May 27, 2013

Tour de Cluck 2013 FAQ

Wow, what a day! We had so much fun participating as coop hosts on this year's Tour de Cluck! About 500 visitors toured our urban homestead between 10am and 3pm on Saturday, almost all arriving by bike and a fair number sporting creative chicken costumes and accessories.

An east Davis neighbor and his friends

Lucas Frerichs and Jake & Ed Clemens arrive by pedicab

Five hundred people over the course of five hours averages out to about 25 new people in the yard every 15 minutes. That's a LOT of people! During the busiest times, the yard was so packed I could hardly see Mr. English through the crowd. He and I stationed ourselves in the backyard and answered questions about the garden, coop and chickens. In the front yard, the two grandmas punched ticket maps and managed bike traffic, and the kids and their friends disinfected tour participants' shoes.

Maddie and friends manning the sanitation station

Visitors ask questions and take pictures

You can imagine the number of questions generated by that many people curious about chickens, gardening and green living in general. It's obviously impossible to answer all of their questions, but we did our best. For those who may have come to the yard and not gotten their question answered, or for those who weren't on the Tour and are curious about the setup, here are some of Saturday's most frequently asked questions and some answers.

Tour de Cluck 2013 Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Who designed and built the coop, and how long did it take?

A. Mr. English and my dad built the coop in the spring of 2011. Together they have intermediate to advanced carpentry skills and many years of experience building stuff, and they made pretty quick work of the coop (2-3 full days.) The coop was designed by a guy named John Carr in Portland, OR who calls this model The Garden Coop and sells the plans for $20. Mr. English and my dad were super happy they bought the plans--even though they have the skills to have built something similar on their own--because it simplified the whole process a lot.

Mr. English and Opa building the coop

Q. Isn't that a lot of money to spend on a chicken coop?

A. Even using "oops" paint, branches for roosts, old deck piers and other items we had on hand, the coop materials still cost just under $1,000 (redwood and hardware cloth are both pricey and accounted for the majority of that cost.) Some people feel like that's extravagant. For us it's a matter of priorities. Some families spend $1,000 on one AKC-registered dog or a fancy television, or they spend twice that amount eating at restaurants and buying Starbucks coffee each year. Most families our size have two cars; we choose instead to have one car, lots of bikes and money leftover to spend on things like a secure, sturdy chicken coop.

Q. How much time do you spend maintaining the garden and chickens, and how do you have enough time to do it?

A. This is a tough question to answer, since it varies a lot depending on the time of year and also because we don't really keep track. A good guess is probably an average of about an hour a day, not including special projects. During the building up phase it probably took a lot longer, but now that all the beds are established, the coop, greenhouse and fencing are built, and we have certain routines and systems in place, it takes less time than you'd think to maintain it all. Again, it's a matter of priorities. The average American watches over 4 hours of television a day; we haven't owned a TV for ten years, so I spend some of those hours tinkering in the garden instead, since that's a relaxing activity for me.

Q. Do your kids help out?

A. Yes! Between school, extracurricular activities and play, they don't have tons of time to help in the garden, but they are definitely interested and they always help with planting and harvesting. They especially love the chickens and often help collect the eggs and let the birds out of the coop in the morning or close their door at night. Most important to us is that they are growing up knowing it's not only possible, but also fun and rewarding to keep chickens and grow much of your own produce.

Charlie harvesting lemons

Maddie clipping arugula

Q. Do you ever have to go to the grocery store?

A. Of course we do! You don't see a rice paddy or a wheat field back here, do you? There are many things we don't grow and still need to pick up at the farmers market or grocery store, including grains, avocados, artichokes, celery, and asparagus to name just a few. It is true, however, that our grocery trips are much more limited because of the large garden and that we eat almost entirely with the seasons when it comes to fruits and veggies.

Q. Can you tell me more about your raised beds?

A. Most of our food is grown in raised beds and that's partly because we can control the soil better, but mostly because we're dog people and anything that's not in a raised bed will potentially be dug up or trampled by the dog. We have about 25 raised planting areas in the yard and our preferred size is a 4 x 8 foot bed made of Douglas Fir. If you buy three 8-ft long boards (12" high), you need make only one saw cut and you can have a new bed built for about $25 and in about 30 minutes. (We got this idea from our friends Nick and Erica at Northwest Edible Life; lots more info & cost comparisons here.)

Q. What are those (pointing at the espaliered apple trees)?

A. Those are a Fuji apple tree and a Granny Smith apple tree espaliered (fancy word for trained to grow in a particular shape) along a concrete reinforcing wire fence. They are regular apple varieties, not dwarf, and to maintain them on an espalier requires three or four quick prunings each year (they grow fast!) Can't tell you anything yet about yield, since they are still young and not yet producing fruit.

Espaliered apple trees

Got more questions? Let us know in the comments below and we'll answer them there, or send an email to saskia dot mills at gmail dot com.

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