The Beanpod Podcast – Episode 1

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Another one of the things I love doing is podcasting, and I’m happy to introduce my newest endeavor – The Beanpod. For a few years a friend and I were making a podcast called Gozaimasu!, but that fizzled out a few months back. Since then, I’ve been working my way towards this solo effort. I’m describing it as  a podcast about ‘living, working, raising kids, and gardening in Japan.’ If you’re a podcast person, please have a listen. You can find it on Facebook under The Beanpod Podcast and (shortly) on iTunes under The Beanpod. You can also stream it HERE. I’ll shamelessly implore you to ‘like,’ ‘follow,’ ‘subscribe,’ and all that other jazz. New episodes will be released every week, so if you have any questions/comments/things you want me to talk about, please get in touch. Enjoy!

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There’s been a lot this lately…

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After some tantalizingly spring-like weather last week, it’s been nothing but snow and freezing rain. A few years ago I came up with the term ‘fecal equinox’ to describe this, the shittiest time of the year. Spring is close, we get glimpses of it now and then, but then winter swoops back in. There are signs of change, though. It’s light when I get up at 6 in the morning these days, and still not quite dark at 6 in the evening, which is great for moral.

In the garden, flowers are on their way.

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Buds abound on most trees and shrubs.

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And with all the rain and snow, the pond is perpetually full. I hope that as my canopy matures it will create enough shade to keep the water from disappearing as fast during the summer, although I’m surely losing a lot as it seeps into the ground. I never did get around to lining the pond (either naturally or otherwise), but I’ve got a theory that as more leaves and other detritus settle on the bottom it will create a natural seal that prevents water from leaking into the ground. Wishful thinking?

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My chicken coop is just about finished. I used some leftover netting to make a screen door that will allow me to open up the coop when the weather is warm, improving light and ventilation. Excuse the small child.

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I used scraps to build a ramp in the run, and also went to the beach and found a suitable piece of driftwood to serve as a roost. Still need to make a cover for that utility box so it doesn’t get covered in chicken poop.

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Speaking of chickens, I’ll take delivery of the babies on April 28, which is very exciting. I ended up going back and ordering 1 Silkie chick since I couldn’t get the cute little buggers out of might head. So the total number of chickens will be 5 — 1 silkie, 2 Boris Brown, and 2 Okazaki Ouhan.

Another thing I’ve been experimenting with is the Bokashi bucket. If you aren’t familiar with these, they are a good way to compost your kitchen scraps in a short time. They work by fermentation, which is triggered by microbes that are also beneficial to your soil when you eventually bury this mess in your garden. And you will definitely want to bury it, because it fuxxing stinks!

Each time you add scraps to the bucket, you sprinkle a layer of ‘bokashi mix’ which has been inoculated with the microbes. You can find lots of recipes for making your own bokashi mix online, but it’s also available at home centers here for a couple hundred yen. The stuff I use seems to be made of mashed corn and some other grains, but I haven’t actually read the ingredients.

Once your bucket is full, you let it sit for about 2 weeks. It will develop a layer of white mold on top, and when you crack the top it doesn’t actually smell that bad. My buckets (I’m using 2 at a time — filling one while the other ferments) have a spigot on the bottom that allows you to drain the liquid that accumulates at the bottom. The liquid is terribly, gag reflex-triggering smelly.

After a few weeks, you’re free to dispatch the contents into the garden. I was surprised that the scraps aren’t really decomposed at all, just a bit slimier and smellier. But apparently the microbes are hard at work, an that’s the important thing. I highly suggest burying the contents of your bucket, or at least covering them with a layer of soil or rice husks to knock down the smell. Even if you can tolerate the aroma, if you have neighbors close by the lingering smell will surely offend them. Foul!

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Back to gardening… During our warmer weather I did manage to get some baby trees in the ground — a few varieties of acacia around the perimeter, between some fruit trees. Since they are evergreen, they will eventually provide privacy, and their nitrogen fixing will benefit the fruit trees. I also planted a few black currant, gooseberries, and another fig, as well as another acacia to replace the one that tipped over a few months back. It’s a different variety that has less-dense foliage than the previous acacia, so it will allow more sunlight to reach the ground. I’ve got a soft spot for acacia trees.

Once this crap weather system finally gets out of town, I’ve also got linden, bay laurel, loquat, and cinnamon saplings to plant, courtesy of Ken Elwood. By all means check out his blog for all sorts of forest gardening information. I also picked up an olive tree today that I’ll probably put by the pond.

That’ll likely do it for major plantings this spring. Time to find some projects that I can do for free!

Chicken Coop Run Construction

I’ve been contending with the elements for the past week or so cobbling together the small run to go along with the chicken coop. It turned out smaller than I had envisioned – a combination of my both my imagination and my measurements being slightly off. But it will give the chickens a little room to safely stretch their legs when they aren’t perusing my garden. The roof will provide shade from the hot sun, which I was concerned about since the coop will sit in the sun all day during in the summer.

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The roof has gone a little wonky after our recent snow, but it’ll suffice. I included two doors that open outwards to let the chickens in and out and make access easier for cleaning. I was able to use 2×4 scraps from building the coop to enclose the bottom half of the run, which was easy on the wallet and also consumed a large chunk of the scraps that I had stacked on my porch.

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I waffled back and forth about whether or not to enclose the area under the coop. Mostly I was concerned about the cost of getting metal mesh (hardware cloth) since I’ve already spent more than I had planned on this thing. But after seeing how small the run turned out I was leaning more towards biting the bullet and doing it so the chickens would have more space. When I found a reasonably-priced roll of plastic mesh that was more than big enough to accommodate the run and the underside of the coop, I decided to go for it.

The plastic mesh is a roll of the dice in terms of safety – a determined animal may be able to gnaw through it. But my zoo-keeper neighbor who lives closer to the woods than me has been using it successfully on his duck enclosure and recommended it. It’s pretty heavy-duty, so hopefully any animals who find their way to my chickens will find it to be more trouble than it’s worth.

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I also considered making some sort of of hinged door that would allow me to open the bottom section up for easier cleaning, but it was more trouble than I was willing to deal with at this point. I might regret it later when I’m hunched over inside the run jabbing a rake under the coop to clean poop…

Another safety feature I skimped on (!) was how to prevent animals from burrowing into the run from outside. All the info I’ve read talks about burying hardware cloth a foot deep around the outside of the coop/run. An alternative I found is this corrugated plastic that is usually used around rice paddies (I think that’s where I’ve seen it most). It comes in 20 meter rolls that are almost a foot wide and only costs about 900 yen. I don’t see any animal being able to claw it’s way through it.

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The back of the coop nearly butts up against the retaining wall, offering almost no space for any critters to get in. Just to be safe, I slide some stone pavers that I had lying around under the bottom of the coop and run.

For the record, nailing in this mesh was a total pain in the ass. I was on a tarp under the coop with about 2 feet of space, rolling around trying to get sufficient angles to hit the nails. Finding the right nails was also an adventure as I kept buying ones that were too small and would bend when hit with the hammer. I used u-shaped nails (Google poultry staples) and can say that the 32 mm ones stand up under a proper hammer blow.

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The good new is that I have enough left-over netting to make a removable screen for the coop when I figure out a good design. But I’m going to let this thing sit for a while. I’ve spent a lot of mental and physical energy on it over the last few weeks and I’m ready for a break. At least that’s what I say now, tired and with more snow in the forecast over the next week.

There are still a few odds and ends to take care of – closing up a few spots that might be vulnerable to predators, building a ramp for inside the run, tweaking the doors on the run so they open and close more smoothly, among other things.

If you see any glaring issues or have any other suggestions, I’m all ears.

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Chicken Coop Construction

If it wasn’t apparent in my last post, I was seriously chomping at the bit to build my chicken coop. Anticipating a break in the wintery weather over the weekend, I scooped up the materials last week and spent the last few days building the coop of my dreams. Hopefully the chickens will enjoy it as much as my children have so far.

Here’s the finished product.

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This thing weighs a ton but I have nightmares about a gust of wind tossing it onto the sidewalk below. Once I get some protective screen attached I’ll nudge it into its final position closer to the wall and secure it with some stakes.

I based this design on a free set of plans by Purina Mills, which are easy to find online, tweaking the size and shape a bit to fit my situation. There a few things I like about this design. First is the external nesting box that will make it easy to gather eggs and also doesn’t eat up the limited floor space of the coop itself. I also like the fact that it’s on legs, giving the chickens a shaded area to hang out in the summer sun and hopefully making it harder for mice and other critters to get into the coop.

Open nesting box.

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The front of the coop as two doors that open outwards to allow for easy cleaning and feeding. I need to work on my hinge-hanging technique…the doors don’t close as flush as I like, but they’ll work.

I’m happy that was able to resurrect the Acacia tree that fell down a few weeks back and use the trunk to make a roost inside the coop.

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On the other side, where I’ll build a small run, there’s an access door. I had a spare pulley, so I hooked that up as a way to open the door without having to get actually get into the run.

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But my shoddy hinge hanging struck again, and this door also doesn’t close as snug as I’d like. This won’t be a problem when it’s warm, but I wanted a way to secure it during exceptionally cold or stormy weather. I used some of my ubiquitous scrap wood to make some simple stoppers that do the trick.

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For ventilation, the top couple of centimeters of each wall are left open. The roof overhangs enough to keep the weather out (hopefully). The original plans called for gaps on the front and back, but given the coops south-facing location and lack of shade, I thought more ventilation couldn’t hurt.

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I’d also like to make a removable screen that would allow me to leave the front doors open during the summer days to help air out the coop, but I’ll work that out later.

The other exciting news is that I ordered the chickens. I changed my mind at the last minute and ditched the idea of getting Silkies for the time being. In the end, I went with 2 Okazaki Ouhans (hybrid meat/egg layers) and 2 Boris Browns, which are mega layers. I was worried about a drastic falloff in egg production from the Boris Browns after the first year or two, but after a reassuring comment from Jo (thanks Jo!) and talking with the person in charge of chicken sales at the home center, I decided to give them a try. I’ll take delivery of the chicks some time in April and have tasked my boys with naming them.

Back soon with a ‘Chicken Coop Run’ post I hope.

Prelude to Chickens

I’ve been busying myself this winter with preparing to finally get chickens in the spring. I’ve wanted chickens for a while, but have been focused on establishing my garden  and navigating a detente with my wife over the issue of poultry. The garden will be entering its third year this spring, and my wife seems to have accepted the fruitlessness of her opposition, so full speed ahead!

I know nothing about raising chickens, so to that end I’ve been reading ‘Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.’ This book has been helpful in describing all manner of chicken keeping, from different breeds, coop construction, common chicken ailments, chicken biology, right down to how to slaughter and butcher your chickens.

I’ve also found some helpful info online, particularly at the Backyard Chicken Forum and also the creatively-named Chicken Forum. Like any forum populated by people who are overly enthusiastic about a particular subject, you can find great over analysis of pretty much anything related to chickens, which is helpful to someone like me who is just getting into chickens and probably over thinking every aspect of the process.

One area I’ve had trouble with is finding info in either English or Japanese about chickens in Japan. The problem is that the readily-available, most popular breeds here (the ones I can order from my local home center) don’t seem to be present in America or other English-speaking countries, so it’s hard to learn much about them. Even searching in Japanese, the fact that chickens aren’t as popular here for regular people means that there isn’t a ravenous online community providing information a la the Backyard Chicken folks.

But I have been able to glean some info here and there, and my neighbor actually started keeping chickens last year, so talking to her helped shed some light on a few of the breeds I was considering.

I’ll be placing my order next month, and the chicks will be ready in April. I’ve more or less decided on what to order, which will be 3 of a breed called Okazaki Ouhan. These are a hybrid in two ways — they are bred for both meat and eggs, and they are also a cross between Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock chickens — two popular breeds in the States. From what I’ve gathered, these chickens will produce a good amount of eggs for 2 or 3 years before they start slowing down, at which point I can eat them or put up with their declining production. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I also want to get 2 Silkie chickens, called Ukokkei in Japanese. These don’t lay as well as other breeds, and their eggs are smaller, but I’ve grown enchanted after researching since they are supposed to have great personalities. I’m viewing these animals as family pets in addition to their utilitarian function, so something about having a chickens I can connect with is appealing.

The other thing I’ve been obsessing over is the design of my chicken coop. I’ll get into that in another post, but the first order of business was to decide where to put it. I had long considered putting it here:

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It’s a sheltered part of the yard, and putting a chicken coop there would also serve to obscure a portion of my neighbors hideous concrete retaining wall. But I realized the design I was thinking of would be a tight fit, and seeing that that area tends to get pretty wet when it rains, I decided on the other side of the house.

This strip of land is about 6 feet wide, and I’ve been hesitant to plant anything there since there are a bunch of water and drainage pipes running about a foot under the surface that tree and shrub roots interfere with (not sure if it’s a legitimate concern or not). So I had settled on raised beds…until the chicken coop came along. One major advantage of this spot is that one whole side is 6 feet off the ground, so I know the neighborhood fox won’t be getting in that way, at least.

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The way the fence ends so abruptly at this point is something that bugs me. Originally there was a length of fence running directly to the house, which I had built to pen in my young children and keep them from plunging face first onto the sidewalk below. I removed that section a while ago once the kids got better motor control/common sense, and it’s been eating me up inside ever since!

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I decided to spell my enthusiasm about building the chicken coop by adding a low section of fence to add at least a little more aesthetic continuity. It has no chicken-related function whatsoever, but once the chicken coup is in place the fence will look even better!

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Relocating the small raised bed was simple; the large one will remain.

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Ahem…couldn’t get my CAD software working, so Paint it was for a simple rendition of the future coop. I’ll also build an attached run so the chickens have somewhere to mingle when they aren’t working in the garden.

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Street view!

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I’ll be on vacation in a few days, and all I want to do is build a chicken coop. Stay tuned.