. bag yesterday on June 25.  They went through 40 lbs. of food in 11 days!  I still have another 3-4 weeks until graduation.
This is the 40 lb. bag of 18% feed.  It was $14.98.
Here they are, nice and big.
This one tried to escape.  The RIR was quick to peck it.
You can see where the tractors have been.
They've become a lot less of a nuisance and they're a lot less work since they moved outside.  I have a 1-quart feeder in each of the tractors.  I fill them 1-2 times a day.  I try not to let them get completely empty.  I also have a 5-gallon bucket reservoir that feeds a poultry nipple waterer on each tractor.  I don't know if the chickens drink a lot, or the buckets leak, or the water evaporates, but I end up adding 1-3 gallons of water to each bucket every day.  I also move the tractors once in the morning and again at night.  When I'm home during the weekends they get moved more frequently.  They've figured out the move process now and stay towards the front of the tractors.  After the move they're quick to eat the fresh grass and clover.

I could probably just let the free range all over the yard with the layers.  I haven't done that because I want to keep these guys separate.  I'm not concerned about disease, or fighting, or how they'd integrate with each other.  The layers have become pets.  We're pretty attached to them.  I don't want anyone getting attached to the broilers since they aren't going to be sticking around much longer.  So they stay in the tractors.

Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 Garden Status.

I haven't seen any signs of deer the last few days.  Hopefully they've moved on.  Otherwise things are doing pretty well.  The raised beds are full so I had put peppers in containers.  I have lettuce under lights in the garage.  I'm going to have to find room for it soon.
Here's a wide shot of the whole setup.
These are purple jalapenos.  This is my first time growing them.
I transplanted peppers, kale, and lettuce into this bed now that the beans are gone.
This is the bed that the kids planted.  I think those vines are watermelon.
I cut the kale down to nothing and it came back.
More tomatoes.

Blueberries.  These don't make it in the house.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Backyard broiler update -- Week 5

Another week has gone by and the broilers are bigger.  There isn't a whole lot new to report.  I haven't really kept track of how frequently I move the tractors each day.  When the grass is flattened they get moved.  Sometimes it'll be once, twice, or even three times in one day.  They've been all over the back yard.

According to this post we got a 50 lb. bag of feed on May 22.  I had to buy another bag on June 14.  This time I picked up a 40 lb. bag of 18% protein feed for $14.98.  It's what I could get locally.  I didn't feel like running to the next town over to get the 20% again.

I picked up another 1-quart feeder.  They were making too much of a mess out of the 14-hole feeder that I had been using. 

These birds are already as big as one of my bantam layers.  I guess that's why they are raised for meat.
If I'm not mistaken, this is a bantam silver duckwing welsummer.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lousy rotten deer.

The deer keep eating my beans.  I had planted beans all around the perimeter of this bed.
Now it looks like this.  Same bed, different angle. 
He walked all over the place.  Luckily he didn't trample the other plants.  So far he's just been going after my beans.  I put some hair clippings in the bed he got before, and he's left it alone since.  Unfortunately hair is a commodity that I don't have a lot of.  I keep hoping that he decides to go someplace else.  If he doesn't I might try one of the deer repellents that Home Depot sells.  If that doesn't work I might get a motion activated water sprinkler.

On the bright side, I now have room to put in more plants!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Low pressure drip irrigation problems and solutions.

I've been using drip irrigation in my raised beds for a while now.  For the most part it works great.  But, I have run into a few problems.
  1. Some emitters seem to work better than others.
  2. I'm not sure when the rain barrels are getting low. 
The think the first problem is due to the really low pressure.  Air gets in the line and there isn't enough pressure to force it out.  So some emitters end up not emitting much while the ones on either side are fine.  Sometimes taking the cap off of the emitter and letting the air out helps.  Sometimes it doesn't.  It's very frustrating.  I thought it might be dirt in the line, but when the cap is off, the water flows just fine.  So I don't know.

I was wondering how I might mitigate the problem even little bit.  Then it occurred to me.  I can put a tee in the line and run a tube vertically.  That'll give the air a way to escape.  And if the tube is tall enough, I don't have to worry about the water overflowing out of it.  It just needs to be higher than my highest rain barrel.

So that's what I went about doing.  Initially I used a section of irrigation tubing.  Then it dawned on me.  If I use clear tubing I'll be able to see how high the water is in the rain barrel (water always seeks its own level).  This solves problem #2.
As luck would have it, the second bed along the drip line has a trellis.  So I zip tied the tubing to it.  You can hardly tell that it's there.
This picture shows the water level with the barrel turned off.  As you would expect, the water is below the level of the emitters. 
When the valve on the barrel is opened the water level quickly rises.

I did see a few bubbles escape up the tube, but I still have some emitters that don't appear to drip much.  Air could've already been in the line after the tee.  Who knows...  I'll just have to keep tinkering with it.  I haven't had any plants fall over and die yet from being too dry.  Maybe what I have is sufficient and I just worry too much.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The power is out. My lights are still on.

We had a bad storm come through tonight.  I found tree limbs, leaves, and branches all over the yard.  The plants in the raised beds were mostly OK.  I had to stand up several peppers that had been knocked over.

Anyway, it took me a while to get into the house and realize the power was off.  I checked on the broilers and when I came back in, it still wasn't on.  So it was time to take action.

I got out a Cobra 400w inverter I had in the garage and plugged it into the 12v outlet in my car.
Then I plugged in an extension chord and ran it into the house.
I put a block of wood under the trunk lid to keep it from damaging the chord.
I plugged in two lamps downstairs and one upstairs.
3-way plug with extension chords going to additional lamps.
Light for the kitchen.
To keep the draw low I used LED bulbs.  I had a Cree 9-watt (60w) LED bulb in the kitchen.  A Cree 6-Watt (40W) bulb in the living room (that's the bulb that's always in there).  The lamp upstairs had a 2w Feit Electric bulb.  That's a grand total of 17 watts.  That was well below the limit of the inverter.  Using the 12v outlet in the car limits the inverter to 120w.  That's a limitation of the socket, not the inverter.  Had I thought the power would be out longer, I would have hooked it up directly to the battery.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Backyard broiler update -- Week 4

These things are consuming a lot of my free time.

I've had such good luck with the poultry nipple waterers, that I decided to make another one.  They are cleaner and so much less work than the 1-quart waterer I've been using in the second tractor.
The quart waterer is still in there.  I need to take that out.
Huh, that looks familiar.  Oh right, I more or less modeled it off of Joel Salatin's chicken shelters.

The birds themselves seem to be doing fine.  They've grown quite a bit since we got them.
Day 1
Almost 4 weeks.
Here they are doing what they do best.  Eating!
I'm real tempted to get a few more feeders.  If I did that I might get away with only checking on them once a day.  As it is now, I check on them before work, and at least twice in the evening after work.
I had a bit of a scare tonight. I was dragging the new tractor and heard a terrible squeal.  I looked and saw that I had caught a leg of one of the birds.  I lifted the tractor enough to free it.  It limped away.  I picked it up and inspected its legs.  I couldn't tell that anything was wrong.  There were no obvious signs that anything was broken.  But, I'm not a doctor (or farmer).  I watered some plants around the yard, and checked on them again.  They all seemed to be doing fine.  I'm going keep a close eye on them the next few days.  I'd really hate to lose one at this point.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Every fall I spend 6 weeks or so raking leaves.  I pile them in the compost bins and when I run out of room I just pile them in the woods.
It's hard to tell from the picture, but that pile is probably 3' high and 10' in diameter.
I can't believe what I did next.  I got a wheel barrow load of leaves, and spread them out in my front yard.  I found it hugely ironic that I would do this after having spent so many hours cleaning them up. 
So why did I do this?  I needed mulch for my raised beds.  The grass was tall and needed to be mowed.  I figured I'd bag the clippings and use them as mulch and that leaves would make a nice addition.

So I mowed the lawn, bagged the clippings (with the leaves) and dumped them into my wheel barrow. 
This newly created mulch sat in my wheel barrow for two days.  That wasn't my plan, but the rain kept me inside.  When I finally got a chance, I put the mulch on the raised beds.  
Here it is under the cucumbers.
I put a bulk of the mulch under the tomatoes.
I mulched down the center of this bed because that's where my most recent transplants are.
I didn't have enough to cover every bed.  I'll have to bag more the next time I mow.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Chicken Tractor v2.0

I put the broilers in the yard the other day.  They're happy there, but the tractor just isn't big enough for 11 of them.  My original plan was to only keep 6 of them.  That didn't happen.  Who knew how hard it would be to get rid broilers?  Everyone wants layers.  Anyway, those guys are voracious.  I can't believe the amount of food that they go through.  I added a second feeder because one wasn't enough.  Whenever I fill it, they swarm around and try to trample each other.  So, I had to separate them into smaller groups.  That required a second chicken tractor.

As luck would have it, Home Depot happened to have 42 in. treated balusters on sale for $0.89.  Regular old 2x2" PT lumber is $2.97.  Ouch!  I think I ended up buying 10 of the balusters.  I already had the 2x4 and chicken wire.

I cut 3" inches or so off of two of the balusters.  I wanted the ones on top to be longer.  That way I could attach a rope for moving the thing around.  I made the height of the thing the same height as the chicken wire.  That way I wouldn't have to spend a lot of time cutting it.
One side done.
Here's a closer view of the side.  The balusters were already cut at an angle at one end.  I'm hoping that this makes dragging it around a little easier.

I made two identical sides.  I cut the angled end off of 4 balusters and used them to attach the two sides together.  

Then I drilled holes in the top balusters that extended past the main part of the tractor.  I fed a rope through the holes a secured both ends with a eye splices.
I put a loop in the center of the rope with a simple over hand knot.
Closeup of the eye splice.
To give the birds some protection from the elements, I bought an 8' PVC roofing panel.  I cut two pieces the width of the tractor.  One was for the roof and the other for the rear.  I had one small remaining piece, so I put that on the side.
I used one of the remaining balusters across the top and attached one side of the roof panel to it.  I also attached a few balusters vertically on all four sides.  These gave me anchor points for the poultry netting and the back panel.  The final baluster was put in on an angle between the rear wall and one of the sides.  This gives the birds a place to get off the ground if they want to.
I used my staple gun to attach the poultry netting.
Back side of the chicken tractor.
I found a piece of scrap OSB in my shed.  It was left there by the previous owner.  One side of it was already painted.  I used it as a removable lid.  It'll allow me access to give them food and water.
I put in a hanging feeder.

Finally, I moved the thing to the back yard and put 5 birds in it.   I don't think they were too happy at first.  They kept looking around like they were trying to find a way out and back into the other tractor. 
I attempted to hang the water, but that didn't last long.
I'm sure they'll get used to it.  They have more space and there won't be as much fighting for food.