Friday, May 11, 2012
We finally did it! We built our dream coop. One of the first things we wanted to do when we started our urban homestead was to start a min-flock of backyard hens. Chickens not only provide a great, healthy protein source, but they also eat pest insects, create new garden beds, and provide nitrogen for the compost pile.
We chose to use plans from The Garden Coop. They are clear and easy to follow, and there are plenty of ways to adapt them to fit your own personality (we added the tree that looks like it's growing through the door and used barn wood salvaged from local tobacco barns and a barn from my childhood home).
The best thing about this design is that it is very easy to maintain, and many problems that could arise with backyard hens can be completely avoided by using solid coop design. The egg door is in front, allowing eggs to be gathered without entering the coop. Hardware cloth is buried around the perimeter to prevent predators from entering, and we use the deep litter method (layering carbon material like wood shavings) to create compost in the coop and run.
One of our favorite adaptations was the addition of hinged doors on each side of the coop. This allows the hens access to a large daytime run area, where they eat all the vegetation and compost in place (more deep litter, and added compost materials for them to scratch around in). We will rotate these daytime grazing areas seasonally, so that the area currently planted in cool season brassicas will be cleared out by the hens in midsummer, and the area they are currently grazing will become the fall garden for leafy greens and cabbages (and will be nice and fertile!).
We have also included dwarf fruit trees in the run areas, so that in the long run, the hens can eat any dropped fruit and deter pests in our mini-orchard. Of course, we don't expect much fruit to spoil-- fruit doesn't last long in the garden when there's a little one around.
Posted by megan at 2:06 PM
This is our first experiment with building our own cob oven. We've been longing for one in our own backyard for a year. Last summer it seemed that cob ovens were everywhere we turned. After attending the cob oven workshop at ENCM last summer taught by the fellows at Old World Oven Company, we thought maybe we could make one ourselves. (We were also inspired by friends with a can-do attitude who had one built in their backyard and fired it right up). We saw a beautiful example at the Lyons Farmette, and learned how central the oven at the Edible Schoolyard was to their program-- the oven was built even before the gardens! Nothing like pizza to get kids interested in cooking and gardening.
So, after much research and gathering of materials, we are finally making our own oven. Our main resource has been Build Your Own Earth Oven, by Kiko Denzer.
It has all the details you need to get started and Denzer has a way of making one feel confident enough to just dig in and start building. As suggested in the book, we started with a mini-oven to get a feel for the consistency of the oven mud and learn some technique. We had so much fun as a family and it came together very quickly, since it is small and not well-insulated like our final version will be. The technique is simple enough for even a young child to help (our daughter is four and she was involved in every step).
This oven is made of clay subsoil (we found ours for free on craigslist-- already dug up from someone building a house and excavating a foundation. We live in the red clay South-- perfect for sourcing clay). The clay is mixed with sand to make oven mud, and packed around a wet sand form on a base. It is a simple, ancient, and beautiful process. Papa had the idea to make it into a Tororo, one of our daughter's favorite characters, and fitting since Totoro is a shape-shifting king of the forest.
Posted by megan at 9:56 AM
What a weird name for a blog. Why would anyone want to be poor, or worse yet, live on a "poor farm?"
A little background: our family was able to buy a small urban property three years ago. A house, a large workshop, and 1/2 acre of solid grass (the previous owners weren't big on gardening-- we considered it a blank slate). We had been dreaming of a place of our own, to grow some food, make some things, and have a sweet little life. We thought it would be in the country, but we hadn't found anything in our price range, and we decided to stay in the city, close to family. Three years and many garden projects later, this small piece of land has become our own little urban subsistence farm.
In the course of getting to know the neighborhood, we discovered that this piece of land was once part of the "Davidson County Poor Asylum," an early home for the poor, which was self-financed through the agricultural products produced by the residents. There are several fascinating accounts of the history of this land, and we look forward to reading more.
Every time we dig in the soil, we find strange treasures (or trash, depending on your perspective)-- the natural consequences of digging where many people have lived over the years. We always wonder how that bottle got there, which child lost that old toy or marble. Knowing this piece of the past has provided a bit of insight and a connection to those who cared for this land before us. We also share a kinship with the poverty of that time-- our country is struggling through difficult economic times, and our family in particular experienced a reduction in income that would have been much more difficult to weather without the hope we found in our garden. We love the sense of empowerment that comes from growing our own food, the resilience provided in the soil. When other systems fail, it is important to know that one can literally feed oneself and one's family. We see truth in Wendell Berry's statement that "eating is an agricultural act," and in Michael Pollan's assertion that eating is a political act, too. Every calorie we produce here is value added to our household budget and a closer connection to our food and land.
Posted by megan at 9:22 AM