Posts Tagged ‘raccoons’

Garden covers

June 3, 2009

If you’ve looked at the pictures of my garden, you probably noticed the covers on the garden frames. These covers are necessary to keep out critters of all sorts, including rabbits and deer, raccoons and opossums, and cats and chickens. The cats and chickens seem to get in the beds the most: the cats to poop and the chickens to take dust baths or to peck at bugs and sometimes growing plants. This is not good, thus we have the frames. So far they seem to be working well to keep everyone out. A couple of weeks ago, Karen at ChickenSense commented on the garden covers. I figured it was worth a post to show how they are made. I can’t claim much credit as the idea is from All New Square Foot Gardening and the work was done by Tim, with a little bit of help from the kids and me.

Tim started with 2″ X 2″ pieces of lumber and cut them into 4′ sections. Then he used a screw to connect the corners. This part made a square and is the bottom of the cover. It is the part that rests on the the 2″ X 6″ pieces of wood that we used for the frames. Next, he took the chicken wire and stapled it onto the wood. This is the hard part since the chicken wire is in a roll and he had to hold the frame down while unrolling and stapling the chicken wire to it. Tim did this by himself more than once, but said it was easier when I helped him. 

Corner of garden cover

Corner of garden cover

Chicken wire stapled and zip tied together

Chicken wire stapled and zip tied together

After the sides of the cover are stapled on, it’s time to cut two or more pieces for the top, depending on what size chicken wire you are using. We used zip ties to connect the top pieces with the side pieces. The little white things are what is left of the zip ties after Tim clipped off the part hanging out. 

Zip ties to keep top and sides together

Zip ties to keep top and sides together

Side and top of garden cover

Side and top of garden cover

Zip ties holding top and sides of chicken wire together

Zip ties holding top and sides of chicken wire together

The great thing about these covers is that they are fairly quick and easy to make, while also being inexpensive. You need wood, zip ties, a staple gun with lots of staples, a few screws, and some chicken wire. The covers are lightweight and the kids can lift them so they can get a little snack of lettuce while we are in the garden. I’m not sure the covers would keep out a determined raccoon, though. I say this because we did see Swirly try to climb one and it kind of caved in. The garden is pretty safe from deer, rabbits, cats, and chickens, though. 

Eventually we plan to fence in the garden, but these covers work well. The frames can also be used to provide shade for garden plants or, if covered with the sort of plastic used in greenhouses, could be used to extend the growing season. So even after our garden is fenced in, we will still use these frames.

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Picture Friday – Cats and Chickens

May 29, 2009

This morning Tim let the chickens out before I even got outside. When I did finally make it outside, this is what I saw: 

Cats and Chickens eating cat food

Cats and Chickens eating cat food

Cats and Chickens

Cats and Chickens

When I was picking up the cat food cans last night, I couldn’t grab the bag of hard food, too. I thought I could make two trips, but naturally I forgot to go back out. So last night some critter came and ate a bunch of hard cat food and made a big mess. This morning the cats and chickens were working on cleaning it up. They are living quite peacefully together, which is good because I was was a bit worried to let the chickens free range because of the outdoor cats. I guess they are one “predator” I no longer have to worry about. The two cats are Swirly and Little Gray, by the way. 

Here are a couple of pictures of the chicks. They are doing well and are eating a ton! Scott the Farmer has been mixing up chick feed for me that is mostly natural. He’s trying to make it with out genetically modified (GMO) ingredients so that it is all natural. Some of the ingredients are natural and some are organic, but some are GMO foods. The Big Chickens also eat the feed he brings, but it has more wheat in it so that it is lower in protein since they are older than 6 weeks.  

3 week old Buff Orpingtons

3 week old Buff Orpingtons

One of the 3 week old chicks

One of the 3 week old chicks

And, finally, here is a picture of Little Gray’s kittens, who are now 4 weeks old. They still seem so tiny and helpless. I think Little Gray is doing an great job for being such a young cat herself.

Little Grays kittens - 4 weeks old

Little Grays kittens - 4 weeks old

If only I could get the kids to just pet the kittens and not move them around. I won’t even mention the things they have done while unsupervised with the kittens. They aren’t doing anything deliberately bad, they (mostly Moira) don’t understand that the kittens are babies. Moira also likes frogs and is very talented at spotting and catching them. We bought a small, plastic terrarium so that she can keep the frogs overnight. We have an agreement that they can only stay overnight and that she has to let them go in the morning. She isn’t always happy to let the frogs go in the morning, but so far, so good. I’m afraid that there is one in the house now, though, because it was in a different container last night and now it is gone. As long as it doesn’t jump on me, I’ll be fine. I tend to squeal when frogs or spiders or weird bugs land on me. I’m trying to be more like Mo and be less squeamish.

Garden Experiments

April 28, 2009

I’ve been doing daily updates on the Garden in Progress page, but it’s time for a longer post about the goings on in my garden. Our original plan was to get the garden area tilled, then fence it in to protect it from deer, rabbits, raccoons, and all the other critters that live in the woods right by our house. The tilling has not been possible due to rain and mud, so perhaps this year we will skip the tilling after all. I am really waffling on the issue of tilling, but the weather might be the deciding factor. If we end up not tilling, then we will still spend money on compost and soil. However, if the raised beds do well, then we will be set for next year. We’ll just have to add compost, which we are in the process of making, and mulch and rotate crops next spring, I think.

While waiting for the tilling, I’ve been experimenting with killing grass. I have three 4′ X 4′ garden frames built and they are all out in the garden. For Experiment 1, I put newspaper on the bottom to try to kill the grass. I was too impatient and went ahead and put some potting soil and compost in the frame. I finished marking off the grids with nails and yarn, just like I did with the bed where I dug up the sod. In the middle of the last week I planted two squares, one with spinach and one with cosmic purple carrots. Then on April 25, I planted two more squares of carrots and yesterday (April 27) I planted another square of spinach and two squares of romaine lettuce with radishes in the corners. So I have 7 squares planted in that one, and will probably transplant the broccoli to the top/north most facing row.

For Experiment 2, I put down cardboard instead of newspaper, mostly because I had cardboard and didn’t have any more newspaper. The grass is dying, but not as quickly as I would like (did I mention I get impatient?). I don’t really want to put soil and compost over the cardboard. I know it will decompose eventually, but not nearly as quickly as the newspaper will. I think I will take the dug out sod from Experiment 3 (see below) and put it on the bottom, then add compost and potting soil to finish it off. That bed is too close to the others to do any vertical crops, so I think I will plant my herbs in that bed.

Experiment 3 isn’t really an experiment anymore. I dug out the sod and poured soil and compost in the frame and already planted. This is the first bed I planted and happens to be the north most one, though eventually I will have other beds north of this one. So, I will be calling it Bed 1. Here are some pictures of the progression of this bed:

Partly dug up sod

Partly dug up sod

Garden helper

Garden helper

Partly filled raised garden bed

Partly filled raised garden bed

Filled with potting soil and compost

Filled with potting soil and compost

Grids marked with yarn

Grids marked with yarn

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

This last picture was taken on April 22. Since then, bibb lettuce, radishes, spinach, parsnips, and leaf lettuce, and onions have started sprouting. It’s quite exciting. To the left of the picture (which is the north side and what I think of as the top) are the broccoli transplants that Scott the Farmer gave us and helped us transplant. We planted onion sets in each corner of the broccoli squares. The column to the right of the broccoli is where we transplanted some leaf lettuce and bibb lettuce, with some onion sets in the middle. The next column is kind of a mixture, with two squares of bibb lettuce seeds, with radishes in the corners. Then there is a square of spinach and a square with two celery transplants and some onion sets (not sure how many since the kids were helping!). The column all the way to the left (or what I think of as the bottom row) is leeks, carrots, parsnips, and onion sets. Those squares are not quite a full square foot, so instead of planting 16 of each vegetable, I only planted 12.

So far, no bunnies or deer have bothered this one, but I need to make a cover for it. There’s a quick and easy plan in All New Square Foot Gardening, so I just need to sit down with the book in front of me and try to build. Eventually I will have to use the saw myself, despite my fear of cutting off my fingers. So the next step is to build a cover (UPDATED to say this is done and there is a picture here) for the beds planted, build more frames and trellises for the vertical plants, and get an area ready for the corn, beans, and squash. I’m not going to make frames for those because that seems like a waste of wood. I will, however, try to make a raised area for it.

In a related note, I was doing some research on herbs in the square foot garden and I came upon this site, which I’ve added to my links. In particular, the page about plant spacing and herbs in the square foot garden were very useful. There’s a lot of other really good information, but I leave it to you to explore that page on your own.

How to attract wildlife to your back porch

April 8, 2009

Here’s how to get a close up view of wild animals:

  1. Move to the country, preferably an area surrounded by woods and a creek
  2. Acquire outdoor cats with purchase of house
  3. Spoil outdoor cats by feeding them soft cat food
  4. Give them more food than they can eat in the evening and forget to bring it inside
  5. Watch the skunks, opossums, and raccoons come by for the free buffet
  6. Learn that the outdoor cats are not at all afraid of skunks or possums (not sure about raccoons yet)

Working with what we have

March 4, 2009

I’m still thinking and reading and trying to figure out which breed to get and where to get them from, as well as when to get the chicks. When to get them is tricky, mostly because I am impatient to get the chicks! It would be better to wait until it is warmer so that they can be outside sooner and learn to forage on their own sooner. But, that also means waiting longer to have fresh eggs and to get the chicks. I keep going back and forth about this issue in my head. I think I will probably end up getting them fairly soon just because I am so eager to get them, even if it means more work for us at first.

In the  meantime I have finally decided to use the coop that is already here. I’d like to let the hens range freely during the day and then have them in the coop at night. I’ve read a couple of different ways to do this, including letting them out for only a couple of hours a day and then tempting them back in with milk or bread. Others say to keep them in the coop for a couple of weeks and then let them out and they will just know where the coop is. Either way, they will be spending some time in the coop since there are too many predators out here for them to be out at night. There may be too many for them to range long during the day.

Of the common predators for chickens, we have almost all of them. Common predators include, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, hawks and other birds of prey, foxes, wolves, bobcats, cougars, fishers, minks, weasels, and rats, along with domestic and feral cats and dogs. I know for sure that we have skunks as the kids have had the pleasure of smelling skunks hit by cars. Tim has seen a ‘possum and we’ve all seen raccoons on the back porch. Tim and Moira saw a bald eagle the other day and our neighbor told us there are lots of hawks around. We’ve heard the coyotes close by at night and my mother-in-law has seen a fox on her way here, too. Apparently there are wolves in Illinois (I’m not sure I agree completely with the tone of that article, so just consider it informative.) It’s possible that the other predators are around, as well, as many of them seem to be native (though we are not near Cook County since that is Chicago!).

Anyway, I seem to have gotten a bit sidetracked on researching the predators in Illinois. It’s pretty interesting and I might post more later. I have to say there are way more dangerous animals here than I remember or knew about. I never would have thought there might be wolves or bobcats!

So back to the point of this post: working with the chicken coop we already have. Here are some more pictures of what we have to work with:

It needs to be cleaned thoroughly. I started that last week, with some help from the kids. We swept off the concrete slab, so that is done for now. There is a covered area that has some pine shavings in it. For now I just swept some of that back inside the nest box, but we probably need to clear that out, clean it, and put in new. The upstairs is pretty dirty, from what I hear. I had Tim add another step to the ladder so that Aidan can climb up and down (and maybe me, too??). I’m not sure if the chickens would go up there or not. They’d have to fly up there to roost and I honestly don’t know if they will fly that high.

Other than cleaning, it also needs some chicken wire or fine hardware mesh. The fencing around it has holes about 2 inches wide and I think that is too wide because rats could get through and steal the eggs, assuming the hens lay eggs in the coop. Two sides of the coop have wooden boards at the bottom. I think we need to add another board on the back, as well as adding some chicken wire to the outside. The chicken wire might be good if it’s just a few feet up and not up the whole way.

Those are some minor fixes, so hopefully it will be easy and will do the trick to keep the hens safe. I would also like to paint it. Right now it is painted a brownish color. I think a fresh coat of red paint would really spruce it up. I’m not sure why red, except that red seems to be the color for a hen house.

If the free ranging doesn’t work, there are lots of options for movable coops and hen huts and permanent hen houses. It might be fun to build one of those, but for now I think it is best (and cheapest) to work with what we have.