Editor’s Note: March/April 2008

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Kate Will

Earlier this year, my wife Kate asked me to build her a freestanding pergola for the garden. Kate loves to grow climbing and running roses and flowering vines of all kinds. The request seemed so likely that I wished I had come up with the idea myself. Either way, the planning, building and planting of such a structure will be a wonderful project and gift enough for us both. I love to build things, and I especially love to build things for Kate. The pergola will be large enough to shade a small table and four chairs and sturdy enough to support rank woody vines and stand up to the sometimes substantial Osage County wind.

One day, after an invigorating romp around the farm’s perimeter with stops at three frozen ponds to encourage the dogs to try their paws at skating, Kate and I searched the Internet for pergola plans. One thing led to another, and we found ourselves looking for designs to guide our eventual permanent chicken house’s construction. I was sure that some early-style brooder houses were octagonal in shape, so we searched for an eight-sided plan, which brought us to a marvelous book, The Illustrated Annual Register of Rural Affairs and Cultivator Almanac, for the Year 1861, by John J. Thomas.

We found a lovely description of an octagonal chicken house in Thomas’s book, but his advice on building suitable quarters for the flock so resonated with the concept of humane husbandry that Kate and I read excerpts aloud for the next hour and a half, and committed once again to keep our animals’ quality of life paramount as we take responsibility for their care. On the topic of proper poultry housing, Thomas admonishes us to:

Build houses for our poultry, convenient for their habits, and convenient also for our own; for if attendance of any kind of stock occasions too much trouble, they will often be neglected. In building, therefore, let the house be handy for the hens, and as handy for yourself as possible; and of the two, we would say, in preference, make it handy for feeding, and for cleaning and warming and ventilation, as the hour or season of each comes around.

I don’t know whether it is Thomas’ civilized tone or his 19th-century prose that appeals the most. What I do know is that I cannot wait to put the lumber order to-gether for his octagonal chicken house and Kate’s pergola. By the time you read this, I will likely have done just that and hauled it all home in the wonderfully preserved 1964 International Harvester pickup truck that Kate and the girls surprised me with late last year. Some of you know of my interest in old International Harvester machinery – surely I will blog about it on the Grit Web site someday. I have already posted photos of a number of antique IH tractors at cu.Grit.com.

If you find a few “extra” moments this spring, we’d really appreciate knowing what you think. Please send us favored photos or stories describing your special “spot” or a garden crop, bread, biscuit or green salad that you are particularly proud of. Whatever it is, I know your experiences will resonate with fellow Grit readers.

Email digital photos to editor@Grit.com or post them on cu.Grit.com. Send digital dog photos to dogs@Grit.com. Submit stories electronically as an email message or an attached word processing document. You should also feel free to submit by mail; be sure to include an SASE if you want things back. We’ll publish some of your stuff in the magazine, some on the Web site, and some in our bi-weekly electronic newsletter, Grit eNews.

See you in May.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.

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