Saturday, 22 March 2008

Chicken Week: Day Six: The Final Descent

After fixing a few last-minute snags (reducing the air conditioning, draft-proofing the floor, adding locks and cutting more roof out of sheet-metal scraps - mastered the rivet gun by the way), the chicken house was ready for its final journey from the workshop to the orchard/chicken run:

I thought I'd fitted the house with skis:

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

But when I looked at the book again last night, I saw that they are skids.

That extra "d".

Think it stands for dunarftakealotofeffort.


You can only do your best.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Chicken Week: Day Five: Pretty Good Friday

Busy though. Daniel the Builder came round first thing with papers to sign and send to the Tribunal, to keep the permission ball rolling. He has a meeting with Planning next Thursday and it begins to feel like he's very much the Right Man for the Job.

Clare spent all day working on costumes for the parade (more on this later), while I worked just as hard on the chicken house, although it's hard to tell from this picture:

Or this one:

Some things - hinges, flooring, grills etc - take a bit of time. It doesn't help matters when, just as you think the day's over and you only have to feed the pigs before you can start enjoying a Good Evening, you find them here:

Where they're not supposed to be.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Chicken Week: Day Four: Mission Unaccomplished

I thought I'd be able to finish the chicken house today. But I only got this far:

I'm particularly pleased with the door (called a "Pop Hole" by Chicken People" but I don't know why).

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Chicken Week: Day Three: Half Way House

I only had half a working day today.

So I only built half a chicken house.

Suppose I should only write half a bl

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

How to: The Solar Electric Fence

A few months ago, we had to put up a solar electric fence for a horse, fast. (As opposed to a fast horse, unless you're talking about eating speed.)

I went into an electric fence retailer and stared at the shelves of equipment, not knowing I would need:

The energiser, with compatible battery and solar panel, connected to an earth (about a metre long), with galvanised wire:

And connected to the (in this case) 25mm electrical fencing tape:

Wooden posts at each corner, with special corner tape-holders:

Enough plastic spacers to have one every 12 metres (yards) or so (these are a bit rubbish, as the tape-holding bits tend to break - but this is fixable with more wire) - they're utterly unworkable as corner posts:

And a gate kit:

When you run out of tape, you can simply tie on some more, stripping back the plastic to expose the wires, which you can then twist together to keep the current flowing:

We also use the electric fence string and isolators screwed into wooden fence posts, in our Mark II veggie bed that the pigs have nearly finished clearing.

I hope this helps you as much as it would have helped me.

Chicken Week: Day Two: A Date with a Gate

...Day Three. Because, to keep the foxes out and the chickens in, and on the offchance that I might have some useful offcuts for the temporary chicken house, I decided to make the gate for the orchard/chicken run first.

Here's the before noon:

And the after:

Turned out this was only nearly a Very Good Idea. Her Outdoors tells me the chickens are the size of oranges and the holey fence wouldn't be such an obstacle.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Chicken Week: Day One: The Chickens are Coming!

Last night, a friend of ours phoned up (let’s call her “Sarah” – everyone else does) and said our three Marans will be arriving this week.

And the chicken coop flew to the top of the To Do List.

Out came The Book (“Poultry House Construction” by Michael Roberts) and onto paper went a design for a ten-hen house modified for our site and height – two metres long and a generous 190mm of standing room.

Today I took the design to my nemesis. Just think Intimidating Video Store Guy and change the scene to the wood cutting section of a B&Q-alike corrugated warehouse.

Me: (SHOWING PLAN) Can I have this in 12mm external ply?

He: No. We only have 10mm external ply.

Me: Oh. Can I have it in 10mm ply, then?

He: No. The maximum is 200mm by 153mm, not 190mm.

Me: Oh. If I change that, that and that to 153mm, can I have it?

He: No. I don’t have enough.

After an equally failed attempt at another B&Q-alike (where I was told I couldn’t have it because it was too expensive – gotta love the French attitude to capitalism), I returned empty trailered for lunch.

That’s when we decided to make a temporary chicken house out of pallets.

That’s when I remembered that the lumber yard I got some wood from recently also makes pallets.

That's where I went to buy five pallets worth of wood that hadn't even been nailed together (thereby saving myself the time and effort of smashing them apart again) which is now sitting in the workshop waiting for...

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Biofuels danger replaced by greater menace

The most immediate threat to our food supply is not global warming or biofuels, as some commentators claim.

It is a thing called Boy.

That’s the startling conclusion even respected climate scientists will be forced to draw from this scene of devastation, seen in our bedroom a few minutes ago.

Entire crops of tomato, basil and pepper lie uprooted. The first leaves on other shoots are totally plucked.

‘He was only in here for a few seconds,’ said a desolate Clare, referring to the hobbit-sized menace who began throwing his wellies down the stairs. ‘I’ll have to start all over again.’

Fortunately, this is a problem we can do something about. Thanks in part to the 7.2-metre polytunnel currently lying in parts not 300 yards away on the other side of the river. It's nearer 330 yards.

Daniel the builder

There is someone else who's trying to help us with our bureaucratic problem. His name is Daniel. He speaks perfect English. And he's a builder.

Can he fix it? We hope he can.

We first met Daniel a few weeks ago. He looked at our planning application and said we should have had an answer within two months - if not, we could go ahead with the next stage of permissions (news to us). He went away to make some discreet enquiries. Free of charge.

A few days later, Planning sent us their "Non" response.

On Friday morning, we showed him the "Non". He said we had until the end of the month to challenge it at a tribunal (news to us). Not to worry. He would get, complete and submit the necessary papers. Free of charge. This would keep the ball rolling and buy us time to see the new mayor who starts work after Easter.

He did say it could take a year to get everything sorted out.


When I said we'd be destitute long before then, he said the very earliest it could possibly happen would be the end of June, or perhaps July. With a fair wind and the new mayor behind us.

When did you last hear of a builder who revises his estimates downwards?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

If it's not one thing, it's another

So I stapled the barbed wire round the bottom of the veggie-bed fence (and learned that turning the electric fence off while working nearby might be a good idea).

Then the pig ark roof blew off. (I said the weather had gone a bit English.) Which meant I had to go and buy a rivet gun and some Very Long Screws. It wasn't much fun - I've never used a rivet gun before and it didn't have any instructions.

Then the local tree place phoned up to say our ten Blue Spruce had arrived and could we come and pick them up as soon as possible (it's a long-term project that should pay for Christmases in about five years). Clare's up there right now in the drizzle, digging holes for them.

Then the local garden place phoned up and said the polytunnel's arrived. Which means we need to get hold of a friend with a digger to level that corner of a field that will be forever under plastic.

Then a friend phoned up and said the new mayor's been elected - not the candidate half the people we know know, but a woman about whom no one knows anything. Which means we have to put the MASSIVE DOSSIER together NOW, have it translated into French by a friend of a friend, and go and have a Very Important Meeting with her.

But yesterday, I did finally put the stock fencing round the veggie bed above the barbed wire. Very nearly. After 100 yards (metres), I ran out of wire just two metres (yards) short of the final gate post. Which means I still have to finish that before I start building the chicken house.

Monday, 10 March 2008

How to test an electric fence

There are only four ways to test an electric fence worth mentioning:

1) Use an electric fence tester. Available from any good electrical fence retailer, for around 12 of your Earth euros. (Pain level: Slight, and confined to the wallet.)

2) Use a long blade of grass. Squat down and rest one hand on the ground and touch the electric fence with the blade of grass. (Pain level: A bit of a shock, even with the fence turned down low.)

3) Use someone else. (Pain level: Like watching something written by Ricky Gervais.)

4) Use your knee. Wearing wellies, gently touch your knee against the fence - turned up to maximum - and earth yourself through the middle finger of your left hand, with a fencing staple brushing against a roll of barbed wire. (Pain level: Hilarious.)

No prizes for guessing which method I used this morning.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

I've nearly caused a fence

Here's why all my recent posts have been fence posts.

(And haven't the pigs done a lovely job?)

On Monday, I'm going to get wired.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Fencing: It's Cheaper than the Gym

The veggie bed is around (or more accurately, a rectangle) 40 metres by ten. To fence it against wild boar (and domestic pigs) it needs 1.5-metre posts embedding 40 cm into the ground every two metres, supporting barbed wire and stock fencing.

Or so we hope.

After all the tools I needed on the rock-hardened gate post last Thursday, it was liberating to walk across the field on Friday with just a sledgehammer, 1.5-metre crowbar, spirit level and tape measure.

For a few days - come rain, hail and sunshine (yes, the weather's gone a bit English), and accompanied by the confused but always chipper pigs - I diligently made holes for the posts by hitting the crowbar with the sledgehammer. Then, yesterday, a few centimetres below the surface, on the final stretch of the fence, I heard the solidly familiar clunk of crowbar meeting MASSIVE SLAB OF LIMESTONE. A few more delicate THWACKS with the sledgehammer and the end of my crowbar sort of... shattered.

Which left me with little choice but to adopt the drop and wiggle technique I'd already told you about. (If only I read these posts occasionally.) Once again, I found it highly effective. And effort less.

I smiled. Like the gentlemen in the previous post, I, too, had a secret weapon: A two-metre crowbar, brand new and unused, waiting to be taken back to the shop. When I bought it a few months ago, it was almost too heavy to lift.

Not so, today.

The rock still takes a while to get through - and some of my posts are only 30 cm into the ground - but when you find a piece of ground without rock (and there was one), it's a joy. You can put up a post in minutes.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

There's more than one way to fence

I've been fencing again today. But you don't want to hear about that. You want to watch the excellent fencing scene from THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Oh, I never told you. I was so tired yesterday, I discovered the easy way to dig a straining post hole:
1) Remove the turf with a fork.
2) Drop your pointed crowbar into the four corners of the hole and wiggle (the crowbar, not you).
3) Remove the spoil with a gloved hand.
4) Repeat steps 2 and 3 until required depth is reached.

Obviously this only works when there isn't a huge slab of rock in the way.