Sunday, March 11, 2018

Gardening with Pallets

Gardening with Pallets

I have been using pallets and wood from pallets for gardening uses so I thought I would share some of the ways I use them and will update this post as I create more!
I had a large tree cut down by some men that did not complete the job and left this huge stump.  I decided to make it into a really high raised bed and it worked wonderfully!   I have been making things out of pallets for a while so I had some smaller pieces of wood that I had not used so I created this planter.  I nailed the strips all around the tree then filled with dirt and chicken/leaf compost.  I started planting in the spring with onions and sugar snap peas.  Later I planted a few cucumbers.  The cucumbers did very well.  A couple times a week I picked the amount of cucumbers in the picture below.
My grandson Isaac and I make BaIsaac pickles each summer which is a family favorite. He named be Ba when he was less than one year old.  Here is a link to the family recipe on our gurleyfamilycookbook.  
After the cucumbers finished producing I planted some collards thinking it may look like a chia pet.  They did very well too.  Before planting I topped the planter off with chicken/leaf compost.
When I find pallets that have the strips evenly distributed I turn them into raised beds for smaller crops like onions, garlic, scallions, and greens.  I add a strip or two of support wood from disassembled pallets to the bottom to give the bed 4-5 more inches of height.  
I also take the bottom bar of pallets to make a trellis for vine plants like the cucumber plants above.  I found that I sometimes need to put string between the slats for the tendrils to hold on to as they reach upward.  When I prepare for this upcoming season I will add some small strips between the slats.
Since I use leaves for bedding for my chickens i have constructed four of these large bins.  The are not hard to make and hold lots of leaves that will be used in the summertime,  I also use one to hold the leaves and poop I remove from the chicken coop.  By the time it gets there there is a perfect blend for compost.  It is filled sometime in the fall and I let it decompose for use in the spring.  Below is the first shovel full that I used this year.  Notice it is an excellent breeding ground for earthworms.
I get most of my pallets from a heating and air conditioning company that puts them on the road for folks like me to pick up.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 8

I decided to start a new flock of chickens in the fall of 2016.  Southern States usually has pullets in November so I gave my chickens to some families that wanted them.  They were older birds and I knew they would not lay well over the winter months.  The pullets never came in to the farm supply store and my wife became ill the first week of November so I held off getting a new flock.  On June 2, 2018 I was ready for the new pullets.  Since it is so difficult to integrate birds into an existing flock I decided to get them all at once with a couple extra in case something happened and some were lost.  I found that I could purchase a good selection of chickens from Backyard Chickens at Margaret's Roost 68 Rhyne Road, Clover, South Carolina 29710, (803) 810-6658.
I decided to get one chicken of each breed and they had ten.  The last flock had 2-3 of each breed and I could not tell them apart.  This way I can name them and the grandkids and I can call them by name.  They were seven and nine weeks old but the two weeks did not seem to have mattered.  For starters I began feeding them scratch out of my hands.
I wanted to be able to hold the chicken and have them behave more like pets so each morning I go out before there is too much light and I pick them up one by one from the roost, pet them then gently place them on the ground.  It took some time for them to be OK with it but it worked!  All looking different I can call them by name when I hold them.
The rest of the year I would be the only one handling them.  I would let others feed the chickens out of their hands but not hold them.  Now after a good six months I will let others hold them with my guidance.  This is Abby my niece holding Buffy while I am holding Speckles.

I made this chart so I could identify the chickens by breeds and names.  Another bonus is that the eggs are different colors.  The eggs in the picture below is what I see each time I gather the eggs.  They look different on the outside but the same on the inside.  When they first start laying the eggs are small and sometimes have double yokes.  
The chickens have been laying eggs all winter even with the shorter days.  They will do this the first year but the next winters I will need to extend their days by having a light come on early in the morning to give them a couple extra hours.  I put a strip of Christmas tree lights.  If you can read the paper with the light it is enough for them. 

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 7

It has been a while since I shared about my experiences with backyard chickens.  Before I formed my first flock I read books, magazines, and various websites.  I thought I knew everything about chickens and their care.  Little did I know what I would discover over the years and even more since my last post three years ago!  There is no size fits all plan.
I decided that the chicken coop needed to be expanded so my dad and I took on the project to add a second level on the existing side and to double the lower level for more floor space.  We have built it with one rule, it must be done with free pallets.  I wanted to be able to get into the coop with my chickens and stand up.
We added a nesting box at the end beside a door I cut for the entrance.  All the doors are secured by wooden strips.  The nesting box, above on the right, has an opening so we can gather the eggs and a box beneath it with builders sand which provides the grit they need to digest food.  I did end up using PVC pipes for the door so it would be lightweight.  I added a second level to the new run  for a protected area and for a box to hold feed, grains, and extra supplies.
On the outside run I have one side that has solid wooden planks for some shade and then I have screens made of chicken wire on a pallet frame.  These lift off for me to clean out the run.
I was able to extend the height of the two feeders in the coop and make a weather proof roof.  I glued and nailed 2x2 pallet strips for the ramp to the nesting area.  
I made an in-coop roosting area with two different sticks to hold two rows of birds.  When my new flock was young they were all on one strip but as they matured I added the second one.
I found that leaves are the best bedding for the floor of the coop.  In the fall I collect leaves that folks put out on the road, looking for the bags that have been mulched.  I have a box area under the roost that holds the leaves but they eventually end up all over the floor of the coop.  I never have any odor in the coop due to the poop mixing with the leaves.  After a few weeks the leaves break up into very fine pieces and I gather them and put in the outside run.  After a few more weeks I take to be composted.
This is compost as I dump it on my raised beds.  I credit my beautiful crops to the chicken poop compost and our bees.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our First Honey Bee Swarm

On Thursday, April 23, Robin and I were working in our yard around noon, Robin with her hay bale garden and I was working with my chickens. We noticed there was more bee activity outside the hive than bees flying to and from gathering pollen.  I took the video below.  Later the sky was filled with thousands of bees, see the picture above.

When a colony swarms, it divides to make two due to overpopulation and occurs normally in April and May.  The swarming bees engorge themselves with honey before leaving.  A queen bee from the hive landed on a nearby tree branch about ten feet above the ground.  The worker bees finally started to surround the queen who releases mandibular pheromone that draws them to her.

After about thirty minutes the bees were in a well formed cluster about the size of a football. We contacted Jimmy Odom, Robin's bee mentor to see if he could help us with the swarm. We knew it was in a location where it could be captured before it headed out to a new location.  Bees normally remain in this cluster for between 24 and 48 hours before moving to a new home in a tree or someone's house so we had to move quickly.
Jimmy arrived late morning on Friday, April 24 to remove the swarm to give to his ten year old grandson that wanted his first bee hive.   Jimmy used a swarm bucket to move the bees to an empty hive he brought with him.  He put the bucket around the swarm and hit the top on the branch around the swarm a couple time then quickly closed the bucket with the attached lid.  He poured the bees on the top of an open bee hive.  The bees started to move into the new hive but some returned to the branch.  Since the bees are not defending their colony, they are very docile so Jimmy did not need to wear a protective suit.
After the bees settled down a little into the new hive, Jimmy put on the inner cover, a cover with an opening in the center, over the bees .  Many of the disturbed bees returned to the branch during the next few minutes.  Swarm buckets were used a couple more times to guide the remaining bees to the hive.  The branch was removed to discourage any bees to return to the location since it has the strong odor of the mandibular pheromone. The hive was left until the next day before the bee were delivered to their new home.
Jimmy guided Robin as she checked out the bees that were left. She found that a good number were left so she added a shallow honey super with a queen excluder in hopes that we will get our first honey from the hive.    

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 6

Once again I have learned so much since starting with the chickens earlier this year.  As 2014 ends, I am taking time to update on where I am raising chickens.   I am learning by trying new things.  I started with shredded paper in the nesting area then went to wood shavings, and now I am trying shredded leaves.

As the year passed, I found that I did not need to cap the food at night or close the door to the coop.  I saw no signs of any critters doing anything at night.  However, things changed this fall the night before I came home from working out of town.  I found one of my Dominique chickens had her tail feathers ruffled  and torn away and was visually stunned.  I just knew she was going to die any minute.  She could barely reach down when I tossed in treats they love.  After two days she was getting back to her normal behavior.  Before this traumatic event she would stay right in front of the door. Afterwards and still today, all the chickens stay in or near the nesting boxes opposite the door side of the coop. 

I started closing the door at night and covering the feeders.  I thought I forgot to screw on the top of one of the feeders since it was off in the morning.  After the second night I discovered that the critter was unscrewing it to get the food.  I reinforced the pvc piping tube on the top of the run with black plastic U shapes I screwed down and used Velcro strips with the barb and loop connection point under for the free sides of the screen.

I found that the critter was still getting in so I boarded up the top and sides that connect to the coop.  The first night the side board was ripped off which was a sure sign of how the little guy was getting in.  I reinforced the board so it could not be removed.  I was amazed to see that the feeder was being turned around and unscrewed but from outside the run.

I decided to invest in a trap.  The first night I put the food on the trigger which was not far enough back so the critter escaped.  The next night I put the food in a clay dish on the back side of the trap and finally caught one of the animals, an opossum pictured above.  My neighbor Rick released it in a natural area several miles away.

Earlier this fall I raked leaves while Isaac mulched them so they would not take up so much space.  I put them on the floor of the run and found it was an excellent idea.  The chickens love to scratch thought it and it blends well with their poop.  After 3-4 weeks as the floor cover, I remove it, add it to the raised beds, throw in some additional earth worm, and cover with landscape cloth. 

I also made a chicken poop box and placed it below the nesting boxes.  I add to it each day when I clean the coop.  I have added earthworms to help decompose the materials.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 5

This fall I decided to add three Hy-Line Browns to my flock.  I ordered the pullets from Southern States for $7 each and picked them up on November 17.  I thought it would be good to phase in chickens each year.  Little did I know all the drama there would be when I added these girls.   I first put the four in the mobile run until right before dark then placed them in the permanent run with the other flock.  Aggressive attacks took place and had the Hy-Line Browns running for their lives!  I had to place an iron screen in the coop so the new additions could sleep in the coop.  I did this for two days before they would all sleep together without fighting.  The four older ones did not like being behind the screen so I think this helped in its removal and their peaceful nights.

I thought out the steps I would take to integrate the and worked the plan. 
  • The first couple of days I took the three from the coop in the morning and placed them in the mobile run which was next to the permanent one.  
  • On day three I let the girls out of the coop and found I had to physically remove the three and put them in the permanent run and then close the door so they could not get back in.  I found them mainly in under the coop in a small area, coming out only when I gave them treats.
  • I found that it was important to cut up the treats in small pieces and distribute them throughout the run so the new girls could eat instead of being pecked at by the older four.  I was surprised to find that the chickens ate the feathers they plucked from each other.
  • After a couple days I blocked off access to the coop so all the chickens had to be in the run.  This worked since the hens had already stopped laying eggs to molt and for the short days of the year.
It took eleven days but at that point I could say they were integrated.  The "birds of a feather, flock together" is so true with chickens.  Pecking order was obvious.  After another week there was very little fear from the Hy-Line Browns and nothing more that the normal social pecking order behavior.

I think it may have been easier to start with a whole new flock.  It will be interesting to see how many eggs the older chickens will lay this spring. 

The favorite green food the chickens enjoy is chick weed, a very common cool weather weed.  Here is a pictures of chickweed to help in the identification process.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mobile Device Document Camera Stands

I use mobile devices in schools and during seminars.  I have found that a mobile device document camera can be useful, especially when a dedicated document camera is not available.  Devices can be projected using VGA/HDMI adaptersApple TV, Chromcast, and AirServer and Reflector software.   I put the document stands I make on white surfaces and use sheets of color 8" x 11" paper so I know where to place the object I want to project.

Top view of document camera, 14" wire grid, and zip ties with cutter. 

I have some storage units in my garage composed of cubes made of 14" metal wire squares.  There are corner connectors that hold them together.  A few years ago I purchased two sets at yard sales for a few bucks each.  However, some of the connectors were missing so I had eight single squares.  Using zip ties and some plastic clippers I connected four pieces to make my first my first homemade document camera.    

Once again when I went yard sale shopping yesterday,July 26, 2014, I found the unit above that was missing all but eight connectors.  I purchased it since I knew I could make three document stands.  It also included five cloth boxes, all for $3.00. When I arrived home I discovered the grid sizes were different that the white ones in my garage.

I now have three different grid sizes in the 14" frames.  The white is 9 x 9 and blacks 5 x 5 and 8 x 8. 

 I found that when using the corner connectors I only need three frames.  Smaller grid sizes on the sides and the larger on the top so the iPad can be moved without a grid line blocking the view.  It is easily disassembled and stored when not needed.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 4

I have learned so much since starting with the chickens this winter.  All four chickens are doing well and enjoy the treats I give them throughout the day.  They thrive on eating leafy vegetables when I pull them up at the end of their growing season or ones that insects have started eating.  I am finding what they enjoy eating and often give them treats.  Since I have chickens and worms I have a lot less to compost.  

My dad picked up some pallets and shared how nice they were and his vision for a chicken run.  He removed one side of the boards and brought them over.  I assisted as he put them together in the back yard.  It consists of one 5” pallet wide two long.  I temporarily added 2' chicken wire around it and used pallets for the top.

Isaac and I worked together to pain it. He rolled the slats while I painted the sections at the top and bottom.  He worked nonstop until we had finished.  I put chicken 3" wire around the outside leaving an opening for the chickens to get into the coop and a door for them to get out to free range.

This is the finished run.  I made five 2' X 5' PVC screens to go on the top of the pallets which can be removed for access.  I normally have landscape cloth on the front and some of the top to provide shade.

I use the PVC run as my modified free ranging that I use on the days each chicken lays an egg.  I normally am working in the yard and move the cage every 15 minutes.  The chicken rush in when I link the doors and are normally quickly return to their permanent home when I re-link the runs.

I buy food and supplies in bulk due to the price.  Chickens need extra calcium for the eggs they lay so it is good to have a continuous source available. Crushed oyster shells sells for $8.95 for five pounds or $12.99 for fifty.  I needed a holder for the oyster shell and found a small strawberry pot and filled with oyster and covered with a PVC 3” couple and lid.  It works well since the chickens just consume it when they fill a need.

I use diatomaceous earth to keep down the insect population.  It looks a lot like flour and I use a plastic ketchup holder like you see when you go to a hot dog stand as my sprayer.   I dust under their wings by holding each chicken by her feet.  When I change the bedding, I spray their coop with the dust.  When larvae come in contact with this substance, it is like glass and cuts holes in the insects but do not harm the chickens.

I decided to try wood shavings for the nesting instead of shredded newspaper and found that it works better and easier to clean. A large bail is around $5 and lasts for a long time.

I also found that the chickens like cracked corn better than whole.  They will eat the whole corn from your hand when feeding but prefer cracked when given a choice since they leave the whole corn in the scratch mixture.  Grace is watching the chickens eat after being fed by Isaac and Elise.

The four generations that built this chicken coop are pictured here.  We all enjoyed doing out part so we could enjoy raising chickens and eating their eggs.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 3

I decided to add a base to the chicken coop to prevent the bottom wood of the structure from rotting and to make it sturdy to hold up to strong winds and large animals.  I left the center open so it would have an earthen floor.  Once I knew that the chickens were coming earlier than later,  I spend hours reading books and webpages and viewing YouTube videos to learn about backyard chickens and how to make feeders, water suppliers, and runs.  I settled on these as the best of the best I found during my research.  

My first construction was water containers.  I made six from juice bottles and poultry nipples.  It took less than five minutes from construction to handing in the coop for each one.  I purchased 50 poultry nipples for $15.00 which were more than enough but something I could share with other backyard chicken farmers.  I was amazed how simple it was to create.  To make each one I drilled: 

  • a 5/16" hole in the lid then screwed the nipple in making sure the nylon washer was tight.  
  • a small hole in the bottom of the container and ran nylon string through it out the mouth of the container. 
  • a little hole in the cap of a drink bottle plastic cap and tied the end of the string to it and pushed the cap inside the bottle.  I could have used a washer or just about anything that would fit in the mouth of the container.
Finally I tied a loop in the string and hung on the wire in the coop and on the PVC pipe on each corner of the run.   I used small S hooks in the coop and used old plastic shower curtain hangers for the water bottles on the run.  I also used the hangers to hold wire on the cage in areas where I did not want permanent holds with zip ties.  I also used Velcro cable wraps to hold the chicken wire on the run where I wanted a temporary opening to drop food into the run.

On the same trip when I went to pick up the chicken feed I stopped by Lowes and purchased the parts to the feeder.  I used 4" PVC pipe since they only had WYE in 4" with a 3" opening.  This worked out well since it holds more food and a filling last for almost a week.  There has been no waste and the chickens have no problem sticking their heads in to it to get the feed.  I purchased materials to make another one that uses a WYE 3" with a 3" opening for use in the run.  I was encourage to do this when I found several parts on sale and my dad had the 3" PVC pipe ;-)

When I was reworking my feeder I found a plastic plate in the PVC section of Lowes that blocks the food from going below where the chickens can't get to it.  This is a major improvement. 

I spent much time thinking about the run that I needed to add to the coop.  I decided to make it three feet tall, five feet wide and eight feet long with supports in the middle and an opening that would match the door to the coop.  It has worked out well.  I make sure they stay connected during the day with mini bungee cables.  I secured the wire with zip ties and at the ends where I had to cut the wire I allotted enough wire to wrap around the PVC pipe and over lap which allow it to "lock in" to the side wire.  This is something l learned by doing and pleasantly surprised that it held into place.