Breaking Ground

We've begun our Chicken Coop and Run project. Tom and I measured out an area in our back yard, raked the mulch back, and started digging (Tom has done most of the digging so far, bless him!). We need to create a foot-deep trench around the area of the coop. This trench will hold a foot of hardware cloth, to prevent predators digging under the run. We have plenty of raccoons, skunks, opossums, and even the stray coyote hanging around our neighborhood, and chickens would be an easy and tasty prey. (Recently there have been several Cougar sitings about a block from here, so that's a possibility too, I suppose.) You'd think they'd be satisfied with all the wild turkeys, but we hear horrifying stories of backyard chicken slaughter by predators. Our neighbors with ducks have had several grisly decapitations and use a lock and key on their run. We'll do the same. (Though I wouldn't put it past raccoons to figure out a key.)

We've laid out the tarps to capture the dirt, for several reasons. We'll need to backfill the trench with what we've taken out, and I also don't want the dirt mixing with the mulch. The tarps make everything easier and cleaner. When it rains, we can also fold over the tarps to protect the dirt from becoming mud.

This is the area that we sheet mulched during Thanksgiving break. Our excavation has provided us some clues about how this process is working. First of all, the grass is dead. Main goal, accomplished. The cardboard has not broken down at all, yet, and we've been digging through it, which adds an extra layer of pain to this chore. Then there's the clay underneath, which is hell itself.

Dead grass, cardboard, and the ubiquitous clods of clay

However, earthworms abound. Long and fat, they are everywhere here. They are attracted to the decaying grass, and the layer of compost above the cardboard. Also quite evident - layers of mycelium, the network of fungi that helps decompose all this organic matter. Things are cooking underground, which is good. 

Our plan is to finish the trench today, then dig the foundation piers next weekend and start framing the structure. We also have plans in the works for two new compost bins, made from pallets. I'll need a place to compost the sawdust/straw/chicken poop from the run, and these seem like a simple, inexpensive option.

It's fun to picture the coop, finished, with busy hens inside eating bugs and scraps from the garden, and several raised beds clustering around it, filled with summer produce. There's a lot of work to do, first.