The Shed: from the Bottom Up

Although there was a minor planning/execution screw up at the beginning of the Shed Expansion, the rest of the original shed remained mostly in place.

Before any structure was added onto the shed, the front had to come off. I had vague  schemes of re-purposing the lumber and paneling from the front, but I knew the doors definitely needed to be saved and reused on the final building. Therefore, they were the first thing to come off.

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Like a happy, screaming mouth.

The door was held on by a pair of long piano hinges that spanned the height of the doorway. There was also a metal strip along the bottom of the doorway to protect the wood. I unfastened a few dozen half-inch screws, which all ended up getting thrown away due to rust. Throughout this project, I’ve tried to save and reuse as much material as possible, but in instances like this, it just wasn’t feasible.

As you’ll see in progress photos a bit, the rest of the front will come down and leave a huge gaping hole. This was not a delicate process. Initially, I tried to delicately pry away the nails with the claw end of my hammer, but that wasn’t doing much. I resorted to whacking the crap out of the panels and 2x3s until they shook loose.

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The ladies dancing on the fallen body of the front.

After the existing shed was ready, the next step was to lay the “foundation” for the new addition. The original structure sits on a skid foundation, so I decided to continue that. A skid foundation is basically posts – usually 4x4s – laying across concrete blocks. Then, on top of the posts, you lay your floor frame (aka the subfloor). Skid foundations tend to work best with small- to medium-structures sitting on relatively flat ground.

Because concrete blocks are a pain in the ‘tocks to level, I procrastinated on that part and set about building the frame for my floor. Although the original shed uses 2x4s, most of the guidance I read leaned more towards 2x6s. I probably would’ve been alright with the 2x4s, but better sturdy than sorry.

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The spacing between my joists varied from 12 to 20 inches because I was trying to make sure the plywood flooring seams would land on a joist. I secured everything together with 3-inch ring shank decking nails. I normally overbuild and used monstrous screws, so I was worried about the lasting power of nails. However, after having a few go in wonky and being unable to pry them out, I’m convinced the frame is very solid. (particularly when the plywood is secured to the top) Yay!

Then I couldn’t avoid setting the dang blocks. In order for the addition to sit level, I had to account for the extra height of the 2x6s (since the old shed’s floor frame uses 2x4s). I dug and redug holes for the blocks and added or removed buckets of pea gravel until they sat as even as possible. Then the 4x4s went on top, stretching across 10 feet across blocks.

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I ended up used about 5bags of pea gravel for the 6 blocks. The new addition will be 6-feet deep, so the poles are evenly spaced to support that. Now here comes the frame!

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I should get tiny hardhats for the ladies, since they’re always supervising my work.

With everything in place, I screw the new floor frame onto the original frame. Here, you can also see the front of the shed has been ripped off. I was also slow to put the roof sheet back on that I removed during my false start.

Before the moving on, make sure everything’s nice and square! If not, a few whacks of the hammer should help adjust things.

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The frame is secured to the skids through a technique known as “toenailing,” in which you drive a nail a little steeper than 45 degrees into 2 pieces of wood. This project was the first time I tried to toenail anything, so it took some practice to get the technique. It helps to start by driving the nail straight into the wood and then angling it downwards.

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The last thing I worked on that day was installing the plywood floor.

I was working with 4’x8′ sheets of 3/4″ severe weather plywood. Side note:  get someone to help you carry these sheets. I was able to sort of drag them across the yard, but one ended up falling on my leg and gave me a nasty bruise.

Anyways, in my plan, I figured out how to puzzle-piece these together. The first sheet went on whole, then I laid the next sheet right beside it, put a few nails in to hold it down, and cut off the excess. That excess formed the final piece of the floor. I used subfloor adhesive as well as those 3-inch decking nails to hold everything together.

Well, guys and gals, that was it for the day. If I can make a suggestion, don’t take on a huge, labor-intensive, outdoor project like this in June and July in a subtropical climate. I was so happy to have some spotty shade from the old oak tree, but the heat still knocked me on my butt everyday. Take care of yourself.

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Step 2: And the Walls Rise >

 

Chicken Coop Designs Through the Years

By the winter of 2012, I’d spent about six months in my new house. I’d learned that the dirt in my yard was hard clay that stuck to my shovel like peanut butter, that roaches appeared in surprising places during warm weather, and that I really enjoyed working outside and taking care of animals.

So I started planning for chickens.

Things I knew, starting out:

  • My backyard is fenced in, and I planned to let the chickens free range while I was home. Therefore, the size of the run could be a bit smaller than if the chickens were in there 24/7.
  • Everything needed to be enclosed. I wasn’t sure what my predator situation was yet (see a few paragraphs down), but I didn’t want to risk a chicken to find out.
  • Since heat is more of an issue in south Louisiana than cold, the coop needed good ventilation.

The feed stores wouldn’t have any chicks until February or March, so I fumbled my way through building my first coop in January. It was my first major build, the previous largest being storage bench. I researched and sketched and researched more. Finally, I ended up with this happy little blue number perfectly sized for two chickens:

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I couldn’t find any good pictures of the run, but it folded up small enough to fit into the back of my car. At the time – keep in mind I was in my initial year of living in a hurricane-prone area – I was very worried about how and where to take my chickens should we need to evacuate, so a transportable run seemed like a good idea. But I’d also overbuilt it out of heavy wood, so it was really unwieldy for everyday use. I hated run.

A few months after my first chickens arrived, I decided to get another pair of chicks. Halfway through 2013, I returned to the sketch pad.

This new coop would not only be larger, but it would have a fixed run. I was worried about the chickens scratching one spot of grass to mud, so I read a lot on chicken tractors. With some good wheels and mechanical advantage on my side, a heavy coop would be easy to move around the yard every other day or so, right?

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Those tiny, tiny wheels.
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Here, you can see the old coop behind the new one.

In that first picture, you can see “levers” connected to the wheels. The idea was that the coop would sit squarely on the ground until it needed to move. Then, I’d pull those levers and engage the wheels.

That, er, didn’t exactly work. The coop was heavy and – once again – unwieldy. I also have far too little land for a chicken tractor to be effective; my entire lot is less than a quarter of an acre. So the wheels came off and the coop found a permanent home in my yard. I filled the run with sand, and for a short period, everyone was happy.

But it was with this second coop that I learned about my nocturnal predators.

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“Borrow a cuppa sugar, friend?”

See, the part of my yard that isn’t peanut butter clay is sand. Apparently, my area has many, many raccoons and opossums, and those critters like to dig. I woke up in the middle of many nights to chickens shrieking because something dug under the edge of the coop and squirmed inside. Fortunately, the only victim was the chicken feed. I laid down a perimeter of galvanized hardware cloth and heavy stones, and all was well again.

It was also around this time that I tried using an automatic coop door. The idea was that the coop door would slide closed at sunset and open at sunrise, so that even if something got inside the run, the chickens would be protected. Although now I see plenty of kits and ready-to-go options for sale, back then, it was more reasonable to put my own together with a solar panel, battery, and gearbox. Technically, it worked, but with the expansion and shrinking of wood, the door got stuck and trapped my chickens in the coop. I eventually gave up on it and resolved to put my energy towards making the coop and run like a fortress.

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It’s not perfect, but this was probably my most charming set up.

I was happy enough with that coop, until in 2017, I decided to get ducks.

So here’s another obvious mistake I made:  even if you think you’ve sealed your wood, don’t let it sit directly on the ground, especially somewhere with humidity and insect issues like Louisiana. As I dissembled the coop and run, some of the wood on the bottom crumbled. Of course, the pressure-treated pieces held up better, but still:  don’t let wood sit directly on the ground.

I had some experience behind me, and I’d gathered some tools since my first coop back in 2013, so the 2017 edition went up more quickly and was more solid than ever.

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Okay, so what do we have different than before? The whole thing sits up on leveled concrete blocks. All of the lumber is pressure treated and painted with exterior-grade paint. I actually built this in two stages – you can see the separate chicken coop to the left is actually finished and sealed off.The ducks have their own separate house, lower to the ground for stubby little duck legs (although one or two have already shown off that they can awkwardly waddle up the ramp into the chicken house).

Finally, this much larger run is easily tall enough for me to walk around in so I can clean. This is particularly important because the bathtub for the ducks requires a regular water change. The height also allows easy access to the feeder, the houses, the water reservoir, etc. And when the ducklings first moved outside in 2017, it was easy to cordon off an area and keep them separate from the adult hens until the ducks grew large enough to hold their own (which didn’t take much time at all – maybe a few months – ducks grow very quickly).

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Man, they were so freakin’ cute.

For anyone interested, I do water changes using a submersible pump that can handle large chunks (little pebbles and sticks often wind up in the tub). I swap out the water three times per week and sprinkle a few mosquito bits to prevent larvae in the standing water.

This coop has performed well. Zero predators have gotten inside. However, I’ve [grumble grumble] started having some problems with mice. I’m currently trying a treadle feeder to see how that helps the problem. And in the spirit of disclosure, I’ve also laid out poison (protected from the reach of the ducks and chickens). I don’t like using poison, but mice and rats are not only expensive (they blow through feed), they carry disease and can chew on and damage wooden structures.

Another change I made with this coop is the substrate. Previously, when I only had chicken, I used sand. It’s easy to rake and keep clean-ish. The chickens seem to like it for scratching around and dust bathing. But while preparing for ducks, I knew wetness was going to be an issue. Not to get too graphic, but while chicken poo is solid, duck poo is more like diarrhea. Yum. Therefore, in this coop, I used pea gravel almost everywhere; it’s easy to hose down and rake. There’s still one corner of sand for dust baths.

Alright, so what I have learned from building and rebuilding and building again?

  • Never let wood rest directly on the ground; set it up on concrete blocks.
  • Build a run big enough for an adult human to stand up in and move around.
  • Bury hardware cloth around the outside and secure 1/2″ or smaller hardware cloth to all openings using fender washers (they have a large diameter); assemble that coop and run like a fortress.
  • Given tools, time, and the ability to understand your mistakes, you can always rebuild.
  • Sand for chickens; pea gravel for ducks.

Every time I was preparing to build, I’d also visit the BackYard Chickens forum for ideas and instructions. The trick is, though, understanding your environment and building (or rebuilding) to that. My chicken-keeping friend in Colorado has no roof on her run – it’s basically a fenced-in patch of yard – but she doesn’t have the same predators that I do. Understanding your environment might mean that your first stab at a coop sucks, and that’s okay. It’s only a problem if you never do anything to make the situation better.

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The Project Just Started and I Already Screwed Up

Ya know, I guess it’s nice to get mistakes over with in the beginning. At that stage, work can be undone – or at the very least – it can be easier to revamp the rest of the plan.

Before the Great Shed Revamp really began – as in, before I started the fun building stage – some prep work was required. Part of this entailed setting up a temporary shed for equipment like my lawnmower that needs protection from the elements. The other big – huge – MASSIVE part involved moving the shed.

A few years ago, an ex-boyfriend and I used a jack, 2x4s, and poles leftover from a chain link fence to roll my shed back about ten feet. My initial plan involved moving it forward, thanks to an oak branch that had so delightfully decided to prop itself on the back corner of the shed.

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Ya jerk!

I was a little worried about the stability of the shed after moving it and then however long the branch was propped up there. Also, just moving a shed is definitely a two-person job (not to mention, I couldn’t jack it up like last time, thanks to Mr. Branchenstein up there). Therefore, I decided to dissemble the shed and rebuild it. Bigger. Faster. STRONGER.

Or at least more stable and scooted forward about four feet.

Step one of disassembly involved removing the roof and OH MY GOODNESS Y’ALL, that was not easy. I mean, it’s great that the roof was on there so securely, since south Louisiana is prone to hurricanes and storms, but not so great when I was trying to pry the plywood away from the rafters. But I finally popped piece free!

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Yaaay! Don’t look at the hastily propped up window! Stop looking at it! Stop!

Before I got too much further, I realized I should go ahead and trim some of the smaller branches above the shed so that I didn’t have a future of leaning branches ahead of me, no matter the shed’s location. Previously, on smaller limbs, I’ve tortured myself by using a handsaw. Not this time.

A few years ago, my dad got me a circular saw and a drill from Ryobi’s ONE+ line. They’ve held up well and are my go-to tools. On his advice, I bought several batteries, so I never run out of juice. I was all too happy to see that the ONE+ also had a pole saw, and it was cheaper than most I’d looked at, so yay for that.

Once I got back to my house and set up the pole saw, I…well, I went a little wild. Slicing through all the irritating, half-dead limbs that had bugged me for months was exhilarating. Within half an hour, I’d created a small mountain of detritus.

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Destruuuctioooon.

Then an idea occurred to me, and the icy flames of excitement and dread licked my neck.

I walked around to the back of the shed to check out that branch, that core reason for shed disassembly and pain…

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Sweet Sally May.

Sure enough, my enthusiasm with the saw removed enough weight for the branch to lift off the shed.

Overall, this is fantastic. I no longer plan on moving the shed (one of the downsides of the move was that the new shed would eat up some of my precious, tiny yard). However, groan, I have to scrabble all around the roof and nail it back down.

At some point, I will probably tackle the rest of the branch and trim it back down to the main trunk, but oh man, do I wish the idea of the trimming the tree would’ve occurred to me earlier. Oh well. Better now than after I’ve taken the whole shed apart.

I still plan to reinforce the inside of the existing shed, just in case there is hidden structural damage. I’m also replacing the roofing. My plans have changed slightly (more on that coming soon), and shingles aren’t really viable for my long-term plans. Also, I hate shingles. I used them on my first chicken coop – never again.

Alright, I have a roof to nail back on…

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Preparing for the Shed Expansion

Coming off of the giant project that reformed my front yard, I thought to myself, “I can’t stand not being worn out everyday! I need to sweat until my eyeballs slide out!” Enter:  Shed Expansion.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with my little 10’x10′ shed. It’s perfectly find for storing a small amount of lawn equipment, tools, and old paint. But I’d really love a workspace. And, if at all possible, a little greenhouse would be nice too.

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Peekaboo, I see you hiding back in those branches.

My backyard isn’t huge, so I can’t go too wild. I’m planning on lengthening the shed by a moderate 6 feet for a final footprint of 10’x16′.

There are some issues to take care before I go construction-crazy, though. First of all, some equipment like my lawn mower really can’t afford to sit outside in summer thunderstorms, so I installed a little resin shed behind the existing shed.

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Sad, empty, wasted space!
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Building a level surface out of pea gravel and pavers.
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Happy little resin shed (with bonus chicken)!

After everything moves back into the main shed, I plan on keeping my chicken and duck supplies in the resin shed. Currently, the wood shavings, feed, etc. live in that trash can to the left of the resin shed. YUM.

The littlest shed had performed beautifully so far. Do you want to see how much stuff fits inside that lil 5’x6′ box?

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Such a shameful mess!

Okay, every single piece of this did not end up in the resin shed. I’m getting rid of the bicycle, and a lot of the wood and tubing will live outside for a bit. But that little resin shed is packed to the gills now.

On the next post, I’ll share how things have gone . . . not so well in the next stages. Until that point, though, I have time to recover those mistakes so I can present something a bit more hopeful and wizened!

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Fence Installation: the First Step (also, tearing out bushes!)

Last time in Operation: Chaos into Beauty, we ripped up the lawn. The next step is technically “flowers will be planted” and then, after that, “a fence will be erected.”

However, at this point, I realized the fence should at least start going up first, before I planted anything. Also, we’re going to take a segue, because I totally forgot to mention The Bushes previously.

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Seen here:  The Bushes.

The previous owner planted a low-growing gardenia on the outside corners of the house, with Indian hawthorn in between. How much Indian hawthorn? WAY MORE THAN I EVER IMAGINED.

I had to remove to bushes.

My original plan for the bushes involved gently digging them out and finding a new home for them. They’re good bushes – shiny green leaves, little berries that the bird enjoy. pretty white flowers – but I never liked the idea of having bushes right next to the house. First of all, it’s very common, and I want my house to stand out. Secondly, I’ve also heard that having dense vegetation next to your house invites pests to intrude and damage the structure.

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A charming home for all the neighborhood pests.

Several times during the Day of the Digging, I wet the ground under the bushes (it hadn’t rained in a week, so the ground was pretty dry and hard). The dirt was nice and soft, but holy bananagrams, these bushes were deeply rooted. I ended up using a large set of loppers to basically chop the bushes to the ground in order to dig them up. Fortunately, I chose to get rid of the bushes the night before garbage day, because they ended up just going out on the curb. Wasting perfectly good bushes pained me, but they were totally mangled by the time I cleared them out.

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I decided to keep the gardenia’s on either corner of the house, as they have less compact branches and a slightly funkier look than the traditionally round leaves of the Indian hawthorn.

Aaaaah, my house has breathing room now. And I really like the light brick skirt! I find it very charming.

So now onto the fence! Finally!

The overall plan for transforming my yard from grass into garden entailed several steps:  tilling, covering the tilled dirt with thick brown paper, and laying several inches of mulch on the top. Then, when I’m ready to plant, I’ll cut little Xs into the paper, place the seedlings inside, and put the paper and mulch back in place to minimize the chance of grass or weeds poking through.

I realized that if I planted before setting the fence posts, I’d be doing a lot of awkward rearranging of paper and mulch for the fence post holes. It made more sense to set the posts, then lay down the paper and mulch around them.

The fence will only be about three feet tall, but the home improvement stores don’t sell tiny posts. I ended up cutting eight-foot 4x4s in half with my circular saw (and yay! it was way easier than expected). As the posts were so short, I only dug about two feet into the ground. Then several inches of pea gravel went into the hole. Tamp down the the gravel and set the post inside to see how high it sits. To make sure my posts were even, I laid a 2×4, broad side flat, across the hole and measured from the 2×4 to the top of the post.

If I were a better blogger, this space would have a progress picture, but dangit, sometimes I just get so into the work that the rest of the world falls away.

Once the post was even (height-wise, as well as checking the sides with a level), I braced it with two narrow lengths of wood nailed to perpendicular sides. Then Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix went in until a few inches below the lip of the hole, to be followed by a gentle spray of hose water until the hole was filled. After ten minutes or so, the concrete started to set and the space between the concrete and the lip of the hole was filled with dirt.

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Eeeh, more or less like this, but much less neat. Source.

I spent the better part of a Sunday setting fence posts.

Fortunately, as they’re on the shorter side, they went pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I needed 15. I finished 10 that day and did the rest over the next day or two.

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Orange spray paint courtesy of the utilities company. Even though there was almost no way I was going to dig deep enough to hit a utility line, I still called 811.

I was extra fortunate to have some friends who volunteered to come over and help. They dug the trench that is slowly turning into a dry creek bed, to the left of the sidewalk in the above photo. My region gets some pretty heavy downpours during the summer, which overwhelm the soil under my porch’s rain chain. The dry creek bed will divert the extra water toward the street drain.

Around the time I set the last of the fence posts, exhaustion began to creep in. I was still doing my morning workouts (more on that in a future post), then working a full day before coming home to the front yard in the evenings. One of the downsides of being a singleton doing all her own work is just that – if I don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done! Especially on a large project, there’s only so much a human body can do each day, which is frustrating. Not only do I want to see the finished project, the weather will only get hotter over the next few months.

But for now, the days are sunny and warm and the nights are pleasantly cool . . .

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< Step 2:  How (Not to) Till Your Lawn

Step 4:  Laying the Foundation for the Garden >