Mail Call November/December 2014: How to Build a Chicken Coop Out of a Playhouse and More

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The chickens adapted well to the playhouse turned henhouse.
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A planting box made with cedar posts borders the pen to keep predators from getting to the flock.
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Their son had outgrown his playhouse, so the Kirbys transformed it into a chicken coop.
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Jeff Lukens managed some free crabapple fruit from his local golf course. That fruit soon became jelly.
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Tad Brown's collection of home-canned produce in the basement.
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Turns out GRIT has fans of all ages, including Logan, from Pennsylvania.
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Stock tanks spend the summer months serving as excellent raised bed structures.

Playhouse to Henhouse  

Our family loves your magazine. We’ve been faithful readers for years, and we enjoy the stories and wealth of information in each issue we receive. Our family has taken a turn to get back to the basics of life. Our GRIT magazines, along with Mother Earth News, have helped us in gaining the knowledge and confidence to do so.

In our journey to becoming more self-sufficient, we’ve discovered the importance of being frugal and using the resources that we have.

Wanting to raise chickens but not wanting to raise a huge price tag on their housing took a bit of thought. We wanted a place for our chickens under our large oak trees since they provided shade in the summer and plenty of sun in the winter.

The solution? Our son’s playhouse! Yep, sadly, the day had come when he had outgrown the swings and the slide. So we dismantled most of the structure — saving every bolt and screw — and put our heads together trying to figure out how to revamp, well … everything! But first things first.

We’ve been busy clearing a lot of cedar trees on our property to make more pasture land for our goats and Texas Longhorns. This gave us a surplus of cedar logs. So, to build the pen, we used the logs as supporting posts on the sides and roof, for attaching the chicken wire. Now it was time to build the coop. We shortened the whole playhouse, leaving a foot of head clearance for the chickens under the house itself — we refer to it as their basement. The wood from the climbing structure, once part of the playhouse, became their “porch” and walkway up into their house — and two separate nesting boxes.

Speaking of nesting boxes, we also salvaged the green bendable plastic originally used for the crawling tunnel. We cut it to size and screwed it up underneath the nesting box lids so no rain would drip or seep down onto the hens when they’re on the nests.

The previous roofing of the playhouse extended over what is now their dusting box. We filled it with sand and grit from the river just down the road from us. With it being covered, they can — and do — play and dust themselves in the dry sand, be it rain or shine. We utilized nearly every piece of wood from the original playhouse, even building the door entering the pen itself out of salvaged wood. My husband, John, also built windows and a door to the coop for cleaning it out.

My personal favorite part of the whole coop, though, is the coop door. Using two pieces of wood, each with an arch, John designed the door with an oblong opening, making a place to put a window. And being true to our nature of always wanting to customize and be creative, we spent a couple of days up in his shop designing and building a stained glass piece, which we then placed in the oblong opening of the door. What design did we come up with? A stained glass chicken, of course!

Last but not least, we needed to discourage any predators from trying to dig under the bottom of the chicken wire to get in. We once again searched our surplus logs, cut them into fireplace-length, and made a rustic-style planting box for gardening. It runs along the side of the pen that’s most vulnerable to unwelcome company!

One more word about the cedar we used: We decided to leave the bark on the logs instead of stripping it off. Not only did it save us time, but the chickens get much entertainment in pulling it off themselves and finding a tasty morsel of a bug underneath. YUM! I suppose in the life of a chicken, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The Kirby Family
North Texas

Pirating Crabapples

The VERY day we received the latest GRIT issue, I sneaked into a local golf course — in broad daylight, no less — and raided one of their loaded crabapple trees; filling up a bucket in 5 minutes.

Two old course workers were kind enough to scooter by and suggest that I be on the lookout for flying golf balls (never would have thought of that — thanks, boys). “What the heck are you doing picking a bunch of crabapples?” they asked, so I explained what I intended to do with them, and they proceeded to back away slowly.

As they vamoosed, I hollered to them that I would bring them a jar of jelly. Not sure if they waved or sent some other hand gesture my way. I’ll go with wave.

I beamed when I read Blue Ribbon Crab Apple Jelly from the September/October issue. I also beamed when I slathered a huge blob of jelly — made with FREE fruit — onto some toast.

Jeff Lukens
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Canning Jars

My wife and I received our latest copy of GRIT magazine yesterday and were fighting over who got to read it first; great magazine, and we both enjoy it.

I’m confused, though, by your cover photo and then the image used in the canning story (“Home Canning: How to Can Using the Boiling Water Bath Method,” September/October). The author talks of using the traditional hot water bath and using the flats/rings to cap them off. My confusion is that the image shows jars with one-piece commercial lids, leading me to believe the images are store-bought goods with the label removed or turned around.

I did some research to put my mind at ease, and the home canner can buy one-piece lids. There’s not much info on them, and they are available for mason-type jars we typically use, but, again, the images are of the commercial lug-type lids that do not fit the mason-type jars.

Your editorial features an image of crabapple jelly with conventional lids, but the others do not match the article’s directions, nor do they depict any typical type of canning I’m familiar with.

Tad Brown
via email

Good eye and good catch, Tad. We had some discussion about whether to use the photos and/or offer some explanation since many folks do not come into routine contact with lug lids and matching jars for home canning. We then made the mistake of neglecting to go back to adjust the text under the “What You’ll Need” heading after the story was designed.

The cover depicts the one-piece lids because the person who did the canning used commercial-style jars. Same with the article. Believe it or not, this style is catching on, particularly as more folks approach the for-sale market.

Here is a link to one of several articles online where the lug lids are used at home, How to Can in Hex Jars With Lug Lids.

The jar type on the editorial page is more typical for the home canner and the type we use at home. Thanks for engaging our content, and great catch! — Editors

Long History

A simple smile for the day: Upon seeing a Facebook post with the GRIT title, I was “whisked away” back to my early childhood. Being raised in a somewhat rural coastal community … THE GRIT WAS IT! Our home rarely missed an issue. Although modern technology has found us, I prefer her old “physical” black-and-white pages of times past. Great memories!

Debra Prindall
Bath, Maine

Family Magazine

While on vacation near Galeton, Pennsylvania, in June, I went to the store for a few things. Near the checkout are always magazines, and yours caught my eye. Having fond memories of the GRIT paper years ago, I bought one. Back at the cabin, I laid it on a chair on the deck to read later. 

Spying it, my 17-month-old grandson, Logan Widders, got up on the chair and began paging through it. It seemed he was enjoying it. So you have readers of all ages; a truly family magazine. 

Jim Widders
Lititz, Pennsylvania

Repurposed Stock Tanks

This photo shows what we do with old water/stock tanks. They make wonderful raised beds for gardening. We are growing strawberries, onions, beans and tomatoes in them this year. In previous years, we have grown lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, turnips and beets.

Jeri Bonnette
Angora, Minnesota

Picking Morels

In “Let’s Go Pickin’,” in the March/April GRIT, Annie Stewart incorrectly advises readers to “tug the morel gently from the ground; do not cut the base of the morel with a knife, as this damages the remaining mass.” This is actually harmful to the morel substructure. Instead, one should cut the morel at the base of the stem. Please inform your readers of this — and keep up the great work on an enjoyable magazine!

John Kauffman
via email

We’re always looking for insightful morel advice, John! Anyone else have any favorite morel hunting advice and tips? We’d love to hear it. Send them to:

Hay Days

My memories of hay days go back further than yours (see “Hay Days” from our May/June issue). I remember when my grandfather cut hay with a long-bladed sickle mower pulled by horses. After it was cut, it was raked by a rake pulled by two horses. The rake had curved fingers that were manually lifted up and down.

The hay was rolled in long rolls and left to dry. When dry on one side, it was slightly turned by the rake pulled by horses. When the hay was dry, he took a wagon to haul the hay to the barn. One man stayed on the wagon and accepted the hay, while the other man stayed on the ground and pitched the hay onto the wagon with a pitchfork.

When the wagon was full, it was hauled to the barn. Again, one man stayed in the wagon to throw the hay into the loft, and the other man stayed in the loft to pack it.

When the loft was full, the rest of the hay was stacked around a long pole in the ground, and stacked high. This was called a hayrick. This hay was capped off with loose hay as best as it could be done to protect it from the elements. It must have worked because no hay ever rotted.

Grandpa always had plenty of hay, corn and fodder for his horses and milk cows. They stayed fat and slick because he kept them all brushed.

Grandpa also cut our wheat and the neighbor’s wheat with a handheld wheat cradle, but that’s another story!

Elnora Sheler
Beaver, West Virginia

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