Grit Blogs > Arrows and Minnows

Spring Projects: Planning for Laying Hens and Installing a Garden

By Caleb Regan, Managing Editor

Tags: Chickens, Livestock, Spring, Seasons, Gardening,

A portrait of GRIT Assistant Editor Caleb Regan, with a puny catch.Spring is here, and as the seasons go, it doesn’t get much better than this. This particular season has been very exciting for my fiancé and me, as we have a couple of new spring projects that have commanded our attention on top of trying to plan a December wedding.

First and foremost – at least in prioritizing our obligation and energy – we’ll be getting chickens here in a week or two. It’ll be the first time we’ve kept chickens together, and after some painless and even fun convincing, my future wife is onboard with the project.

The key was getting our little coop and run set up; after she saw the nifty Little Egg Chicken Tractor, she was excited about the prospect of keeping chickens, and even wanted to raise them from day-old chicks so that we wouldn’t miss out on that part of the process. I think I picked a good one.

Once the basic construction was finished – a perfect 2-hour Saturday project, I might add, for me and a buddy with the grill going and a cold beverage – it was time to paint the coop for waterproofing reasons.

Before construction of the coop. The directions are very clear and easy to follow.

Little Egg Coop, sans wheel and roosting bars, etc.; pretty much we just had the four walls and first attachments on run put together.

Coop with wheel mounted and side door latch in place.

A bird's-eye view of the coop, with two roosing bars in place. Notice how the panels are all clearly labeled for you, making for easy construction.

Coop with attached run. They say it can house five hens, so it should be plenty of room for our two.

The Little Egg really is a thing of beauty. I had friends come over – they all thought I was crazy talking about raising chickens, one even asking, “Where does it stop, Caleb? Pigs are filthy creatures. I don’t want to live by pigs.” Just keep your dirty mitts off my eggs, Ryan. – who suddenly realized it wasn't so crazy, and this thing is perfect for an urban backyard. Enter for free and win one, as part of our May/June 2010 issue’s GRIT Gear Sweepstakes. Or you can buy the plans for $16 to make one yourself at

I knew right away as we entered the hardware store after construction that she had elaborate plans well beyond my idea of a couple of coats of basic blue/grey paint. We’d talked a little about it. As I was picking out good paint for said coats, she wandered over to the isle where all the small brushes and bottles of red, blue, yellow, and green bottles of paint were.

Heading home, her knowing how to get my goat a little bit, she started talking of flowers and peace signs adorning our coop. Nothing against flowers and peace signs, they have their place and it’s all well and good, but that place is not on my chicken coop or any other piece of property for that matter; it’s just not my taste.

The feathers she drew around the bottom of the coop, and the mother hen and chicks walking along one side, amusingly brighten the coop (I'll provide a photo of the mother hen and chicks asap). I adore it.

Partially painted coop, a freehand-painted thing of beauty.

Now, all that’s left is to come up with something clever to write on the door that shuts the coop off from the run. I suggested, “Girls Only,” “Beware of Dog,” and a couple others, but I don’t think my suggestions had that “that’s it” ring to them. We’ll see.

The other project was putting in our first garden. I’ve gardened for most of my life, but this was the first time I’ve started one from scratch, digging up the sod by hand and working the soil into what I thought was good enough shape to plant into; it’s the first time I could say any garden was truly mine. Hopefully, this will be the final year my lady and I rent, so next time I install a garden I hope it's permanent, and out where the pavement ends.

I did it all by hand, not for any reason other than I didn’t want to spend the $40 to rent a tiller for 2 hours just to till up such a small area (about 10 feet by 5 feet). As I worked the soil and the sweat accumulated in my hat, I couldn’t help but think of my great-grandfather doing this on a much larger scale by hand. A mule and plow may have been used for the big fields, but on some homesteads, a husband and wife surely worked a little garden into shape just to feed a few hungry mouths. Cool to think about and relate to, and I think I’ll probably take more pride out of what does come up – if anything – just knowing the work that went into it.

Our humble little garden has corn, tomatoes, onions and lettuce.

I went pretty small with the garden only because I’m not positively sure how much room I’ll need for our two laying hens to scratch around the yard. Giving a good quality of life to the animals, obviously, takes priority.

It took me a few hours, but after digging the sod out and hoeing up the soil to where it was fairly fine, I planted corn, tomatoes, onions, and one row of lettuce, with room for another in succession after a couple weeks. We'll also grow some basil and possibly a couple of other things in containers.

Both projects are a learning experience. I know I’ll have to make adjustments, and there’s still more work to be done – predators are my current big worry – but I’ll figure it out. If something happens, I’ll have to deal with it, make adjustments, and roll on. We’ll learn, and that’s always exciting. Also exciting is the thought of catching a mess of fish this summer, coming home and filleting them, and frying them with our own sweet corn and lettuce to go with it. Or making an omelet with ingredients entirely out of our garden; our first fully self-provided meal.

So my question to all of you – what is a clever line for the outside of the coop door? Any one-liner comedians out there much more clever than I?

Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on .