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Henhouse #7 – A Work of Art

When I was about halfway through my Henhouse Series, a friend said I had to visit Cosima. Her henhouse was a Taj Mahal of henhouses she said. Look here and you can see the center posts that is key in holding up the green roof.

When I finally visited Cosima I had to agree. Her henhouse is a work of art. She said they built this cordwood  masonry henhouse using Robert L. Roy’s books and that this is actually his sauna building plan. The building has an interior diameter of 9 feet with circular walls that are about 8 inches thick. These walls are comprised of cordwood/firewood, sometimes split, and sometimes as plain logs, plus a special masonry mix. They also created a green roof . They put hay bales on the roof and planted gourds and nasturtiums in a pocket of soil in the bales.  Other plants were carried there by the wind. In this rear view of the building you can see trailing nasturtiums, and if you look very closely you will see trailing gourds on the right.

In addition to the cordwood, Cosima used glass bottles to provide handsome graphic elements.

Hens lay their eggs in these egg boxes inside the henhouse.

But eggs can be collected from the outside.  This type of construction keeps out the wind and is quite warm in the winter. Practical and beautiful. One cannot ask for more.

Althuogh I did not realize it. when I arrived as Cosima’s house I got a preview of the henhouse. The cordwood masonry  mudroom is an addition to the old house, and is also beautiful as well as practical.

This interior detail of the mudroom gives some hint of its charm.

So there it is a week’s worth of henhouses, providing food for thought about designing for practicality and beauty. For more unique henhouses click here, here, and here.

Henhouse #6

There was nothing photogenic about our chores this glorious autumn weekend – mowing, weeding, cutting back – so I’ll concentrate on an exploration of another Heath henhouse.  Joey built, overbuilt he said, this 10×12 foot henhouse for his ten hens. You can see he has a lot of help! He read a lot and looked at a lot of henhouses, and talked to a lot of people before he built his. The forethought shows. His luck shows too. He found the little stairway at the town dump. He said it is attached to the henhouse with only three or  four screws.  The building itself is built on skids, much like Bob’s, which I wrote about here. Joey said he built it on skids because he wasn’t sure where he wanted to put it permanently.

Joey wanted the children to be able to collect the eggs without going into the chicken space so he set aside this part of the chicken house for storage and copied Sheila’s system which I wrote about here.

The front of the egg boxes looks like a cabinet with a slanted top that keeps the chickens from roosting on it. The chickens enter this space from the opening on the left.

The flat part of the cabinet can be lifted and hooked up to make it easy to clean the egg boxes. The row of boxes is not nailed down. The row can be removed entirely making it very easy to shake out and clean. This is a great idea.

Joey thought a lot about the cleaning out process. This clean out door with a latch near the floor on the inside opens  to a door on the outside.

The reason for the second door is too keep out critters who have been known to open latches.  When this door opens all any critter will see is a blank wall.  On clean out day, Joey is outside with the cart and the kids sweep out all the bedding. They do a terrific job, Joey said. He then vacuums out all the cobwebs and they all put down more shavings.

One of the most unique elements of Joey’s henhouse, and one I am  going to add to mine, is this oystershell dispenser. It is made of two lengths of PVC pipe with a cut back PVC elbow on the end and fastened to the wall with ordinary brackets. He just pours crushed oyster shell into the pipe and the chickens take it as they wish. And Joey says they really like it and it goes very fast. He uses these in the winter when the chickens do not get the necessary grit from pecking around in the  soil. The oystershell provides grit all winter long, in addition to providing calcium for strong eggshells.

Fortunately Joey has a good crew of chicken wranglers. Only one more henhouse in my series. Keep watching.

Tynan’s Typical Day

Ty and Misty

We enjoyed our 13 year old granson’s company all last week – a very busy week. There was canoeing, dinner parties, cake baking, mowing lawns, feeding chickens and all manner of End of the Road activities.  One day we returned to Birch Glen Stables which is practically around the corner for his second riding lesson. The first was last year, but he had not forgotten how to groom and put on the saddle.

This year the lesson was held in the outdoor ring where, after a quick review,  he soon progressed from walking, to trotting and even did a ‘lope’ for a minute or two.

He was so comfortable and assured that he even took Misty out of the ring and out of sight (briefly) of the instructor.

After lunch and a an hour long reading and digesting session we were off to The Art Garden where Ty could make a sculpture to enter in the Heath Fair.

I cannot be in The Art Garden without doing some art myself. The other artists occasionally came over to watch and encourage me. There is a wonderful atmosphere in the open studio presided over by Jane Wegscheider.  You may recall that the common weed, dandelion, is my ‘logo.’

But the day was not over and my neighbor’s goats were waiting for their supper.

The kids get their mothers’ milk, but it has to come from a bottle.

Ty thought Cinnamon looked sleepy after eating and thought he would rock her to sleep.

We didn’t rock Ty to sleep,  but after he fininished reading Crispin, Cross of Lead by Avi, his assigned summer reading which he found riveting (he is trying to broaden his vocabulary by not using awesome all the time) he listened to the Major (grandpa) read another chapter of Monkey King, and took the book with him to read in bed. Another day done.


Faster and Faster

The Holiday Weekend started for me on Friday afternoon when I visited the Heath School’s Garden Day. The classes have been working before now, of course, but on Garden Day, the whole day is given over to planting, weeding, mulching – and learning.  I am impressed with their energy, which I expected, but also with the quality of the child-sized tools they are using.  Many hands make light work was certainly the motto on Friday.

You may wonder what is with all the stones and stone -like things in  the Shed Bed, but you have to remember that the Shed Bed is right next to the hen house and for the past couple of months the chickens have considered this their personal Lido for taking dust baths.  First I kept the chickens in the hen house today. Then I finished weeding and edging, dug in some nice rotted manure and lime, and planted the little annual salvias that edge this bed every year. This is the way I fudge not being able to grow a lavender hedge.

You can’t really tell, but I also put tiny annual dianthus along the west edge of the Lawn Grove, as well as nine cosmos seedlings.  The big task was planting the weeping cherry that I bought at Home Depot.  I hope that was a wise decision.  It’s been watered and mulched with wood chips. You can see a small hardy azalea blooming on the far side of the grove.  Lots of weeding.

Guan Yin Mian

The garden is progressing faster and faster.  Everytime I turn around something new has come into bloom.  This tree peony is so lovely. The translation of the name is Guan Yin’s Face.  Guan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion and surely hers is the most beautiful of faces.

Boule de Neige and Rangoon have been slowly opening, but with temperatures in the 80s for two days they came into full bloom in the shady bed next to the Cottage Ornee.

Last year I found this rhodie forgotten and languishing in the weeds at the edge of the ‘orchard.’  I dug it up and this time I transplanted it properly, “Keep it simple, just a dimple,” as my rhododendron expert says. I think it is Calsap. What a lovely surprise to have it survive and put out new growth and bloom!

The lilacs are blooming and perfuming the air.  We even spent some time enjoying the beauty and fragrance of the garden: we opened the Cottage officially and entertained two friends who we see all too infrequently.  A perfect weekend.

Founding Foodies

Founding Foodies by Dave DeWitt

Because I wrote about the Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf here, a friend just sent me The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine. I was fascinated at the way that Wulf described how the agricultural techniques of the Founding Fathers reflected their politcal and philosophical views. I should not have been surprised that men who spent so much time in their gardens and thinking about their garden and their land would also have thought a lot about the food on their plates.

I have barely opened this book but I am looking forward to the chapter titled Bombastic Barbecues, Presidential Palates and Scurrilous Scandals, and even to the less excitingly titled chapter Food and Wine at Monticello.

The book also includes recipes like George Washington’s Beer, Martha Washington’s Fruitcake, Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream and a Yard of Flannel, a variation on the rum flip served at Fraunces Tavern where Washington made his farewell address.  If I can tear myself away from the book, I’ll try some of them out.

Local Farm-Hers

L-R Suzette Snow-Cobb, Caroline Pam, Sorrel Hatch, Deb Habib

We live in a fortunate part of the world. Recently my husband and I were counting our local blessings: good neighbors, relatively benign bureaucracies, easy traffic, and beautiful landscapes with hills and streams, woodlands and meadows.

Those landscapes have changed in a major but subtle way over the 30 years since we moved to Heath. The dairy farms that were here in Heath have all disappeared as have many dairy operations in other towns. A few farm stands sold sweet corn in season, but it seemed that agriculture was in decline.

Nowadays I am very aware of a resurgence of local agriculture marked by a proliferation of new small farms with farm stands, the birth of farmers markets in various towns, and programs like Farm to School that are bringing fresh healthy food to more people. At the same time the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement arrived making it easier for farmers because customers share the risks of farming.

Earlier this week I attended a presentation co-sponsored by Greenfield Community College (GCC) and the Conway School of Landscape Design titled Things Are Looking Up Down on the Farm. It was a logical collaboration because GCC is always reacting to community needs for education and training, and the Conway School curriculum looks at land use in its broadest terms which certainly includes the agriculture that keeps us fed.

This particular talk included moderator  Suzette Snow-Cobb of the Franklin County Community Cooperative, and three farm-hers Caroline Pam of The Kitchen Garden in Sunderland, Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange, and Sorrel Hatch of Upinngil Farm in Gill. Each of those farms is different and each farm-her told her story with  lively passion, enthusiasm, and honest humor about life on the farm.

Caroline Pam is the newest farmer. With her husband, Tim Wilcox, Pam has been farming here in the valley since 2005. They both spent time in Italy and she is a serious cook. The farm reflects their interests in beautiful and interesting vegetables. Their growing has another aspect. They now have a very young daughter and son.

Pam says that it is hard to separate the work they do on the farm and their life. “Farming is more a lifestyle than a job,” she said.  They were always working to maintain a balance that would allow them to make a living without burning out. They have made the decision to stay small. The Kitchen Garden is only 7 acres but they are growing the capabilities of the farm by succession planting and adding greenhouses that will extend their season.

Deb Habib and her husband Ricky Baruc were experienced farmers when they came to Orange in1996. Because they had rough recently timbered land they decided to begin with cardboard and compost. Nowadays they continue to farm with cardboard and compost, often under hoop houses to extend the season, but they also teach their techniques.  They give workshops at Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Habib also teaches at their own Seeds of Leadership (SOL) program for teens. SOL has its own garden that donates food to the low income community.. For Habib and Baruc farming is about helping to make sure everyone has access to healthy food, and building community.  Habib also said, “It is important to make room for celebration.”

Seeds of Solidarity was one of the major organizers of the now famous North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival in October which brings 60 vendors of produce, local handcrafts, and good eats as well as performances on the Solar Powered Stage to Forsters Farm to thousands of people who are ready to learn and celebrate.

Sorrel Hatch is the only one of the farmers who grew up on a farm. Her father, Cliff Hatch, surprised his father and grandfather who were farmers by coming back to farming after a short time away. Hatch studied entomology at Cornell and came back to work side by side with her father and now her brother at the Upinngil Farm where I pick strawberries every year.. They maintain a small dairy herd of Ayrshire cows and sell raw milk at their Farm Store, as well as cheeses, wheat, and goodies from Hatch’s own Little Red Hen Bakery. Hatch said, “We grew the wheat, we ground it and baked it — but I did have a lot of help.”

The Farm Stand is open seasonally and the Farm Store is open every day year round. Not everything at the Store or the Farm Stand is from their farm. “Bring me stuff and I’ll sell it. I can’t grow everything so it is wonderful to have great stuff for customers from other local farms,” Hatch said.

Hatch said their wheat is certified organic, but like Pam and Habib she said the record keeping required makes it almost impossible for a multi-crop farm.  Pam also said that their farm, surrounded by conventional farms is too narrow to provide the required buffers. All agree that their customers know they farm sustainably and trust the safety of their produce.

Although each has unique aspects, these three farms are typical of many of the other small farms in the area in the sense that they not only provide good food, they add jobs, by hiring people on the farm, and by supplying new businesses like Real Pickles with what they need. What they all need is more infrastructure that will help them provide food over a longer season.

Clearly things are looking up for those of us who want to eat good, fresh local food.

Each of the farms has a handsome informative website:; and

The final program of this series Farm Land: Sustaining Farms and Farm Land for the Future with Cris Coffin, New England Director, American Farmland Trust will be held on Thursday, May 19, 6:30-8 pm, Conway School of Landscape Design, 332 South Deerfield Rd, Conway, MA 01341  ###

Eggs-ellent Days

For several days the weather has been chilly, raw, showery, rainy and generally unpleasant. Not gardening weather. We all know we cannot dig wet soil.   However, the chickens remain cheerful and production continues. They are happy to stay inside, maybe because they know I’ll give them an extra small ration of cracked corn.

Don’t forget tomorrow is the last day you can enter the Give Away drawing for Starter Vegetable Gardens by Barbara Pleasant. Just click here and leave a comment. The winner will be announced on Saturday.

New Technology in the Hen House

Avian Aqua Miser

It is very hard to get a good photo of the chickens drinking at their new  Avian Aqua Miser waterer, but the first chicken on the right had been drinking and the second chicken on the right is still taking  good long sip.  What you cannot see in the photo are the little ‘nipples’ that work on a similar principle to a hamster waterer.  The 5 gallon bucket has water and the chickens  poke at the nipples that release a drop at a time into their little beaks.

We got our kit from the Avian Aqua Miser people and my husband installed the nipples in about 15 minutes.  It took a little longer than that to teach the chickens to drink from this new waterer but that was our fault for not hanging the bucket high enough.  Now everyone is happy. The chickens have clean water to drink and I don’t have to worry about them knocking the waterer over and then being thirsty all day long.

I bought the kit that contains three nipples and a drill bit, just the right size. I have not been paid for my comments. The company does not even know I am writing about this product, which I do recommend.

Snow – And Blood

February 25 8 am

The snow was falling when I woke.  I hope this is the first of the four final snowstorms predicted for this winter.

While the snow is beautiful, the view inside the hen house was not as lovely.  For the third morning in a row I went out to find a dead chicken, killed by a weasel. I don’t know if it is possible to keep a determined and hungry weasel out of a hen house. I will spare you the image.  Only a dozen chickens left, including a rooster.

Making the Ascent…

Snowstorm!   The chickens can’t wait…

I wish I had a portable chicken house! No joke.