Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Frost! (And Other Updates)

There’s a reason why the last frost date in Michigan (the reasonable date on which you can plant outside in the spring without worrying about frost harming your plants) has been moved to May 18. Last night (May 12/13) we had a visit from good ole Jack Frost! Pretty strange considering the old Last Frost Date was May 10 and we’ve been having beautifully warm weather before this sudden cold snap. Then again, this is Michigan, and it wouldn’t be spring if you didn’t have to trade your flip flops for the winter coat all in the same week at least one time…

I’m not sure if you would call it impatience or optimism, but it was sooo warm last week that I couldn’t resist the urge to plant out at least one warm-weather crop. My original plan was to transplant just three golden zucchini plants… I planted six. Here’s what I did to keep these little guys cozy over the very cold weekend (and right through last night’s frost).

Row Cover

On Friday afternoon I covered the raised bed with a plastic row cover. The row cover is attached with utility clips to hoops made from PVC pipe. The zucchini share a bed with radishes which actually prefer the cold weather. Fortunately these are the Rat’s Tail radishes which I’m growing not for the root but for the edible seed pods. The row cover will warm them up substantially in sunny conditions, causing them to bolt (grow faster and produce a flower). Bolting is bad for regular radishes because it alters the taste and texture of the root, but in the case of these radishes, a little extra heat will just move the I-want-seed-pods process along a smidge faster.

row cover

This row cover was put in place to protect golden zucchini plants from May frost.

Cloches

In theory, a row cover should be enough to keep my precious golden zucchini plants from being frost-bitten. But since I got a little overzealous and planted out six instead of three, I decided to bring in some insurance. Enter the cloche (pronounced “klohsh”). A cloche is a tool that originated in France to keep plants from being harmed by frost and to force their early growth. The cloche is typically bell shaped and made from glass. Here’s a picture of a classic cloche.

classic French garden cloche

{Image Credit}
betterlivingthroughpermaculture.com
Click on the image for a DIY cloche idea.

I’m not fancy enough to have beautiful French cloches like the one above so I used my own micro-farm-style cloches: mason jars.

diy cloche

The zucchini plants get double frost protection – glass cloches made from mason jars and a plastic row cover.

diy cloche

The upside down jars keep the plants warm and safe from frost.

The zucchini plants were covered from late on Friday afternoon all the way through this morning (Monday). When I first placed them over the plants, it was chilly and windy but the sun was shining, and they looked like like the picture above. When I retrieved the cloches this morning, the plants looked like this:

diy cloches

The “after” shot is pretty much the same as the “before”!

diy cloche

Despite a smidge of mud on one leaf, this plant
(just like the others) looks great!

So based on my experience, the combination of row cover and cloche worked beautifully! My zucchini plants are ready for spring!

Other Plants in the Garden

Everything else that is planted out in the garden is frost tolerant – lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, peas, carrots (teeny tiny seedlings), beets (just now coming up), onions, strawberries and a few other things I can’t think to name right now. There is one sad exception: The potato plants.

Since potatoes are planted out so early, my novice-farmer brain assumed that they are frost tolerant. But as I was coming in from the garden this morning I noticed that many of the leaves looked very frost bitten and dark. What a giant bummer because they have been coming up SO nicely (about 4 to 6 inches each)! One of the garden tasks I was planning for this afternoon was hilling potatoes. After doing some quick research it appears that I just need to trim the dead/damaged leaves and the plants should continue to grow just fine. Next year I’ll throw a row cover over these too!

potato plants

Here are the potato plants before last night’s frost. They don’t look as cheerful this morning…

The only thing planted in the Fenceline garden right now is turnips… or perhaps I should say “was” turnips. These are frost-tolerant and were coming along nicely… until one or two certain four-legged creatures who are otherwise quite lovable dug half of them up. Not. Happy. Time to get that electric fence fixed

The other heat-loving plants have been hiding out in the greenhouse snuggled together on the shelves near the heater which came back into action for the weekend. After today the heater should be going into hibernation until fall.

Also the blueberry bushes are starting to blossom! This is exciting but also a bit sad because I was planning to transplant them to their permanent home before they blossomed. (They are currently in large pots inside the garden fence.) I suppose that task will now have to wait until fall, which is ok, because I’m still not sure where I want to put them.

If you look closely you can see closed buds on the branches. There are a few open blossoms this morning.

If you look closely you can see closed buds on the branches. There are a few open blossoms this morning.

Did you have any frost issues in your garden? Is anyone out there going to be adventurous and transplant heat-loving plants before the actual last frost date? I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Our DIY Chicken Coop from Scrap Materials

chicken coop with metal roof

Chicken Week ended many days ago. All the same, there’s one mildly important feature in our chicken raising plans that I have yet to share with you: Our chicken coop. Why the delay? Well… in short, the coop wasn’t done when I expected it to be. It was scheduled to be completed at the beginning of Chicken Week… and then at the end of Chicken Week… and then… well, the coop was ready early the following week.

That’s how life goes when you approach projects with a do-it-yourself perspective. Our DIY chicken coop was created by Ryan and Papa over the course of about three weeks. (Ryan spent nearly every free moment he had on putting this puppy together). I owe them a huge thanks! Mostly today’s post is a tour of the coop. If you have technical questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to get back to you with the answer.

The Materials

The structure of our coop is made entirely of re-used or re-purposed materials. Most of the framing came from a large, old dog house that I mentioned way back in this post. The remainder came from scrap wood that Papa had in his barn (which is where the coop was built). The metal used for the siding and roof were leftovers from when the barn was built. The area under the peak of the roof was put together using wood from our old kitchen cabinets (we remodeled the kitchen this year). Paint for the doors and trim came from a gallon of outdoor paint I purchased last year for the house (it matches our trim and shutters). The only new materials on the coop are the hardware – hinges, clasps and carabiners to keep racoons out. The coop is currently resting on landscape timbers but will eventually sit on cinder blocks.

The Design

The coop is 4? x 6? in order to provide the recommended 4 square feet of space per bird. Windows on two sides (lined with welded wire secured from the inside) provides for ventilation. Eventually we will also add ventilation at the gable ends. And at some point in the future the windows will receive working shutters to close out drafts on cold nights.

chicken coop window

The window is lined with welded wire to keep critters (especially racoons) out.

chicken coop close up

The front of the coop has two windows and a door.

There are doors on three sides of the coop designed to work with the paddock system we have planned. Having a door on all sides of the coop means that no matter which paddock the chickens are using that week, we can leave one door open during daylight hours for easy in-and-out access at the chickens leisure. The fourth “door” is at the back of the coop; the entire bottom half of the back wall opens on hinges. This not only will allow the hens access to the back paddock but will also enable us to more easily clean out the coop when the time comes. Because we’re using the deep liter method for the bedding, clean outs should be infrequent (somewhere between every 2-6 months). It cost about $11 to (deeply) fill the coop and nesting boxes with pine shavings from Tractor Supply Company.

chcken coop door latch close up

All of the doors and nesting boxes have these high-quality latches which will be used with carabiners to keep predators out.

west chicken coop door

Here are the windows and the door on the west side of the coop.

chcken coop door latch close up

In the back of the coop, the entire back half of the south wall opens up. We still need to add hooks for keeping this door secure while open.

Speaking of deep liter, the floor of the coop is lined with vinyl flooring to make clean up easier. It’s high quality vinyl too – a remnant from my in-law’s kitchen flooring! (Thanks again!!!)

vinyl flooring chicken coop

The floor of the coop is covered in a vinyl remnant for easy clean-up.

vinyl flooring chicken coop

View of the back door from the inside.

vinyl flooring chicken coop

High-quality vinyl flooring (for hens with discriminating taste!).

On the east side of the coop there are two nesting boxes. (You should have one nesting box for every four laying hens; two boxes will be just right for our six girls.) The roof of each box lifts up on hinges for easy access to eggs without having to crawl into the coop. These also close with a latch and carabiner to keep pesky but nimble racoons out.  Nesting boxes are topped with the same metal used for the roof. A metal roof allows us to collect rain water from the coop without worrying about dangerous chemicals from commercial shingles leaching into the water. Our intent is to use the water for the chickens but more design thought and work is needed to make a healthy, sustainable system.

chicken coop nesting box

Based on recommendations I’ve received you should have one nesting box for every four hens. We have two for six hens.

chicken coop nesting box

Boxes open from the outside-top for easy access to eggs.

chicken coop nesting box

Although they weren’t attached at the time of this picture, the nesting boxes have the same latches as the doors.

Inside the coop hens are able to roost on the trusses of the roof structure. There are a few areas that need weatherproofing with a wee bit of caulk. But even with that in mind, it is a very comfortable structure for our hens to call home.

inside chicken coop

Roof structure, facing front of the coop.

inside chicken coop

Roof structure, facing back of the coop.

inside chicken coop

This is a view of the front door from the inside.

DSC03960

Front door and windows.

inside chicken coop

See, I told you the liter would be deep! (Don’t worry, the chickens pack it down some when they scratch.)

front of chicken coop

Everything is ready for the hens to see their new home for the first time!

DSC03971

Just waiting for chickens…

chickens in coop

Bam!

chickens in coop

So much more room than the dog crate brooder! What will they do with all that space?

DSC03980

Security system is operational…

chickens in coop

Welcome home, girls!

What do you think? Any thoughts on how we could make the coop even better? Any innovations you’ve used for your chickens that you think we should consider? As always, I’m 100% open to any ideas you’d like to send our way!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 
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