Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of pictures)

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Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of pictures)

Post by Benny » Sat Apr 20, 2013 9:52 pm

Hey folks,

So, the wife and I are working on becoming a bit more self-sufficient, and we're pulling the trigger on a few projects to further this goal. I'm going to roll them all into this single thread, so I'm not polluting the forums with my wobbling tales of three separate projects:

* a new garden
* a chicken coop
* a small solar system to provide for outages and loss of grid

Am I an expert on any of these subjects? Far from it. However, I research things well before starting, so hopefully I'm not screwing everything up as I go. :ohdear: I gain a lot of information here, and so maybe my progress can help others.

I'll try to keep up regular updates as we progress, complete with an assload of pictures. I also have a running commentary on my website that will contain similar information, but there might be more details there occasionally: http://www.bennyvision.com/projects/gar ... cken_coop/

So, anyway, on to the groundbreaking:
Last edited by Benny on Thu May 30, 2013 5:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by angelofwar » Sat Apr 20, 2013 10:54 pm

Awesome job, Benny! I like building and crafting my own stuff...makes it much more appreciated. I take it you live in tornando country? I would have just used treated 4x4's for the coop, but then again, I have a love/hate relationship with concrete, and only use it when needed. But, hey, it'll last longer. Just recently got done assembling two wood shed (10x8 and 12x8), and I got solar going for the larger of the two, it being my man-cave/ZPAW command post. Thanks for the pics and the detailed descriptions! Will definitely be following this, so please post when you make updates. Is your solar going to be for the house? I've seen some neat stuff of people running a second "solar only" electrical line through there walls, and with the low power LED bulbs, it's now feasible. I have two 4.5 watt LED bulbs in my man cave, and can run them for days with no sun. My battery is a 115aH deep cycle marine. I bought a 2nd panel (50-watt) and a second battery (same make/capacity) for the man cave, but ended up building a portable solar generator instead...ZS does weird stuff to ya man.

Thanks for sharing, and if ya need any pointers on anything, feel free to ask! I have 8 years of masonry under my belt, plus my dabbling in solar.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Benny » Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:08 pm

2013-04-07: Groundbreaking!

Thanks to the generous help of a coworker, we got several major things done:

1) Hole bored for the footing of the solar panel pole
2) Holes bored for the chicken coop footings
3) The garden plowed up and tilled

First up, the hole for the solar panels:

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This hole is four feet deep, and 12 inches wide. I have a 10" sonotube that will go in that one. I don't have the solar panel mounting system yet, so I'm not 100% sure what size the vertical pole will be yet, so we haven't poured it.

Then, the holes for the chicken coop footings:

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In hindsight, we should have measured more carefully for these holes - the footprint of the chicken coop will be 4' x 8', so we laid them out 4' x 8'. Unfortunately, the brackets will be fastened on the outsides of the deck, so the fastening bolts for the brackets will actually be less than 4' x 8'. Thankfully, the holes are 12", so we had some wiggle room. They should be close enough.

The garden is plowed and tilled, it's about 65' x 30 '. There's about a 4' border around it inside the electric fence (we have a lot of wildlife):

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We went with a seven strand fence:

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Because we have the tendency to get very dry during July/August/September, I am alternating hot and ground wires on the fence. Dry ground can severely impact the effectiveness of an electric fence, as the ground can pull away from the ground rods. By alternating the hots and grounds, I don't need to worry about the system ground losing its effectiveness. If an animal contacts two adjacent wires, they get nailed anyway.

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The device mounted between the top (hot) and 2nd (ground) wires is a Gallagher Live Light - it will flash with each pulse from the fence charger, so we know at a glance if the garden fence is hot.

Next up - the coop footings.
Last edited by Benny on Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Benny » Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:23 pm

angelofwar wrote:I take it you live in tornando country? I would have just used treated 4x4's for the coop, but then again, I have a love/hate relationship with concrete, and only use it when needed.
Yes, we definitely live in Tornado Alley, but the footings will be just to make things more solid, and to reduce problems with wood degradation and rot. I want this to last for a while, I don't want to have to replace posts every several years.
angelofwar wrote:Is your solar going to be for the house? I've seen some neat stuff of people running a second "solar only" electrical line through there walls, and with the low power LED bulbs, it's now feasible. I have two 4.5 watt LED bulbs in my man cave, and can run them for days with no sun. My battery is a 115aH deep cycle marine. I bought a 2nd panel (50-watt) and a second battery (same make/capacity) for the man cave, but ended up building a portable solar generator instead...ZS does weird stuff to ya man.
The solar is for the house, for the coop, whatever we need. It won't be powerful enough for running part of the house or anything, but will easily provide for device charging, lighting, laptops, etc. Really, this is an extension of my semi-portable solar system:

http://zombiehunters.org/forum/viewtopi ... =6&t=99950

It's the same electronics being driven, but these two solar panels (just shy of 300W) will be permanently mounted, and the heavy-gauge conductors will be buried in conduit into the house. A disconnect will be mounted in the basement, and then my semi-portable system will plug in.
angelofwar wrote:Thanks for sharing, and if ya need any pointers on anything, feel free to ask! I have 8 years of masonry under my belt, plus my dabbling in solar.
Thank you - I might ask you for some pointers!
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Benny » Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:44 pm

2013-04-15: We poured the concrete footings for the coop.

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Again with the bad measurements... While the footings needed to move a few inches in different directions, I was still off by quite a bit when I trenched in the conduit. In my defense, I just eyeballed it, as I wasn't sure how much the sonotubes would have to move when we poured. So, I just dug up the elbows, cut the conduit in the trench, and spliced in another 8" as needed.

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There are two 3/4" conduits buried to the coop - one for power, and one for network. We are planning on having a few IP cameras in/around the coop to keep an eye on the girls. Yes, I'm a nerd.

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I'm really happy to have gotten the footings poured last weekend - we used just shy of 1100 pounds of Quikrete 5000 concrete mix. We rented a concrete mixer from Home Depot, but it was still manually handling 1100 pounds of mix, and then pouring/scooping the [much heavier] concrete when it was mixed. It's almost a week later, and I'm still feeling a little sore.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Dawgboy » Sun Apr 21, 2013 1:36 am

Nice work!
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Rick Blane » Sun Apr 21, 2013 2:54 am

Looks really good. Inspires me to get off my tail and hit some of my projects going.

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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Benny » Thu May 16, 2013 1:33 pm

Long time no update - we have been set back considerably by the weather.

When we poured the footings (see above), one of the four holes became and remained so waterlogged that the footing basically leached all of the concrete from the mix. When I took my Sawzall to it to cut the J-bolt to length, it literally fell over. So, with that and the constantly wet weather we've had, I now have three footings and one hole. I've had to take a chisel and hammer to the fourth and remove as much of the original footing as I could, until I got down to the section of the pour that we poured the entire 12" diameter hole. That appears to be solid.

So, this weekend, I'll be using my hammer drill to drill holes into said base, putting rebar in, and then pouring a full 12" diameter footing on top of that. The rebal should "marry" the two sections well enough, and since it's going to be a vertical load, I think it'll be fine.

The garden suffered along with the coop, weather-wise. It's been too wet to get back in with a hand tiller, so we haven't been able to plant anything. I had to have some extra time to get the electric fence finished anyway. I trenched two 1/2" PVC conduit from the shed (where the fence energizer is now) to the fence itself, one for the hot and one for the grounding system. I've installed two ground rods at the shed, and two at the garden fence, along with a lightning diverter at the garden (it's out in the open, and we live on a hill). I cobbled together a "gate", it's nothing pretty, but it'll be good enough to keep critters out. Not going to win this year's Sexy Electric Fence 2013 award, though. :rofl:

As of last night, the fence around the garden is hot, and a small section of it has been turned over by hand. It's enough to get some plants in the ground tonight. We will be borrowing a tiller this weekend, so I'll be able to get the *rest* of the garden ready. Then, it'll be plant plant plant plant plant.

Sorry no pics - I will take some tonight if I remember!
Last edited by Benny on Thu May 30, 2013 5:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project

Post by Benny » Thu May 30, 2013 5:22 am

OK, finally got a little time to copy some pictures over, resize them, and all that jazz.

We repoured the bad footing. Although it looks goofy, it was considerably easier to just buy a sonotube that was the same diameter as the hole we already had. The temporary power running to the coop and shed (primarily for the fence energizer right now) can be seen running across in the Sealtite:

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This is the bad mama-jamma replacement footing we poured. I had no stomach for busting up the rest of the footing 2' deep underground and trying to pull it out. There are three rebar drilled through into the solid portion that I didn't remove to marry the sections. Again, since it's purely a vertical load, I think it should be fine:

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We did get the garden tilled up - I borrowed a hand tiller from a coworker. We both hate this machine with a passion, it's over-powered and underweight, so it has the tendency to try to crawl up and out of the dirt. If it does that, the tines are going so fast that you either have to let go and hope the safety shuts it down, or try to hold the bucking bronco back. For about a week, I felt like I was mauled by polar bears.

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A separate patch for asparagus. This one just about killed me - busting sod with that hand tiller could be used as a torture method:

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I trenched in separate 1/2" conduits for the hot and ground feeds for the electric fence. Because I'm alternating hot and ground wires, I don't want to depend on earth ground, so I trenched both in. I also mounted a high-voltage disconnect on the side of the shed, so we can de-energize the fence around the garden while leaving the fence around the chicken run hot (and vice-versa):

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I installed a lightning protector on the top hot strand on the fence. We live on a hill and the garden is out in the open, so it won't surprise me if it gets struck at some point. This protector will shunt the strike to ground through a gas tube underneath the plexiglas dome at the top. Also note the bright yellow "don't try to tell us we didn't warn you" CYA signs.

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I brought up the first IP camera last night. This one is covering the garden, both to watch wildlife as well as detect and punish evildoers:

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We have put out a number of soaker hoses. Water is NOT a problem right now - in fact, we've gotten more than enough rain so far. However, Missouri summer is coming, and she is a mean, spiteful bitch. These will be necessary in the next few weeks, most likely:

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I have some more recent photos, will try to get those cleaned up and posted soon too. I framed and installed the floor of the coop over Memorial Day weekend! Woot!
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Stercutus » Thu May 30, 2013 8:27 am

A note on tilling. A heavy rear tine tiller is worlds ahead of a front tine tiller. Front tine tillers are only good for stirring soil that is already loose.

When tilling new ground or ground that has not been worked in a while try to till when the soil is damp. It will go much easier.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Thu May 30, 2013 8:51 am

Blacksmith wrote:A note on tilling. A heavy rear tine tiller is worlds ahead of a front tine tiller. Front tine tillers are only good for stirring soil that is already loose.

When tilling new ground or ground that has not been worked in a while try to till when the soil is damp. It will go much easier.
I hear that.

The tiller was borrowed, so I didn't have much of a choice. It *is* rear-tine, but it is *not* heavy enough. It was horrible. That ground had already been plowed and tilled with a tractor-mounted unit, so it had been broken once. The hand tilling was to get it ready for planting. I'm really, REALLY glad I'm done for the moment.

We'll be looking to pick up a tiller of our own this summer. Hello, Craigslist, garage sales, etc...
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Stercutus » Thu May 30, 2013 9:06 am

We got a nice unit at a flea market that had not been used much. It was 100 bucks and worth every penny.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by vukic » Fri May 31, 2013 9:13 am

Looks good... Shame the footings mess up.for you... Hope the rest goes a tad smoother...

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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Sat Jun 01, 2013 11:28 pm

It was a busy day, and I'm sore as hell.

I didn't take any pictures of it, but I wired up the permanent power for the chicken coop and shed. I had been using a temporary 25' whip of Sealtite as an extension cord for both the fence energizer as well as power for construction, that's been removed. I mounted and wired the disconnect on the side of the floor platform, and then wired up a new double duplex box with four receptacles. I then tied the shed power into that box, so no more temporary wiring running across the ground.

By the time I lit the circuit back up, it was about 10:45 and high time to start framing the coop! I started by marking out studs on the top and bottom plates for the north wall:

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Once I got them marked, I laid everything out on the floor to make sure it was all ready to go:

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And, once I was satisfied, I applied Liquid Nails and screws liberally (the "Mike Holmes" method).

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And the first wall goes up!

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I was kind of feeling like I was on a roll, so I immediately started framing the east wall. This is where the nesting boxes will go. I'm not sure on how I will build them yet, but that's a detail I can tackle further on down the road. I framed out a 12" high opening in the wall, and kept going:

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Here is the finished wall:

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And the second wall is up!

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Here's a bit closer look at the opening I framed for the nesting boxes. This whole thing is pretty small, and the roof will be light as hell, so I didn't bother putting in a real 2 x 8 or 2 x 10 header over the boxes, I felt that a sistered pair of 2 x 4s would be just fine to carry the load.

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Next on the hit parade - I need to finish up the power wiring inside the shed, and then on to framing the west wall. We want to put a window in the west wall, but we don't have the window yet. So, I'll probably just frame up the wall without all the studs, and then I can adjust when we have the window.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:15 pm

The flock has landed. I repeat, the flock has landed.

We got our chicks yesterday! We ordered seven to start out. On a whim, I called the USPS office about ten minutes before they closed, and sure enough, they had a box of chicks for us. It was a photo finish, but I made it in time.

They seemed to do well overnight, although it's kind of a bitch to get the temperature consistent with just an infrared heat lamp. We managed to get it mostly evened out, and they're hovering in the mid-nineties (just right for new chicks).

Sadly, though, tonight one of them ended up with a prolapsed rectum. At first glance it might have recovered, but it kept getting worse and worse, and then started to bleed. I had to put it down. :gonk:

The others seem to be doing well, although they're pretty wiped out tonight after transferring them to a clean brooder box. Hopefully, the rest of them will thrive.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by DannusMaximus » Thu Jun 06, 2013 8:34 am

Great thread Benny, I'm enjoying watching the progress. Keep the updates coming!
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by jdev » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:39 pm

Awesome thread! Giving me ideas for when I finally can get out of my apartment and have a bit of land of my own.

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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Blitzen2k5 » Sat Jun 08, 2013 8:03 pm

subscription posting... nice thread. Love to see how people do their chicken coops...
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:09 pm

Onwards and upwards!

The six surviving chicks in their brooder box:

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Here are a few pictures of the power and network stuff I did last weekend, but failed to take pictures of. I have an electrical disconnect on the outside of the coop. That allows me to completely de-energize the circuit feeding the coop, shed, and garden. It's handy, and is required by the NEC. I also installed a double duplex box with four outlets on the north side of the coop (will be outside the run) for convenience.

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Here's the proof that I'm a nerd at heart - the coop has two wired network runs for night vision IP cameras. I used direct-burial-rated STP (shielded twisted pair) buried in schedule 40 conduit. I used shielded cable because it runs so close to the power. The first goes to the camera covering the garden, the second one will go to a camera inside the coop itself. Gotta keep an eye on things, ya know.

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And finally, I got the west wall framed and raised today. I just framed the outline, because I don't have a window for it yet and therefore don't know the exact size of the opening I'll need to frame. Once we have the window, I'll frame out the rest of it and install the window.

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Tomorrow, I hope to get the south wall framed and raised!
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Mon Jun 10, 2013 7:59 am

And the fourth wall is up!

I got about halfway through framing the south wall before I realized it was a little out of plumb. By that time, I had glued and screwed so much lumber, I doubted my ability to correct the mistake. So, I decided to erect the wall before it was complete, so I could make sure the opening for the window *was* plumb and square.

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Once it was up, I started framing the window. Here is the beginning, with the window sill and cripple studs:

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Once I was done, you can tell that the window is plumb while the doorway is a little off:

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Which isn't that big of a deal - I'm going to build a door from scratch, so I can adjust it as I need to. I still had some energy and daylight left over, so I started calculating the cuts for the bird's mouths on the rafters. I got two of them cut and fit:

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I need to pick up the gutter that will mount on the north side (the short side) so I can verify that the rafters are the right length, but then it's just a matter of cutting the rest of them and getting them mounted with some spacer blocks between them for stability.
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by DarkandShiny » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:05 am

Fantastic project! Can't wait to see how it turns out - thank you very much for sharing.
Once I was done, you can tell that the window is plumb while the doorway is a little off:
looks like a custom built character building element to me :)

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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:33 am

DarkandShiny wrote:Fantastic project! Can't wait to see how it turns out - thank you very much for sharing.
Once I was done, you can tell that the window is plumb while the doorway is a little off:
looks like a custom built character building element to me :)
I like to call it a "character feature". :)

"But honey - *no one in the world* has a coop like this one!"
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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Dawgboy » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:01 am

Sorry about the pink sock. Chicks mostly don't survive that. What breed of hens did you get?


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Re: Garden, chicken coop, and solar project (lots of picture

Post by Benny » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:06 am

Dawgboy wrote:Sorry about the pink sock. Chicks mostly don't survive that. What breed of hens did you get?


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We got four different breeds... I know there are Rhode Island Reds, easter eggers, Orpingtons, and .. uh .. one other one. :)

The wife picked them out, she did all the research on the breeds. I'm just building the coop. ;) She was careful to select breeds with mild personalities, low tendencies for broodiness, and good egg production.
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