Chickens

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part III

I’m excited to show off the last three stops we were able to get on during last month’s Denver Botanic Garden’s Urban Homestead Tour.  These three homesteads were in the heart of the city.

Toni and Dennis Kuper shared their wonderful coop with visitors.  Two years ago, Toni asked for chickens for Mother’s Day, and Dennis built the coop for her.   It is adorable and efficient.

I love how they designed it to store their chicken care supplies right inside.  It is adjacent to their dog run under a stand of shady trees in their beautiful back yard.  They have an annual chicken party for friends and coworkers in their yard.

The Kuper’s yard is mostly shaded, but they have a lovely garden carved out in the only sunshine near the garage.  I especially love the four-bin compost operation.

Our next stop took us into the Park Hill area, where we got to check out Michael Murphy’s coop and gardens.  The first thing we saw was squash and cukes inter-planted with flowers in his front yard.

The side and back yard held lovely raised beds with some great whimsy.  I love the brightly painted stakes and bird houses.

Murph made his coop primarily of recycled/re-purposed materials, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

There are two dogloos inside the chicken run.  But I just can’t describe what I thought when Murph showed us how he set them up for the neighbor kids to gather eggs.  See for yourself…

The igloos are on giant lazy-susans, and inside each dogloo is two coolers/nest boxes.

The hens both lay and roost in the coolers.  The system is warm in the winter and easy to keep clean.

The coolers just slide out for egg collection or cleaning.

I love the engineering behind this coop and how much fun it is.

The last stop I wanted to share was literally packed full of growing things.  The Blackett’s were the only homesteaders on the tour with a yard smaller than ours.

Driving up, you can see they had food growing in the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street.  A lot of people refuse to plant here, but I love that they have turned it into a garden.

We walked down the side yard where the Blackett’s keep their chickens and compost bin.

The little red coop is built from scrap wood, left over from a previous project.

The side yard gives way to an entire back yard garden.  I mean, the entire yard.  There was no grass anywhere – just a path between all the food growing.

Diane was on the back porch, generously giving out samples of honey from her top bar beehive.  The hive was at the very back of their lot, next to the garage, under the grape-vine.

I was very inspired by Diane’s garden.  Rick and I had been feeling a little jealous about all the space that many of the homesteaders had.  But Diane was growing more food than we were, in less space.  It was very encouraging.

Diane blogs about her garden, bees, chickens and homesteading at City Garden Bliss.  She has many more beautiful photos of her garden and covers topics like spinning, knitting, gleaning, and sewing as well as gardening, bee, and chicken keeping.

Thank you for letting me share the stops we went to at this year’s urban homestead tour.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I can’t wait until next year!  This was so fun for our whole family.

Make sure to check out the photos of the other stops in Part I and Part II.

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Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part II

The next two stops on the Denver Botanic Gardens Urban Homestead Tour that I want to share were two of my favorites.

Lori in Aurora was growing a great variety of vegetables.  In the circle in her front drive way she had many varieties of winter squash, summer squash, cucumbers and melons.   She was very generous and gave us two good sized spaghetti squash to take home.

In her back yard, she was growing in raised beds.

Her kale and tomatoes were fantastic, and we exchanged tips on season extension and overwintering greens.

But Lori had something completely different up her sleeves.  Aeroponic gardening.  Her website explains this a lot better than I can, but basically you can grow a large amount a vegetables in a very small space in about half the time as traditional in-ground gardening.

Above is a newly planted tower garden.  It holds water in the reservoir at the bottom.  The water is pumped through the tower which both waters and oxygenates the plants.  It can be plugged in to a regular outlet or converted to solar.

Below you can see water pumping through the tower.  We lifted the lid at the very top of a full-grown tower to see.

This tower was planted July 27th.  The photo was taken September 22nd.  Look at the size of that melon in only 8 weeks!

This would be an incredible option for those wanting to grow a sizable garden in a very small space (apartment dwellers, perhaps).  Also great for those who can’t do a lot of bending.  It is all grown vertically – the tower stands about five feet tall and is on rollers.

This tower is growing greens in the heat of the summer, a tomato plant, cucumbers and heirloom watermelon all in an area of 2.5 x 2.5 feet.  The towers are a bit spendy, but they do use water and space very efficiently, and the company offers payment plans.  This was the second planting of the summer for Lori and her family in this tower.

Check out Lori’s website for more info on aeroponic growing:  DenverTowerGarden.com

Where Lori’s gardens are so compact, Brenda and David Zserdin’s garden is completely opposite.

Up in old Lakewood, the Zserdin’s are growing on a half-acre, a very eclectic and sprawling mini-Eden.   Their little white coop houses 24 chickens, a mix of Bantams and full-size hens and roosters.

Inside the coop is a tree-branch roost that runs the length of the whole left-hand wall.  On the right are nest boxes, feed and water and space to store supplies.  The Zserdin’s had to give this coop a little TLC to make it warm enough for the winter by adding insulation and heat lamps.

It’s easy to see that Brenda and David’s birds are spoiled and happy.

H and E quickly found a friend in the Zserdin’s son, who also happened to be wearing a cape that day.  They ran off to play while we toured the homestead.

Their garden is just amazing.  Lots of re-purposed materials for garden structures as well as fun decorative elements make it a joy to walk through.

I loved the pole beans growing on actual poles and walking over wooden planks, past the cukes and melons trellised on old pallet wood.

Vegetables were planted in a tractor tire, old tubs and in the ground.  We wound our way through the tomatoes to the grape vines at the back of the garden.

Rick was quick to spot the Three Sisters planting among the extensive culinary and medicinal herbs that Brenda has growing.

I was in love with the compost bin set-up they had.

Brenda and I found a lot of common ground talking about chickens, homeschooling and preserving the harvest by canning and freezing.  David and Rick hit it off too, talking wood cutting, home brewing and whatever else men talk about while their women are off discussing the merits of sand for litter in the chicken area.

David and Brenda work from home doing an embroidery and screen printing business, Flutterby Designs, as well as homeschool their children.  The Zserdin’s were very gracious hosts.  They chatted and offered snacks and drinks and made us feel completely at home, like old friends.  We exchanged phone numbers and email and are excited to count them as new ones.

Later this week, I’ll show you the last three stops that we were able to get to on the tour.  In the mean time, make sure to explore the photos I posted in Part I.

Categories: Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part I

Two weekends ago was the first annual Denver Botanic Gardens’ Urban Homestead Tour.  I was able to go on the tour and be a community sponsor.  It was so much fun to see what others around Denver were doing at their homes.  Each home that we visited was doing something different, and I thought everyone else might be as interested as I was to see our movement moving in the Mile High City.

The first homestead that we visited were neighbors of ours… we could have walked there, but I had no idea this place existed.  We live in an urban area.  Our lot is pretty small (in fact only two of the places we visited had lots as small or smaller than ours).  So I was surprised to come upon the gem that Leigh and Diana have created in my ‘hood.

Leigh is quite the craftsman.  He built the house on the acreage (!) himself, including the above green house.  The big trees were all on the property already, but the cherry, peach, plum and apple trees were all planted by the Bray’s.

Inside the green house they are growing bananas, among many other beautiful plants that we’d never get to survive otherwise in Colorado.

The Bray’s purchased the property from an elderly neighbor (Leigh said she told him she’d never sell), they worked with the city to narrow a portion of the ditch from 20 feet wide to 8 feet wide and at the same time got a the lane behind their property turned from a road into a walking path.

The Bray’s have a large garden area.  The older garden is in the background, and a newly dug garden, for 2013 is in the foreground.

Beyond the trees is where the ditch flows.  Calling it a ditch seems silly – it’s a beautiful, clean creek banked by green grass.  They even have two bridges over it and a little row-boat.  The bee hives are on the other side.  I wish I had taken a picture of it.

The Bray’s invited my boys to use the rope swing over it; I didn’t let them, it was our first stop.  But they did take them up on the offer to play in their tree house and zip-line in the yard.

The Bray’s daughter (pictured with my little super hero-cowboys) convinced her parents to get chickens.

Leigh naturally built the coop himself.  It’s a great design; wired for brooding chicks and a heat lamp for the winter.  Egg boxes that are easily accessible and a fully enclosed run.

See that second coop in the far background?  (click on the picture for a better view).  Leigh and Diana sell the coops that Leigh makes.  They offer three fully assembled sizes to house from 2 to 12 hens, AND free delivery up to 50 miles from Denver.  They can even be rigged with solar panels to power the lights.  Check out their website: chickencoopsofcolorado.com

The next stop took us into the heart of downtown Denver.  Matt McClusky of Foodie Call Catering opened his 2500 square foot garden to visitors.

Matt is using his lot to its fullest.  I loved the hanging tomato plants all along his porch at the front of his house.

Just beyond the fence, all along the front of the house Matt has veggies growing:

If you walk around the side of the house, you’ll see how he keeps pest out of the garden and nutrients in.  My boys were totally scared of the scarecrow, and this is just one of the many compost bins I photographed on the tour.

All along the North side of Matt’s property, he was growing a lush vegetable garden.  I lost track of how many varieties, which included beautiful eggplant and broccoli plants taller than Henry.

Here you can see how he uses trellises along the fence line.

And here are more beds running the full length of his lot.

Finally, here are the super tall pole beans with a beautiful herb garden growing at the base.

The gardens and homesteads we saw on the tour were just amazing.  This is the first of three posts that I plan to share about the tour.  I’m so grateful that all the participants agreed to let me photograph and share their homesteads here, as well as opening their yards to the public.

Edit:  I mistakenly stated in my original post that the Bray family had the city ditch moved, however, the ditch was hand dug in 1863 and it has been in the same place since that time.  Instead, the Bray’s worked with the city to narrow the ditch at the corner of their property back to its original size (8 feet wide) as stated above.  I apologize for my mistake. 

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

How to Tell if an Egg is Fertile

At the end of June, we had friends who needed to find a home for their chicken.  They bought it as a chick; presumed to be female and ended up with a cockerel on their hands instead.  I encouraged them to butcher and eat the chicken, use it as a lesson in life cycles, etc. for their kids, but their daughters ended up loving him as a pet and they couldn’t do it.  So I said they could bring him here.

He was a cool chicken.  Very tall with long legs.  If we had planned to keep him, and I was the chicken naming type, I would have rechristened him to be “Edward I” (aka Longshanks).  And he was a rooster through and through.  In the short two weeks we kept him he roughed up all our hens.  Two went broody.  We briefly thought about letting one hatch some chicks.   But instead we decided that ole Longshanks had a dinner date to keep.  On July 7th, he met the same fate as Anne Boleyn, and was quite tasty after all.

I had read somewhere that hens can continue to lay fertilized eggs for up to two weeks after having been with a rooster.  We figured that most, if not all of our (11) girls mated with him.  I had a moment of hesitation over eating fertilized eggs, but then quickly realized that the alternatives weren’t real options. Let them hatch and then what?  We had too many chickens already.  Waste them?  Definitely not.

So for a couple of weeks, we collected eggs diligently (chicks only develop if the eggs are incubated) and I just scrambled breakfast without looking too closely.  The broodiness resolved itself within a few days.  The hens calmed down after King Ed was gone.  Peace in the chicken yard ensued once again after the strict matriarchy and celibate ways were restored.

Imagine my surprise when I cracked open some eggs for breakfast on Friday (August tenth). And found this:

See those white spots that look sort of like bulls-eyes?  That is a sure sign that the egg was fertilized.  ALL of them.  Fertile.  I gathered these eggs on Friday.  Over a month after Longshanks was dispatched.

Here’s another view:

I am completely certain that all of our other chickens are hens (or pullets).  They are all laying.  They are all still laying fertile eggs.  I am amazed at the virility of chickens.  Way to go Eddy.

And yes, we still are eating the eggs.

Categories: Chickens, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

May, June, July 2012 Independence Update

So, I’ve fallen so far off the Independence Days record keeping wagon, that to do an update is almost laughable.  ;)  Just going off of the egg counts I’ve kept, and memory, here is what our summer has looked like.  But keep in mind, I’ve not kept track the way I intended to this year at all.  I’m not sure if I’ll keep record for the rest of the summer or not.  I will for the eggs… I’ve really enjoyed watching that tally.  But the rest?  I’m not sure.

Plant:  In May it was tomatoes, onions, basil, habanero peppers, chives, strawberries, beets, carrots, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon, sunflowers, Mexican sour gherkins, GIANT pumpkins, rhubarb, and lavender.  I transplanted a few things in July, but otherwise there was no planting after May.  Also – our strawberry plants all died.  :(

Harvest:

Eggs: 617, plus or minus.  There were about five days in July where we missed counting.
Spinach, chard, arugula, peas, mint, beets, garlic scapes, zucchini and summer squash, kale, cherry tomatoes, beets
Strawberries: 7 quarts
Asparagus: 12 lbs (approx.)
Sour cherries: 8 lbs after pitting
Garlic: 9.75 lbs
2 old hens and a cockerel

Preserve:

Frozen: 9.5 quarts chicken stock, 2 quarts turkey stock, 2# pizza dough, 5 quarts strawberries, 2.5 lbs cherries
Canned: 3 pints peach ginger preserves, 8 half-pints cherry jam, 7.5 half-pints strawberry preserves, 3.5 pints garlic scape pickles
Dried: 3 lbs sour cherries

Waste Not: Scraps given to chickens and/or compost pile

Want Not: 6 gallons of white vinegar, 10lbs baking soda, bulk baking powder, bulk pasta.  Got a few huge bins of clothes for C from friends (she’s covered until 3T!).

Eat the Food:  yes.

Build Community:

Neighbor shared rhubarb with us, hosted the May and July potlucks

Skill Up:

May: started on the flagstone patio
June: learned more about harvesting our honey (though still have not), and tending our top bar hive
July: learned to grout and repair tile

Categories: Chickens, Garden, Independence Days, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Homestead Garden Tour – May 1, 2012

I wanted to post an update of how things are growing here at the homestead this spring.  I’m excited about our gardens this year, and we’ve worked pretty hard at getting the yard in shape after last year’s tree removal.  Last weekend, we finished the privacy fence along the driveway.  We are really excited about this, since now we’ll be able to explore planting some fruit trees or berry bushes or something permanent along the fence line (we’re not sure what yet). Now we just have a flagstone patio to install (and a pergola)!

We’ve had a lot of spinach so far this spring from plants that self-seeded last year.  And we’ve enjoyed bits of Swiss chard here and there from plants that we planted last year, overwintered and have just kept right on going.  Perpetual chard!

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I’m very excited that our garlic is growing so well.  I think we planted enough for the coming year, plus enough for seed (I’m hoping anyway).  And our potatoes that we planted have grown so much that we’ve hilled up three times so far.  I’m hoping for a big harvest there as well.

The neighbor has already planted a row of corn, and we put the giant pumpkin seeds in the ground last week (along with a few sunflowers).  This week will be our main summer planting.  We are excited to get all those seedlings in – tomatoes, basil, peppers, chives, rhubarb, strawberries…

How is your garden shaping up so far?

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Five Things No One Tells You About Chickens

Over the last five years I’ve learned a few things about keeping chickens in the back yard.  And while, for the most part, chickens are really fun and the positives far outweigh the negatives, it’s not all roses.  No, they are not noisy.  No they don’t stink.  But there are a few lessons we have learned about the urban homestead’s favorite creature feature:

  1. cactus poppyDon’t name them.  Chickens are so far down on the food-chain that they are pretty much dinner for everything except insects.  Naming them is just setting yourself up for heart-break.  We named our first five chicks.  But the tears when Daisy was killed by a fox were enough to cure us of this.  The next two rounds of chicks were nameless.  While we still knew them as “the red one” or “the big one,” it kinda kept our feelings a bit more protected.  And we were able to eat the ones without names when the time came.
  2. Every one will ask if you need a rooster to get eggs.  I’m not really sure why this is a question?  If there is no rooster, the eggs will never become chicks.  Eggs are not baby chickens.  Eggs are just eggs.  At some point you will find yourself, once again, explaining that eggs are basically like a tasty chicken period that happens daily.  Yum, right?
  3. Baby chicks are messy.  Very, very messy.  Our first chicks were raised in a box in our office.  They were so cute.  When they finally moved outside, the office was completely covered in a very thick layer of dust.  It was awful.  The next chicks got the luxury of a heat lamp in the garage instead.
  4. Chickens dig deep holes.  Like, to China.  We used to let them free-range through the whole back yard.  Our yard is small, but they never ate all the grass.  They pooped everywhere, but we could hose off the patio.  The real bummer were these gigantic, deep holes.  They use them for dust baths.  Later, we moved the coop to one area of the yard.  The hens still free-range, within their area, and they’ve eaten all the grass back there and dig to their hearts’ content.  And we are no longer breaking ankles in the giant holes.  Bonus: the kids can now roll a ball in the remaining grass, poo-free.
  5. You will be spoiled by the eggs.  If, for some reason you need to buy eggs from the store, you will scowl at their sickly, yellow insides and scoff at their bland taste.  They literally pale in comparison to your awesome, dark-yolked, delicious, home-grown eggs.

So while others continue to extol the merits of the back yard flock, don’t come to me saying you weren’t warned.  ;)

Categories: Chickens, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 23 Comments

Deep Litter Method for the Lazy Chicken Keeper

When we first researched keeping chickens, my only hesitation was the idea of having to clean a coop weekly.  I used to have a parakeet, and I hated changing his newspaper tray, and I hated cleaning my hamster’s cage too.  I was dreading having to clean a coop.  I envisioned this, happening weekly (by the way, she was cleaning a coop inherited when she moved to the property for the first time).  Then, I ran across something describing the deep litter method, and I knew I had found the solution.

We clean our chicken coop (specifically the hen-house) twice a year.  And no more.

And the coop does not smell.  In fact, when we participated in the Denver Botanic Gardens/Denver Urban Homesteading Chicken Coop tour, everyone remarked on how our coop did not smell.  I didn’t clean it before the tour, because I wanted to show what the method off and let people see what it looked like to have chickens in real life.

What we learned was that we were, at that time, the only chicken keepers on the tour using this method.  Every other owner had told the tourists that they cleaned their coops weekly.  We were surprised by this and actually started making a joke of it, calling ourselves the lazy chicken owners on the tour.  People laughed and that’s how I actually came to the name, the Lazy Homesteader.  ;)

Here is how the method works in case you are like me; allergic to hard work involving poop.

Clean your coop one fall day and then put down a layer of dried leaves or pine shavings or some other kind of litter (not straw – it’ll stink to high heaven).  Then you let the chickens poop on it.  Then when it’s thoroughly covered over in poop…

Put down more shavings or leaves. I just throw it in – I don’t spread it nicely or anything.  I’m not touching that crap.  ;)  The chickens will dig through it and spread it around anyway.

Repeat until spring comes.  Note that I mainly just put litter down right under the roosts.  If it’s very rainy or snowy, we put their food and water inside the house (usually we keep them in the run) and we don’t want them to throw litter in the food and water.

Finally, on a nice day, when you feel like doing it, bring the wheel barrow over to the coop, scrape it all out, and dump the decomposed poop/leaves/shavings mixture into your compost bin.  It’ll be mostly all composted anyway.  Then clean out the coop and put down a fresh layer of shavings or leaves (if you have any more).

You are basically composting in the bottom of the hen-house.  And as you learned a couple weeks ago, compost generates heat, perfect for helping your flock stay warm during the winter.

And I can totally handle cleaning only twice a year.

Categories: Chickens, Compost, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 31 Comments

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