Chicken Coop Grant

We applied for a grant to build a Chicken Zone at our garden.  We want to put together a Chicken Zone that has 6 worm composting bins that the chickens can root through.  Here’s the plan as we sent it to the grant people:

Our Farm

Patchwork Farms is a collection of gardens on Chicago’s west side run by Molly Medhurst and Catherine Williams. Our largest garden is a 2/3-acre plot in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The farm’s harvest is distributed through a 20-share Community Supported Agriculture program and is sold regularly to two neighborhood restaurants and a nearby grocery co-op. This summer we will be adding 30 laying hens to our operation as a way to better feed our communities and better round out our farm fertility and sustainability programs. The hens will be mostly a mix of Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons.

Our Project

The biggest challenge we face as urban farmers is protecting ourselves, our animals, our plants and ultimately our customers from the lead in our soil. Since the chickens cannot ingest any of the soil outside of the vegetable garden, our chickens will not be able to roam freely and find outlets for their natural urges to peck, forage and sand bathe; therefore, we will be carefully constructing a coop and surrounding “Chicken Zone” that will give them the space and tools to live out these urges. Despite these challenges the city does provide our farm with a waste stream which will supply our Chicken Zone with the products it needs to sustain itself, from restaurant and grocery compost to wood chips and other commercial byproducts.

Our Chicken Zone will:

  1. Protect our chickens and their eggs from the contamination in our soil.
  2. Give the chickens the space and resources to act out their natural urges
  3. Divert large amounts of organic matter, wood chips, burlap sacks, and other things from our neighborhood’s waste stream
  4. Produce large amounts of fertile compost to feed our garden soil

Our Plan

We plan to construct a chicken pen that is a 36’ by 36’ fenced-in square. Growing up the outside of the two fence walls that are most visible from the street will be vines—some of which the chickens will eat, and some that will serve to enhance the appearance of the coop. These walls will protect the chickens from both animal and human predators; provide a place to forage; and attract bugs to their area. Inside the fence we are going to first cover the ground with burlap sacks that we reuse from a neighborhood coffee roaster. Then we are going to cover the sacks with 6”-12” of wood chips that we receive for free from nearby tree trimming companies. These will be our primary barriers against the contaminated soil. Since we are going to be forcing a separation between the chickens and the soil, worms, grubs, and foliage; we are going to be building an array of 6 worm composting bins that we will fill with food from nearby, mostly organic, restaurants and grocery stores. Each of these bins will be 6′ wide, 12′ deep and 3′ high. They will be sealed from rodents, and will have one door which we can open or close. We will allow the chickens to root through each bin at a rate that allows the worms to maintain a healthy population. Since we will be supplying the worms with so much food scraps, they will be able to propagate quickly. Because the wood chip/burlap barrier will also block the chickens from bathing in the dirt and finding rocks for their gizzard, we will also build a sandbox and provide the chickens with gravel.

Inside the pen, we will be constructing a coop with 6 raised nesting boxes, plenty of perches, and a brooding box with 2 heating lamps. This coop will be extremely insulated to keep the chickens warm through the winter. The coop will also have a pitched roof from which we will be collecting clean rain water. The roof will extend beyond the coop on one side and will provide a shady outdoor spot for the chickens.

Completing the Circle

In order to protect our vegetables against the existing contaminated soil we laid down a thick barrier and built growing beds with 500 cubic yards of compost and soil. This artificial situation makes it difficult to build soil fertility without adding 140 cubic yards of compost every year. The Chicken Zone should generate 96 cubic yards of compost a year (more than two thirds of our needs) and also provide a healthy, happy habitat for thirty beautiful birds. With your help in funding this project, we can turn what is now being treated as trash into a food source for chickens, who will feed both our neighbors and the soil that nourishes our plants.

Help Us Move The Farm

Hey Everybody!

We’re going to be shovelling one of our gardens into the back of a truck and driving it over to our other garden this weekend.  WE WOULD LOVE HELP!!!  We’re going to be meeting at the garden on the Northeast corner of St Louis and Franklin Blvd at 8a on both Saturday and Sunday morning.   We’ll be at it for most of the day.  If it rains a lot on Friday, we’ll postpone it until Sunday to let the soil dry out.

If you facebook, check out our event:!/events/327934337268976/?notif_t=plan_user_joined

Bring any shovels, wheel barrows, friends, and snacks!

Hoop House ReBuilt

This week we moved our hoop house from the St Louis Ave garden and rebuilt on our Chicago Ave garden.  The house is 33′ long, 22′ wide and about 7′ high in the middle.  We are using this hoop house to start all of our hot weather crops (i.e. peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, tomatillos, husk cherries).  We also used it to start our cabbages and brussels sprouts because we are going to plant them in the dirt that still needs to be moved over from the St Louis garden.  On a normal year we would also  be starting our Kale, Chard, lettuce, and a whole bunch else in the hoop house because it would be too snowy and cold to grow them outside; but since the weather has been so crazy warm this year we decided to try direct seeding them and covering each growing bed instead.  It is so warm this year, that our volunteer tomatoes (tomatoes growing from the seeds left in the dirt from last year) are growing already!

Here’s how we built our hoop house:

Our hoop house is constructed out of 22, 10′ long, 1-1/4″ PVC Conduit pipes.  We put two together and bent them into 11 arcs.  Each pipe has one male and one female end, so 2 slide together easily to form a 20′ pipe.   The arcs are secured to the ground using rebar and smaller diameter PVC conduit. 

We began by finding a site that was big enough plus 4 feet on either side and 6′ on either end (72′ X 20′).  Then we banged one 3′ long, 3/4″ nale into the ground leaving 8″ above ground where one of the corners of the hoop house was going to be.  Then we used the principals of a 5-12-13 right triangle to make a right angle–one edge of which would be the front face of the hoop house, and the other would be a side.  Then we banged 9, 2′ pieces of 1/2″ rebar into the ground, leaving 8″ above ground, every 3′ along the side line.  At the end, we banged in another long nail.  Then we used the same right triangle trick to string a line parallel from the side, 12′ away.  We then banged nails in at the corners, and rebar in every 3′ along the line.  When banging the rebar into the ground, we were careful to make them angle slightly in towards the center of the hoophouse–this will help us bend the arcs.

Then we slid 8″ long, 3/4″ PVC conduit sleeves over each nail and rebar  (we actually slid these sleeves over while we were banging them into the ground so that we’d know when to stop).  Next, we slid on 4″ or 6″ long, 1-1/4″ PVC  conduit spacers over those sleeves.  We alternated the spacers so that they would be 4″, 6″, 4″, etc.   The 3/4″ sleeves help hold the arches in place.  The 1-1/4″ sleeves are used as spacers to raise the whole house up a bit so that it is easier to move through.  We used the longer spacers when the end of the arch was female, because 2″ of the spacer would slide into the end of the pipe.   Since the spacers were alternating, so were the male and female ends. 

After our rebar was banged into the ground, and the sleeves and spacers were slid over we slid the female of one 20′ pipe over the sleeve and over the 6″ spacer.  Then we carefully bent the 20′ pipe into an arc and slid the male end over the sleeve and on top of the spacer on the opposite rebar.

After we had all 11 arcs put up, we strung a thick (1/2″ish) nylon rope along the spine of the arcs and zip tied them to the place where the two pipes connect in the middle.  Each zip tie wraps around the male end and sits right up against the opening on the female end.  This rope is used to help hold the arcs vertical to the ground.  First we used a 2′ earth anchor (which is probably overkill) to connect one end of the rope to the ground.  Then, I stood at the side of the hoop house and held the arc vertical while my friend Ian got on his tippy toes, poked the ziptie through the rope, and wrapped the zip tie around the pipe so that the pipe would stand vertical.  While doing this we were careful to not pull tightly on the rope, because that would begin to slowly pull all of the arcs off of vertical.  Once we had secured all of the arcs, we secured the other end of the rope to the ground using another earth anchor.

The next step was to pull the plastic over the arcs.  We got lucky and had a windless day to do this.  We pulled one side of the plastic over so that the it was centered over the hoops.  We could tell where center was by the creases where the plastic was folded for shipping.  There were many feet of extra plastic along each side of the hoop house, and a bunch extra on the ends as well Once it was over we quickly covered the 4 edges of the plastic with bricks to keep it from blowing away.

To hold the plastic down for good, we began by cutting one 10′ long 1″ PVC conduit pipe in half.  Then we used each half, plus 3 more 10′ long pieces to make 2, 35′ pipes.  We took the bricks of one side edge of the plastic and gorilla taped it to one of the pipes.   The we rolled the plastic up with the pipe until the roll came taut against the plastic hoops of the house.  Then, using fence hardware, we secured the pipe to a 2′ earth anchor that we screwed into the ground at both corners.  Next we repeated this on the other edge.  Then we dumped wheelbarrow loads of woodchips along the edge, one load per space between pipes, to make sure those pipes weren’t going anywhere.  We also secured the pipes to earth anchors at two points along the middle of the run.  We had our plastic blow off in a big storm last year, so we made sure that wouldn’t happen again!

For the faces, we cut the plastic along the face up the middle.  Then we used gorilla tape to secure the plastic from ripping beyond where we wanted by taping the end of the cut on both the inside and outside.  Then we wrapped the two flaps of plastic around 8′ pipes, and secured them to the ground at each end with earth anchors, fence hardware and carabiners.  Just to be careful, we also lay bricks along the openings at night.

I’m pretty happy with how this design worked out.  It was pretty cheap to build, it is sturdy, and it opens/closes easily.   Here are some pictures.  Some of them are from last year, and some are from this year.  I kinda got tired of describing the process, so if you want more detailed information, let us know.


New Interns

Hi friends,

After receiving a lot of wonderful emails, we found 2 great interns to work with us this season. This is exciting because Katie and I are stretched to the gills during the peak growing season and we really need the extra help. I want to thank everyone who emailed us. It is nice to know that there are so many people interested in urban farming in Chicago. I really think that there is a bright future ahead for small farms in the city.

Thank you again to everyone who expressed interest. We hope to see you around on our volunteer days and our exciting events coming up this summer.


Planting Already!

I got 3 beds ready to seed at the Chicago Ave Garden today.  Tomorrow I am going to cover them in short, bed-sized green houses, called low tunnels, to warm up the soil for a few days.  Then, on Friday I’m going to sow our first seeds!!!!

A New Westside Farm?

We got a call today from a nice lady who is trying to start another farm in our neighborhood.  I hope that they are successful.  When we started this, Molly and I were both very excited to be a part of patchwork of food growers in the area.  We have always hoped that as we figured out how to be successful farmers in Chicago, we could help other people do the same.

So, if you or anyone you know are thinking about starting a farm, and have questions about what we did, please feel free to call or email us!

We’re Looking for an Intern (or two)!

Hey You!  Tell your friends!  Patchwork Farms is looking for an intern or two!!!!

We would love to find either an intern or two to work a four-hour shift on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  We will not be able to pay the intern with money, but we will give the intern(s) a full CSA share worth of food. 

During the internship, you will work alongside one of the two farmers everyday.  You will help grow vegetables from seed to harvest–working in our greenhouse, in all of our westside gardens, and with our customers.    You will learn about growing plants in an urban setting, running a business, as well as preserving the harvest for the Winter.

Be ready for hard, physical work in every season and weather situation.  Also, be prepared to work on Chicago’s westside with its diverse population of people.

If you are interested, please send an email telling us about yourself, and what you hope to get out of the internship to:

Growing a whole diet

I spent the last weekend starting to clear an acre of land on the property our friends Mike and Clare recently bought in Harvard, Il.  I’m clearing the land so that we can plant a field of dry beans, grains, potatoes, and in the Fall garlic.  We chose to grow these crops in Harvard because while they grow, these plants are lower maintenance than many of our other crops (they will require less watering, less weeding, and no successive plantings), and they are crops that are harvested all at one time rather than repeatedly throughout the year.  I am planning on working for Clare and Mike on their farm two days a week, and for Patchwork Farms 4 days a week.  During the hours while I’m in Harvard, but not working with Clare, I will maintain our land.

We also chose to grow these crops in Harvard because they are experiments for us.  Neither of us have much experience growing grains or beans, so we didn’t want to devote any of our more expensive urban growing area to those crops.  We are putting the potatoes out there, too, because they round out our crop rotation nicely.  We really want to figure out how to grow grains and beans, because we want to see if we can grow our entire diet ourselves.   That’s another reason why we’re excited to be raising bees.  My roommates tapped Maple trees in Ukrainian Village last winter, and I was excited to help them this year.  Unfortunately, the mildness of this winter may have made maple syruping impossible this year, so it will be nice to raise some of our own honey to sweeten up our pantries. 

We are also hoping to find a place to raise laying chickens and ducks in the city this year.  We are thinking we might raise the flocks cooperatively–wherein people would pay to buy their own bird and pay for the year’s upkeep, and we would raise them as a flock and deliver everyone their eggs once a week.   We’ll be sure to post on the website if we decide to try a program like this. 

Also, if not this year, then next year I would love to try to raise some small game for eating (Molly is a vegetarian, and won’t be part of this endeavor).  I’m thinking about raising some rabbits, chickens, and or ducks.  I also want to get some Nigerian Dwarf Goats for milk. 

Oh how fun it is to daydream during the winter!

Seeds Ordered!

Since I got back from Texas in Mid-January, Molly and I have been flipping through and gushing over delicious looking seed catalogs–imagining what we want our gardens to produce this year.  We surveyed our CSA, and asked them what they wanted us to grow this year.  We also looked at all the beautiful vegetable pictures and read all of the glowing descriptions in the catalogs and decided to grow some new and exciting things!

This year we’ll  be growing these new fun things:

Atomic Red Carrots
Broccoli Raab
Cutting Celery
new, beautiful, little Eggplants
a number of different greens for the Spring and Fall
Rainbow Lacinato Kale (whatever will that be like?!)
Larger Storage Onions
Dry Beans
new Tomato Varieties
Red Turnips
Poblano Peppers
new, exciting (I promise) Winter Squashes
new Gourd varieties
Jack O Lantern Pumpkins

I’m most excited about expanding with Potatoes, Grains, and Beans.  I hope that we’ll be able to grow the majority of our whole year’s diet for ourselves and our roommates this year!

I’m also super excited about the PUMPKIN PATCH we will be planting in our Chicago Ave garden!!!!!!  We’re going to have Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkins, Gourds, and Loofah growing in the area around our vegetables beds!  It is going to be soooo fun to open it up on Sundays in the Fall for people to come pick out their pumpkins from a patch in their own urban neighborhood!!!!  I think it is going to be so great!

Once we finish up our seeding spreadsheet, if I can figure out how to, I’ll upload it onto this site.  That way people can look through it and see all the varieties we’re growing, when we are planning on planting things, and the way we plan and organize our gardens on paper. 

Here are some pictures of the pumpkins and gourds we are going to be growing this year:

Gourd, Warted Mixture   Gourd, Dinosaur   Gourd, Ten Commandments   Wooly Bear


Back in the Garden

I spent a half day working in the garden today, and it was great to be back digging at my own farm.  The soil is mostly thawed and I was able to build up more of the beds from the compost we generated in our walkways last season.  I filled some walkways with the last of our woodchips, and then another free load of woodchips from A-1 Tree Service.  I hope to spread those tomorrow before I leave for Minneapolis (to dance in an ice shanty).  Sai from A-1 has been really nice to us, dropping of loads of free woodchips whenever he’s in the area.  He also said he might be able to get us some logs to grow some mushrooms on.

I had been feeling overwhelmed and grumpy for the last few days, and a good day of digging and wheelbarrowing really helped me feel good about this upcoming season, and organize my thoughts and plans in a positive way.  Molly and I have been meeting twice a week to solidify our plans for the new season, and it is all very exciting!  Along with a wide variety of vegetables, this year we will be expanding with grains, dry beans, potatoes, mushrooms, eggs, and honey!  I’m really excited to be growing more types of food, and to be growing over a much longer season (our spring CSA will start May 1st this year).