Spring projects

After a long winter, it’s finally trying to become spring in Vermont.  I ended the winter and started spring with a laundry list of projects, since this will be our first spring on the new property. Fortunately we have a rather large unfinished basement, so I was able to set up a workbench down there and have some room to put together some things.


We decided we want a few ducks and while some people have good luck just keeping chickens and ducks together, I would prefer not to do that.  Ducks are a lot messier from a water perspective than chickens, so I decided to build a simple coop for ducks.  We hope to get a few sometime this summer. It’s a pretty basic little shed-type structure.


It’s mostly there except I do want to paint it and still need to do some predator proofing.

We’ve had our 4 chickens for a couple of years now and have decided we need a few more to really keep us in eggs.  The coop I built has worked well, but it is really maxed out at 4 hens. So I decided to build a small version of one of the open air concepts from Fresh-Air Poultry Houses: The Classic Guide to Open-Front Chicken Coops for Healthier Poultry.  This coop should hold up to about 12-15 hens, although we’ll probably just move up to 8 or so initially.  I’ve been building the stud walls in the basement and I’m starting to put it together outside now that the weather is getting nicer.  Here’s where that is at right now.  The design is interesting and will make more sense when you can see the whole picture.


Another smaller project is a simple bed for Ezra.  He’s not quite ready for one yet, but it won’t be long.  I decided to use these easy plans from Ana White, who has a lot of great DIY furniture ideas on her site.  The finish is going to be this interesting idea I’ve seen a number of folks mention online, which involves using steel wool partially dissolved in vinegar.  This basically reacts with the tannins in the wood, giving you kind of a distressed, old furniture look which gives 2×4 dimensional lumber more character than you would expect.  I’ll finish it with tung oil mixed with citrus solvent, which is another cool more natural way to finish stuff.  Interesting to see how it turns out.  Here’s the headboard without the finish.


More pics of this stuff when they are finished.

In additional to these projects, we’re also trying to prep 2 fairly large plots, one for vegetable garden and one for more perennial-type items, such as strawberries, blueberries, asparagus and rhubarb.  Our property is extremely wet, with a couple of fairly consistent flows of water running through several sections of the property.  When we had our first big snow melt, it actually started washing out our lane and we had to get some emergency repairs done.  So it’s been a bit frustrating waiting for things to dry up since I also need to put up a clothesline and would like to build Ezra a sandbox.  And of course all the things we want to plant.  Fortunately we do have 3 raised beds going now, so we can get some things planted and we’ll just have to get a late start on some things this year.  There is only so much you can do the first year.

Woodshop 101

When we first starting thinking about getting some land and possibly farming, one of the things I quickly realized is the importance of knowing how to do things for yourself.  A farmer needs to be a bit of a jack of all trades.  Honestly, knowing how to get around on a computer is a relatively minor one of those trades.  So I’ve been slowly trying to learn how to do some practical things for myself and one of those things is light carpentry and woodworking.

I didn’t get much opportunity to do that in Chicago.  There just wasn’t enough room for a shop or lots of tools or much to really work on in a small condo.  I was able to help a few friends with some remodeling here and there, which helped a bit.  Once we got the house in Bristol and I had the possibility of actually having a small shop again, I started to think about what kinds of things I could start with.

I decided to do two projects. Instead of buying a wheelbarrow or a cart, I would build one. And I would try to build a small chicken coop for a backyard flock.  I already had a good idea of what kind of cart I wanted to build, Herrick Kimball’s “Whizbang Garden Cart”.  Mr. Kimball has several great blogs about agrarian life and various DIY projects.  I discovered him over the course of various research I was doing into all things farm-related while in Chicago. 


This cart is modeled after the “Garden Way” carts that were popular for years in New England, but it’s made out of simple materials and a fairly easy starter project for a beginner like me.



Figuring out what kind of coop I wanted to build turned out to be a bit harder than I expected.  I even bought a couple of books specifically about coop designs and plans, but nothing was quite what I was looking for.  Many of the plans would be great if I wanted to build something permanent or I was going to get 10-20 chickens or more.  The smaller coops were too simple and would require fencing in a large run or they simply weren’t robust enough to keep chickens in through the winter.  So I kept looking.  I can’t remember where I finally found the plans I ended up using.  I believe it was through the Backyard Chickens web site.  I decided to go with the plans from theGardenCoop.com


They have both a small coop design for 3-4 chickens and a larger design.  I like both of them a lot and may end up building the bigger plan at some point as well.  These plans weren’t free, but they were reasonable given the quality and attention to detail in the plans as well as the thoughtful design.  They are once again very step by step and don’t assume a lot of advanced carpentry knowledge.  There are even nice general carpentry tips thrown in along the way.


I won’t go into all the boring details of building these, but I certainly did learn a lot.  It’s amazing how much you can learn just from simple projects. A few things I did for the first time or learned about include:

  • using a circular saw
  • doing long cuts of plywood with a circular saw
  • angle cuts (I still suck at these)
  • more about using a drill (pilot holes, using spade bits, drilling holes in metal, running to the hardware store “one more time” to get a bit size I didn’t have Smile )
  • very basic framing
  • different ways of checking for square
  • ways to put things together and connect things when working alone
  • installing polycarbonate roofing panels


These projects probably took me about 10 times longer than any reasonably competent carpenter, but it was still very satisfying for me to see these projects through and be able to enjoy the end result.  I’m also thankful for helpful lumber yard, hardware and metal shop folks who were willing to assist and answer beginner’s questions, as well as my carpenter friends here in Vermont who offered tips, loaned me tools and did some table saw cuts for me.

Now just need some chickens, which we are hoping to remedy tomorrow…