Tag Archives: construction

2013~ A Year in Review

2013 was a busy year. I didn’t blog much, but I did get a lot done.

I have a daughter that is now a senior in high school and a son that left elementary to move up to the big leagues of middle school. Hubby got (and rejected) two job offers. One was definitely not a better job. The other would have been a pay raise but would have caused a ridiculous amount of stress for Mr. Hippie. Mr. Hippie’s ulcerative colitis doesn’t do well with stress, so although I still pine for the extra income that would make our fiscal lives easier, I am grateful for his time with our family and for his health.

Will 2014 be The Year of My Blog? I don’t know the future, but I hear that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Regardless of what 2014 brings, I’m leaving 2013 with a bang!

The top posts always surprise me a little, but it helps me understand what people actually want to read! Apparently the movement toward healthier, greener cleaning hasn’t lost steam and people still love animals!

Coming in at number one:

Vinegar and oil(s)Homemade Fabric Softener

housing for two rabbits

Home to our breeding pair.

Building a Rabbit Hutch

Finished loaf cooled, sliced and ready to eat.

Freshly baked bread in five minutes?

Crusty Round Loaves of Homemade Bread

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Soap after the mold has been removed.

How I Made Homemade Soap (and Didn’t Screw it up)

Some of the finished treats.

Homemade Dog Biscuits

Supplies needed to make your own.

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Sink Scrub

Homemade Scouring Powder

Chicken Tractor

Chicken Run

Pinot Jelly

Pinot Noir Jam

Thanks for sticking around to hear what I had to say even when I didn’t have much to talk about!

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Goodbye, 2011

2011 was a difficult year both for my family and for this blog.  If you are/were a regular reader, you noticed I wasn’t around much. I hope to change that this year.  Because I didn’t write many posts last year, I wasn’t surprised that most of the top posts last year were older posts.

As a farewell to the year gone by I present:

The Top Five Posts of 2011

  1. Brined Pork Roast
  2. Homemade Fabric Softener
  3. Homemade Laundry Detergent
  4. Building A Rabbit Hutch
  5. Crusty Round Loaves of Homemade Bread

I am surprised that the Brined Pork Roast recipe was number one. Especially because in my opinion, this recipe is much tastier.

I get lots of searches for green cleaning recipes. Pinterest has been especially helpful in promoting them. I’m glad people are being greener and I’ll try to post some more green cleaning recipes this year.

I am excited to see the rabbit hutch plans make the list.  I wonder if that is because more people are interested in rabbits for meat, or if pet owners just need plans? Regardless, I hope to post more rabbit updates soon. Until then, if you’re looking for rabbit information, check out On Breeding Like Rabbits.

Happy New Year,

Angela

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Filed under Charcutepalooza, food, frugality, green cleaning, green living, meat rabbits, Miscellaneous

Building a Rabbit Hutch

When we brought Fiona home, we housed her in the same old guinea pig cage that we used to brood our chicks for a few days until we could get a hutch built, but we knew we had to build a hutch.  First of all, the guinea pig cage was designed as an indoor habitat and the bunnies will be living outdoors; the cage doesn’t offer any protection from the elements.  Second, the guinea pig cage has a solid bottom.  Rabbits need to have wire on the bottom of their cages to allow all the waste to fall through.  Rabbit waste is very corrosive and will eat through solid-bottomed containers.  Third, when housing multiple rabbits, it is best to keep them separated.  Bunnies are prone to chewing on one another.  This can cause injury and infection and destroys the rabbits’ coats.  Besides, you don’t want a buck and doe mating like, well, rabbits.   

So a rabbit hutch was necessary in short order.  I spent some time researching plans online before developing the plans for this hutch: 

housing for two rabbits

Home to our breeding pair.

Fiona lives in the left half and Nibbler resides in the right.  Once Fiona’s kindled a litter, the kits will stay with her for a few weeks before being separated into different quarters.  This hutch cost us all of $29.43 to build.  

If you need to build something small, I highly recommend that you check out the “cull lumber” bin at your local lumberyard or Big Orange Box Store.  You can typically find an assortment of bent or damaged merchandise for 85% off.  We got a sheet of 3/4″ plywood for $3.75.  REAL plywood, not OSB.  The sheet had been cut into three pieces but apparently was not the right size for the original purchaser.  We took the two larger pieces and left the six-inch strip behind. We also found two of the three 2x2s that we needed in the cull lumber bin for twenty cents each. The 2x4s we used for the legs of the hutch and the bracing inside the boxes were FREE.  They are untreated lumber that was used in/under inventory at the store.  It is important that you use untreated lumber because rabbits will gnaw/eat their cages and eating treated lumber is not a good idea.  The paint is “oops” paint from the Big Blue Box Store; Valspar’s top of the line exterior paint for $5.  The hook and eye latches we paid the full price for: 2/$1.49.  The biggest expense was the roll of 1/2″x 1″  rabbit cage wire which cost us $16.49.  Using the correct wire on the bottom is important for several reasons.  First because of the corrosive properties of rabbit urine.  Second, using thin wire can cause injury to your rabbits’ feet.  Third, holes that are too large allow predators easy access to your rabbits.  We had some hinges and chicken wire leftover from our chicken coop/tractor construction, so we didn’t need to buy cage wire for the front or back of the hutch.  Using leftover chicken wire saved us another $12 or more dollars on wire.  Hinges probably would have been another $6-10.  We also had a supply of screws, nails and staple gun staples in the garage.  Fasteners can add up quickly if you have to buy small boxes for every little project you complete. 

I may attempt to draw real plans for you in the future, but for now, here are the dimensions of the hutch: 

  • 2 wooden front panels: 20″ w x 20″ h
  • 2 wooden back panels:  20″ w x 18″ h
  • 4 side panels (two inside & 2 outside): 23″ w x 20″ h (The sides are sloped with a 20″ height at the front dropping to an 18″ height in the back.)
  • 2x2s were used for framing the base.  The distance across the front of the entire hutch is about 74″.  If I were to do anything differently, it would be to make the hutch a little longer so that the bunnies have more space to move around, but they have about six square feet each.

Because we used a precut sheet of plywood, we had to try to get the most efficient use of the board the way it was already cut.  We also had to supplement with a small sheet of plywood left over from a project we finished years ago.  Clicking here will give you a scale cutting guide to use if you have a full sheet of plywood.  The fronts and backs need to go over the ends of the sides to make the roofs fit.  It also makes your hutch look nicer from the front with no seams showing.  The size of the boxes is adequate but as I mentioned, you might want to make the “run” portion of each hutch a little bigger.  Raising Rabbits by Ann Kanable recommends seven to eight foot per rabbit, so another foot in each run would give you about eight feet. 

If my directions seem confusing, please leave a comment and I will try to clarify for you.  I am neither an engineer nor a construction worker.  I tell my husband what I want and figure out how big to make the pieces and he figures out how to construct it for me.

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Chicken Run

Okay, so really it’s a chicken tractor, but look what hubby built me today:

Brand new chicken run.

Isn’t it amazing?  The traditional anniversary gift for twelve years is silk and linen, but I’m diggin’ pvc and chicken wire. 

Now my dear Molly (and soon the chicks) can forage around the yard eating grass, weeds and bugs to their hearts’ contents.  Molly loves it. 

Molly enjoying the sunshine in her new run.

Even Dylan loves it!

Dylan and Molly in the "porto-coop".

And, if you haven’t read the comments here, guess what?  The girls are going to be in the Record Eagle on Sunday!

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Back to Work-ku

After eight days off
the materials showed up
and hubby’s at work

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How to Raise Worms

As I may have mentioned before, I am very cheap frugal.  Our city doesn’t provide garbage service so each household is responsible for contracting their own service.  There are four or five different companies that provide service to my street (and unfortunately, four or five trucks that drive down my alley every week because of it) so there are a lot of options for trash pick-up.  Most of the companies offer recycling as part of their fee but they only take number one and two plastic so I haul all my recycling to a drop-off site that takes batteries, small corded appliances, glass, cardboard and paper, metal and ALL plastic including numbers 1-7, plastic bags and STYROFOAM.  Recycling all that “junk” eliminates a huge chunk of my garbage output.  Compost takes care of another chunk. 

Because I compost and recycle most of my garbage, my family of four creates less than one eight-gallon garbage can full of trash a week.  So, why would I pay $10 or $20 a month to have that little bag hauled away every week?   A couple of the garbage companies offer a “pay for what you use” plan for garbage.   You buy the color-coded bags from them (ten bags for $25) and only put out the garbage when you fill the bags.  I can fit three or four of my little garbage bags into one of their big bags.  If you do the math, that works out to about $2.50 every three-four weeks.  This ends up costing me under $50 a year instead of $120 or more.  So, even if I didn’t use my compost in the garden, it is worth its weight in gold!

Many people have tried their hands at composting only to find that they don’t have the space for a big pile, or can’t manage turning the pile, or just can’t get the balance of carbon (brown things) and nitrogen (green things) to work out for optimal composting.  I was am one of those people.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still compost.  I have this giant pile in the back corner of the yard:

Compost heap

Compost heap buried under snow.

And I have these two (soon to be three) compost containers: 

Duelling Composters

The one on the right is full and working. The left one is nearly full. I'm going to get a third and make a three-bin compost system.

But, several years ago I was introduced to vermicomposting.   I have been in love with it ever since.  Vermicomposting is a fancy name for “worm farming”.  Yes, I am a worm farmer.  I usually keep a worm bin at school and one at home.  Right now I have both bins at home, but plan to return the old bin to school in the spring.  In the summer I keep the bins in a shady area of the yard but for now they are in my “dining room”.  (The realtor called it a dining room, but he was being generous.  It is actually a wide hallway between the kitchen and the back entryway and more of a mudroom.)  I’d keep the worms indoors all year, but for me they are just easier to deal with outside.  I never have to worry about  fruit flies, and I get six square feet of floor space back.

There are lots of things I love about worm farming.  The biggest reason is obvious: worms eat my garbage.  Mary Appelhof wrote a book by the same title.  Worms eat garbage all day every day.  A pound of worms will eat a half a pound of garbage a day, or three-and-a-half pounds of garbage a week.  Worms are more efficient than a compost pile.  Worms eat garbage and turn it into rich compost in a very short time span.  This compost is called “castings” which is just a fancy word for worm poop.   Castings can be added to houseplants or garden beds.

As I mentioned before, I often keep my bin inside.  This makes vermicompost much more manageable for people with small yards.  Even an apartment owner could compost using this system.  I keep my bin out in open sight, but a bin could easily be tucked into a closet or cupboard.  So convenience is a big reason I love my bins; you never have to leave the kitchen to compost if you keep the bin close by.   You’re probably thinking, “Don’t they stink?”  No, they don’t.  A properly maintained bin smells like soil.

The best thing about a worm bin is that it requires no turning.  To get compost from a pile or bin in a reasonable time frame, the pile needs to be stirred or turned.  If you have a small pile, this isn’t too difficult, but small piles aren’t as efficient as large piles.  Large piles are faster, but are a real pain to turn.   Worms actually prefer that you don’t turn them. 

So, now that you know why you should have worms, let’s find out how to raise them.  There are a number of resources on the internet to help you get started, but let me walk you through the basics.  First you need to provide suitable habitat for your worms.  There are many vermicompost systems available for sale and for a fee, I’d be happy to build one for you but it’s pretty easy to do yourself.  You’ll need a plastic storage contanier and two lids, a drill and a 1/8th inch bit.  The plastic tub must be opaque; worms don’t like light.

Rubbermaid tub and two lids

Scavenging extra lids can be a problem. I had these two left over from when I built my newest, deluxe, three-tiered worm bin.

Flip the tub upside down and drill drainage holes in the bottom of the tub.  Make sure you drill the holes in the low spots of the tub or liquid will pool in the bottom and create less than ideal conditions for your worms. 

Bottom of the bin with drainage holes drilled in it.

Once you have drilled the holes in the tub, turn it right-side-up and put ONE of the lids on it.  Drill holes in the top to provide air flow to your worms. 

Finished worm bin lid

Worm bin top with air holes drilled in it.

Now that you have a container for your worms, you need to fill it.  Worms need bedding.  Remember when you cleaned out your filing cabinet and shredded all your old documents??   Go get them and use them to fill the bin most of the way.  If you don’t have any old documents or junk mail to shred, you can use shredded newspaper or cardboard. 

Upcycling your junk mail

Finished worm bin with bedding added.

Many sites will advise against using colored paper in your worm bin because the inks can be bad for the worms.  I have never had trouble with it, but I don’t add a lot of colored paper; in small doses, colored papers are fine.   (Note: Don’t shred the plastic windows from your junk mail into your worm bin unless you want to pick plastic ribbons out of your castings until the end of time.)

You are probably wondering what’s up with the extra lid.  Unless you want water and worm tea dripping out the bottom of your worm bin all over the floor, you will need to invert it and place it under the bin as a saucer to catch drips.  If you keep the bin outside, you won’t need the extra lid.  If you haven’t been able to scavenge an extra lid, you can place your bin inside another tub or rig some other way to catch the drips.  However, the extra lid is the easiest method.

Finished worm bin

The finished worm bin. This particular worm bin was auctioned off at the Family Wisdom Conference's Wise Woman Ladies Night.

Worms, like humans, are mostly water.  The environment needs to be damp.  If it isn’t, your worms will lose moisture through their skins, become dehydrated and die.  We’ve all seen those poor worms dried out on the sidewalk after a rain; no good worm farmer wants to do that to his stock.  To create the right humidity, dampen the bedding but DO NOT flood it.  The bedding should feel like a wrung out sponge after you have added the water.  If your bedding is too damp, either squeeze most of the excess out, let some drain out the holes before you add your worms, or add enough dry paper to the bin to absorb the excess moisture.   If your tub starts to accumulate too much moisture, the worms will start trying to escape just like earthworms do after a rainstorm.  Once your bin is established, you generally won’t need to add too much water but if the box ever seems dry, sprinkle a little water in until it seems damp enough.  Most of the kitchen scraps you add are mostly water and will keep your box adequately moist.  Adding a piece of cardboard, a piece of burlap or an opened newspaper to the top of your compost helps retain moisture, but I rarely do this.

Now that you have a container and bedding, you are ready to start.  Worms don’t have teeth.  They have gizzards instead.  In order to function properly, a worm’s gizzard needs small stones in it.  A handful of sand or dirt from your yard sprinkled onto the bedding will provide enough stones for your worms to get started.

Next, add some food for your worms.  The worms will eat the paper you have provided for bedding, but they prefer rotten food.  Rotten is the key word here.  The worms actually eat the mold and fungus that consumes the food so the more rotten your food is, the better it is for the worms.  If you don’t have any rotten scraps, fresh ones will do; they’ll rot soon enough.  Don’t add too much food to your bin at first.  Your worms will need time to adjust to their new surroundings.  Once your worms become established, they will reproduce and will be able to eat more garbage.  The more you feed them, the more worms you will have.

You are finally ready for your worms!  Believe it or not, there are many, many types of worms.  The common earthworm, nightcrawlers or bait worms you buy at a fishing shop are not good for your bin.  They don’t eat enough garbage and will probably die and smell up your bin.  Your worm bin needs red wiggler worms.  There are many sources for worms online.  Most of these sources are very pricey.  If you are in the Traverse City area, I’d be happy to sell you a pound of mine for $20, but at the moment I am not set-up to ship worms and I wouldn’t want them dying in the mail. 

That’s it.  You’re done.

Now that you have your bin set up and the worms have moved in, what should you feed them??

  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps and waste
  • Spoiled food from the refrigerator
  • Shredded up junk mail
  • Eggshells
  • Nutshells
  • Old socks and non-synthetic clothing (No, really.  I once fed my worms a cotton sweater.)
  • Weeds and trimmings from garden or houseplants

Things you should never feed your worms:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Greasy items
  • anything that wouldn’t biodegrade on its own
  • cat or dog waste

After a while, the bedding and food scraps in your bin will be unrecognizable because they will have been turned into rich castings.  When this happens, you will need to harvest your castings because worm castings are toxic to worms.  What?  You wouldn’t want to swim in your feces, would you? 

Check back soon for a post on harvesting your castings!

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Red Light District

The coop has been done for a while now, but the weather has been intermittenly cold, rainy and sunny.  Mostly cold and rainy.  Last Saturday we were even blessed with a few wayward snowflakes.  But, back to the point. 

The weather in Michigan isn’t always pleasant.  Winter starts about now and ends around Mother’s Day.  You probably think I’m joking.  I’m not.  So I’ve been a little worried about what effect  the cold weather would have on the girls.  I’ve been researching online to see what a safe temperature would be for the chickens.  Most everybody suggests that you don’t heat your coop.  I believe that it’s probably safe not to heat your coop most of the time.  But my girls are just chicks.  Well maybe not chicks, but not quite chickens yet either.  Chicks in a brooder are supposed to be kept at 100 degrees for a week.  After that the temperature can be dropped five degrees each week until they reach a temperature of 70 degrees.  Once they hit that 70 degree mark, they shouldn’t require heat anymore.  My little girls only just hit the 70 degree mark.  The outdoor temperatures at night have been in the 30-40 degree range.  I don’t know about you, but if I was comfy at 70 degrees yesterday and you told me I had to be okay with 40 today in the same wardrobe, I might not be very happy. 

So, after much discussion, the hubby and I added a light to the coop.  We started with a regular 100-watt bulb, but I didn’t like the idea of the girls being subjected to artificial daylight just to stay warm.  You see, a hen’s egg-laying is directly connected to the number of hours of daylight she receives.  None of the girls are old enough to lay yet, but I don’t want them to be confused about day and night or mess with their future egg production. 

In search of something better, we ventured out to the pet store.  We spent what seemed like hours looking at the various bulbs and heating systems.  We found something we thought would work in the reptile department but after further research abandoned it.  Finally we decided on a ceramic heat bulb that didn’t emit any light. (Imagine a ceramic stove burner that screws into a light socket.)  It was pricey, but we felt it would be safe and increase the temperature inside the coop significantly.  We were wrong. 

Have the girls gone wild?

The heat is on!

At $35 bucks, you would expect it to be practically magic.  We checked the temperature in the coop and screwed it in.  We checked the temperature again.  Nothing.  So, we waited a few hours and checked again.  Still nothing.  After a day we decided it wasn’t going to work.  Adam went back to the pet store and got the 250 watt red heat lamp instead.

At less than half the price of the infrared ceramic heating unit,  the heat lamp was a better deal and worked much better.  The inside temperature was nearly ten degrees warmer than the outside temperature!  The red bulb still emits some light, but not bright, white daylight so it shouldn’t affect the girls sense of time.

"Roxanne . . ."

Welcome to the Redlight District.

I hadn’t thought about the glow from the coop but a friend of mine walks by the house every morning on her way to work.  One day she mentioned how funny the glow of the redlight looked from the street.  After some discussion we decided that my house is now in the Redlight District. 

We may not leave the light on all winter, but for now it stays on at least at night.  Besides, I like calling all the girls “Roxanne” and singing Police songs to them.

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No Hard Hat Required

Guinea-Pig-Cage Brooder

Guinea-Pig-Cage Brooder

We brought the chicks home without a coop.  I knew it was a risky prospect, but I had already discussed with the hubby the fact that I was ordering chicks, that they would be little enough to keep inside in a brooder, and that he would have until about Halloween to construct some sort of chicken residence for them.  He was cool with that.  However, in the original plan, the chicks would be mail-ordered day-old chicks and wouldn’t be shipped until THIS week.  Considering the weather recently, I think I’m glad day-old chicks aren’t arriving on my doorstep tomorrow but bringing home two and four-week old chicks threw a monkey wrench in the timetable.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching chickens in the last few months, and have looked at probably hundreds of pictures of chicken coops and arks or tractors.  I was originally thinking that a tractor would be the way to go.  I want the chickens to scratch around the yard, eat insects and loosen the soil for my garden because of a book I read this summer, “Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan.  It changed the way I think about food and was the main reason I wanted to keep chickens.  In the book Pollan spends a great deal of time on a farm run by Joel Salatin, Polyface.  Salatin discusses how his animals work for him and describes his chicken tractor which is a natural chicken-powered tilling machine.  Seems like a great idea to me. 

The Occasional Chicken Coop

The Occasional Chicken Coop

After perusing photos, and discussing the options with Adam, I decided on a modified version of this coop I found on The Occasional Chicken .  It is definitely not a chicken tractor but Adam told me he’d build me a portable chicken run next spring so that I could still move the girls around the yard.  I started drawing plans and he added his input.  After an hour or so at the big box lumberyard we came home with most of the things we needed to start construction.  After several more trips to various lumberyards and hardware stores, we were actually ready to build!

I took way too many pictures of the in-between stages of construction, but I tried to be selective in posting them.  Check it out:

Digging in the posts for the foundation.

Digging in the posts for the foundation.

We started with four treated fence posts and dug holes to secure them.  (You know your husband is a perfectionist construction worker when you put footings underneath the posts of your hen-house to prevent settling.) 

Fence posts were much cheaper than 4′x4′ posts and worked great but you have to take into consideration the fact that the posts are 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/4 when you are planning the other aspects of your coop. 
Framing in the floor of the coop.

Framing in the floor of the coop.

Once the posts were secure,  Adam framed the floor around them and then screwed decking down as to form the floor of the coop.  We looked at several other materials as flooring options and decided that the decking was sturdy and more economical than a similar thickness of plywood or OSB.  

The hatch in the floor that the girls will run in and out of.

The hatch in the floor that the girls will run in and out of.

After the decking was screwed down, Adam cut out the opening of the hatch and installed the hatch door on hinges.  

Instead of buying individual boards to build the walls, we bought an 8′ section of fence and cut it into 3′x4′ sections.  We used the sections to enclose the house.  This was a great deal because the fencing is treated and was on clearance for under $20.  It worked out really well.  You can see the fence on the inside of the walls behind the kids. 
The kids in the coop.

The kids in the coop.

The interior was insulated with 1″ foam insulation and then finished with 1/4″ OSB to make it air tight and warm.  Adam wrapped the whole thing in tar paper and then sided it with cedar shakes that we had lying around in the garage.   The cedar looks really nice and now we have one less box of junk in the garage! 
The finished backside of the coop~shingles and all!

The finished backside of the coop~shingles and all!

This is the finished coop!!  The roof is on, it’s insulated and the shingles are up.  The weather has been uncooperative, so the run isn’t fenced yet, but the girls need to be locked in for another day or two so that they can learn where home is anyhow.  The shingles are stained so they’re weather proof, but we’ve been discussing painting the coop barn red. Depending on the cold and rain, that may have to wait until spring.  The windows aren’t complete; Adam just tacked them up temporarily to keep the wind and rain out until it’s nice again so that he can properly frame the shutters.  You can see the thermometer on the back and the glow of the lightbulb through the window.  We’re not planning on heating the coop this winter, but the little girls are only four weeks old so we decided they needed a week or two of supplemental heat until all their feathers are in.coop overnight
Tonight is the third night for the ladies in their “big girl house.”  It’s been raining and really cold since we put them in, but they’ve been dry and cozy in their new coop. 

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