Winter garden and dirty chickens

Last year I planted some lettuce seed in a garden bed thinking I would have enough time to harvest the lettuce before winter came. It’s Maryland after all, my husband and brother were playing golf on Christmas Eve for heavens sake! Well, it got cold before I could harvest the lettuce so I threw a row cover over the lettuce sprouts. Then it snowed and snowed. I left the snow on the row cover figuring it would just help insulate the poor things underneath. In March I went out to check on the lettuce and there were FULL HEADS under the snow and row cover! FULL HEADS of lettuce in MARCH! I was so excited.

I’ve read Eliot Coleman and his ideas for 4 growing seasons and we’re giving it a shot with this:

 

We put the hoop house over 2 garden beds (about 4’x8′ each) and covered it on 4 sides with thick plastic sheeting. It will have an entrance on one end to allow us access to inside. The wood plank is just to avoid stepping in the garden beds. We’ll build something better next year, or rather, Steve will build something better 🙂

In the hoop house we have kale and collards (for the chickens) and lettuce and carrots (I think) for us. Ideally the hoop house will keep it just above freezing inside and the plants can grow slowly. You can only do cool season veggies like this, not summer. I’ll let you know how it goes.

As for the chickens, I had to clean their coop today. I couldn’t stand all that poop everywhere. Goodness chickens poop all the time…all the time. I have a poop tray that catches the majority of the poop at night and helps keep the inside of the coop pretty clean. But every few months I clean it all out and wash it down so it looks like this:

You can see the roost (bar), the poop tray and just below the BEST pine shavings EVER.
A closer view of the roost where the chickens sleep and the poop tray. It's filled with Sweet PDZ which acts as a dessicant and dries the poop to allow me to scoop it out with a cat litter scoop. The Sweet PDZ is granular so it sifts through the slots of the scooper. A couple of chickens actually sleep right on the ledge by the window...brrrr.
The nest boxes, usually filled with straw.

The roost is a 2″ x 4″ with the edges rounded off. The chickens sit on the bar, fluff their feathers over their feet and keep their feet warm that way. If you tried to use a narrower roost, you could give your chickens frostbite and that would not be fun for either of you.

They have lots of ventilation, even during the winter. Chickens put out a lot of moisture in their breath and this needs to escape otherwise it can settle on their combs and feet and cause frostbite. You must avoid direct drafts onto the chickens because a constant cold wind can make them sick. But air flowing above or below them is fine, just not ON them. They have 2 windows about 8′ in length and 2 more about 2′ in length for a total of 12’x1′ of wall ventilation (they have a window I close in the winter to prevent drafts).

The chickens come into the coop only to eat, lay eggs and sleep. Otherwise they are always outside.

 

This is their completely enclosed run. There is hardware cloth that is aproned around the entire perimeter to stop predators from digging.

The pictures above show you how the run is enclosed. The girls are always outside, if it’s raining or snowing, they go under the coop and hang out there. The coop is raised to prevent mice, rats and whatever else from building a home there. The food is kept in the coop exclusively, this is to prevent mold and to keep from tempting other critters. The water is outside and I use nipples to keep the water clean (in the first run picture, it’s the white thing hanging on the left).

This is what it looks like after the bedding has been added inside:

Pine shavings that the girls will compact with their feet.

And now they are sleeping and pooping and the whole cycle starts all over 🙂

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