Growing Here: Comfrey (Bocking 14)

If you are a regular here at Three Acre Paradise you may notice I’ve removed the “Whats Growing Here” list, this is being replaced with these every other Thursday posts. This will make it a lot easier for me to keep up with the constant changes here. You can view all of the new “Growing Here” posts directly from the menu at the top of the screen. One other change is that all the images I use will be directly from the plants growing here at the time of the post. With that said, here’s all about Comfrey.

Description

Comfrey is an easy to care for perennial plant and is classified as a herb. Comfrey can grow quite tall and prolific, for that reason there are several varieties bred as to not take over your garden area. The main uses for Comfrey is as a medicinal plant and to improve soil but it can also be used as a feed supplement for animals.

Larger Comfrey Russian Bocking 14

The most popular varieties of Comfrey are True Comfrey, Bocking 4, and Bocking 14.

True Comfrey can propagate through seed and can quickly take over a garden area. I don’t have any personal experience with this but from what I have read it is very difficult to control and get rid of.

The Bocking 4 variety has sterile seeds so it will not spread nearly as rapid as the True Comfrey. This variety is most popular as feed for animals.

Bocking 14 is the variety currently growing at Three Acre Paradise. This variety also has sterile seeds and is the most popular for home gardeners. The remainder of this post will refer to the Bocking 14 variety only.

Uses

Medicinal: The Comfrey leaf has a long and well documented history of healing wounds and broken bones. Yes, that’s right, when applied to the skin externally it is said to be able to speed up the healing of broken bones. I don’t personally have experience with that but I have used it in two other occasions. The first time was a puncture wound, this was on a knuckle and wouldn’t stop bleeding. It wasn’t deep enough to warrant a medical visit and the wound was clean, I applied a Comfrey leaf to it and the bleeding stopped within about three minutes.

The second time was about a week ago, I got stepped into a red ant mound and ended up with around 5 stings on my ankle. I took a Comfrey leaf, rolled it between my hands to release it’s juices, then used my sock to hold it in place over the stings. After about a half hour I replaced the leaf with a freash one and left that in place for about an hour. The Comfrey removed all evidence of being stung. Typically it would swell up, fill with puss, and itch for a few days, in this case it was done and over with.

Comfrey contains allantoin which is known to aid granulation and cell formation. This is where a lot of its healing power comes from. Comfrey is also used to make creams, oils, and tinctures  but should not be taken internally.

Animal Fodder: Comfrey is a fast growing plant that is high in protein and makes an excellent food source for chickens, cows, goats, and pigs. It is best to plant the Comfrey away from where the animals feed and take the leaves to them so they do not decimate the crop.

Building Soil: Comfrey has long tap roots that can bring up minerals from deep in the ground. Some of the ways to use Comfrey are in a chop and drop manner, left to grow around fruit trees, or you can make a compost tea from the leaves. Comfrey is high in potassium which banana plants need in abundance when fruiting, I’m going to plant some around my banana circles this year.

Growing Comfrey

Comfrey is hardy from zones 4 – 9, and will grow in full or partial sun. Comfrey may be started in a pot but for best results should be relocated in the ground as soon as possible due to the deep root system. Comfrey can be grown in hard, compact soils and will help break these up. Plants can get large and should be spaced two feet apart. Comfrey will go dormant in the winter and re-emerge once the weather warms up. Comfrey generally does not have any problems with pests or disease. Soil should be neutral to acidic, range of 6.0 – 7.0 is ideal.

Propagation

Smaller Comfrey Russian Bocking 14

The Bocking 14 variety does not produce viable seeds so propagation is done with root or stem cuttings. It is very easy, just dig up the plant and cut the root into little pieces and plant them. When using small root cuttings it may take two years for the plant to really take off, a transplanted stem will do the same in just one year. If you till an area where Comfrey is growing it will chop the roots into little pieces and you will end up with more plants, the best way to remove it from an area is to pull the plants up whole.

Comfrey at Three Acre Paradise

There are currently three very small patches of Comfrey at Three Acre Paradise (photos in this post), I have recently placed an order for more of the Bocking 14 variety. These will be placed around some of the banana plants to see if it helps with fruit production. I’m also considering planting some True Comfrey in the back of the property that is reserved for wildlife, it can grow unrestrained there and may be beneficial to the local animal population.

Wikipedia Page for Comfrey

 

 

 

 

 

EZ Life Tip 1: Stop Calling Me!

EZ Life Tips will be posted every other week on Thursdays (or Friday in case of holidays), these tips include money saving ideas and things you can do to make everyday life just a little bit better. Alternate Thursdays will be plant focused posts that go in depth on things that are growing at Three Acre Paradise, other posts will continue as usual.

This first tip is a bit specific, it only applies to iPhone users but if anyone who has an Android phone knows of a similar functionality please let me know. I’ve been inundated with telemarketing calls lately, it’s gotten so bad that I don’t answer my phone unless I recognize the caller. Sound familiar? Blocking these calls does no good, telemarketers are spoofing random numbers. Spoofing is making the call look like it came from a number that it did not (see this FCC link for more information). In fact, they may even be using your number to call other people! I’ve had more than one person call me and tell me to stop calling them, I try to explain to them what spoofing is but they don’t want to hear it and hang up.

Can you do anything about this? Well you can’t block the phone numbers since they can spoof new ones but you can prevent unknown numbers from ringing your iPhone. They can still call and leave messages but at least you won’t be disturbed. How can you accomplish this? By enabling Do Not Disturb mode.

To turn this on, go to your Settings then to the Do Not Disturb option (click each picture for full size view):

Iphone settings - Do Not Disturb

Next, turn on Do Not Disturb. Also turn on the Allow Calls From option and select Favorites.

Iphone do not disturb and allow favorites

Now this will make it so all unknown numbers will not ring your phone but calls from anyone in your favorites can get through. Unfortunately this also blocks ALL texts from making an alert but we can get around this. First, scroll down further and set Auto-Reply To to No One.

Iphone auto reply to no one

Now, to enable a person to be able to text (and alert) you, go edit that Contact and go to the section called Text Tone.

Iphone contact text tone

Turn the Emergency Bypass for this contact on and save it. When they text you the alert will now sound even when the Do Not Disturb is turned on.

Iphone contact emergency bypass

There you have it! When any of the people in your favorites calls you your phone will ring or vibrate, all other calls will remain silent. Anyone with the Emergency Bypass will be able to text you and you will get the alert, all others will remain silent. It really doesn’t take very long to set this all up, for me there’s only about a dozen people I had to add to favorites and edit their contact info.

I hope this makes someone’s life a little easier. See you with another tip in two weeks!

 

Whats up?

You know what takes a lot of time for little return? Editing old blog posts. I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing old posts based to improve search results and make them more pleasing to read. One example of the changes I’ve been making, all pictures will be able to be clicked to get high res versions. I haven’t finished updating all the previous posts yet but should be done in the next few weeks. None of the written content is being changed, just picture information and some housekeeping to reduce the size of things.

In the meantime, there’s a lot happening here. In this post I’ll highlight some of the things going on and in future posts I’ll dig into the projects with more detail.

Aquaponic System #2

Aquaponic system parts

What? I know if you’ve been following this blog you may be asking why would I build a second system when the first one has not produces as good as other gardening methods. The answer is simple, it was free. This shows the value of letting everyone you know that you are interested in things like this, a friend got in touch with me and asked if I wanted the system (thanks Kim!).

Whats my plans for this? I haven’t completely decided yet but here’s one idea. I may add the fish tank and one more media bed to my current system, this would expant the plant beds and I’d use the second fish tank to raise coy (existing tank is tilapia). The other beds would be used as wicking beds and tied into the pond to see how good this works. Anyone else have other ideas?

Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit

This dragon fruit bunch is doing fantastic. The other ones are doing OK but not nearly as good as this one. This is the growth after just one year, I haven’t seen any flowers yet but I’m hoping this happens soon.

Dragon fruit buds

It may be hard to see in the picture but there are little buds appearing all over the dragon fruit at the top. There are also some buds starting on the lower parts so within a few months this will be much thicker with branches. All this and I’ve already harvested some sections off for propagation!

Chaya

Chaya plant

Just like the dragon fruit, I’ve got Chaya growing all over the place and some of it is doing great. This plant is about six to seven feet tall and has been harvested heavily for eating and propagation. I’ll be doing a more detailed post on Chaya in the near future.

Duckweed

Duckweed in aquaponics

I converted my aquaponics raft bed to grow duckweed and it is also doing well. I use this as fish food for the aquaponics system and the pond. There were a few slight modification I had to make to the bed for this.

Aquaponics fill pipe

Duckweed likes very still water so I extended the fill pipe to go under the water. Previously it dripped into the bed and made a lot of water disturbance.

Aquaponics drainpipe modification

The drain pipe also had to be changed so the duckweed doesn’t just flow out of the tank. I created an inverted “U” for the drain and drilled a couple of small holes hear the top. The water now enters from about two inches below the water line but the small holes keep it from turning into a siphon.

New Planting Area

Mulch bed plant area

Ever notice how great things grow in a mulch bed? I have two macro bins (citrus bins) that I use for mulch and compost and there is always something trying to grow in them. Now I have a third mulch area but this one is on the ground. I toss all kinds of things in here just to see how it does but to get things started there is some daikon radish in there now. I call it my commando garden and it will be interesting to watch.

Pigeon Peas

Large pigeon pea plants

I’ve highlighted the pigeon pea plants before, they now have flowers and will be fruiting soon. This is pretty exciting as these things are huge! Last year I got maybe a dozed pea pods, this year there will probably be hundreds, if not thousands. Bring on the recipes! This plant is about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide.

What Else?

The house water here is on a well and we have had some problems with it, I’ve been rebuilding and improving the filtration system and that will be the subject of an upcoming post. After that is done, I’ll be starting the fence for the rest of the property.

Beginning this week there will be a post done every Thursday and I’ll be alternating between highlighting a plant growing here and some tips I’ve found to make life easier. These should be a lot of fun and these will be in addition to the regular posts. The plant highlights will also link to the “Whats Growing Here” informational pages but will have more detail specific to the actual plants on site.

See you on Thursday!

Generator Transfer Switch Installation

Today we take a step away from the garden to install a generator transfer switch in the house. In the three years that we have lived at Three Acre Paradise we have only lost power once for an extended period of time (around 18 ours) but in previous residences I’ve been without power for up to three weeks. We do have a grid tied solar power system here but if the grid goes down the solar system also shuts down as a safety measure. There is a way to back feed a generator to the house which works fine but it is more difficult to set up and has many other disadvantages.

A generator manual transfer switch is an less expensive alternative to a whole house generator. In the future I plan on adding a battery backup to the solar system so it can run off grid so in the meantime I don’t want to spend the money on a whole house generator. The transfer switch allows me to quickly switch selected circuits over to alternative power (portable generator or battery bank & inverter) while the rest of the house is still tied to the grid. On nice thing about this is that when grid power does come back on it will be obvious (other circuits will power on) and I can switch back very easily.

Here is the panel I bought:

Relaince Pro/Tran2 panel

After a bit of research I found that Reliance panels are rated very well and for my purposes a 10 circuit 30 amp panel is needed. When sizing a panel you have to add up all the loads you would like to run (amps) and figure out how many circuit breakers these are spread across. I could actually get by with a 20 amp panel but I needed at least 9 circuits to cover all wants. All lights in the house are LED (make this your first step – it’s cheaper to conserve) so the lighting draw is very low but spread out throughout the house and a lot of circuits.

In addition to the panel, I got a flush mount kit to make the installation look clean. Here’s Amazon links to both items:

I wanted to mount the transfer switch next to the main circuit breaker panel for ease of access. Here’s a lifepro tip: if you build a home take a TON of pictures during construction. The most important ones are when all the wall framing is up, wiring is in, but insulation has not been put in yet. This gives you an x-ray view into your walls, and as you can see here it came in very handy.

Xray view of wall

This is the view behind my main breaker panel. I can’t put the transfer switch to the left of the panel due to a doorway. To the right, I can see there is a cross brace (blue) and some studs backing an interior wall (red). I’ll have to put the panel low and deal with the wall backing when I get the hole cut.

The first thing I did was cut a large hole in an area I know is clear, from here I can reach my hand in and determine where that horizontal cross brace is (blue from above).

First hole cut in wall

With that in mind, I traced an outline for the box making sure it was far enough away from the circuit panel so that I could get the flush mount kit flange installed as well.

Box outline and hole cut

Here’s the wall after the hole was cut. This picture is actually from a few steps later where I made notches around the outside corners for the flush mount kit as you will see in the next few steps. The studs for the inside bracing can be seen here running right down the middle.

Wall interior

I still wasn’t sure how good the fit would be so this is the moment of truth:

Test fit of Reliance Pro/Tran2

Pretty good! The knockout for the wires can be seen here and it lined up between the drywall and studs. The mounting tabs for the flush mount kit stand out just a little bit due to the boards on the back, but the studs will provide a secure place to screw the box to.

Here’s a closer look at the mounting tabs, they are out just about a quarter of an inch. I need them flush with the drywall for the best fit.

Closeup of bracket ears

The mounting tabs are not part of the main box, rather they are an “L” bracket screwed onto the side. To move the tabs back I simply extended the holes on the brackets to allow them to slide back a little further. This was nice as it did not require any modifications to the main box.

At this point I got tired of dealing with all the wires dangling in the way so I took out the switch assembly.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 gutted

To get the transfer switch wiring to the main breaker panel I had to cut through a wall stud. I got lucky as the breaker panel had a knockout in the right place, if it hadn’t then I would have had to cut a hole in the metal.

Conduit path cut

Once the hole was cut I did a test fit of the conduit and cut it to length. This flex conduit was included in the Reliance Pro/Tran2 310C kit.

Conduit test fit

The transfer switch box is now ready for mounting, I screwed it directly to the studs behind the box. It is VERY secure.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 cabinet mounted

Since I moved the bracket for the flush mount kit back, the trim panel now bumps into a couple of screws on the main box. A metal nibbler took care of this.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 flush mount kit K2F10 notched

Next step is to put the switches back in and run the wiring. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 mounted with K2F10 flush mount kit

There was no way that was going to work. I’ve run plenty of wires through conduit and I tried all the tricks. I used wire lube, tried running them one at a time, tried pulling through as a bunch. That ninety degree bend is a challenge so there’s only one way I could think of to get it done:

Running wires for Reliance Pro/Tran2 310C

Yup, I took everything back apart and ran the wires before putting the whole assembly back in the wall. The ninety degree bend (elbow) on the conduit could be taken apart so I ran the wires first, then bent them and assembled all the conduit pieces. A bit of a pain in the neck but in the end this was the most difficult part of the whole process.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 310C mounted

Now the switch is back in place and all the wires are run to the breaker panel.

Here you can see a closeup of how tight the wires are coming through the conduit. One rule when working with conduit and wiring, whatever conduit you think you need go ahead and bump it up one size. Unfortunately this one came this way so I just used what they provided.

Generator panel conduit detail

At this point I’ve got the transfer switch mount completed and I’m ready to wire the breaker panel. I had to wait until I could shut the power off at the main breaker outside the house and I had to remember to shut down the solar inverters as they also provide power to the panel.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 ready to wire

Here’s the start of the wiring, I did the only 240v circuit first and tested it before doing the others. This circuit powers the water pump for our well. This transfer switch allows for up to two 240v circuits but I only needed one. Each 240v requires two switches, this left me with eight switches for the rest of the house.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 wiring started

I tried to balance the remaining circuits across the legs equally (each 120v branch is a leg, combined they make a 240v circuit). This helps get maximum use from the generator. For example, we have two refrigerators so I put each on a different leg. The rest of the circuits are pretty light draw (mostly lighting) so they were just balanced across.

List of circuits

Here is a picture of the panel all wired up, I took the opportunity to move a few breakers around as part of this process.

Reliance Pro/Tran2 wiring complete

The final product all buttoned up.

gen-panel-23

I chose to put the power inlet right on the panel rather than run a power inlet box outside. My reasoning is that during a storm I can use a battery bank (a couple of deep cycle batteries or golf cart batteries) with an inverter to keep some lights, tv, and refrigerator running. Once the storm passes I just run a cord outside to a generator.

Anything I would do different? No, I’m happy with how this turned out. I run an annual test of my generators (at the start of hurricane season) and this will make that easier and more accurate as I can easily put the real load in place. If battery prices come down in the next few years than maybe a triplet of Tesla Powerwalls will make this unnecessary but it will still be there for backup in case they fail.

 

Installing a transfer switch is not hard but unless you are a serious DIY’er like myself then I would just hire an electrician to do it. Buy the parts yourself and it shouldn’t take them more than a couple of hours.

Until next time, stay warm and lighted!

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Coop Build – Final

Welcome to part three of the chicken coop build at Three Acre Paradise. Part one of the build focused on building the foundation for the coop, part two was the main framing. This post is about finishing touches and moving the coop into place, I’ll have some follow up posts in the future with the feeders and watering system (and a chicken run when I get around to building it).

As of the last post the coop has taken shape and has been moved outside as it got too tall for the workshop. The focus now is on features and trim work. In this picture, you can see a few trim boards installed and a couple of others cut and ready for staining. The trim is simply 1×4 lumber (and a few 1×6 pieces) screwed over the stapled edges of the welded wire. For future repairs of any part of the coop it shouldn’t be too hard as most boards are screwed into place.

Chicken coop trim

Inside the coop house I’ve put a divider board in to separate the chicken area from the storage area. The storage will be used for coop supplies and for the water tank for the automatic watering. This view is from the storage side which is approximately two feet deep and four feet wide.

Chicken coop storage

Here is the view from the chicken side. The opening this picture is taken from is the clean out doors, the nesting boxes are on the right, and the chicken entry door is partly visible in the back.

Chicken home

In both previous openings you can see the lip at the top and bottom, these are for the doors to fit flush against. This will help keep rain out of the coop and give the doors something to support against. I also added some welded wire between the hen house and open area of the coop, this is to prevent the chickens from trying to roost up there and potentially get stuck. The same opening to the storage side is blocked off with wood.

The coop is being installed in the shade of some large trees so heat should not be an issue.

Blocked chicken access

Next, here is the coop with trim installed. The small opening at the bottom will be a slide up automated door for the chickens to access their run during the day, more detail on that later.

Chicken coop trim

Now for the nesting box. I didn’t have a real good plan for this so it was designed as I went, one thing I’d do different next time is make the opening a lot bigger. By the time it was built I lost a lot of interior space so it went from a three nest design down to two. The first thing was to build some sides, these were made from thick plywood and attached directly to the coop.

Nesting box sides

I then added some 2×2’s around the bottom to support the floor.

Nesting box floor support

Then the floor was cut and test fit prior to staining and mounting.

Nesting box floor

With the nesting box floor in place, I made it so the back could be opened for cleaning. This took some trial and error but here is the result.

Nesting box access

Here’s the back flipped open. Note all hardware I used is heavy galvanized, no zinc coated stuff for this coop.

Nesting box opened

All is going good so far, next is the top. This turned out to be pretty challenging, I wanted to be able to flip it open and latch it up out of the way but that didn’t work out. Weatherproofing took priority so the end result is it can be held up most of the way or easily removed, but it is not hinged. I may modify this at a later time to make it easier to use.

Here is the top piece after being cut and stained. Note the grooves line up with the siding, the little details count!

Nesting box top test fit

Here’s another view, you can see it is difficult to make it weatherproof and easy to use. To make it so the top could flip up all the way would require it to be attached to the outside but I prefer it goes up into the coop so water won’t enter.

Nesting box construction side view

I put a trim board above the nesting box roof to further keep water out and for aesthetics. The latch to hold the top on was also added at this point. Note all hasps on the coop are twist to lock and if needed I could add something through the lock hole if raccoons became a problem. So far they haven’t.

Nesting box almost complete

A shot inside the nesting box showing how the back is secured (opens for cleaning).

Nesting box inside

Here is the nesting box with the top on and secured.

Nesting box completed

You may have noticed in a couple of the other pictures that the side door is on. This was built with a 2×4 along the back edge then 2×2’s on the other 3 sides. Some shelf bracket angle pieces (galvanized) in the corners help keep it square.

Chicken coop main door

The hen house clean-out doors and storage doors were made from the pieces that were cut out, that way the grooves in the wood lined right up. Here is the hen house doors mounted and partially stained.

Cleanout doors installed

These doors have a piece of 1×4 on the inside as a hinge backer and one door has one in the middle for support. Here you can see the middle piece clearly.

Coop door middle bracing

With the door opened you can see both backings.

Coop door backings

This is the coop clean-out doors wide open, it makes things a little more clear. At the top and bottom of the doors you can see how they fall into the lip on the coop to help seal. When closed, the doors are flush against the coop sides and blend right in.

This picture was taken before the nesting box was completed so you can see it in progress as well (right side).

Cleanout doors installed

This inside shot is after the nesting box was completed, you can see there was a lot of space lost due to the sides and roof of the nesting box structure. Bigger next time!

Nesting box from inside

Doors on, nesting box build, main door ready. We are almost ready to move the coop!

Coop ready for move

I mentioned earlier about a sliding door on the back of the coop, here is an inside shot of it. For now I can raise or lower it from the outside using a rope, in a future project this will be automated to open at dawn and close at dusk. The door will probably have to be changed quite a bit as it does not slide up and down too easily.

Chicken run access door

Now, how to move the coop. As usual, I tackled this problem when the time came so there was no real plan until then. The coop is way too large and unwieldy to pick up with just pallet forks on the tractor so the next best idea is to make a dolly.

I used some tires from Harbor Freight, the axles are just threaded rod, and these were attached with some angle iron drilled out. The dolly frame is a hodge podge of 4×4 lumber but it served it’s purpose well. I picked up the other end with the tractor and very slowly drove it to the new location.

Coop dolly

To retain better control, the heavy side was the one lifted by the tractor.

Coop dolly front

When the coop was straddled over the foundation, a little push from the tractor put it right in place. I used some concrete anchors and angle brackets to bolt it down, unfortunately there’s no pictures of those steps. Here’s what it looked like right after the move.

Chicken coop in place

You can see a few chips in the foundation from maneuvering the coop into place but none of them are too bad. This makes a good case for putting dye into the concrete, if that were done there wouldn’t be any need for touch up. All concrete projects I do now have the coloring put right in the mix.

Coop in position

Next step is to shingle the roof. I waited until after the move to do this to avoid damaging the roof and also reduce the total weight during the move. The shingles match the ones on our house, these are leftovers from when it was built.

Coop being shingled

Shingled installed, just need to do the ridge.

Coop shingled except ridge

The chickens were already placed in the coop but I noticed at night they all gathered at the hen house door. The interior of the coop is very dark so as an experiment I put a small light in there, that worked as the birds went inside.

For a more permanent solution, I added a solar powered led light. Here is a link to the one I used, I cut off all but one light from the string so the battery would last longer. The solar panel was mounted by the coop door which faces west.

Coop solar panel

Mounting the panel was simple as it already had a bracket attached, a few wire clamps hold it in place.

Coop solar mount

Wires were stapled along the interior:

Coop light wiring

A final wire clamp holds the lamp in place. This has been running for a year and a half now with no problem.

Coop lamp mount

In the future I’ll add a more elaborate solar power system to power an interior light, wireless video camera, door for the run, and water monitor but for now this works well.

Here is a picture inside the coop with bedding in place, note the retaining board added to the front to hold the shavings from falling out. That board is removable to make cleaning easier.

Coop house bedding

From this angle you can see how the retaining board and coop doors all line up when closed. The coop doors help hold the board in place, there is a beveled board attached on the inside to keep it from falling out.

Retaining board detail

Hangars for food and water were added to use until the permanent feeders and watering were set up, happy birds!

Coop food and water

So there you have it – the coop is fully operational. On this last picture you can see the small rake hanging on the back, this is used for cleaning and herding the chickens around.

Completed chicken coop

Most of the things I’d do different are around the foundation, it would be bigger (taller) and the whole thing would be on higher ground. It has held up well including through some of the worst flooding this area has seen but I’d feel better if it was about six inches higher up. The nesting boxes are smaller than planned but has not caused any problems for our current eight birds.

If I were to do it again, and I probably will make another coop someday, it will be made from concrete. I’d build it as a building that could be re-purposed later or divided up for multiple bird types. This coop cost around $1,500 to make, the one I’d like to have would easily be triple that. That’s a project for five years out, this coop will easily last that long and maybe ten years or more. At a year and a half old now there’s very little sign of wear.

If you are reading this and are in the Brevard County, Florida area please check our Facebook page for upcoming events. We host seed and plant exchanges at Three Acre Paradise a few times a year and also have other types of meetup events here.

Until next time, keep on planting!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Coop Build – Framing

Welcome to part two of the chicken coop build at Three Acre Paradise. In case you missed it, here is a link to part one where I built the foundation. This post focuses on the main framing of the coop. The third and final build post will be about finishing touches, then in the future I’ll have posts on the automated watering system and the custom built feeders.

If you find any part of this useful and grab some tips from the build I’d like to hear about it. I’m not one of those people who can plan every detail ahead of time so a lot of this is figure it out as you go but I did have an overall idea in mind. The size of the coop is for up to eight birds comfortably although it could hold more once a run is attached (future project).

Building outside in Florida can be a pain due to the heat and mosquitoes, I’m fortunate to have a workshop large enough to start the coop build inside. The final location is about 200 feet from the shop so it also saved a lot of time not having to drag tools back and forth.

Here’s the start, a batch of 2×4 pressure treated lumber ready to go.

2x4 pressure treated lumber

The coop dimensions are twelve feet wide, six feet deep and six feet high. This made purchasing easy, I bought mostly twelve foot boards and cut them in half where needed. Here’s the first batch cut and coated with a redwood colored stain:

coop-build2-02

No I didn’t have a fancy plan but did have a rough idea on paper. To help avoid errors, I put blue painters tape on the floor to indicate where the uprights will go on the frame.

Painters tape on floor

The base consists of two 2×4’s put together in an L shape. I used coated screws for most assembly, this gives more strength and allows for changes (corrections) as needed. The reason for the L shape is that the bottom board needs to be flat to be bolted to the concrete base and the vertical board provides supports for the uprights.

Here’s the base of the frame assembled:

Frame base assembled

A close up of a frame corner shows the L shape in more detail, plus the way the joint meets for more strength:

Base corner detail

I’m not a carpenter so I’m sure there’s better ways to do this but it seems pretty strong. With the base now assembled I squared it up and screwed a board across the top to keep it in place while assembly continues. The frame is also kept above the floor with some scrap wood to keep it level.

Frame base squared

When building the coop I had no idea I’d be blogging this later so there are some steps that don’t have many pictures so I’ll describe what the next steps were best I can. For the corner uprights I used a 2×4 with a 2×2 attached to it to give an L shape. I Screwed each corner upright into place (they held without assistance since they were pretty vertical). I then use clamps to carefully attach the top boards one at a time until I had all of them up. Once they were up, I worked on squaring each corner and tightening up with more screws.

Corners and top attached

In the above picture you can see the closest corner has been squared and braced. The clamps hold the top boards in place:

Top boards clamped on

With this shot of the bottom bracing you can get a good idea how the uprights look. The 2×4 is flat to the front of the coop and the 2×2 is to the side.

Bottom brace detail

Once the basic rectangle was braced and tightened I added all vertical uprights. These are just 2×4’s, the tape on the floor helps me make sure everything is in the right place. Measure twice, cut once. You can see some additional bracing in place to keep everything squared.

All uprights added

Next, I added framing for the coop floor (hen house). Another advantage of building in the shop – I could work at night.

Coop floor framed

With the floor framing in place, I put in the last uprights. These don’t go all the way to the top since there will be access doors and a nesting box for the hen house. I also put the wire cloth in the lower section now since it will be harder to get to once the hen house floor is in place.

Final uprights added

Heavy plywood (3/4″) was used for the hen house floor. I left the top of this natural, the floor will be glued down so this will protect the wood.

Hen house floor installed

Once again, a couple of steps were done with no pictures. I used commercial grade linoleum flooring squares, these are easy to cut and glue down. Once the floor was dried the openings for the nesting box, clean out door, storage door, and hen opening were braced and support was put in for a divider.

Floor completed

Here’s a closeup of the nesting box bracing. 2×4’s were used and a Kreg jig made for strong joints. If you are considering a project like this I highly recommend the Kreg, it’s a big time and headache saver. Here’s an Amazon link to the one I use.

Nesting box bracing

Here’s a picture from inside the coop, this is the opening the chickens will use to get into the hen house. I used the Kreg here again, see how the 2×4’s are attached flush with the other framing. To the right you can see the framing for the divider, the left side is the hen house and the right will be for the water tank and storage.

Hen door framing

A closer look at the hen door framing and how it is flush with the other frame boards.

Hen door closeup detail

The welded wire I used has one inch holes, I could not find a good deal locally so ended up getting it from Amazon. Here is a link to what I used. The spacing on my uprights is two feet so this was made easy by buying welded wire the right width from the start. The wire was stapled to the outside of the uprights then trimmed to fit into the backside of the top and bottom. I’ll be putting trim boards over the outside to make it look nicer, again since everything is screwed together it will be easy to replace any future damage.

Welded wire attached

Siding for the hen house is a grooved exterior plywood that I bought at Home Depot. This was easy to cut and attach with all the bracing that was placed around every opening. When I cut each opening I was careful to do it in one piece and kept the scrap, these will be just right for making the doors. With this picture you can see the results so far, plus I’ve added some trim boards by the main door. Looks good!

Coop siding installed

Nothing fancy as far as attaching the siding, just a bunch of screws and it just buts up against the top rail. The coop is nice and strong now so no need for the original temporary bracing. This opening is for the nesting box.

Nesting box covered

Here you can see the back and end opening. The end (to the right) is access to clean out the hen house, the back (left) is for the storage and water tank. Note I left an edge of framing exposed at the top and bottom of each opening. This is to give the doors something to brace against when closed and will also keep rain and wind out.

Back and end openings

Looking from the inside, this is the hen house. The opening to the coop is to the left (hen access), nesting box to the back, and clean out opening to the right.

Hen house view

Well, that’s pretty much it for what I can do inside the workshop. The next step is roof framing and If I did that inside then it would be stuck in there since my garage door would be in the way. The coop is light enough to be moved with furniture dollies so I put it in the driveway and leveled it up.

The first step for the roof framing is the ridge board. If this is done straight then the rest should fall in place nicely.

Roof ridge board in place

The inspectors stopped by to check on progress and offer their advice.

Chicken inspectors

With inspections complete, the rafters went on next. To make the rafters I used trial and error to make one good one then just copied it thirteen more times.

Coop rafters installed

Each rafter is secured with an extra metal bracket. I want this thing to be hurricane proof if possible.

Rafter straps

Even the ridge board has extra bracing.

Ridge board bracing

Fast forward a few steps again, now we have roof sheathing installed, fascia boards, and most of the trim boards installed. You can see a few untreated trim boards leaning on the side, I used pressure treated wood for these too.

Coop roof sheathing installed

It looks like it is getting close but there’s still a lot to do! The roof is now covered with peel and stick and all trim boards are on. This is a good place to take a break, next post I’ll cover the finishing touches and moving the coop into place.

Coop framing complete

Again, if you have any questions or want more construction details let me know,

Until next time, keep on clucking!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Coop Build – Foundation

If you are considering getting chickens – do it! They are everything we were hoping for, and more. Chickens are smart, easy to care for, they can learn some tricks and have a lot of benefits like producing eggs, reducing the insect population, and prepping garden beds. Let’s see your dog do that! One of the most important things for keeping your chickens is the coop, don’t cheap out on this. The store bought kits are usually junk, the wood and hardware won’t last more than a single season and they are not nearly secure enough to keep predators out.

The next series of posts will show our chicken coop build at Three Acre Paradise. I’ve broken this into several segments to provide more detail, pictures, and commentary including what I would do different if I were to do it again.

When I build something such as this I don’t usually start with a fixed plan but rather an idea of what the finished project will look like and provide. This coop was based on lessons learned from an earlier one, I’ll highlight the differences at the end of the build. This one is designed for up to eight chickens (which it currently houses). It will be mounted in a permanent location (the previous was portable, sort of), will have storage for supplies, and have high capacity feeders with automatic watering. The location is southeast of the house, that is in the back left side (see the end of the Upcoming Projects post for a visual location).

The dimension for this coop are 6’W x 12’L x 6’H (six feet wide by twelve feet long and six feet high). The previous coop was 4’W x 12’W x 4’H, I quickly learned that having more headroom inside makes it a LOT easier to clean and maintain.

Chicken coop foundation layout

The pad area was prepped with some fill dirt to raise it above the surrounding area and packed down real good. The coop will have a concrete base around the perimeter, then a drain field inside topped with gravel, weed block and sand. In these first pictures you can see where I measured out the perimeter area to set up the form boards for the concrete pour.

Chicken coop foundation layout again

The coop frame will be built from 2×4 lumber and will rest directly on the concrete. To protect the frame from standing water and also have some leeway for error I made the base six inches wide but sloped the sides to shed water.

The next picture shows the form set up. The form boards are just under ten inches high, with the dirt dug down below the overall height will be right at about a foot. Half of this will be below ground and half will be above, this is the first layer of predator protection. Future plans include adding a pavers around the coop to make it even harder for any animals to try digging underneath.

Chicken coop foundation form

Once the basic form was set up i added a drain pipe, then put a ring of rebar into the form. The rebar won’t prevent the concrete from cracking but if it does the rebar will keep it from separating. The drain pipe is shown here:

Chicken coop foundation drain

Although the form doesn’t look that big, it required 30 bags of concrete!

Chicken coop foundation concrete

The concrete mixer made quick work of this. I don’t have any in progress pictures since once started I didn’t want to stop but the pour only took about an hour. The mixer was a great Craigslist find a few years ago, total investment after repairs was only around $350.

Chicken coop foundation progress

Here’s the form after the concrete was poured. After it set up for about an hour I went back and rounded the inside and outside edge to help it shed water.

Chicken coop foundation poured

Next step is to build the internal drain. This was accomplished by making a PVC assembly and drilling a lot of holes.

Chicken coop foundation drain holes

Here’s the completed drain frame:

Chicken coop foundation drain pipe

And the drain frame placed into the concrete base:

Chicken coop drain

Here’s a closeup of the drain attached to the exit pipe:

Chicken coop drain detail

Then the drain was covered with gravel. The drain sits pretty high above the surrounding area and was put to the test with Hurricane Irma in 2017 (about six months after the build completion). We had some of the worst flooding in recent history and water never pooled inside the coop, although if the water had been any higher this would not have been the case.

Chicken coop foundation gravel

Before adding the weedblock and sand I painted the concrete. I used a redwood color since this was the same color as I would use for the coop frame.

Chicken coop foundation painted

This final picture in this series shows the process of adding the weedblock and sand.

Chicken coop foundation sand

When I built this coop we had 5 chickens, for that amount it worked great. On Christmas Eve in 2017 all five were killed by a neighbors dog that got loose so we had to start over. We now have eight birds in there and for some reason they are a lot more destructive than the previous batch (maybe because we don’t let them free range as much). They have managed to dig down and tear up  the edges of the weedblock. The previous birds never did much digging, this new batch has a fascination with making sand piles.

The reason I bring that up is it involves one thing I would do different. If building again, I would make everything deeper and higher. I’d build the initial mound higher and make the concrete deeper and taller. More is better, maybe have the concrete go down a foot and up eight inches for a total of twenty inches instead of the twelve.  This would ensure that it drains well but also allow me to have a lot more sand (deeper).

In summary, here’s the things I would do different:

  1. Make initial mound higher
  2. Concrete would be deeper and taller
  3. Have multiple drain outlets (currently has one)
  4. Use larger drain pipe (3/4″ used, switch to 1″)
  5. Use concrete coloring mix instead of painting

Overall I am happy with the way this turned out and there hasn’t been any real problems, making these few changes would just make it that much better. I hope this information is useful for anyone looking to build a coop, the next post will cover the main framing. Happy planting!

 

Poison Ivy

I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about poison ivy, not sure if it is a coincidence but in the last two months or so there has been a huge amount of growth of it here at Three Acre Paradise. I’ve got a history with poison ivy, not a good one so I thought it would be a good time to share my story and what I had to do about it. I’ve talked about it before but wanted to get more in depth this time.

Carl Meets Poison Ivy

When we bought Three Acre Paradise it was anything but that, more like a jungle consisting of palm trees, oaks, a few pines, and mostly brazilian pepper trees. If you aren’t familiar with brazilian pepper trees, they are an invasive species in Florida that will quickly take over a property and smother out all the native vegetation. They are also related to poison ivy. Some people are highly allergic to them, luckily I am not but if you burn them the smoke can cause severe respiratory problems.

Original Land

I set out to clear the property by myself, hiring a company to do this would be costly and it would be difficult to make sure they only cleared the nuisance trees. For some reason I grew up having never been exposed to poison ivy even though I spent a lot of my early years climbing around in the woods.

I started in the front of the property where there is some tall palm trees, these were full of vines which I pulled out by hand. Little did I know at the time, a lot of these vines were poison ivy. These were thick and up to 100 feet long once pulled out. One of the worst things about poison ivy is that it takes a while to have an effect. Later that evening it started kicking in and kept getting worse over the next week.

Here’s some pictures of my legs when it was bad:

Poison ivy on leg

Side view:

Poison ivy on leg side view

Back side of other leg:

Poison ivy on leg (2)

You can see where the vines came in direct contact with my skin.

It was strange that it kept getting worse, I ended up going to the doctor and they prescribed me some steroids (prednisone) but that was just as bad and I had to wean myself off of it. Hot water helped the immediate pain, I was told that is not a good thing to do but it sure felt good. It took a while to realize it but a lot of my clothes and some towels and sheets may have had some of the oil on them (urushiol). Once contaminated, it is very difficult to get rid of so I ended up throwing out a lot of clothes. This was probably the single biggest thing that stopped it from getting worse.

The Cure

I tried every poison ivy remedy on the market. The best thing I found was Zanfel, this is a scrub to wash off the urushoil. It’s expensive though, $30+ for one ounce. After a lot of research I found out it is the same thing as Mean Green Power Hand Scrub, which costs around 33 cents per ounce. That’s a much better deal!

Mean Grren power hand scrub

Here’s my advice if you have to deal with poison ivy. If it’s a small amount, use some  long needle nose pliers to grab it by the root and put it in a trash bag or throw it somewhere that it won’t come in contact with anyone. The pliers in the link are just an example, if there is a Harbor Freight store near you then they probably have them for a lot less. For large amounts of poison ivy I use a herbacide such as Roundup. Yes, I know this is the evil stuff but in this case I call it justified. Let it die and dry out then use a tool like a dirt rake to pull the vines out.

A lot of people recommend wearing long clothing to help avoid contact. I agree with this (as well as a pair of gloves) but some days it’s just too hot for that.

When you are finished with your poison ivy task, take a shower and use the Mean Green on any part of your body that may have been in contact, typically arms and legs. Get the Mean Green now, before you wish you had it! I can’t say enough times how much this stuff has helped. I haven’t had a single outbreak since using this. Wash the clothes you were wearing by themselves and throw some Fels Naptha soap, regular laundry detergent won’t cut it (just slice off a little bit and throw it in).

Fels Naptha

Be careful with any tools that may have some in contact with poison ivy. Once I recovered I hired a helper who was immune to it to pull the rest of it out, that doesn’t stop the urushiol from being spread. He had used a power cord for a saw, I wound that up around my arm and sure enough ended up with a second outbreak. If the tools can be washed you could use some Mean Green or Fels Naptha on them. Most of the tools I use get a lot of use throughout the yard (dirt) so I think that just wears off the oils over time.

Sunday Funday

On another note, this Sunday is the second Plant and Seed Exchange being held at Three Acre Paradise. The first one was pretty successful with about a dozen people showing up, I think there will be quite a few more people this time. I’ll show some pictures in the next post as well as some property updates. Until then, stay safe! (from poison ivy)

AeroGarden vs Burpee Results

Last post was about a comparison using an AeroGarden vs the Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit for seed starting, now I’ll show the results from the four week test period. There is a significant up front price difference between these two methods so does the AeroGarden really live up to the hype? Let’s find out.

Week 1

After one week the AeroGarden has had a few sprouts, the one in column three is Basil and the ones in column five are tomatillos. A white moldy looking substance is also growing on all of the growth sponges, a little internet research says this is normal and not harmful.

AeroGarden week 1

The Burpee collection has the same number of sprouts, in this case two basil and one tomatillo. I guess this says more about the seeds than the method so far. I did notice the sprouts are a little smaller.

Burpee week 1

Week 2

The AeroGarden has not sprouted any more seeds but the ones that had started are looking pretty good.

AeroGarden week 2

The Burpee tray has sprouted a lot more seeds. At this point I’m feeding it with some Miracle Grow food through water placed in the tray. The additional spouts are eggplant in column one and wolfberries in column six.

Burpee week 2

Week 3

The AeroGarden plants are growing nicely but no other seeds have germinated.

AeroGarden week 3

The Burpee tray is growing but not nearly at the pace of the AeroGarden plants.

Burpee week 3

Week 4

The AeroGarden plants continue to grow well and look healthy. I ended up moving these to an outdoor garden and they are doing good, transplanting was easy. I expected a little challenge getting them out but it was actually quite easy.

AeroGarden week 4

The Burpee plants haven’t shown nearly as much growth. I also transplanted these outside but it was a bit more challenging, the smaller ones were crumbly since there wasn’t much root structure to hold the mix together.

Burpee week 4

Summary

I’d call these results ….. inconclusive. The AeroGarden plants did far better as far as growth is concerned but the germination rate was much lower. The AeroGarden kit has the advantage of pre-measured nutrients and better lighting. I think the age of the seed starting kit may have caused some of the low germination. Is the AeroGarden worth the price? I still haven’t formed an opinion on that.

The Burpee kit was a disappointment to work with (poor quality) but it did have a better germination rate and it is very inexpensive to get started with. There’s probably better nutrient and lighting options that may improve the results but I wouldn’t buy this kit again due to the low quality.

Here’s what I’m going to do to get better results – I’ve purchased a new seed starting kit (refill) for the AeroGarden that has new growth sponges and nutrients. I’ll sanitize the AeroGarden unit and replant with the new kit. For a comparison, I’ll use a Jiffy seed starting kit (similar to the one linked). I’ve used these Jiffy kits in the past with decent results, plus the quality is much better.

Next post I’ll give an update on what’s happening around the property then there will be a series on the chicken coop build. If you have any ideas for seed starting method comparisons I’d like to hear it, future plans include soil blocks and traditional methods. Until then, keep on planting!

 

Seed Starting – AeroGarden vs Burpee

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This weeks post is another product comparison – my favorite kind of posts. The purpose of the comparisons is to help find the BEST way to do something, in my case that means the highest success rate with the least amount of work. Other factors may be considered, especially when the outcome is close but for the most part it’s all about the results vs effort.

Seed starting is something I’ve always struggled with, to date I haven’t found that magic system that just seems to work with almost anything. I compensate by over planting everything, maybe this is just normal but when I see youtube videos and other blog posts with nursery type results I just scratch my head. What am I doing wrong? Quantity over quality still wins out, I manage to produce plenty but it seems to take a lot more effort than it should. Will one of these solutions be the magic? Lets find out.

AeroGarden Seed Starting System

The first contender in this contest is the AeroGarden Classic (mine is an earlier version with CFL bulbs) along with the AeroGarden Seed Starting System.

AeroGarden Seed Starting Kit

I’ve wanted to try this system for quite some time but haven’t due to cost – until I found this combo deal at the local flea market for $20. The AeroGarden main unit was in very good condition and the seed starting kit was unopened. Here’s what the seed starting kit looks like once opened:

AeroGarden Seed Starting Kit contents

Basically this is a styrofoam tray that sits in the AeroGarden water reservoir and holds the seed starting sponges in place.

AeroGarden Starter System Instructions

The kit also included an instruction pamphlet and four packets of nutrients. This is where I had the first “uh-oh”, the nutrient packets looked partially crystallized. No telling how old this stuff is. Well, no stopping now.

AeroGarden Seed Starting tray in place

I set the foam tray into the AeroGarden as a test fit, you can see how it sets in and what the sponges look like once removed. The setup is real easy, all that’s left to do is set the sponges in, add water and nutrient packet, and add seeds.

Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit

The second contender in this competition is the Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit.

Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit

Why this kit? Well, if you can see the price tag in the corner it was on clearance at Tractor Supply for $5.29. They had the 36 cell kit priced higher, this kit contains two of them. What a deal! Here’s the kit opened and the peat pellets distributed:

Burpee Peat Pellets

Notice anything? A little lacking in quality control, there’s a pellet missing in the bottom right corner. The kit also includes a clear lid for each tray. The instructions are printed on the wrapper but they do include an identification sheet that you can fill out to track what is planted where.

Burpee Seed Starting Kit contents

And finally, the tray with lid attached:

Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit assembled

The Seeds

For this comparison I’ve put together a somewhat random assortment of things.

ag-vs-burpee-10
Parsley and Basil
ag-vs-burpee-11
Eggplant and Tomatillo
ag-vs-burpee-12
Sage and Wolfberry

I wanted to get an idea if either of these excelled one particular type of plant, plus I haven’t started any Wolfberries yet so why not give it a try?

The Setup

Setting up the AeroGarden was quite easy. As I mentioned before, it was a matter of adding water, nutrient solution, putting the sponges in the holes, and adding seeds. One modification I did make, half of the holes were covered up and not used. I did this to give a little more space between plants plus it made the total count (36) the same as the Burpee tray. Easy!

AeroGarden set up and ready

The Burpee tray was also easy, just add water and let the pellets expand into the cell. They included a little tool (wooden stick) to mix them up a bit. Here’s the results:

Burpee peat expanded

Yes, what you see is a mess. Some expanded a lot, some barely at all. What gives? Here’s a look at some of the size difference of the pellets (I had spares from the other tray):

Burpee peat pellets

That’s a pretty big difference, especially when you compare the expanded results. Lets see if the instructions say anything about this.

Burpee instructions

So, they’ve got themselves covered. Well, good thing I had a whole extra tray of pellets, I guess this 72 cell kit (with 71 pellets) is really around a 55 usable pellet+cell kit. Once I got everything balanced out and pretty level it was pretty easy, just add seeds and water. I’ll be placing this under an LED grow light that is on for 16 hours per day.

ag-vs-burpee-24

Although the kit is sitting on a heating pad the heater is not turned on. It’s plenty warm here in central Florida, no need to add heat now.

The Results

Ha- just kidding. The results will be the next blog post, the comparison is complete but I didn’t want this post to get too long. Here’s my observations so far:

  • The AeroGarden kit is old, not sure if the nutrients are still good
  • The Burpee kit suffers from poor quality control, shouldn’t affect seedling growth

I won’t make you wait a week for the results, look for them in a few days. I’ve got a lot going on here and there just hasn’t been much time to dedicate to the blog. It’s all good stuff, there’s a lot going on with the property but I’ve also got some family things and my day job takes priority. Until next post, keep on planting (seeds)!