The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: projects

One Acre Makeover

At some point last year, it became clear to me that I needed to make some major changes here on our one acre homestead. If your place is already exactly what it should be, then you might want to skip reading this post. Otherwise, perhaps you’ll find a bit of inspiration here.

The Problem:

  • The garden was not set up for efficiently maintaining it. As the years start adding up for me, making it easy to maintain becomes more important.
  • The garden irrigation system had underground pipes through the garden area, and that’s a really bad idea when using a powerful roto-tiller. Running over a pipe creates quite an interesting fountain in the garden.
  • The trees that provided some shade were old water oaks. In this part of the country, they are really more like giant weeds. They don’t produce anything and they tend to rot from the inside out (just as nations and cultures do), and it goes unnoticed until a storm comes along and blows it over – sometimes taking other things with it.
  • The bee hives that I set in the garden were OK until the bees got in a cranky mood at the same time that I needed to work in the garden. Keeping bees means you’re going to get stung once in a while, but you never really get used to it no matter what anyone says.

 

The Solution:

  • The patchwork garden design became a single rectangular block. The duck pen, the bee hives, the bananas, and the pineapple patch – gone. The duck pen was moved back out of the garden area, the pineapple plants were transplanted to a single row along the perimeter fence, the banana plants cut down and dug up, and the bee hives were moved away from the garden.
  • The irrigation system now consists of two rows of overlapping sprinklers along the sides such that every part of the garden is covered by at least two sprinklers. All the irrigation pipe and one electrical conduit were removed from the garden area.
  • All of the oaks were removed. It wasn’t cheap, but it takes heavy equipment and it needed to be done. With the yard now opened up, I planted peaches, apples, pears, pomegranates, persimmons, figs, avocado, and plums. I would rather spend my time here watching the young fruit trees grow up than watching the old water oaks rot and die. At this stage of life, watching the young grow up is one of life’s greatest joys. Think grandchildren.
  • The bee hives were moved to the side of the house. It is an area that is otherwise unused, and there are no doors on that end of the house. The bees are happy and so are we. I also reduced the number of hives from ten down to three – plenty enough for pollination and some honey.

 

Future posts will detail things like planting the fruit trees, the bee hives, etc. For now, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

 

The Water Oaks come out


The buried pipe comes out


Banana plants are next to be removed


Stakes mark where a row of fruit trees will be planted


Fruit trees being planted

Keeping Squirrels Out Of The Garden

In the previous post, we looked at how to form hoops to use for supporting a covering over the garden. In this post, we use the hoops to add netting over the garden to keep squirrels from ruining our tomatoes. Obviously, this also keeps birds from damaging the garden.

The netting is made up of 4′ x 50′ rolls of plastic netting that I bought at Lowes Hardware. Because of the size needed for this project, it took five rolls sewn together to make a piece 20′ x 50′. To sew the pieces together, I roll them out on the concrete driveway and sew them together using trot line cord that can be found wherever fishing equipment is sold (at least down here in The South, since it is used for catching catfish). I made a “sewing needle” from a piece of stiff wire and formed an “eye” in one end. Bend a bit of a curve in it to make it easier to use.

Each hoop consists of:
• 10 section of 1/2″ EMT (galvanized metal electrical conduit) bent into a 4′ radius
• Two 5′ sections of thin-wall PVC pipe slipped over each end of the metal conduit. There is a 3″ overlap on each end.
• Duct tape at each joint to keep it from slipping.

Try to keep all hoops uniform in size and shape. When the hoops are assembled, any differences will become very noticeable and make the finished structure look very sloppy.

The finished structure includes three sections of PVC pipe cable-tied to the sides and the top. This provides support for the covering and makes the whole structure strong enough to hold it together. When it is time to disassemble the structure, just cut the cable ties and the whole thing can be easily stored in a fairly small space.

Side view of the hoops and netting covering the tomatoes

End view. Squash is in the foreground.

There are three sections of PVC pipe that run the length of the frame - one on each side and one along the top.

It is important to keep the lengths of PVC pipe on the INSIDE of the hoops. Otherwise, the covering will hang up on it and be very difficult to work with. For the same reason, the cable tie ends must also point toward the inside.

Hoop Frames

Hoop frames are a great way to support any kind of covering over a garden. They can be used for a cold frame to protect from frost damage, with netting to prevent damage by birds and squirrels and rabbits, and even to prevent insect damage. Hoop frames can be made in various sizes, from small covers for a 4′ wide raised-bed garden, to a full sized greenhouse. In this post, we’ll be making small frames for the raised bed garden. The material will be half-inch EMT (Electrical Metallic Tubing), commonly known as metal conduit.

The trick to bending hoop frames is having the right tool for the job – in this case, we’ll be building a jig designed for the job. Without a bending jig, you end up with kinked pipe and uneven bends. Aesthetics play a big role in enjoying your garden. Make sure that what goes into the garden is neat and attractive looking.

This jig was built using mostly scraps. The plywood was a badly warped piece that probably should have been cut up and thrown away long ago. The 2×4 pieces were various short pieces that I just couldn’t bear to throw away, so they were stacked in the pole barn. The table frame that they are mounted on was originally built to hold a container garden at waist-high level. The clamps were needed not only to secure the plywood base to the table frame, but to flatten down some major warp in the plywood.

Materials Needed

  • 10′ section of 1/2″ EMT for each hoop
  • 1/2″ PVC 1120 pipe (thin wall) for in-the-ground legs
  • 2×4 to make the arc of the jig
  • Plywood for the base of the jig
  • 1/4-20 x 2 1/2″ bolts and nuts and washers

In the next post, we’ll show how we used it to add netting to prevent damage from squirrels and birds.

Measure from the center point at the top of the arc to find where you need to start the bend.

Start bending the EMT around the jig.

Continue bending the EMT, making sure that it stays flat against the base and doesn't slip.

When the bend is complete, make sure that you don't bend it any more since it is no longer supported by the jig and you will have an uneven bend.

Remove the hoop frame from the jig and adjust if needed.

The finished hoop frame pushed directly into the growing mixture. For taller hoop frames, you may want to insert lengths of PVC pipe over the ends.

Building a Roll-away Nest Box

We were having a constant problem with eggs being broken and eaten, and with very dirty eggs. Cleaning the eggs was taking a significant amount of time, and it was a nasty, smelly job. We needed roll-away nest boxes. There are a number of different designs that can be bought or built. I looked at several different ones before deciding that plastic storage boxes would make an ideal material to start with.

These nest boxes are made from 18 gallon storage boxes that I bought in a 3-pack from Lowes. I used a knife and a saw to cut out the large hole in the front. The only important measurement (other than being sized for your chickens) is that the bottom edge of the hole allows a short piece of 2×4 to be attached to it.

The partition that separates the nest section from the egg section is made of scrap plywood or press board. I just used up some scrap pieces. The edges of the partition have pieces of 2×2 screwed in place to allow for screws to attach it to the sides of the plastic box. The dimensions will vary according to the plastic box used, but my partitions were 14 1/4″ across the top, 12 1/2″ across the bottom, and 11 1/2″ high. The bottom was approximately 2 1/4″ from the top of the fake grass.

The bottom is lined with “fake grass”. This is not the standard indoor/outdoor carpet, but a sturdier material designed to be used as a plastic grass substitute. It was purchased by the foot from Lowes. Although it works well, I found that the hens were much happier with it when I added a very thin layer of hay on top. It was a very thin layer of hay – just enough to make it look like hay rather than plastic. If you put too much hay in, the eggs will not roll out very well.

The nest boxes sit on some boards that form a platform for them. The slope is provided by adding a 2×4, turned on its side under the front.

I will probably end up trimming the fake grass to eliminate places for spiders and other bugs to take up residence. Other than that, I am well satisfied with the design. The eggs are all clean and easy to gather. I either lift the top, or just reach under the partition. Since we started using these nest boxes, we have not had a single broken egg, and all of them are much cleaner than with the old nest boxes.

The finished nest boxes in use. There is a wire that goes from an eye screw below the perch to a screw on the supporting 2x4. Before adding this, the chickens would knock the nest boxes over by standing on the edge.

A piece of 2x4 is screwed to the plastic at the bottom of the opening. This gives the hens something to stand on and provides a place tor the eye screw. The eye screw is used to secure the nest box in place.

Once the approximate gap between the wood partition and the "fake grass" has been established, make sure that the eggs that your hens lay will easily roll to the back. I used a saw to trim off any excess until they easily rolled under the partition.

A Water Tower for the Chickens

One of the earliest lessons that anyone learns when they start keeping chickens is that water is heavy. Lugging around gallons of water for the chickens is not a fun thing to do, and the older we get, the clearer that lesson becomes. The solution is to have the water piped directly to the chickens.

I have tried just about every possible method of delivering water to my chickens, so I now have a box filled with waterers that I no longer use. Someone who uses city water has more possibilities, but our well water has so much mineral content that anything that uses a regulator or metal valves will last only months before it is completely useless.

In order to get a consistent supply of low pressure water, I decided that a gravity feed system is what I need. I also wanted a system that keeps the water as clean as possible and has enough pressure and volume to supply water to several places – not just a single chicken coop.

The tower was mostly built on its side. Having a flat concrete slab to work on helped keep things relatively square.

The parts were clamped into place, then pilot holes were drilled. The tower was assembled with stainless steel lag bolts.

With the main frame of the tower completed, we moved it into place near the chickens. We made sure it was far enough away from trees so it wouldn't be damaged by falling branches during a storm.

The valve section is just slip-fit into the pipe so that it can be removed if needed. The bronze water spigot is where a hose is connected using a double-female connector to pump water into the tank.

The tank is a 35 gallon sprayer tank from Tractor Supply. It turned out to be perfect for the project.

The main water line is buried with screw plugs placed every 10' (indicated by the posts of the chain link fence just a few feet back). This gives flexibility in where chicken coops are located in the future.

The end of the main water pipe has a stub so that more can be added to the end by cutting and adding a coupling. Since this photo was taken, I have replaced the end cap with a gate valve. When it is time to fill the tank, I open the valve to flush out the main supply line and empty the tank before refilling it.

View showing the roof and two sides. At this point, the back and the front door have not yet been added. The roof is hinged at the back and slopes toward the front. (If it sloped to the back, it would be pouring onto the 'chicken nursery' behind it.)

To get more use from the tower, cattle panels were attached to the sides, and pole beans and cucumbers were planted around the sides and front.

The cattle panel trellis was attached to the top 2x4 using stainless steel wire.

The completed tower, fully enclosed. It is important to keep the sun off of the tank to keep the water cool and to discourage the growth of algae in the tank.

When filling the tank, the front door is propped open with a stick.

A Trellis For The Garden

Overall view showing how it fits into the raised bed garden. Blue Lake Pole Beans were planted along the trellis this afternoon.

This end view shows how the sides extend out past the edges of the garden. Also shown - in the foreground are bell peppers, the empty space beyond the trellis has newly-planted sweet potatoes, and beyond that is eggplant and squash.

A raised bed garden such as ours can present some added challenges when it comes to accommodating climbing plants. Once a trellis is filled, then it can really catch the wind, so having a structurally stable design is important. It also needs to be light enough to be able to move around easily. I had thought about having trellis capabilities built into the basic concrete structure but decided against it.

This trellis is 6′ wide at the top, while the inside dimension of the garden is 4′. This gives me the ability to simply reach straight up to pick the beans (or cucumbers or whatever I’m growing). Another benefit is that I could use an entire cattle panel (the standard size is 16′ long) without having to cut anything on it; if the sides had been straight, the top edge would have been another foot higher. I am 6’6″ tall, but there are still limits to how high I want to reach to pick vegetables.

Bending the heavy wire of a cattle panel is not easy. I bolted a fence stretcher to it so that I would have something to bend it around. It turned out to be easier than I thought it would to bend. Not easy – just easier. The cross braces are pressure-treated 2×2 with notches cut to hold the wire (I made two saw cuts and then used a wood chisel to remove the excess). They are secured with stainless steel wire wrapped and twisted. Before final assembly, I used cable ties to make sure it would work and the dimensions were right.

A fence stretcher was used to help bend the heavy wire