Adding an upper back door to the cat house

As mentioned on recent Caturday posts, we’ve had a few incursions by raccoons and even skunks inside the feral cat house. While there haven’t been any cats home at the time, with them hanging out more in cold weather, I worry it’s only a matter of time.

My concern was that the front and back doors of the cat house were on the lower level, so if a cat was on the upper level when a raccoon came in, they’d be trapped, and would have to get past it to escape. Not ideal.

To solve this concern, I purchased another cat door like the existing ones to install on the upper level. I did that installation yesterday.

Here’s a photo of inside the cat house beforehand, after sliding open the front wall, that serves as maintenance access:

Inside the cat house

(If I were to build the cat house again, I would do a simpler design, with a swinging door on the side, instead of sliding the whole front wall, awning and all.)

Here is the back of the cat house; the new door will be above the existing one:

Back of cat house

I started installation by cutting a small hole through the wall with my jigsaw, to check the positioning. The wall has five layers: batten boards, plywood, insulation, more plywood, and carpeting:

Back of cat house

The small hole from inside:

Inside the cat house

I then incrementally enlarged the hole to the right size. Here’s a cam shot of me peeking through the larger hole:

Inside the cat house

Me mounting the inner frame of the door:

Inside the cat house

The completed inside frame (I planned to trim the loose flap of carpet on the ceiling, but forgot; no biggie):

Inside the cat house

(Another thing I’d skip if redesigning the cat house is the vents, which I keep permanently covered; I had thought I’d open them in summer, but the cats prefer a cozy house even in the heat of summer.)

The back view of the inner frame, before adding the outer one. The battens were removed with a hammer and chisel, and the hole cut with a jigsaw:

Back of cat house

The outer frame and flap installed. I could touch up the paint to make it tidier, but probably won’t bother, since it’s sheltered under the eaves, and hidden behind shrubs:

Back of cat house

A view from further back, of both back doors:

Back of cat house

The new door is intended only as an emergency exit, so there isn’t a platform to jump onto; they can easily jump from that height to the ground.

To let them know that it’s a door, I temporarily propped it open with a bit of wood; I’ll remove that after a couple of days:

Back of cat house

Porcini was of course the first one to check out the new door:

Inside the cat house

Peeking out:

Inside the cat house

It didn’t faze them; the feral cats are cautious, but quickly adapt to changes:

Inside the cat house

Summary: building the duck house

I just added a project summary of designing and building the duck house. It is permanently available in my project pages, but here is a copy as a blog post too.

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A project to build a house and feeder for ducklings and ducks on our pond. For weekly posts on the ducks themselves, check out the ducks category of the blog, and/or the weekly Flock Friday blog posts, that cover the ducks, chickens, and wild birds.

This is a summary of the plans, design, construction, and installation of the duck house, with links to the individual blog posts about it.

January 2019

We have a nice large pond at the homestead, and enjoyed the occasional visit by migrating wild ducks. In January 2019 we decided we wanted permanent residents, and ordered four ducklings for delivery in May. So, it was time to get started designing a house for them. Here’s where it would be situated:

February 2019

My custom design for a duck house:

Starting construction, one of the first steps was to cut the floor and wall panels:

Lots of progress on assembling the walls and roof:

March 2019

A bunch of tweaks and trim work:

Building the doors, including the innovative four-part maintenance door:

Adding battens:

April 2019

Starting to paint the duck house:

Adding door hardware:

Roofing:

The house includes LED and heat lamp lighting and other electrical features, including Wi-Fi:

I added vinyl tiles to help waterproof it:

May 2019

With the construction complete, I next hand-excavated the location next to the pond:

Installing the floor joists:

Installation:

Some preparation for ducklings (and chicks):

Introduction of the first ducklings to the duck house:

June 2019

I also introduced a new weekly series on the blog, Flock Friday (that’s a baby Bert on the left):

(Check out the ducks category, or in ascending order, or the weekly Flock Friday blog posts, for more pictures of ducklings.)

July 2019

An addition to the duck house was covered in one of the Flock Friday posts: adding the feeder tube:

When the first ducklings were getting old enough to go in the pond, I made and installed a ramp for them:

That’s it for now. This page will be updated with any future enhancements to the duck house.

Berry cage bird netting

Yesterday I added some bird netting to the veggie garden berry cage fences.

When I built the berry cage, I used a fairly narrow gauge welded wire for the fencing, to keep birds out, without excluding bees, but it turned out that some birds could still squeeze through.

So, I added an additional layer of lightweight bird netting to prevent that.  The roof doesn’t have the bird netting, on the theory that they won’t be able to go in that way as easily as horizontal access. Time will tell if I’m wrong about that too!

Berry cage

Berry cage netting

Berry cage

Berry cage netting

Building a three-bin turning compost system

Over the weekend I built a three-bin composting system.

Unlike my usual projects, this time I (mostly) followed someone else’s design, specifically one I found from the University of Missouri Extension.

The idea of the three-bin system is that you add compostable materials to one bin, then when that’s full you transfer the material to the next bin, then later to the third bin. Each time it is transferred, it gets turned over, and each successive bin has hotter microbial activity, breaking down the material more and more.

We already had a three-bin system with plastic bins, but they were overflowing, and not used properly, being harder to access:

Old compost bins

So I wanted to build new larger bins, using a design that is easier to access.

To start, I made four frames out of treated wood (check out the design above for dimensions and such if you want to build this yourself):

Frames

Then added hardware cloth on the frames:

Hardware cloth on frames

The frames were arranged and connected by a couple of 9’ treated boards; these will be on the bottom:

Connected

A similar connector on the top:

Connected

Hardware cloth on the back:

Hardware cloth on back

Runners on the front:

Front runners

Creating a pair of slots for each bin:

Front runners

Which are filled with slats; these can be easily removed to access the compost:

Slats

Lid frame (different than their design):

Lid frame

Hardware cloth on the lids:

Hardware cloth on lids

Once complete, I transported it from the workshop on a hand cart:

Transporting

Roughly placed near the old bins:

In area

In position; I decided to keep the old compost bins for extra capacity, since there’s plenty of space:

In place

I shoveled the overflow from in front of the old bins into the center bin (since it is already partially composted). I’ll add new material in the right-hand new bin (being closer to the chicken coop):

Slats

New and old:

New and old

Compost:

Compost

Bert enjoyed investigating where the overflow pile was:

Duck

I added hinges (I didn’t add them in the shop to leave the lids off to reduce the transport weight):

Hinges

Done:

Done

Again, I can’t take any credit for this design, but I think these will work very well, and give us plenty of room for composting.

Chicken coop shelf and chicken run fence repair

Yesterday I did some smaller homestead projects, including building a shelf above the door in the new chicken coop, and repairing a gate pole of the old chicken run.

Since getting supplies for the ducklings in early May, the storage area of the new chicken coop has been a bit crowded:

Crowded storage area

The coop has a fairly high ceiling, so I decided to utilize that vertical room by adding a shelf in the empty space above the door:

Space above door in coop

The shelf is simply a bit of OSB, cut to fit the space (25×48″), with notches to fit around the studs, supported on the existing 2x4s of the walls on two sides, with a new one across the front:

Shelf

Here’s a view from outside, showing the underside of the shelf, a block to support the new support 2×4 on the left, and another block on the right (that one isn’t needed for support, but attaches the support to the wall). You can also see a similar existing shelf at the back of the coop:

Shelf

A fun glimpse of the chandelier in the coop:

Shelf

A view of the shelf from inside:

Shelf

The shelf is now a “hay loft” — actually straw storage (fun fact: straw and hay are different: straw is a waste product of grain crops like wheat, used for bedding and mulch, whereas hay is feed for horses and cattle):

Straw on shelf

Straw is messy stuff; I got a bunch in my beard (this was after brushing off some):

Straw on David

Next up, I did a repair of the old chicken run. Once upon a time, I used to hook Rory’s leash on the pole next to the run gate while I went into the coops to collect eggs. Well, one day she saw something exciting (probably a rabbit) and pulled on it, snapping the post off at the ground (it was probably weakened from rotting anyway). So for several months it has been propped up by a couple of concrete blocks. (I now have a metal post in the ground to hitch her leach to during rounds.)

Yesterday I finally got around to repairing it. I considered replacing the post, but it used to be embedded in a big chunk of concrete, which I couldn’t be bothered digging out:

Concrete and broken post

So as a slightly hacky solution I attached some recycled boards at the top and bottom between the post and the coop, which that fence should have had anyway. Here the bottom one is attached, and the top one is resting on the top of the post and being held by clamps on the coop end:

Attaching boards

A view from inside the run:

Inside

Both boards attached:

Attached boards

This isn’t an ideal repair, but it’s sturdy enough.

Preparing the duck house for ducklings

As a fun birthday activity yesterday, I spent the afternoon cleaning out the duck house and setting it up for ducklings, plus building a ramp for their swimming pool. Read on for more on that.

Firstly, a shot from the duck house camera of before cleaning it out:

Duck house before cleaning out

Here’s the duck house with open doors, while I was cleaning it out (and a cameo of Bert on the island):

Duck house with open doors

Empty duck house; I also removed the inner floor, a second floor layer that I made on the theory that it’d make it easier to clean out, by pulling it out like a drawer. But I never did that, since that’d freak out the ducklings, and stuff would fall down the back anyway, and it was easy enough to clean out without that:

Empty duck house

Me sitting in the duck house, adding hooks to arrange wires:

David in the duck house

I repaired and re-added the feeder tube, a new Brinsea EcoGlow brooder, a new heat lamp, duckling feeder, and shelf liner for grippy flooring (for the first couple of weeks):

Outfitted duck house

The Brinsea EcoGlow is a heating plate on adjustable-height legs that ducklings can go under like a mother duck, giving them intimate warmth. I put it in one of the nesting boxes, to further that impression:

Brinsea EcoGlow

I also added a new ceramic heat lamp; unlike previous ones I’ve used, this doesn’t emit any light, and should last much longer, while using less power:

Heat lamp

I added the temporary barriers to close the vents above the maintenance door, to help retain more warmth:

Closed vents

Next, I went to the workshop and made a ramp to make it easier for the ducklings to get into the paint tray I use as a swimming pool. Here are some routed sides for the ramp:

Ramp sides

And some rough routing of traction grooves:

Ramp traction

The completed ramp, next to the tray:

Ramp

Underside of the ramp; it hooks onto the handle of the tray:

Underside of ramp

Ramp:

Ramp

The ramp and tray in the duck house. I will remove it before adding the ducklings, as they won’t be ready to use it until about the third week, and only for brief supervised swims initially, but good to have it ready now:

Ramp in duck house

The duck house is now almost ready for the new ducklings, arriving in just over a week. The last steps are to fill the food and water dispensers, remove the tray and ramp, and turn the heat back on (I tested them for a few hours today):

Duck house

I also changed the LED light strip to red, as seen in this cam shot; red is a more soothing color for ducklings (and chicks):

Red light in duck house

Stay tuned for lots of pictures of ducklings in just over a week!

Greenhouse plumbing

Over the weekend I did some garden plumbing, installing piping and taps for the greenhouse.

The first step was to dig to find the existing pipe that I knew went in front of the greenhouse. Here it is, a foot or so underground:

Hole to expose pipe

I then hand-dug a trench from that pipe into the greenhouse, below the sink:

Trench

Another angle of the trench, the greenhouse, and the tools; mattock to get through the layer of gravel and break up the dirt, shovel for large areas, and cleanout shovel for narrow bits:

Trench and tools

Then I cut the pipe:

Cut pipe

I installed new piping, with a couple of dead-end caped bits as points for possible future expansion (something I like to do to make things easier for future me, though I don’t have any use-case in mind for these):

Installed pipe

A closer view of the new pipe connected to the old one, plus a non-glued cap on the old pipe. That pipe extends about 50 feet beyond this point, but there are no more taps, so there’s no need to connect it (it’s a legacy from before we bought the place). If I want to use it in the future, I can re-dig it and connect to that expansion point:

Pipe connection and cap

Another view of the greenhouse end of the pipe:

Pipe

The pipe enters the greenhouse under the wall, with a valve near the ground (which will only be closed for repairs):

Valve inside greenhouse

The sink has a hose for the drain, so I added a second pipe to receive that drain hose:

Drain pipe

Here’s the drain pipe (the pink pool is to provide water for bees to drink). I curved the pipe so it’d end in the gravel area, not in the grass:

Drain pipe

Buried pipes, with the end of the drain protruding:

Buried pipes

In order to mount brackets for the pipes inside the greenhouse, I needed to add some blocks. So I stained them:

Staining blocks

One of the blocks attached below the sink:

Attached block

Assembling pipe bits for below the sink:

Pipe bits

Pipe bits

Here’s that installed:

Pipe bits installed

One of those forks leads to a tap for a hose:

Tap

Here’s the hose on the reel; this can be used for ad hoc watering anywhere in the greenhouse:

Hose

The drain pipe attached to the water pipe:

Drain

The other fork of the pipe goes first to a sink tap:

Sink tap

Then continues along under the sink:

Pipe under sink

And up to a third tap for irrigation:

Irrigation tap

Attached to that tap is an Orbit B-hyve smart irrigation timer and a four-way splitter:

Irrigation timer and splitter

One of those splitter taps goes to a second splitter on the other side:

Second splitter

Here you can see both sides, and the hose connecting them:

Irrigation

The irrigation emitters will be attached to those splitters, three for each, for the three lower shelves on the back and side.

Here you can see all three of the taps: hose below the sink, sink tap, and irrigation tap:

All three taps

Next weekend (work permitting): the last step of this project, the irrigation tubing and emitters.

Home Depot delivery for greenhouse, compost, bee shed projects

This past week I received a delivery from Home Depot of materials for the greenhouse plumbing project, the compost bins project, and the bee shed project.

In normal times, Home Depot delivery is great for materials that are too large for our truck. In these pandemic times, delivery has the extra benefit of not having to go to the store.

Since there’s a fixed $79 delivery charge for any amount of materials, I tend to bundle up multiple projects into one big order, to make the most of it.

I’ll discuss those projects in future posts, but briefly, the greenhouse plumbing is adding taps and irrigation in the greenhouse (currently underway); the compost one is building new compost bins, since our current ones are small and overflowing; the bee shed is enclosing an old potting shelter near the beehives to store beekeeping equipment.

Here’s the delivery truck; as usual, we’re the last order on the delivery route:

Truck

The longest boards in the bundle are 16 feet long, so the driver had to lift it high to get above the veggie garden fence to deliver into our hoop house; skillfully done:

Lifted high

The delivery items:

Delivery items

Delivery items

A closer look; pipes for the greenhouse (and lots spare); wood and corrugated steel and clear plastic for the bee shed; other wood for the compost bins:

Delivery items

On the end, a box of smaller bits — roofing screws, PVC adhesive, door hardware, corrugated gap fillers, etc.

Delivery items

On the other end, irrigation tubing and parts:

Delivery items

Stay tuned for more on these projects in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Building greenhouse shelving: finished

Yesterday I did the finishing touches on the greenhouse shelving: installing the sink and a second coat of stain.  (See the first, second, and third posts, if you missed them.)

But first, I screwed a couple of small blocks to secure the potting bench to the foundation, both so it can’t tip, and because it’ll eventually have water pipes mounted to it:

Block to secure potting bench

Then I installed the sink:

Sink

It is supported by boards underneath:

Under sink

I also added a hose reel to the side of the potting bench; later I’ll add a tap under the sink for it (and others above). This hose will be for ad-hoc watering of anything in the greenhouse:

Hose reel

The potting bench had hooks on the side, which I removed when mounting the sink, so I put them on the right of the right-hand shelves; perhaps useful for tools:

Hooks

A view of the back of the sink, above the louver vent, from outside:

Outside by sink

Another shot from outside, showing the back of the shelves:

Back

The completed shelves with a second coat of stain:

Shelves with second coat of stain

A wide-angle shot of the shelves:

Shelves

Another view of the shelves and sink:

Shelves and sink

This morning I went out there and put some trays on the shelves, as a demo of usage:

Trays on shelves

Potting bench and sink

Trays on shelves

Right shelves

A wide-angle of the inside of the whole greenhouse:

Whole greenhouse

This concludes this construction project. Hopefully Jenn will get good use out of these shelves, significantly increasing the growing capacity within the greenhouse.

A separate but related project will be to install plumbing: connecting a pipe from the nearby underground pipe, routing it to a tap under the hose reel, another tap for the sink, and a third tap on the back shelves for irrigation. Hooked onto that I’ll have a water timer and splitter, with irrigation tubing going to each shelf, and mister emitters as needed to irrigate the seedling trays. That’ll be a project for another day.