Mail Call July/August 2015: A Chicken Coop in the Desert, Planting Trees, Grain Bin Ideas and More

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In the Desert Southwest, Lynda took extra measures to construct a safe and beautiful chicken coop.
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A happy young hen looks out on her run.
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To “prettify” my henhouse, I cut up an old metal wall hanging and used it as flowers in the flower box beneath the window.
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Foraging in the desert.
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I saw your photograph of the grain bin house, and I thought I would share a project that my daughter, wife and I are currently working on.
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We repurposed an old grain bin that was my father’s and turned it into a gazebo and recreation area.
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We used redwood boards for the shelves and the bar counter area.
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Christy Steakley Myers’ daughter, 13, plows the vegetable garden the old-fashioned way.
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Raised beds are an effective way to grow vertically, saving space and strain on your back.

Desert Chickens 

I built my henhouse here in southwest New Mexico out of leftover siding and shingles from my home.

It was necessary to enclose it in an aviary, due to the many predators here in the desert like foxes, bobcats, hawks, great horned owls and more. I used a chain-link dog run, dug it a foot into the ground, and covered it in leftover chicken wire from a previous project. 

Inside the henhouse, the perch is made from a clothes closet pole. We cut windows in front and vents in back then covered them with screening I saved when my home windows were replaced. I also cut a “chicken door” out back using old hinges and a hook and eye to hold it open during the day. A bolt lock closes them in safe at night. I fenced in a large area of natural desert for them to forage in during the day.

To “prettify” my henhouse, I cut up an old metal wall hanging and used it as flowers in the flower box beneath the window and for decoration on the front door, after painting the exterior with leftover paint from my home. 

Here in the desert, our climate is very dry, and after clearing a space to erect the henhouse, I was left with pure dry dust. I also need natural shade cover for cooling. Having left one mesquite tree at the site, I transplanted many “volunteers” from trees around my property, more mesquite, desert willows and chaste trees. To hold the dry soil down and prevent dust devils in this very windy environment, I laid out pathways of old carpet, saved from when I had the floors of my home refinished. I then covered them over, wheelbarrel by wheelbarrel full of stones, pebbles and rocks gathered from around the property.

My chicks have been living in the henhouse for a month now and seem most healthy and content. Each is named after a favorite author: Mary Shelly, Harriet Beecher Stowe, etc., and continuing with this theme a sign on the front door reads, “Little Women, House of Hens” (L.M. Alcott). The sign over their run reads, “Mansfield Park” (Jane Austen). 

Lynda Emmel
Alamogordo, New Mexico 

We love it, Lynda! So very GRIT-ty, to make the best out of less than favorable conditions, and you picked the right group of people to share your literary tastes with! – Editors

Grain Bin Gazebo

I saw your photograph of the grain bin house, and I thought I would share a project that my daughter, wife and I are currently working on. We repurposed an old grain bin that was my father’s and turned it into a gazebo and recreation area. We installed it in our front yard. We used redwood boards for the shelves and the bar counter area. This has been a fun project, and it has all the neighbors driving by taking a second look. We will pour the concrete floor next week. Enjoy the photos!

Loren, Amber and Sydney Walker
Heyburn, Idaho

Plenty of Grit

Got my first Grit magazine yesterday at Tractor Supply. This is the magazine I’ve been looking for. We’ve always taught our children that life takes grit or you will never accomplish anything. I’m so glad the magazine my husband brought home was a magazine that covers gardening.

We live in a rural area in Campbell County, Tennessee. Our ag extension office has moved. It took me two weeks to find info on our farmers’ market, which is not registered through the University of Tennessee Agriculture website, as it should be. Apparently last year was the first year we had one. It was across from Ace Hardware with no advertising, no signs, and only lasted two weeks. Sad, I know.

I have begun a Facebook page for farmers of Campbell and surrounding areas, to provide information to local farmers. I have been invited to a meeting with the Campbell County Commission office to help plan this year’s market. I have a strong passion for farming and knowledge.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Also I wanted to include a photograph of my daughter’s grit! We plow the old fashion way. She was 13 in this photo.

Christy Steakley Myers
Via Facebook


In the May/June issue, our article, “Strawberries: The Official Summer Opener” contained an error. The purchasing price of the Marshall strawberry plant is actually $30 per plant, plus shipping, as opposed to $75 as previously stated. The editors at Grit are happy to report that error!

Loyal Readers

Even though I am not a farmer, I enjoy reading Grit. My father read it when I was a child, and there were many interesting articles he talked about. I have read Grit most of my life and do enjoy it. It has helped me with my yard, garden and numerous other projects. Thank you for a wonderful magazine. 

Garrie Trattles
Pardeeville, Wisconsin

Thank you, Garrie, for your loyal readership through the ages. We are humbled and honored! – Editors

Raised Beds

I built this with several things in mind: a raised garden with detachable shelves for container gardening. The shelves cover half the width to allow the peas I’m planting to grow up through. Of course, string can be put anywhere for the vines. The bottom is fenced to prevent rabbits and the like from getting to my vegetables. It can hold hanging pots. And it can accommodate bird netting over the whole thing. What do you think? A raised raised-garden. Saves space and grows up. 

Peas are growing well, and I have now installed the strings for them to grow up. The shelves are holding my container garden quite nicely. Of course, more are being added. I think I’ll get quite a lot out of the space it occupies. Just like one of the articles I read in one of your publishing group’s magazine, “Grow up!”

Smiley Stiles
Bridgeton, New Jersey

Wild Leek Stock

I used to harvest leek seeds in October in a maple forest. They are black and appear at the top of a single stalk. My collecting partner got his back from the seed company we sold to, and he planted them on my land. I have hundreds of leeks on a north-facing slope in central Wisconsin. It is not difficult to grow leeks from seed, not at all. Also, when I harvest them, I dig into big clumps of them and separate some of the clump. Or I dig the whole clump and line out a bunch of the bulbs for reproduction and take the rest. That way, I continue the supply of leeks (or ramps). They come from wild stock but have been domesticated and are growing in the forest.

Marilyn Klinkner
Via email

Reflection on Heritage

I am writing to encourage you to publish additional articles by Josephine Roberts (Raising Sheep with Traditional Farming Methods, from the March/April issue). I have read her work for several years. Her life experiences, geographic location, and writing style result in articles that small farmers and old guys like me can enjoy. They reinforce a rural lifestyle that does not depend on 24-row planters costing $200,000.

As a retired university professor of agronomy, I have worked in an industry that has changed dramatically to survive. But survival has affected rural sociology in ways that I believe to be negative.

Edward R. Jones, Ph.D.
Dover, Delaware

Planting Trees

I enjoyed reading your editorial in the March/April issue of Grit magazine (“Trees for Tomorrow”). I too have shared much the same love of planting trees. Maybe that is because where I am there are so few of them. Sadly, it is not in western Kansas culture to want to plant trees other than right by the house or building that they are intended to protect. However, I do believe that it is a misnomer that the trees require a great deal of care year after year if the proper trees are selected.

I have recently purchased a plot of land out in Trego County. It can be rough going to try new things, but I do believe that as being a good steward and manager of the land, we should work to transform the land to something better than what we found it.

I’d appreciate any advice from someone who has planted in semi-arid environments before. I have gone to all of the standard resource outlets, even Kansas Forestry Service in the different land grant schools.

Much like permaculture, it seems to me that so much is meant for where water already exists in plentiful supply, and that the western side of Kansas and eastern Colorado and other areas tend to get overlooked.

I am excited to find out what can be done on a parcel of land such as ours even out here. So thank you for writing that article. It was an encouragement to me and to all of us arbor pioneers!  

Owen Parker
Via email 

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