DIY Raised Bed Garden/Chicken Coop Combo

Gardening season is upon us!  And honestly, after we finished building the house this past October I was so exhausted and just done that I planned on waiting until 2019 to do any big homestead, farmy projects like acquiring animals or gardening.  We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps {Proverbs 16:9}, and the good Lord pulled me out of my post-construction slumber of swearing off projects a few weeks ago and within days I had planned, sketched, and scaled a garden, ordered a dozen baby chicks, planned their coop, and got Big John’s approval for all of the above.

I am a total gardening and chicken and farm and animal and anything outdoorsy rookie. I’ve lived in rural MO my whole life so I have friends who do this stuff, but I’m brand new.  This farm used to be a fully functioning self-sustaining homestead with gardens, an orchard, livestock, SIX HUNDRED chickens, and so much more.  Although times have changed and much of that is gone, the place is still set up perfectly for the homestead life, complete with the original outhouse.

Originally, we had talked about planting a big row garden, but I saw some plans on Pinterest for a raised bed/chicken coop/run combo and knew it was the perfect place to start, and we had the perfect spot and building just a few steps off of the back porch!

IMG_3530

The old wood shed was then being used to house both trash and treasures from years past.  It needed to be sorted through anyway, so a perfect coop for our small flock I believed it would make, and began sketching.  I’m a big believing in getting your thoughts and ideas out on paper and then taking a ruler to them and scaling down to the inch.  This planning step would be especially essential for those planning a garden or coop with limited space.  I mean, I’ve seen plans for complete self-sustainability on a quarter of an acre.  There are actually quite a few on Pinterest!

This is the original sketch.  I’ve made several changes since drawing this, such as changing the bed dimensions from 3’x11′ to 4’x10″ for two reasons – it’s more economical to use these even numbers if you’re purchasing lumber because you won’t have any waste, and because the wider bed will allow for more spacing in-between crops, and because it was actually my husband who pointed all of this out and he is the practical one and I love him for it.

It’s advisable not to go any wider than 4′ when building a raised bed, with the standard being a 4’x4′ square, because reaching over the sides into the middle will be tough if you do.  And to this I can attest now that I’ve panted several of our 4′ wide beds.  If they were any wider I would have to be trampling the bed to reach the middle.  And I even have long armz.

IMG_3561.JPG

I’ve also changed pretty much every crop location in part because we have since tilled a gigantic row garden in addition to this raised bed area for a Three Sisters summer garden followed by a fall pumpkin patch.  So I won’t be planting any corn, melons, or pole beans in the raised beds, they’ll all go in the Three Sisters.  Blog post on that to come soon!  Also, once you get to planting you may change your mind on crop location and thats ok.

JUST MAKE SURE YOU READ ON COMPANION PLANTING!!  There are a lot of charts on Pinterest but Mother Earth News has the most in depth list.  Certain plants will help each other and some will hurt each other.  Location is key and you can maximize your space and yield by taking some time to read on this topic. (Says the rookie gardener who, come harvest time, may or may not have anything to show for all of this perusing 😉

Ok back to the garden plan!  Click here for the inspiration to this layout and coop/garden combo.  If I link one more thing from Pinterest just butter my biscuit and call me Gary.  Jk.  Pinterest is lyfe.

The KEY COMPONENT TO THIS PLAN YES I AM YELLING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I JUST FINISHED MY COFFEE is the perimeter Chunnel system which will keep your chickenz from totally destroying your garden during planting and growing season.

What’s a Chunnel you say? Click here! This can be made out of chicken wire or any flexible fencing.  You can run the system around the entire perimeter of your garden or just construct a small tunnel/chicken tractor that can be moved to different sections of the garden.  This lets the chickens do their best work of keeping slugs/bugs/and garden foes out while protecting your precious produce.  Jill at the Prairie Homestead has a really good post that will tell you why chickens will be your BEST helper in the garden.  You should probably follow her on IG too.

And as far as the rest of the year after harvest and before the next spring planting, you can let the girls go wild in the garden cleaning up from year to year and preparing your soil by scratching, pecking, and pooping, no chunnels necessary.

IMG_3651 2.JPG

You’ll want some kind of barrier or fence.  There are a lot of options here, but we chose to go cheap and use what we had by cutting down cedars for fence posts.  We will run 2″ poultry wire in-between these which will help keep the chicks in when we don’t want them free ranging and help keep rabbits, deer, and other critters out.  We are doing a 4′ tall fence because we aren’t really too concerned if they fly over it since we have lots of space.  But if you have neighbors close or really don’t want your chickens flying out, a 6′ or 8′ fence will be your best option.  And choosing a fence with a flimsy top (like poultry wire or netting) is preferable because the birds won’t be able to perch on the top and will be less likely to fly over it.

IMG_3621

A family affair.  Our kids love having jobs and feeling like an important part of the farm. And let me tell you, its not just show!  These little people are genuinely helpers.  Many hands make light work, even little ones.  Plus, it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. {Lamentations 3:27}

img_0606.jpg

We went with 2″x6″ pine boards.  Untreated cedar is the best option if you plan on using wood to build your beds, which is the cheapest route.  Pine boards will cost you under $50 per bed.  However, this is just a starting place for us and I’d like to eventually put in some galvanized beds once we get a few years under our belt and have a better idea what this will look like long term.  As far as depth, 6″ to 12″ is acceptable.  If you have really poor soil underneath, go with a taller bed so you can build a better soil.  We chose 6″ and are hoping for the best.  We shall see.

Big John had to rip the boards down at an angle since our yard slopes downhill slightly.  We used wood stakes to anchor them in place right on top of the existing grass.

Now, you can definitely dig up the grass and start there.  Or you can be an underachiever and just lay down a thick layer of cardboard or newspaper to choke out grass and weeds, which is what I did.  This method is best done several months before planting so the cardboard has time to break down.  However, I didn’t have several months, so I just soaked the cardboard with water after laying it and immediately before laying the next layer and hoped for the best.  I do a lot of that – hoping for the best.

IMG_8299

After the cardboard, you’ll want a brown layer like straw or dried leaves.  Just enough to cover the cardboard.  I did a little bit of each from bed to bed.  And then you’ll add your compost layer.  This can be from a kitchen scrap compost pile, purchased at a nursery, or like we did – nice, aged cow manure.  Chicken manure is actually the greatest.  But our girls aren’t pooping enough to fill a garden yet.  I’ll be using their old poo as fertilizer this summer fo sho tho.

About 3″ will do.  And then we added an inch or two of dirt from our trusty dirt pile.

IMG_3444

And then topped them off with more cow manure compost.  Which should not look or smell like poop, but be aged enough to just look like really dark, rich dirt.

IMG_3291
Final compost layer above on right half, ready to be planted

Now in the organic world, mulching is standard.  It protects the soil like clothing protects our skin.  Naked dirt just doesn’t fare as well.  “Mulch” is really any kind of covering.  It can be dried leaves, fine wood chips, straw, or like you see here – pine needles.  Which I raked up from under the big pine in our front pasture.  Its highly beneficial to use organic materials from your own property if available.  Both in the cost and efficiency departments.  You’ll want a substantial amount of mulch, 3″ to 6″ is preferable.  You can mulch before or after you plant.  I mulched after.  This bed pictured above had already been planted with potatoes.

More on planting and care coming soon.

One last note.  Your project doesn’t need to be perfect and pretty from the get go.  Notice the large pile of garbage in front of the shed which needs the shingles torn off and replaced.  You can get started now and use what you have and work in stages.  And even now you still have plenty of time to get a garden in this year!  Let it be a process.  A slow, quiet, time alone with God and nature process in which you can be dirty and dressed in old clothes and still feel beautiful because of what you’re working on process.

Even now at the time of writing this post we still have two beds to build because we’ve been alternating working on garden and coop and keeping kids alive and my husband doing a side job for a friend on top of his regular job and me running an online business and keeping a house and having enough time to read my novels and carry on pointless conversations with my sister about buck teeth miniature horses and super essential things like that.

IMG_1831

And you even have time to add chickens this year! I mean, look at them!  They’re so easy!

IMG_4010

You’ll find that the process is so satisfying and enjoyable in and of itself if you’re craving more time outdoors or have a desire to know where your food comes from, and the result of a Pinterest perfect garden won’t matter as much.

One of my most favorite verses of all times has been the banner over this gardening project and I hope you find the same joys venturing into the world of food growing as I have, whether you start small or big or in the middle.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

1 Thessalonians 4:11

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s