I (heart) My Garden

I do.   I love my garden at this time of year.  Even though it is a dreary, wet and rainy day at my house there is still so much to see.  Forgive my indulgence but here are some of my (current) favourite things growing in my garden.

Lovely nasturtiums that are ‘acting’ as companion plants in my vege garden.  They are supposed to keep all kinds of bugs away and attract beneficial insects but all I see is a big fat black bug taking up residence right inside that lovely crimson nasturtium.  Hmmm.  What is that guy and what’s he doing in there?

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I love my blueberry hedge.  I have 3 bushes planted along my fenceline and although they are still small (only 3 years old) I am excited that all three are fruiting well.  I have thrown bird netting over the top to see if I can harvest any for myself this year.  Birds beat me to them all last year.

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I love my hydrangeas, too.  I have three Endless Summer Hydrangeas that the boys bought me for Mothers Day a few years back that are blooming pink this year.  Our soil is typically acidic which would normally produce blue flowers so I was pleasantly surprised to see these big pink balls pop up.  Perhaps it was something in the compost I gave them ….  I love the mottled white/pink when they first start to bloom.

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Honestly, they are exposed to too much afternoon sun and don’t get near enough water to do really well so I totally bow down and give mad props to any plant for blooming despite the not-so-great location I’ve asked it to grow in.  Gotta love a team player like that!

I’m sure you don’t remember the ugly and under-perfoming Winter Daphne I pulled out earlier this spring.  You can read about my sad Winter Daphne journey here.  Happily, I replaced my sad Winter Daphne with happier Mini Penny Hydrangeas.  They’ve grown pretty well, I think, given that they’ve only been in the ground for 3 months AND have given me almost two whole blooms!  More reasons to love hydrangeas.

From this in March:

Newly planted Mini Penny Hydrangea.  Grow, baby, grow!

Newly planted Mini Penny Hydrangea. Grow, baby, grow!

To this in May:

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Not bad, eh?  I’m a little concerned they are going to be fried in the late summer afternoon sun but maybe they’ll be ok.  Hmmmm.

My one hydrangea sadness is my variegated hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’.  It looked like this when I bought it from the nursery:

So pretty, right?  But every year in my garden it looks like this:

IMG_2835Boooo.  Stupid thing blooms on old wood and every year the buds are either lost to a brutal winter or to an early frost.  Sigh.  I’m not certain if I’m going to stick with such an underperforming plant although the variegated leaves might be worthwhile.  If It will ever grow bigger than 3′ it can stay.  Jury is definitely still out on this one.

My hummingbird garden is doing a little better this year with the Black and Blue Salvia and Bee Balm finally blooming.  They don’t look like much right now but my hope is that in a few years they whole bed will be filled with these lovely, hummingbird friendly, flowers.

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Gardenias are starting to bloom and I can smell their fragrance waft right across the garden.  Just lovely.  I do wish they would get a little more sun as I’m sure they’d bloom better.  They catch a lot of shade from my neighbour’s trees.

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And the girls have been doing their thing.  I love our chickens.

Girls

Girls

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I think May/June might be my favourite time of year in the garden.  There is so much to see without it all being overwhelming yet.  What’s growing in your garden right now?

How To Build a Portable, Collapsible Chicken Tractor

We have two chickens, Charlotte and Sophia, who live in a sweet coop.

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Our sweet coop

Cluckingham Palace

Cluckingham Palace

The footprint of the coop is 8’x4′ which gives them a run space of 32 sq ft which is enough for two chickens to share, but even this cold heart thinks the girls would appreciate a day out and a change of scenery on occasion.  Trouble is that we do not have a fenced yard so I really needed to make a day-tractor of sorts for them, something light weight and adjustable to suit our needs.  Ideally, it would be something that could be stored easily when not in use, something I could put over my vege garden to have the girls work that from time to time yet spacious enough to be worth the effort.  I’ve also been asked, recently, to bring the girls to some local preschools and elementary schools as part of their Farm Animal Week as an educational display, to talk about how we take care of the chickens and show the city kids a real live chicken and I was thinking it would be handy to have a something that could hold them for looking at but would lay flat to fit in my minivan to transport.  Hmmm, seemed quite a lot of requirements and a tall order to fill. I searched online until I came across this little beauty:

Collapsible chicken run - inspiration.  Source:Craftlog http://craftlog.org/craftlog/?p=4175

Collapsible chicken run – inspiration. Source:Craftlog

Eureka!  This will be perfect.  It is adjustable to fit over my skinny (just 2′ wide) vege garden, yet can expand to … whatever width the A-frame will allow, say 5′, AND fold up for easy, flat storage when not in use.  And it looked easy enough to build.  Of course, there will be less-than-zero predator protection with this, probably as close to free-ranging (and subsequent security issues) without actually free-ranging as I can get, so it must only be used under supervision.  I thought I’d give it a go.  Here’s what I did.

How to Build a Portable, Collapsible Chicken Run What you need:

  • (7) 1″x3″x8′ pine furring strips (for extra light weight)
  • 16′ length of 48″ hardware cloth, chicken wire, plastic utility fencing for the outside of the big panels
  • 8′ length of 48″ plastic utility fencing for the end caps (needs to be flexible so it will fold up)
  • 3 hinges for the top
  • screws to screw it all together
  • L-brackets to reinforce the sides if needed (I needed these as the wood is so flimsy)
  • U-pins or staples to staple the hardware cloth to the wood
  • paint to better weatherproof it and make it look pretty
  • 10’+ length of utility fencing
  • taples to affix the utility fencing
  • an afternoon

Directions:

Hint #1: Make sure you look for very straight pieces of the furring strips when buying your lumber.  They are hard to find and you might need to ask the guys to cut a new bundle or two open so you can find straight pieces.  Don’t be shy – do it and find the straightest pieces you can.

Step 1.
Cut 3 of the furring strips in half to give you (6) 4′ lengths.  I had the guys at Lowes do this for me.

Step 2.
Join the long 8′ lengths of wood to the shorter 4′ lengths of wood to make 2 big 8’x4′ rectangles with supports in the middle at the 4′ mark.  I used the Kreg Jig to make it easy to join the wood. You do have to fill the holes with wood filler and paint but I’m ok with that as I find these joins easier that trying to toe in the screw by myself.

I used the Kreg Jig to make it easy to join the wood.  You do have to fill the holes with wood filler and paint but I'm ok with that as I find these joins easier that trying to toe in the screw.

Making the joins with the Kreg Jig

Step 3.
Paint all the wood with exterior grade paint.  The panels will look like this when done. (Check out my easy Paint with a Sock painting technique to save yourself some grief during this part)

One of the two painted panels.

One of the two painted panels.

Hint #2: Check out the ‘Oops Section’ for cheap paint options while at Lowes.  The only exterior paint I had lying around the house was the cream colour I’d used on the coop and I wanted this to blend in better with the environment.  Lowes happened to have a small tin of exterior green paint for just $2.50 instead of the $18.00 it would have ordinarily cost.  Score!

Step 4.
Reinforce the corners with brackets if necessary.

Step 5.
Staple or use the U-pins to attached the hardware cloth/utility wire to the rectangular panels.

Step 6.
Join the two big rectangles at the top with the hinges.  Best to attach the hinges on the inside of the panels so the hinges will close properly and lie flat.

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Attaching hinges

Hinges and reinforcing brackets attached.

Hinges and reinforcing brackets attached.

Right now your project will look like this:

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You can fold it up.

You can lay it out flat.

You can lay it out flat.

You can stand it up to make a chicken tractor out of it. I like that the width is variable depending on my need.

You can stand it up to make a chicken tractor out of it. I like that the width is variable depending on my need.

Step 7.
Staple the utility fencing to one edge of the run.  The width of the fencing will need to be adjustable depending on how wide you make the footprint of the run so make sure you cut it with extra length.  It also makes an easy ‘access door’.

Here is the 'access door', with Sophia timidly entering the run for the first time.

Here is the ‘access door’, with Sophia timidly entering the run for the first time.

Right now I have used twist wire threaded through the hardware cloth to ‘close’ the ends of the ‘doors’ but I’m looking for a better solution.  Maybe some cuphooks screwed in the the wood on the side around which the utility fencing could be stretched?  For right now, wire it is.  I do make sure I pull the bottom quite taught so that the chickens can’t wriggle underneath.  So far, so good.

Completed run with utility fencing affixed

Completed run with utility fencing affixed.  Also positioned with a narrow footprint, perfect for setting over my narrow vege garden rows.

Adjusted to have a wider footprint.

Adjusted to have a wider footprint.

You’re Finished!
Voila!  An awesome, portable, collapsible, adjustable chicken day run that seems to be working nicely for my girls.

Charlotte and Sophia enjoying a day out in the garden in their new day pen.

Charlotte and Sophia enjoying a day out in the garden in their new day pen.

One thing to remember is that since I have used flexible utility fencing it is not predator-proof and the girls needs to be supervised(ish) whilst they are in it.  We don’t have fences so my main concern would be for the random neighbourhood dog who might wander in to my yard and get excited to see the chickens.  I would definitely not feel good leaving the house with them in the day tractor.

The whole project was easy to build and cost about $70 total, so super affordable.  I love that it can be folded flat for easy storage (probably affixed to the garage wall somehow with hooks to get it up off the ground) and that it is really really light so I can easily move it around by myself.  It will also fit in the back of my minivan should I want to take the girls to an elementary school for show-and-tell.  Very happy with this project.  Yay!

Regular chicken coop in the foreground with the new day pen blending in to the mid-ground.  Very pastoral over at my house.

Regular chicken coop in the foreground with the new day pen blending in to the mid-ground. Very pastoral over at my house.

Anyone else looking for a day-tractor for their chickens?  Let me know if you like this idea and try it yourself.  Would love to see how other’s modify these plans to their own needs.

… And in Between, We Garden

Such an awesome weekend!

I cleaned out the chicken coop –

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Here you can see the roost bar and the piece of wood that holds the Sweet PDZ in place removed for easy cleaning.

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All clean. Now for some fresh lavender and Rosemary as the finishing touch.

Admired some pretty flowers that are blooming right now –

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Love these grape hyacinths. Maybe almost as much as this guy does.

Here’s a busy little bee making the most of the grape hyacinths.  They are the first flowers to bloom in abundance in my garden each spring and are always such a welcome burst of lovely sweet colour.  J’adore grape hyacinths, don’t you?

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Pretty camellia bloom.

I’ve not grown camellias before – these are my first and newly planted this past autumn.  I planted them to provide some screening from our neighbours although it will take some 20 years for them to grow to a useful size to fill that role.  Until then I will enjoy their spring blooms – and think of planting more.

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Pretty camellia bloom

And swooned as the heavenly scent of the lemon blossoms wafted across the whole yard.  Right now the lemon and lime trees are spending their days outside enjoying the dozey bumblebees and the warm sunshine, and then they go back inside when nighttime temps dip too low.  The weatherman is predicting a hard freeze later this week so I’ll be doing this citrus dance for another few days at least before I can move them out for the summer.

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There’s a lime tree to go along with this Meyer Lemon, too.

I also threw Holly Tone around everything and now the whole place reeks – ugh!  The forecast is for rain tonight and tomorrow morning so my hope is that it will all be washed in and away in a day or so.  I feel totally accomplished.  Vitamin G really does a lot of good for the soul, don’t you think?

We come from the earth
We return to the earth
And in between, we garden.
– Anonymous