Tag Archives: design

Photo tour of my DIY chicken coop

Pics of my chicken coop in case useful to others who are building their own. It has a sunflower theme because I used an old mural for the exterior.

Sunflower-themed chicken coop built from scrap lumber

The primary feature is a large, south-facing window on the front that provides solar gain during the winter, but hinged to provide ventilation, too. Opening is covered with heavy wire (to exclude raccoons) and screening (to exclude mosquitoes).

Chicken coop window for ventilation

Additional ventilation is provided by a hinged panel at the top. This will be open even during the winter unless temperatures get shockingly low. Opening is covered with hardware cloth and mosquito screening.

Chicken coop ventilation panel

I’ve opted for a platform at the pop door so the chickens can more gracefully go in and out. They really like to just rest on the platform.

Chicken coop pop door

Pop door is opened and closed by an Add-A-Motor controlled with a Wemo smart plug. The Wemo needs to be configured with two separate routines; one to open, and one to close (like this). Here’s a video of the door opening in the morning, followed by a video of chickens using it. The motor is a tad loud but that’s useful in alerting the chickens.

Nesting boxes are accessible on the outside of the coop so that I don’t need to disturb the flock to do an egg check. Lid can be hooked to chain above if there are a lot of eggs to collect. The hinged side is protected from rain with a rubber gasket made out of an old bicycle tire. Lid and nesting boxes are all insulated so that frozen eggs are less of a concern.

Nesting box on exterior of chicken coop

Here’s the view inside the coop. The chickens get to the nesting boxes and perch via a ramp with cleats spaced every 3″. Then there’s a short hop (or optional ramp trip) to the perch. Underneath the perch is a droppings pit that gets filled with granulated clinoptilolite (“PDZ”) to absorb ammonia. Floor of coop is covered in pine shavings. Wood is left unpainted mainly because I’m lazy, but also because if I went with the traditional white it would always look dirty. I did, however, treat the perch with linseed oil, then sprayed it with permethrin (to kill mites).

Layout of walk-in chicken coop

This photograph shows the small ramp that comes up from the nesting box landing. It’s likely unnecessary but the chickens do use it, so it will stay. It’s screwed down but can be easily repositioned if needed.

Ramps inside DIY chicken coop

Next is a close-up of the nesting boxes, positioned below the level of the perch so that they don’t hang out. I have an old pillowcase (see above video) that tacks onto the boards to give them privacy in the nests.

Nesting boxes inside chicken coop

Underneath the ramp is a wood box filled with moss, sand, and dried mint. The chickens will likely never use this but it was fun to provide. It’s large enough for four chickens at once, I think.

Dust bath inside chicken coop

Lighting inside the coop is provided by smartphone-controlled LEDs (Philips hue shape light). Lights come on automatically (but slowly, over 30 minutes) in the morning for several hours, then again in the evening to provide 15-hour days. I’ve set mine to red to minimize aggression among hens and to increase egg production (per research). Red lighting is also less polluting for humans due to our reduced reliance on that part of the spectrum.

The LEDs are a tad bright so I’ve nested the strip inside a piece of white molding attached to the wall at 45°. The resulting illumination is bounced off the ceiling.

LED strip light inside chicken coop

To spy on my chickens I’ve installed a Wyze (v2) video camera equipped with a 64Gb microSD card. Here’s a still showing birds on perch. I have a second cam trained lower level so that I can monitor the pop door and the water status.

Wyze camera inside chicken coop

To monitor the temperature and humidity in the coop I’ve added a SensorPush, configured to send me phone alerts if temperature gets too low or too high. I can also set humidity alarms. I purchased the SensorPush G1 Gateway, too, so that I could access the data even when I’m away from home (normal version is Bluetooth-only). Overkill, surely, but fun.

SensorPush temperature/humidity probe on north wall of chicken coop

I was worried about condensation (from moist air hitting a cold ceiling) so I added reflective bubble insulation. The walls are filled with fiberglass insulation so I don’t think the winter will be a problem, especially in Philadelphia and especially given global warming. Plus the chicken breeds I currently have (Golden Laced Wyandotte, Blue Easter Egger) are large and cold-tolerant. With my current setup I could likely raise Silkies.

Reflective bubble insulation on ceiling of chicken coop

The insulation seems to work. During the December 15-17 nor’easter (pic below), outside temperature fell to 24 °F; inside dipped to only 31.8 °F. It’s not just the insulation, of course — the chickens generate heat (10 W each, I think), plus the thermal gain during the day is retained in the pure mass of the structure (wood, nails, screws, etc.). If I felt the cold would be a problem I’d also attach plastic film to the window.

For all the lights and gadgets, power is delivered via an extension cord fitted with a GFCI splitter. I decided on getting one of these after a near-death experience with a faulty router.

GFCI power supply for chicken coop

The coop is situated inside my former berry garden that featured chicken wire to protect fruit from birds and squirrels. To convert it for chickens I added a layer of 2×3″ fencing to all surfaces, plus buried hardware cloth along the perimeter. I also added approximately 15″ of hardware cloth on the lower part of the structure to prevent raccoons from reaching in and grabbing a chicken, which apparently they like to do. Something could, conceivably, tunnel into the coop from several feet away, avoiding the buried screening, so I still patrol it daily in case a hole has been started. Small birds (wrens) still come in to steal food, though, and if I’d had to build a run from scratch I would have opted for 100% hardware cloth.

Chicken run covered with wire

Construction photographs

Tips for building a chicken coop

  1. Tour local chicken coops for inspiration before you do anything else. You can’t do this online … pinning hundreds of ideas to your Pinterest boards simply poisons the brain and you really need to see actual coops and talk to actual chicken people who, surprise, know things.
  2. Join or create a local Facebook or Nextdoor group that traffics in free things. I got window, door, and almost all the lumber free. People have things sitting around and you really just need to ask. There’s absolutely no reason why chickens will care if things don’t match or are broken in some way.
  3. Start collecting materials months in advance so you can plan your coop before you start building. E.g., don’t finalize your framing plans until you know the dimensions of your windows and doors.
  4. If you can find a cheap or free shed, do it. Moving a shed and converting it to a chicken coop is infinitely easier and cheaper than building your own. I enjoyed building mine from scratch but it took a long time given I didn’t know what I was doing.
  5. Equip the inside with removable ramps and perches so that you can fix your building mistakes. Similarly, opt for screws instead of nails. Then you can watch the chickens on a security camera for a week or so and then reconfigure items. I.e., perhaps your ramp needs more cleats — easier to just pull it out and take it to the shop for that mod.
  6. Finish your coop before ordering chickens. It’s going to take longer to build than you think.

Templates for better posters

There’s been a frenzy of discussion on Twitter this summer about conference poster design (see #betterposter, #betterposters, #butterposter) so perhaps it’s a good time to re-share my Powerpoint templates. If you’re new to posters please see my page, “Designing conference posters” for details.

Below is a standard horizontal template. I recommend 500-800 words and 1 or 2 graphics that are understandable without you needing to explain them.

poster-template-horizontal-1-purrington

Note that there is no requirement for the text boxes to have a line around them — it’s easy to set line width to zero. And if you want to delete the background color (gray, here), you can eliminate the “rectangles within rectangles” look. Totally up to you.

If you want to include a QR code, put it at the bottom so that it doesn’t distract from your interesting graphs and illustrations. Like this:

But be cautious about including a QR code. By design it invites a viewer to fire up their camera phone, and I’d wager that most will also take a pic of your entire poster. So skip the QR code if you don’t want people to take pics of your poster. A compromise is to print business cards that have the QR code (as well as poster title, your name, your email address) and then leave them in an envelope pinned next to your poster (“please take one!”).

Here’s a template that moves the Literature cited, Acknowledgements, and Further information to the far right column … which causes the Materials & methods and Results areas to have more room. But the Conclusions box gets squished (such is geometry).

poster-template-horizontal-2-purrington

Here’s a template that might work for a humanities topic. I’ve chosen to have a question/result/conclusion flow (from left to right) inside the main arena, but you can always rearrange. There are also no rules about section names — just redo those, too.

poster-template-horizontal-3-purrington

The final template is a portrait-style one. For this orientation I think it’s critical to put the least important sections on the very bottom (that position is really hard to read without stooping).

poster-template-vertical-purrington

If you’d like to read an article about the better posters frenzy, here’s one from Inside Higher Education in which I’m quoted a few times.

Guide to building and managing a mason bee hotel

In nature, tunnel-nesting bees are perfectly happy to use logs riddled by boring beetles or piles of dead plants that have hollow stems. That habitat is often in short supply in many yards, however, so it’s necessary to provide hotels if you want to attract them. These hotels can be as simple as a large coffee can filled with hollow reeds … or as elaborate as the three-level one I built. The bees really don’t care.

Types of nesting material

DIY bee hotels can be filled with routered nesting trays (you can buy these or make your own, if you’re handy), wood blocks with paper inserts (these inserts can be purchased), wood blocks or logs with drilled holes (unlined), or just sections of hollow stems (by far the easiest). Or, like house in the photo below, a mix. A hotel should have a roof to keep the tunnel entrances relatively dry, should be situated to get morning sun, and be approximately 5 feet off the ground (so you can enjoy watching them).

Below is a photograph of my other hotel. It’s smaller and is set up in my front yard to entertain people who walk by. Tunnels are all unlined drilled holes, plus milkweed stems. Holes in the blocks are varied because I want to attract a variety of solitary bees.

Swap nesting materials regularly

The ideal bee hotel is one that allows all the nesting material to be removed each year (or so). By installing fresh nesting material, new tenants each spring will get to move into tunnels free of kleptoparasitic pollen mites and pathogenic fungi. Another benefit of removable nests is that you can remove sections as they get filled, allowing you to replace the spot with the same type of tunnels or with tunnels that have different diameter to cater to a different bee species (there are hundreds). Below are examples of my hotel with different configurations (my 2020 version, on right, is a bit boring).

Emergence boxes

What do you do with the nesting material after you remove it from the hotel? I put mine into a large cardboard box that has holes in the sides and at the top, then store in my unheated garage for the winter. In mid March (before bees in my area start to wake up) I put the box outside in a spot that is dry and gets good morning sun. Then when bees emerge from their cocoons they can escape from the box but are disinclined to re-inhabit the nesting tunnels they emerged from. Here’s a view of the nesting material inside my emergence box.

After several months outside (e.g., in August, long after the last resident has emerged) I take everything back into my shop and redrill holes and sterilize the wood. Then I can reuse blocks in future years.

Cleaning pupae

Lately, I’ve been thinking that I should move entirely to a system where I can sort through pupae at the end of the season. E.g., as summarized here. The reason for this is that I’d like to remove (kill) the kleptoparasitic mites (pic) and Houdini flies (pic) that are likely destroying many of my solitary bees. To enable this process I am going to start using paper straws to line all the tunnels. These straws can then be removed and unwrapped and the contents examined. Below is a photograph showing how drilled holes can be lined with paper straws — just fold over the back overhang and seal with foil tape.

Several companies sell sturdy (and easy to unwrap) paper straws as well as cardboard tubes that can easily accommodate the straws (i.e., you don’t need to drill holes in wood).

Another way to sort through pupae is to use routered wood trays, which you can buy or make (with a router or a table saw). Although some types of trays are better used with straws (to prevent mites from moving from tunnel to tunnel), others fit snuggly enough to be used without them. On my list of things to do is to make some routered nests that are sealed on one side with Plexiglas so that I can observe the bees within (such hotels can be purchased, and are beautiful).

Design tips

  • To keep everything dry on something this tall you need a generous roof overhang. Mine extends 5 inches beyond the front of the shelf, plus the wood sections and reeds are set back from that by another inch or so. If you have a shorter house you can have a smaller roof.
  • For larger hole sizes you want, ideally, 6 inches of depth. Shorter (4″) tunnels are fine but can result in a male-biased brood sex ratios. If you want to encourage population growth, encouraging the production of females is important. So buy long bits (I really like my 5/16″ auger bit, shown in drill below).
Drilling holes for mason bee inserts
  • Burning the front of the wood allows bees to more easily find their holes, plus the darker surface causes the wood to heat up faster in the morning sun.
  • Avoid treated lumber or fresh cedar. Per rumors on the internet, those types of wood can result in the death of the larvae. Pine is fine but I think harder wood is preferable because the drilled holes tend to be smoother.
  • For cutting reeds to size, I highly recommend using a cutoff disc on a Dremel tool instead of pruners. You can get a really smooth surface with a Dremel.

Examples of nice DIY solitary bee hotels

Additional resources

If you’re lazy and just want to buy a mason bee house, here’s my draft listing of companies that seem to make good ones. Please also see my guide to bee houses you should avoid.