Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Life...Old Materials

Five points to the first reader who correctly determines the origin of the concrete block pictured below:

Ding ding ding! You're right---that block with the brown paint originally belonged to one of the brown cabins at Camp Lutherlyn.

One of the many benefits of Fred's job at Lutherlyn is the permission he is given to scavenge for materials. The grounds crew does not waste anything---even during demolition. Sometimes whole pieces of buildings can be reused, such at the two cabin roofs that were used to make the original roof at Terra Dei. At other times, materials are taken apart and set aside for unknown future use. Sometimes items are stored for years and years...

In this case, I needed concrete block for my girls' new strawbale coop. There were a number of options I had considered for the foundation: rubble trench, a poured concrete footer, or dry-laid concrete block. Anyone who knows us knows that reusing (as in, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is near and dear to our hearts. But, following a close second is a sincere desire not to pay for things that can be acquired for free! I really didn't want to put much money into this project, having just finished building our house. With taking down so many of the original block cabins in the last few years, we immediately thought of checking with P to see if any were available. P quickly gave Fred the go-ahead, and we set about hauling block.

(Actually, there was no "we" in the hauling of the block. Thanks to my dad and his Durango, we had all the block we could ask for in two days.)

Thanks to our friends at Lutherlyn, the foundation for our new coop is just about complete. We were pleased to be able to reuse block that still had a lot of life left in them. (As an added bonus, that spot behind the shop is just a little less crowded...)

Another side benefit of reusing block, I learned a new skill. Fred showed me how to use a small sledge and a chisel to remove old mortar. Let me tell you, I thought a lot about the phrase, "A chip off the old block!"

Now, to find a free door...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'll huff, and I'll puff...

When you build a strawbale house, you get a lot of Three Little Pig jokes.
There's just no way around it.

In spite of that, we've tackled our next strawbale project. Want a hint?

My hens (a.k.a. "the girls") currently reside in a henhouse at the rear of my grandmother's garage.

Some of you might remember that we lived in a brick house---the Gatehouse---on my parents' property during construction. Anyway, shortly after we moved into the Gatehouse (January 2008), I was struck with homesteading fever. My house was due to be ready in July, 2008. If I wanted a laying flock of hens at my new house, I needed to order them in May.

(At this point, some readers might be doing the mental math and feeling confused. "2008? But they didn't move into the straw house until 2009..." Right...)

May, 2008: I was living in a house that I didn't own, with 14 Australorp chickens in my bedroom. The summer solution was to house the girls in a chicken tractor in the field out back. My prayers were answered late in the fall when my parents very nicely agreed that the small room at the back of garage could easily be transformed into a winter residence for the girls.

May, 2009: We moved! Enter Great-Grandma.

Great-Grandma is my maternal grandmother. As soon as we moved to Haven she took up residence in the Gatehouse. Although initially disdainful of the girls, she seems to have come around to appreciating their finer points (i.e., free eggs) and has even been observed talking to them on occasion. Though she might not admit it, I think she likes their company.

Chickens are fairly easy to care for in the summer. A little food, a little water, room outside to stretch their legs, and they're pretty happy. Contrast that with caring for them in the winter, when the challenges of keeping poultry increase exponentially.

Maybe I'm exaggerating when I say exponentially. The largest challenge is that we live in Pennsylvania, where the winters can get cold. Drinking water becomes compromised when the temperature in the coop gets below freezing---which can happen for weeks at a time. As clean water is imperative to keeping poultry, last winter found me filling the waterers with hot water from my basement twice a day. It's one thing to traipse down to your own basement in boots encrusted with mud and chicken droppings. It's quite another thing to ask the same of your grandma and her clean floor...

Hence the need to move the girls to a permanent residence. Plus, I can't wait to have them foraging in the woods around our home! Goodbye, ticks!!!

The coop will be strawbale construction, sharing a wall with the back of our garage.

We started digging the trench and laying the block for the footer earlier this week. The weather here has been beautiful, perfect for working outside!

More details and photos to come as construction progresses. In the meantime, I think I'll pass my back issues of Backyard Poultry along to Great-Grandma.

Just in case she misses the girls.