Monday, June 17, 2013

Predator Proofing a Chicken Coop

Cheating on a Chicken Coop, my new e-book, just came out. It covers a number of alternatives to conventional coops. Many would-be chicken keepers just cannot afford a new chicken coop. And a lot of folks do not have the advanced building skills to make their own coops. I wrote this short book to shine light on a few alternative coops and non-coops that will work just fine to house your hens.

Below is an excerpt from the book on Predator Proofing a Chicken Coop.


If you have predators in your area, including bears, foxes, raccoons, and members of the weasel family (minks, martens, ferrets, etc.), then of course you’ll want to keep them from eating your chickens. Most predators hunt at night, which is when chickens are roosting in the coop. You MUST keep your coop secure. While you’re at it, you might as well seal the coop against any rats, mice, or other rodents.

The first, simplest way to secure your coop is to follow my suggestion in Thing 4 above (the advice I didn’t follow myself and later regretted). That was where I suggested that you consider making a walk-in run area. If you have a predator-proof, fenced run that is large enough, you can pop the indoor coop inside of it. And as long as the fenced run keeps out the predators, the coop itself needs no additional security.

However, assuming that making a huge run is not possible or affordable for you, then your chicken coop will be exposed to possible predators. You'll need to make it impossible for these critters to get in. Predator proofing consists of two main tasks: tightening the coop’s construction and putting good locks on any doors and windows. Even a pre-made coop that you spent several hundred dollars to buy may still have some flaws when it comes to security.

To tighten up the coop, first look for any holes. Weasel family members and rodents can get through almost any gap. Move your hands around the outside of the coop, gently pulling apart any pieces that join together, and see if larger holes form. If so, add some additional screws or other hardware at more frequent intervals.

If there are any remaining holes, including windows, vents, and gaps you cannot close with screws, consider screening them with quarter-inch hardware cloth mesh. Do not use office staples to secure this; get a staple gun from the local hardware store along with the longest staples (probably 12-14mm) that it holds. These will be hard for any animal to pull out, especially if you staple on the mesh from the inside. Make sure not to leave any jagged edges, though, since you don’t want the chickens to cut themselves.

The second task is to secure any doors or windows that you plan to close at night. My chickens have a window in their coop that stays open during mild weather, but it is permanently screened with quarter-inch mesh. Use good quality latches, even going so far as to buy better ones to replace the cheap quality latches on a brand new coop. Some animals (especially raccoons) are very good at opening things, so every latch needs to either require brute force or else be complex enough to fool them. Usually, if opening the latch requires two or more separate functions (e.g. pull out, then turn a half circle and pull again), that is enough to fool my raccoons. Multiple latches on different sides of the door/window also helps. I hope your predators are not any smarter than mine!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Carrots of Many Colors

You may have noticed by now that not all carrots are orange. Purple, white, yellow, and red carrots seem to be increasing in number each season. You can see them in seed catalogs, at farmers markets, and even in some supermarkets. It turns out that those rainbow colors also pack a wide range of antioxidants.

Until a few years ago, I avoided multi-colored carrots because I assumed they would not have as much beta carotene as the orange ones. But then I did a little bit of research (10 minutes at least) and learned that purple, red, yellow, and white carrots each offer something important for your diet. As we have learned with other foods, it's all about colors, and for optimum health, we should be eating the full rainbow range of fruits and vegetables. And before you dismiss colored carrots as a new, over-hybridized invention, apparently purple and yellow carrots have been around, nourishing certain civilizations, for at least 1,000 years. The wild ancestors of domesticated carrots actually had red or purple roots. (My sources here are USDA/ARS and the Carrot Museum in the UK.)

So here are some of the nutrients linked to the rainbow of pigments: Purple carrots are not lacking in beta carotene (the Vitamin A source). In fact, some of them have even more carotene than orange carrots; it's just hidden by the purple. They also have the same anthocyanins (with the purple pigment) that make blueberries and other dark fruits so rich in antioxidants. Red carrots have lots of lycopene, just like tomatoes. If you've followed the news and nutritional research at all the last few years, you must know that lycopene is an extremely powerful weapon against cancer and heart disease. Yellow carrots have xanthophylls, which are pigments similar to beta carotene that are quite good for eye health.

What about white carrots? No pigments there. But if you try a bundle of multi-colored carrots from a farmer's market, you may find that the white carrots are the sweetest they may have some redeeming value (along with, no doubt, plenty of minerals and fiber). In fact, each color of carrot tends to have a slightly unique flavor to it as well, which provides another reason to try them all.

Consider planting a rainbow mix of carrot colors this year! Most seed companies sell packets of multicolored seeds or sell the seeds of each colors separately. Try a Google or Yahoo search for "rainbow carrot seeds" and several of these will pop up. I have seen these packets on the seed racks at some nurseries as well, so you may be able to find what you need locally.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Free Books This Weekend

I am giving away some free e-books this weekend. Please check my author page and look at the titles. You will see which ones are free Kindle downloads. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Growing Vegetables in the Shade

I just finished Volume 1 of an e-book called Starting a New Garden. It is dedicated to beginning gardeners and anyone who needs more information about how to start a garden. Volume 1 takes you through how to prepare garden beds, raised beds, and container gardens on lawns, yards, patios, and other hard surfaces. Volume 2 (which is coming soon) will cover all aspects of growing vegetables, including planting and proper care.

Below is a short excerpt from the book. This is a section on growing vegetables in shady spots. One of the most common questions I hear is "What can I grow in the shade?" Here are a few ideas.

Shady Vegetables

If you have a shady spot that receives less than perfect sunlight, you still may be able to grow certain vegetables. If this spot gets the equivalent of a few hours of direct sunlight per day, either for part of the day or through dappled sunlight, it may be possible to grow vegetables which do not need too much light energy. Let’s start with what you probably cannot grow: fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. These plants need so much light and heat, often a whole summer’s worth in direct sunlight, to produce their crop. But if you are dead set on growing tomatoes and have only a partially-shaded spot, then try some cherry tomatoes. Most of them produce a crop much more quickly than larger tomatoes, and hopefully you will get something from your plants, if not a full harvest.

Topping the list of low-light vegetables are leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, collards, mache, arugula, parsley, bok choy, and tatsoi. Since we eat the leaves of these plants, we do not need to wait until they absorb enough energy to make fruit, seeds, or enlarged roots. You can harvest a good crop of greens from a garden that gets very little sunlight. Next, you could try peas and beans, sticking to the bush or dwarf varieties which produce more quickly than the pole types. I have grown both peas and beans in very low light situations with good success.

Root and tuber vegetables are fine with less than full sunlight also. This includes carrots, beets, potatoes, radishes, and turnips. You will not get much from them in a truly shady spot, but half a day’s sun should be plenty to ensure a decent crop. Another good bet is green onions (scallions). While onions and garlic take months to bulb up and produce food, you can harvest green onions within a few weeks of planting. In fact, you can do the same thing with garlic greens. They are less well known, but they have a delicious fresh taste.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Four Books in One

Recently, I bundled four of my most popular short books into one longer title, which is called Essential Vegetables. This book combines the growing guides for Potatoes, Tomatoes/Peppers/Eggplants, Fall/Winter Gardening, and Beans/Peas. So if you're interested in more than two of those, you can save money on the lot by getting the Essential Vegetables Box Set. It's available in both Kindle and print editions...just in time for spring!