coop design

Knowing our hatching eggs would arrive at the end of April, hatching out in May, and ready for their coop end of June, in the winter I began searching for plans for a chicken coop. Searching and searching. In conversation with my father, who designed and built the family home, renovating it from a 1950’s house, I soon decided to draw up my own. You probably knew I would do that before I did, didn’t you?

coop-front-and-back-drawing

I based my design on images of old coops and Arts & Crafts houses. As long as I’m learning to design and build something, I might as well get my nose into how simple buildings are actually constructed, actually designed. Yes? I read a lot and I talked with my father even more. Good to have an experienced mentor on the other end of the phone when setting out into entirely new territory, though a consulting engineer may be overdoing it.

coop-side-drawing

While typical construction would use studs (vertical wall members) at 16″ on center, I designed mine at 2′ on center instead, as it is just a wee thing. I set out to make a square coop, but realised I needed a lot more space for nearly a dozen chickens, so I scaled the whole thing up and pulled it out long like this, working back and forth between paper and a 3D drawing program. Somehow the paper clarifies everything for me, and the act of drawing with pencils and drafting instruments is a grounded sort of pleasure. Considerations for ventilation, enough depth to contain deep litter, adequate space for roosting, external nesting boxes, security from mink, hawks, raccoons and rats, good natural light, and simplicity of construction for a total amateur – these are the thing I have been thinking through.

coop-floor-drawing

I planned to frame this all up, joists and rafters and plates and lintels, but then I veered off in a different direction to make the same thing. Not unlike my parents, renovating an old house to make a new one, I decided to build with almost exclusively with found and reclaimed materials. I’ll show you my process of designing a building to meet the needs of a flock very soon – though I confess I am so busy with carpentry and the ten three-week-old chickens in my kitchen, I haven’t much time to write just now!

tailor’s chalk

Like a set of wooden drawing pencils, or an ink-filled fountain pen, I adore tailor’s chalk for its simplicity of form.

tailor's chalk © elisa rathje 2012

Just a flat shape to grip, a sharp edge to mark fabric with, a pure substance that harms neither the cloth nor the tailor. I have great respect for the ecology of a product that leaves nothing to throw away when it’s done. Even a broken piece remains useful. I love to use this chalk for measuring and marking in quilting and dressmaking. And isn’t it a pretty object?

salmonberries

Cold, wet spring pushed the berry season back, so the salmonberries are abundant for early summer.

salmonberry picking, animation, © elisa rathje 2008

Rubus spectabilis. They glow ruby and golden all through the lush pacific forests. Our walks are slowed to a berrying pace. When we lived here I drew them, I think they are such luminous wild things. It pleases me that they’ve never really been cultivated. Some say that they are named for their resemblance to salmon eggs. An important first berry of the year to indigenous people here, they fruit just ahead of red huckleberries. I’d love to know more about wild plants here, if I am very fortunate I can persuade my herbalist friend to take us on a foraging walk. Wish me luck.

salmonberry picking, animation, © elisa rathje 2008

Salmonberries are a childhood food to me, and I’ve never grown into preserving them as I have many other foraged foods. Yet. I’ve heard that they make a delicate jam, wine, or liqueur, perhaps like their relation, rubus chamaemorus, the cloudberry. (Oh! I didn’t realise that the cloudberry grows in Canada! I always think of it as distinctly Northern European. We adore the Finnish Lakka liqueur.) We were astonished to find the pink florets blooming along a lake near our cottage in Sussex, and so had the unexpected pleasure of following my Canadian coastal childhood practice of plucking off the petals and sipping the nectar, like so many hummingbirds.

netting

We’re moving out of the cottage for the summer, leaving in just a couple of weeks. It is hard to leave, especially just as the garden is becoming so beautiful. I’ve got some plants growing which should give us autumn and winter crops. A few have been feeding us this spring, amongst them, the snap peas. Those peas needed a place to climb, so I made them one.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Like many objects I use, I was thrilled to discover how to make netting myself. I made this one last year, and brought it with me from London. Useful stuff, netting. I need to make a few nets to keep the rabbits and deer out of the vegetables while we’re away, just simple little ones strung over low supports, is my plan, so that the kale and the purple sprouting broccoli can grow without being browsed to death. I usually use nets for climbing plants like squash, beans, cucumbers, peas. Sweet peas were very pretty on this net last year.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

As you might expect, making netting is very simple, though slow at first, like knitting. Get out some snips and string. I used jute twine. Tie a length of string to a couple of supportive things, as wide as you’d like your net, either just where you’ll use it, or somewhere you have space to work.

© elisa rathje 2011

Cut several lengths of string triple the length you’d like the net, and fold once. I experiment with how wide apart I’d like the holes of the net. To keep out little rabbits I’ll have to go quite small.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

You’re going to slip the loop of the fold you’ve made over that string you’ve tied up, then pull the double strings through the loop, to make a loose knot. Slide the knotted string over a little if you need to rearrange. Continue tying on more doubled lengths of string until you have as many as you want, hanging in a row.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Here’s the part I love. The first string, and the last, will form the outside border of the net. Everything else will form full diamonds, in the following way. Take a piece of string from one pair, and another from the pair beside it, and tie them together, adjusting the size of the gap you’d like to maintain across the net. Try to keep the length of each side the same. Move along the row, tying them together. Go back to the beginning, and tie along the row again so that you form a diamond shape (excepting the first and the last, which will form a half-diamond.) That’s it! Keep going. More. You’ll be done soon. Stop for a cup of tea, good idea!

Happy netting!

garden plot

The first time I had a garden was high up on a deck in Vancouver. The second time I had a funny narrow plot in London, which I landscaped, and filled with flowers and food.

garden-drawing1.jpg

I drew.

garden-drawing2.jpg

And drew. I had help from my sweetheart and a dear friend to transform it. I learned so much, mostly through failure. We altered the path, filled out beds, built a compost, amended the heavy clay soil, pruned trees, and experimented.

london-garden.jpg

It thrived, though I left it for a long trip home to Canada in the summer! My sweetheart kept it well. I planted vegetables amongst flowers, as in a cottage garden, in the shade behind the Edwardian house. Out front in the heat and light I grew tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs. They did alright given the weather England suffered. Just a few things from that garden have come with us to the countryside.

glass-house.jpg

Now we are blessed with a greenhouse, which I must learn more about using. I was so pleased to find that helpful folk have indeed mended it as promised, there was a missing pane in the bottom of the door, which wouldn’t have worked too well for keeping out vermin! It has a cement floor, is that odd? I think I can get something great happening in there shortly. Have you used a greenhouse? Any tips?

plot.jpg

Just look at the state of my vegetable patch. The prunings must move, but til then I can plot it out. The earth seems rich, and I think it should get enough sun compared to my shady corner of London. It’s a massive space for me to consider, 20 x 30 feet. Or boots, anyway. However, there’s a problem to match it’s size. Deer! The deer will eat everything. I fear they will be far more ruthless than the army of snails and slugs in London. How charming must one be for a deer-proof fence, do you think? With a gate? Perhaps someone is tossing one out, and I shall find it. Wish me luck. Otherwise, it’s all pumpkins and potatoes for me.

I have my River Cottage handbook, Veg Patch by the lovely Mark Diacono and I’m studying the Planning section for my garden plot. Time to do some more drawings.