Preparing Your Coop for Baby Chicks

Spring has sprung in the Tetons, and all the farm mamas are having their babies!

Backyard chicken farmers are ramping up, too, with new baby chicks—in all sorts of breeds—finding their way to their forever homes. For a backyard farmer, there’s nothing quite like the day the chicks arrive. Their little fluffy bodies, their awkward waddle, and their miniature peeps pull on your heartstrings from day one. These adorable babies will someday become great producers as they grow from chicks to pullets, and then eventually to laying hens.

Preparing your hens for their fruitful adulthood takes some preparation, some TLC, and—for the first time farmer—a great deal of time spent surfing best practices on the internet. We’re here help by lining you out on what you’ll need for the first few months of chicken rearing.

Setting Up the Brooder

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just pick up your baby chicks and pop them into an outdoor coop?  Well, here in the mountains, this simply isn’t the case. The chilly spring temperatures in most North American locales prevent most chicken farmers from starting their chicks in an outdoor coop (or even in the garage, for that matter). Instead, you must set up a brooder to simulate the warmth of a mother hen.

Any large, sturdy container will suffice as a brooder box. Some people use large Rubbermaid bins, others construct their own from scrap lumber with a chicken wire top. We’ve found that one of the easiest housings to use is a large wire dog crate. Inside your brooder, you’ll need: 1.) Bedding or a floor lined with old towels, 2.) A heat lamp or another heat source, 3.) A chick feeder, and 4.) A chick waterer (available at most feed stores).

Set up your brooder in an area that maintains a steady temperature of 50° F or warmer. Safely hang the heat lamp from the wire crate making sure that it’s off to one side (so that chicks can escape the heat) and far away from anything that could start a fire. Secure it tightly. Try to maintain a temperature of 90 ° F in the brooder for the first week of life, and then decrease it 5° F each week. Purchase chick starter feed and electrolytes and probiotics from your feed store and place the food and water away from the heat source.

Hint: Instead of purchasing chicken electrolytes and probiotics, we like to make our own by dissolving 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar with the mother, and 1 tablespoon raw honey into 1 quart of water. Store this in the fridge and fill the waterer, as needed.

Preparing the Coop

While the chicks are in the brooder, spend your time dialing in their coop. Our coops come equipped with proper ventilation (screened windows), a locking door (to predator-proof), a hatch door (to access their run), a roosting pole, and nesting boxes (for laying eggs).

You’ll need to outfit the coop with a full-size waterer and feeder which are available in both plastic and aluminum versions. If you are considering adding natural probiotics to your chickens’ water, like apple cider vinegar, choose a plastic waterer, as vinegar will corrode a metal one.

During the spring at high altitudes, you may need to provide supplemental heat until your chickens reach full size. You can use the heat lamp from your brooder for this purpose. Make sure to safely wire your lamp by running an electrical cord from the house to the coop, and then designing a sturdy bracket from which to hang the light. Heat lamps are a major cause of coop fires, so securing it safely, and with a backup, is recommended.

Lastly, purchase pine shavings to fill your nesting boxes, then sprinkle 1 to 2 inches on the floor. This gives your chickens something to scratch at and also adds in the cleaning process, helping to decompose the chicken waste. Once dirty, scoop out the old shavings and freshen them up.

Constructing the Run

Constructing a chicken run is one of the most time-consuming setup projects. Still, a sturdy and predator-proof run will protect your chickens for years. In some areas of the country, chicken farmers can get away with roofless runs. But not in the Tetons! Here, we need a fenced run, complete with a roof, to protect the chickens from both ground mammals and birds of prey.

You can make your chicken run from galvanized metal fencing and notched metal fence posts (available at most hardware stores). If you’re crafty, you can also build a run out of wood framing and chicken wire. Whatever you choose, make sure that your run is fastened securely to your coop and preferably dug into the ground. We suggest burying 4 to 6 inches of wire fencing so that predators cannot dig underneath it.

Moving Your Pullets

It’s a good idea to introduce your chicks to the outdoors by placing them in the run when they are big enough and have grown their feathers. Choose a sunny day to move them outside and make sure to supervise them as they forage and play. Do this a few times prior to making the big move.

In about 6 weeks (depending on the weather), your pullets will be ready to move into their mountain coop. If the temperatures are still cold at night, supplement the heat for a few more weeks. Around eight weeks of age, you will also want to change your chicks from a starter feed to a grower feed. Then, in about 18 weeks, your first egg will arrive and you’ll switch them, once again, to their final grower feed.

Enjoy your bounty of fresh eggs!

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How to Get Our Structures Approved by Your HOA

Many homeowners in mountain towns long for the self-sufficiency of a greenhouse or need the extra storage space of a shed. However, those who reside within subdivisions may find themselves up against the somewhat stringent rules of their HOA (Home Owners’ Association). Covenants are put into place to maintain a certain aesthetic in an area where people are living in close proximity to each other. This means, occasionally, covenants may discourage outbuildings, other than those included in your original home plans.

We’ve run into this with a few homeowners and have a great deal of expertise working within HOA rules.

Below are some suggested steps you can take to make one of our structures meet your covenant’s by-laws:

Step 1: Before deciding on a structure, obtain a copy of your subdivision’s covenants or by-laws. Note any stipulations for outbuildings, greenhouses, or if you’re looking to raise chickens, livestock regulations.

Step 2: If outbuildings are allowed, we can help you gather the information you need to present your idea to your subdivision board. Take into account the need of the structure, as well as the general hardiness of our outbuildings. HOA boards will be more accommodating if you explain the need for a greenhouse in our high-altitude environment. It’s also great to explain how Growhuts differ from kit greenhouses, as they are constructed to withstand snow loads and harsh mountain weather.

Step 3: Present your plans to your HOA board. Make sure you note the size of the outbuilding you want to purchase, the location on your property, and its use.

Step 4: Mindfully discuss your future purchase with your closest neighbors. Be cognizant of their placement suggestions, while at the same time, making sure that you are following any subdivision setback policies and view impingement details.

Step 5: If you’re having trouble getting your HOA to pass a stand-alone greenhouse, we can discuss custom options that can be added to your home. Sometimes, approaching a greenhouse as an addition to your home will honor the regulations of your HOA. We are happy to provide detailed building plans, complete with measurements and specs.

Remember, we are here to help you work with your HOA. If at any point in the process you run into snags, we can come up with a workaround (in most cases). Let us customize your structure so that it suits your needs and appeases your neighbors, as well.

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The Lowdown on Victory Gardens

Growing a victory garden in an expression of support for the recent pandemic efforts is gaining popularity. However, you may be wondering, What, exactly, is a victory garden?

Victory gardens started during World War I when European agricultural workers were recruited by the military and farms were transformed into battlefields. Suddenly, the United States was granted the task of feeding millions of people worldwide, most specifically their overseas allies. A National War Garden Commission was created to encourage Americans to plant gardens, or “sow the seeds of victory,” from which they could harvest and store produce for exportation. By the end of the first World War, the bounty the war gardens provided was so plentiful that the efforts soon became known as “victory gardens.”

Victory gardens again cropped up around World War II to supplement the war’s resulting food crisis and as a way to boost morale and enhance patriotism, while also taking the stress off of domestic commercial farmers.

Currently, almost all Americans have been instructed by their state governments to stay at home amidst the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. The resulting idle time has created a reemergence of using victory gardens as an offering of hope for a better tomorrow. Similar to our wartime patriots, people nationwide are finding joy in the act of sowing seeds with their children and loved ones. The plants that result from these seeds represent the opportunity to start anew, once the current crisis recedes.

For many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, sowing seeds outside is not yet possible, as the threat of frost is still imminent. However, you can start your victory garden indoors (or inside one of our nifty Growhuts greenhouses) right now. Get the kids involved and talk to your teachers about using your garden as a homeschool science lesson. Students can record what they sow, measure the progress of their growing plants, and then transplant their starts when the weather warms up. Older children can also research the concept of victory gardens and write an essay outlining their efforts.

Starting a garden indoors, or in a greenhouse, is simple. First, purchase potting soil and seeds from your local hardware. (They’re still open!) Salad greens like arugula and kale are good picks, as they are cold-hardy and can be harvested as tender microgreens. Throw in root vegetables like carrots, beets, and turnips to mimic the gardens of wartime growers. You can even give slow-to-mature vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, a good head start by planting them early and indoors.

Local garden stores may sit idle for a few more weeks, making supplies limited, but you can improvise by using Dixie cups or old egg cartons to sow your seeds. Keep the soil moist and warm (cover your planted seeds with plastic wrap) and place your plantings in a sunny window or inside your greenhouse. In a few weeks, sprouts will emerge. Wait until your sprouts grow into small plants (about 4- to 6-inches tall), and then harden them off by placing them outside daily for a week or two during the warmest part of the day (make sure to bring them back inside at night).  Once hardened, plants can then be transplanted directly into an outdoor garden bed.

That’s the lowdown on the victory garden hype.

It’s a pretty great idea to get excited about as we experience and contribute to a tremendous shift in the human psyche. Planting a garden with your family offers a way to transform feelings of isolation and fear into a productive celebration—one that will last throughout the summer season. Also, victory gardens help raise our vibration by connecting us with the vital practices of our forefathers.

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Welcome to Our New Website

Welcome to our new Growhuts website!

Welcome to our new Growhuts website!

Since acquiring the Growhuts business three years ago, we’ve been booming! More and more mountainites are adopting a self-sufficient way of life, making our outbuildings a hot commodity and supporting our family-owned business. For this, we thank you.

This spring, Duane and Nathan have been working non-stop in the shop to keep up with the demand, while Kristin handles the phone lines, making sure our clients’ needs are precisely met. We’ve taken this time away from life’s usual hustle-bustle (in lieu of the national pandemic) to teach Nathan the trade of crafting custom greenhouses. He loves helping his dad build products that enhance our customer’s backyards—it’s one of his favorite parts about our new schedule.

We’ve also used this downtime (well okay, it’s not really downtime) to create our new website in hopes to serve you better. Our site includes Camrin Dengel’s beautiful photos of our products, at-your-fingertips specifications and pricing, and an updated lifestyle blog to help you better connect with our products, should you be thinking of purchasing a greenhouse or shed.

Make sure to sign up for our newsletters and blog posts. We’ll be sharing seasonal ideas and tips for making the most of your Growhuts outbuilding—be it a greenhouse, a shed, or a chicken coop.

Sign up now! And thanks for your continued support.

Duane, Kristin, and Nathan

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Growing Herbs as Companions

Skilled gardeners use a special technique called companion planting to maximize the health and yield of their vegetable garden. Planting certain plants side by side helps ward off pests and disease, keeps the soil moist, and, in some instances, saves space in your garden (a plus for those growing in a greenhouse). While some popular companion gardens, like the Three Sisters Garden, use vegetable plants as companions, herb plants also make great pairs. In fact, the beneficial properties of herbs complete the garden ecosystem, allowing all the plants to synergistically thrive.

Here are some of our favorite companion herbs for growing both indoors and out:

Basil

Basil is a remarkable greenhouse herb. While this plant can be finicky at high altitudes, planting it in a greenhouse next to tomatoes allows both plants to thrive. Basil’s scent attracts insects like butterflies who help pollinate the tomato flowers, aiding in the production of more fruit. Basil’s distinctive scent repels harmful aphids, hornworms, and whiteflies. Growing basil and tomatoes together also enhances the flavor of each crop and the bounty can be harvested simultaneously for the perfect Italian pairing. (Margherita pizza, anyone?)

Keep basil away from rue and sage, as basil loves moist soil and the others need it fairly dry.

Parsley

Not only is parsley simple to grow, but, like basil, it attracts beneficial insects to your garden. Parsley’s flowers appeal to hoverflies, a larva that eats aphids and other harmful insects. The plant pairs well with asparagus, onions, tomatoes, and roses (of which it’s said to enhance the flowers’ fragrance). It’s also a biennial herb, so let it flower and go to seed, and then enjoy a two-year harvest.

Avoid planting parsley next to mint. Mint’s renegade growth will overtake this herb’s biennial pattern.

Dill

The fragrant feathery dill plant grows well alongside anything in the cabbage family, as it hinders the dreaded cabbage worm from invading your crop. Plant it alongside flowering plants, too, as the beautiful yellow blooms attract pollinators of all types. However, you may want to do so with caution, as dill’s flowers may compete for pollination with the flowers of tomatoes and cucumbers. Still, if you choose to plant them side by side with these veggies, simply trim the dill when it flowers and let your tomatoes take center stage.

Avoid planting dill next to corn, asparagus, or lettuce, as it attracts predatory insects.

Chives

Chives’ bulbous and edible flowers are a delight to any vegetable or herb garden, and, similar to other herbs, they attract pollinators too. When chives are planted near carrots and beets that have been allowed to bloom, the flowers confuse each other’s flying pests, thus protecting them both from the invaders. Chives planted next to roses prevent black spots, and a tea made from chives can be sprinkled on growing cucumbers to combat the infamous fluffy mildew. Chives also enhance both the growth and the flavor of carrots and—get this—strawberries, when planted alongside these plants.

Don’t plant chives next to beans and peas, however, as they can deter the growth of these vining treasures.

Rosemary

The mother of all companion herbs, rosemary requires little fussing and grows well in dry soil. Rosemary’s aromatics repel the bean beetle, cabbage fly, cabbage moth, and carrot fly. This plant helps beans, broccoli, cabbage, and hot peppers flourish, too. The best companion for rosemary, however, is broccoli, as the herb wards off broccolis’ offenders, while at the same time, broccoli enriches the soil around the herb.

Rosemary is one of the only herbs that does not get along with other herbs, with sage being the only exception.

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