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How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

soil prep for gardening

Having taught people to garden for years, many people want to know how to prepare their soil so they can start a vegetable garden.  If you talk to people who have been growing for years, you’ll notice they spend a lot of time building the soil in their garden beds.

For first time gardeners I always recommend to start small and because each patch of dirt is different, I recommend starting with a raised beds, which is nothing more than building a bed of soil on top of the ground instead of in it.  You can add sides made out of wood, edging or other materials as a side wall, but it isn’t required, mounded dirt works just as well if you’re on a budget.

Building A Raised Bed Frame

For most people they want to have the tidy look of a wooden frame and it can be done quickly for little money.  Start with three 2×6’s and cut one of them in half.  This will form the four sides of the bed and create a bed that is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

raised bed garden

This is an ideal size because it minimizes the number of cuts (pro tip: big box stores will cut it for free for you) and at four feet, you can reach to the middle from either side without having to stretch too much.  A few screws will make a solid frame for you to fill in the dirt with.

Turn The Soil Below

turn soil with pitchforkEven though we are going to build a bed above the ground, we want to break up the soil below it so that our plant’s roots have an easier time of penetrating the ground as they grow.  Ideally you would shovel off the top layer if it is grass, but I’ve done it both ways.  Removing the grass below will help reduce weeds coming up later, so it’s often worth the effort.

If the soil is pretty bare, what I’ll do is rake the top then go buy a gallon jug of white vinegar to douse the little bits of weeds or grass with the vinegar to kill a few days before I build my bed.  White vinegar will work well to kill the weeds in spot treatments, but if you have more than 10% coverage, I’d just scrape the top off completely.

The last part is take a “digging fork” and just break up the top few inches of soil, it can be pretty chunky because we’re going to cover it all with our soil bed mix soon anyway.  Don’t get too tied up in making it perfect, this is a really a rough pass that we do quickly and move on.

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Mixing The Perfect Soil To Grow In

First off, there are many different options here and if you ask 100 people you’ll get 101 recommendations.  So understand that if someone uses something different, that’s fine.  For most people just starting out I try to make it really simple and we can get into more of the nuances later.  So use this mix to start and in a few years, start to try different things.  We want to get you to gardening as quickly as we can and if you get caught up in what mix is the best, you’ll never actually start gardening.

raised bed soil mixture for good growing a garden

So I use a mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. Typically I buy for a single 4 foot by 8 foot bed that’s around 6 inches deep the following:

  • 10 bags of compost (one cubic foot size bags)
  • 1 bale of compressed peat moss (three cubic feet size)
  • 1 bag of vermiculite (2 cubic foot sized bags).
  • 1 small bag of Bone Meal
  • 1 small bag of Blood Meal

If you don’t know what these are, just print this post off and bring it with you to any big box store, they’ll know exactly what you need from this list.  If the employee doesn’t know these items, it’s best to find someone else because these are gardening 101 supplies.

Compost

mushroom compsting mixFor compost you’ll find a lot of different options, my favorite is “mushroom compost” which you can find bags at any big box hardware store.  A close second is “Black Kow” compost.  I’ll often grab a few of each to make up my 10 bags for my bed.

If you can’t find these specific ones, it really isn’t a big deal, use whatever compost you can find at your local store or garden center.  Compost provides a lot of nutrients to your plants and serves as the base for seeds to root into.

Vermiculite

bag of vermiculiteVermiculite is essentially rock dust crushed up, it provides a lot of minerals for your plants, but it’s main function is to act like a sponge for water.  Be sure not to get confused with perlite, it’s not the same.  This one might take some calling around to find, if there is a local gardening group they might have some good leads.

I will also add a note here that if you start searching around about vermiculite, you’ll inevitably run into an old timer that will make the point about asbestos in vermiculite.  This is something that we had to worry about 40 years ago, but today there is no source allowed in the USA or Canada that doesn’t carefully screen and test for this.  The myth still persists today, but you should have zero concerns because the industry has long made changes to prevent this.

Often garden centers or seed/farm supply places carry it.  I’ve even seen it in small bags at your big box hardware stores.  If you can’t find it consider purchasing a few bags off of Amazon, while it’s a bit more expensive locally, you can buy a few of these bags of vermiculite and be good for a 4×8 bed.

Peat Moss

package of peat moss or spagnum mossThe last part of the soil mix.  This fluffs up the soil, allows for good oxygen infiltration and also acts like a sponge to hold in moisture until plants need it.  This can be found anywhere and they type or brand doesn’t matter.  The only thing I’ll suggest is make sure you get it from the soils section where you’d find your bags of compost or near the bags of mulch section.  Sometimes they sell small bags that are meant for growing orchids, these are often expensive, but the ones in the bagged compost section is usually sold “compressed” for very cheap ($10-$20 for 3 cubic feet compressed).

A common question that comes up around peat moss are concerns about if peat moss is sustainable.  It is true that 10 years ago peat moss was harvested from natural wet lands, but today it is done in a manner that is regenerative.  If you are still concerned, consider sourcing coconut coir which is a material similar to peat moss but made from the waste product of coconut husks.  In the end, I suggest you don’t get too caught up in your first year or so, just get your first year under your belt and then work on improving in later years.

Bone And Blood Meal

I prefer to use bone meal and blood meal, but there are many options.  Obviously from their names, they are a animal sourced product.  Those wanting a non-animal source can try seaweed meal or fertilize, you can buy seaweed fertilizer here.  Bone and blood meal are organic sources of the major nutrient (NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium).

bone meal and blood meal in bags

Since we are starting out with such good ingredients, we don’t need much of these.  If we were starting with the soil in ground, there may be need for more as directed from a soil test, but since we are building our own soil we don’t need a soil test for our first year or two.  I start out with one large handful of each, mixed evenly across the whole 4×8 raised bed.

Mixing It All Together

Some people will use a tarp to mix the soil together, I just skip that and dump everything in a pile in the framed bed, then mix with my hands or a shovel.  If you choose compost that is moist, but not sopping wet it will mix easier.  Sometimes this means pulling off the top few bags at the garden supply place so you get to a lower layer of bags that haven’t soaked up any recent rain.

Here is my basic approach:

  • Take your peat moss bale and place it in the bed
  • With a shovel stab the plastic in a line to break open the bale
  • Turn it over to dump the peat on the ground and remove the plastic
  • Shake out half your vermiculite on top of the peat moss, set the rest aside
  • Grab one large handful each of bone meal and blood meal, sprinkle across the bed
  • Place a bag of compost in the bed, stab with shovel to dump on the pile
  • Repeat with compost about half your bags
  • Using the shovel and hands, mix it all up until it’s well mixed
  • Add remaining materials and mix it all up
  • smooth out the top and give the soil a brief water

How To Water Your Garden

You want to water it a few days before you plant if you can, this will let all the water to absorb into the peat moss and vermiculite.  Water for a count of five and then stop.  Again, counting to five, if the water fully absorbs into the soil so there is no sheen on the dirt from the water, water again for a count of five. repeat counting to five until the water doesn’t absorb all the way in five seconds.  This is a good indicator that the soil is nicely saturated with moisture, but not soaking.

how to water your garden and vegitables

In the end building your soil will set you up for success for years to come.  Following this formula and starting small, you will have a better drastically easier time because we’re not trying to fix our existing soil or battle weeds.  Start with one 4×8 bed, then next year go a little bigger.  The number one thing I see is new gardeners burning out their first year because they took on too big of a garden.

Your Turn!

  • What are your garden plans this year?
  • What tips have you learned?

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

5 Vegetables To Grow For First Time Gardeners

I’ve been there, the seed catalogues come in January and you get all excited about what to grow this year in your garden.  It can be hard to figure out where to start, so I thought I’d share my recommendations on five easy vegetables to grow in your garden in your first year.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is not starting small:  They have too big of a garden, they try to grow too many things, and in the end they get burnt out.

My advice after teaching people how to start gardening for years is to only start with a few things.  Three to five types of vegetables in a single variety of each.  This will give you a really good foundation to start your gardening journey.

Grow What You Eat

grow the vegies that you like to eat basketA very common thing that I see newbie gardeners do is get excited by what they could grow, but they may not really like things or they try new stuff before they find out if they really like them.  If you were to look in your kitchen right now, what vegetables are you purchasing from the store?  Many of those could be good contenders for your first year’s short list.

There will be some things that you buy that aren’t in season or are more complicated to grow, but many of what most people like will be on our list below.  So consider what you eat, choose the easier ones to grow and let’s stack the deck in our favor!

Get Your Garden Prepared

It’s important to not just think about the vegetables that you’re going to grow, but to also think about growing good soil.  Have good soil is really what makes a garden go from okay to amazing, so don’t skimp on this step.  If you have never gardened before, check out our post on how to prepare your soil for a vegetable garden.

From Seeds Or From Seedlings

There are some things that do really well from seeds and some things that starting with a seedling is the way to go for first time gardeners.  Seedlings are simply very young plants that have been started ahead of time indoors, that you later transfer outdoors into your garden.

seedlingsIt can be tempting in your first year or two to in addition of starting a garden to also raising seedlings indoors, but my advice is to avoid this.  Your first few years to learn gardening is a lot, to add learning to start seeds into seedlings is too much and you’ll just burn out.

Below I’ll mention which ones I’d start from seed and which ones I’d start from seedlings.

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What Plants To Start With?

Here are a few of my favorite plants to start with.  These are pretty easy, widely available and you can find lots of knowledge from local people and online. Start with three to five of these in a single variety.  It will be tempting to choose a bunch of types of vegitables and a few varieties of each, but doing so will bring complexity, stress and a greater chance of failure.  We don’t want that!

Zucchini

zuchinni

zucchnis from gardenThere is an old joke that I like to tell.  In the city people lock their doors so people don’t steal their stuff, in the country they lock their cars so someone doesn’t leave them a bag of zucchini and squash in their front seat.  What is really great about this plant is that it grows really fast, its very simple and it produces a ton of vegetables.

I’d suggest starting out with three plants of zucchini if you have a family.  There will come a point where you can’t eat anymore (trust me), at that point I usually just pull the plants out of my garden and compost them. For your first year I’d start these from seedlings, they’re easy to find, cheap and makes it easy to start.

One piece of advice that I give is I’ve found that there comes a point when I start to see squash bugs on my plants.  When I see more than 2 or 3 of them on a plant, I pull that plant right then and there.  New gardeners will often be hesitant to prune or pull out plants, you can’t be afraid to.  Squash bugs are very difficult to combat, every trick I’ve read online doesn’t do anything for my garden.  So I plant a few extra than I need and then just pull the plants as soon as I see the bugs and am content with whatever squash I got to that point, usually I’m sick of it by then anyways!

Tomatoes

tomatoes

These are a favorite for most people and a garden tomato can’t be beat.  I would absolutely use seedlings for tomatoes.  The two varieties I suggest are “Early Girls” or “Roma”.  If you have short growing season I’d suggest Early Girls because they produce pretty quickly and earlier than most tomatoes.

tomatoes just picked

A few notes about tomatoes:  If you find that you are getting a lot of flowers, but they’re not really translating into tomatoes it’s often because they aren’t pollinating well enough.  This could be because they’re aren’t enough natural pollinators like bees or Humidity is binding up the pollen.  Tomatoes will often stop fruiting when it gets really hot, then start back up when summer temperatures start to wind down.

If you live in a very hot and humid area and Early Girls aren’t working for you, consider the variety “Pink Brandywine”.  They produce great tomatoes that are huge and tend to fair a bit better in higher heat.

Finally know that you will need to support the tomatoes in some manner.  This could be a cage, it could be a be a steak or string.  My favorite way to stake these is get a 6 foot pole that is durable metal coated in plastic and then use the rolls of twist ties you can buy at the store.  I find other options just don’t hold up over the years or are too cumbersome.

Radishes

radishes

I’ll be the first to say these aren’t my personal favorite, but they are super easy to grow and they open up the soil some as they grow.  I’ll plant these for the chickens to peck out of the dirt and for friends who like them.  Radishes take between 14 and 21 days to grow full which is very fast and they are a cooler weather crop so early spring or fall is a great time for these.

radishes from garden

These are very easy to grow from seeds and they’re very cheap to buy a lot of seeds.  The seeds are very small, so what I will do is prep my bed nice and even, then just scratch the surface a little bit with the back of a garden rake.  The rule of thumb for seed depth is 3 times the length of the longest dimension of the seed.

In the case of radishes this means you barley cover them if at all, just make sure you keep them nice and moist with a fine mist (not a spray).  It can be easy for these to dry out, but since we plant in the cooler parts of the year it’s a little easier.  For spacing I follow the same approach I use with lettuce, so read below to find out how I do it.

Lettuce

lettuce

There are a million varieties of lettuce so it can get overwhelming.  Ask around locally to see if people have favorites that do well in your area.  I often just get a lettuce seed mix which is several kinds all mixed together.   You loosely broadcast the seeds over a smoothed and prepared bed and lightly water.

leafy greens

Since we are starting from seeds, we need to know how to space them so they’re not so close that they crowd the others, but not too far that we allow for weeds or wasted space.  For lettuce I typically just shake the seeds out over the entire bed as evenly as I can, then when they start to grow up to about 2 inches, I go in and pluck out some of them to make enough space.  I typically go for about four inches apart from other plants, but I also try to choose the strongest ones.  It doesn’t have to be perfect!

Lettuce is grown in cooler weather, so spring or fall, the heat of the summer is often too much for most varieties, but there are some options for those who live in hot climates.  From seeding to harvest is about 3 weeks and you often can cut the leaves right above the soil about an inch and the lettuce will grow back another two times or so.

Beans

beans

green beansThe two main types are “bush” or “pole” beans, the only difference really is that the pole beans need something to climb.  I often just stick with bush beans because it’s less poles and structures I have to deal with. These are a great plant to start out with in your first garden.

Beans are easily started from seed and are a larger seed.  Because we know the rule of thumb: plant three times the longest part of the seed, they typically get buried about an inch or so below the soil.  I usually take my rake and with the handle side make a little divot, drop the seeds about 6 inches apart and then lightly brush the soil of the trough back over the seeds.  Again, we don’t need to get out our ruler here!

 

what to grow for begginers gardening

So those are my recommendations on how to start a garden the easy way, to stack the deck in your favor and keep it all fun.  In the comments let me know what you’re going to try.

Your Turn!

  • What’s on your list to plant this year?
  • What tips do you have for first time gardeners?

 

How To Get A Septic Tank Installed – My Septic Install: Costs, Advice, Details And More

How To Get A Septic Tank Installed – My Septic Install: Costs, Advice, Details And More

septic tank installationIf you’re anything like me, a home in the mountains or in the countryside has been a dream for a very long time. Having lived in the city where municipal sewer was available, I didn’t have to worry about such things. After I bought my land in the mountains of NC, I knew getting a septic system installed would be a necessity. Having just finished up getting my septic tank installed, I wanted to share my experience, the cost and other info for those who are doing the same thing

The land I bought is going to serve two purposes for me. The first being wanted a place I could move my tiny house in the future if I ever needed to. Having a piece of land with power, a well and a septic system for my tiny house would make it easy to roll up and connect. The second reason is, while I love my tiny house, it’s not my forever house. At some point I’m going to build a small home and this land is the perfect place.

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What Is A Septic Tank?

what is a septic tank

Let’s start with the basics. A septic tank is a sealed reservoir that’s buried and collects waste water. The solids will settle out, grease will rise and filtered liquids will flow out into a leach field. This allows you to safely collect, filter and distribute your black and grey water from your home. Over time, solids will collect in the tank and it will need to be cleaned.

Do I Need Permission For A Septic Tank? Permits?

do i need a permit for a septic tank

Yes, septic tanks in many countries are regulated to ensure public safety. In the United States, most permits for septics are issued through the state Department of Health.

spetic tankSetting aside the debate of smaller vs. larger government, the aim of this is to make sure that the septic field is installed properly and to make sure the ground water isn’t contaminated. This is something I can get behind, considering I’d like to know if my neighbors unmitigated sewage is seeping directly into my ground water.

Septic systems are simple systems, but the devil is in the details and getting them right is really important. I see a permit as money well spent in order to have a third party verify the important details are done properly. In my area, permits are pretty affordable.

Another important note is that if you build a septic without a permit, you might not be able to sell your home as easily in the future. Some banks require proper permitting before they issue a loan. At the very least, having your paperwork in order will be one less thing a buyer could negotiate against. If you don’t get it permitted, know the county could condemn your house and issue a fine.

Can You Install A Septic At All?

can you install a septic system

Realize that in some places because of the soil or municipality, you may not be allowed to have a septic. Some cities require you to be on their sewer system and won’t grant septic permits without extenuating circumstances granted by a variance. In general, if there is a sewer line on your street, you’ll be required to tap into it and will not be allowed a septic at all.

Choosing A Certified Septic Installer

choosing a certified septic system installer

Most places, if not all, require you to have a certified installer who has been through training. It’s important to remember that just because someone has gone through the classes doesn’t mean they’re good at what they do or run their business in a reputable manner. At the very least, they were informed of the proper way to do things, so one could hope some of it stuck.

choosing a certified septic system installerWhat is nice about this process is the county maintains a list of active certified installers. You can contact them directly to get an updated list (sometimes found on their website). Whatever you do, don’t assume or take someone’s word that they are certified with the county, always check directly with the health department.

I’d start with people listed close to your area, then work your way out from there. Call each person and trust your gut. It’s important to realize that the good installers are busy installers, so they may have to call you back or often they’ll answer their phone while running a track hoe. My installer asked a few questions then had me call his wife to schedule a time for a site visit.

With that said, look for people who are responsive, polite, organized, and time efficient. Schedule a time to meet each of them at the location and be wary of people who give quotes sight unseen. Shoot to have three quotes from three different people who you feel good about. That means you’ll want to have 5+ estimates from different people because you’ll naturally weed out some due to being late, not showing or something else that leaves you uneasy.

How Much Does A Septic Tank Installation Cost?

how much does a septic system install cost

When I started looking into septic system installations, cost was my number one question, but answers were not easy to find. There is a lot of variability in the cost of a septic install, so I’ll share the price and details of my system. I also wanted to outline some of the factors that impact the price and then share examples from others I surveyed to get a complete picture.

Factors That Impact Cost Of A Septic System

factors that impact the cost of a septic system

There are several things that impact how much your system is going to cost. It’s important to remember that while a portion of the price will be impacted by materials (largely commoditized and pretty similar costs across all your quotes), labor will be the biggest swing here. Labor costs are variable and can change based on how busy the installers are, how much of a pain they expect you or the job to be, etc. Permit costs in your area are what they are, so that will be the same across the board.

Municipality / Location – Like all things in real estate: location, location, location. The best way to understand this is to think about how your property prices compare to other areas. If you live in a high cost of living area or a town where home prices are expensive, your septic will cost more. When comparing your location to others, look at the average cost of homes, figure out the percent difference and apply that to septic costs for a rough idea.
Soil Types and Perking Tests – Soil is another major factor of cost because if you have well-draining soils, your system will have an easier time filtering the waste water. If your soil is poor, you’ll have to extend your drain lines more and more to make up the reduced capacity for the soil to filter. Basically, you make up for poor soil filtering by extending the area you filter into until it handles it properly. In some cases, soil isn’t viable or you don’t have enough room. A larger drain field equals more materials and more labor.
State Of The Economy – Simply put, when housing is booming, you’re going to pay more. If you’re in a recession, you’ll find prices to be more competitive.
How Busy They Are – The truth is installers charge more when they are busy. Much like the state of the economy, this is a supply and demand scenario. If there are enough jobs to fill their time for the next 30-90 days, they’re going to start asking for more. The trick is the good installers are often never short of work and the bad installers will pretend like they’re busy.

Try to ask around and see if there is a slow season or ask the installer if there is a time that you could wait on for a reduced price. Sometimes just being flexible and willing to wait will provide an opportunity to save some money. The installer may finish another job early, the inspector may be slow on another job or there could be a cancellation.

How Much Of A Pain You’ll Be – If you seem like you’re going to be a pain to work with, the price just went up. Be friendly and punctual, but also don’t be a push over. Sketchy contractors will try to take advantage of someone’s good nature. Realize and plan for the process taking longer than you expected it to take.
Access To Site And Terrain – It’s easiest to install a system in a flat, cleared space with a wide driveway that leads right to the land. My installer wanted to visit my site to evaluate the difficulty of the terrain and ensure it was accessible. If your lot needs cleared, is difficult to access or steep, expect prices to rise pretty quickly. That said, take the time to install a good driveway and clear the spot well. It will need accomplished anyway and it can save you money in the long run.
Permit Fees And EngineeringPermit fees are what they are. In my county they charged $350 for a septic permit and there is no way around it. Some places have much higher fees. Also, you’ll pay more if your lot requires some sort of special engineering.
Pumps And Cesspools – You ideally want your septic tank to be down hill of your house and the drain lines to be down hill of your tank. In some cases, your house might not be up hill of them. If this occurs, you’ll need to install a cesspool to collect the waste that will be pumped up to the field. These two things (cesspool and pump) are additional units to your septic tank and add extra expenses. I’d suggest avoiding lots that require this because it adds cost and complexity. It’s just one more thing to break and it has moving parts which are prone to failure.
Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic Septic Systems – In some cases, a municipality will require you to have an aerobic system. The basic difference between aerobic and anaerobic septic systems is the presence of oxygen. Traditional anaerobic septic systems operated in the relative absence of oxygen; the broken-down sewage must be able to live without oxygen. Aerobic septic tanks are also located underground, they use an aerator to add oxygen into the tank. Because of the added complexity and equipment, Aerobic systems are more expensive.
Conventional Vs. Mound Septic Systems – I don’t know too much about these other than what my realtor explained to me. Basically, in certain circumstances where the soil isn’t ideal, the water table is too high or there is a lot of rock involved, a mound system is required. This system is a pile of gravel, sand and other fillers to make an elevated septic system. They typically cost more and require extra engineering costs.

The Cost To Install My Septic

cost to install my system

My septic was a 1000-gallon cement tank with 300 feet of drain line in a well-draining soil. My permit was $350 and I spent $300 for a guy to come out with a backhoe and dig pits for my perk test. I made sure to have this done before the purchase of the land, my offer was contingent upon successfully getting a well and septic permit.

cost of a septic tank installI had the system designed for 4 bedrooms because I don’t know exactly what I want to do. Most likely I’m going to have a Master bedroom and a guest bedroom, then space to put two more bedrooms in the future (I’d finish them if I sell to increase resale value). My land is located in the mountains of NC which is pretty rural and low cost of living.

I chose this place because it had minimal building codes, no HOA or restrictions, and the county was pretty inexpensive tax wise. I say this for you to know that my scenario was the cheaper end of the spectrum. The one thing working against me was I had no contacts in the area at all, so I did my best to get multiple quotes.
In the end I think I ended up spending more than I had to, but I got very close to what others were paying at the time. I was on a time crunch as my permit expired at the end of the year, so I couldn’t delay things. After three quotes I settled on a contractor that I liked for $7,500 all in.

Cost To Install Other Systems

cost to install other systems

I took some time to get a better picture of costs by talking with several other people. Here is a breakdown of what their systems cost when they installed their septic system.

Louisiana

$7,000

  • 1,000 Gallon Tank
  • 5 Bedrooms
  • 400 Feet
  • Installed in 2015

California

$30,000

  • 1,800-Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 350 Feet
  • Installed in 2020

Tennessee

$3,500

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 230 Feet
  • Installed in 2012

Ohio

$7,000

  • 2,000 Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 500 Feet
  • Installed in 2004

Texas

$5,000

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 300 Feet
  • Installed in 2013

Oklahoma

$3,600

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 400 Feet
  • Installed in 2007

Nevada

$7,500

  • 1,250 Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 500 Feet
  • Installed in 2005

California

$8,500

  • 1,500-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 275 Feet
  • Installed in 2019

Washington

$5,000

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 2 Bedrooms
  • 300 Feet
  • Installed in 2018

Michigan

$8,000

  • 1,500 Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 3 900-Gallon Dry Wells
  • Installed in 2019

Your State

Your Cost

  • How Many Gallons?
  • How Many Bedrooms?
  • How Many Feet of Drain Line?
  • When Was It Installed?
Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a septic installed and the details.

How To Install A Septic Tank System + My Installation Process

how to install a septic system

Installing a septic tank is pretty straight forward, they’re fairly simple systems. However, there are a lot of little details to get right and it’s often not something someone wants to attempt on their own if they’ve never done it before. Assuming you’re hiring someone to install it for you, talk with your county first to understand their process and requirements.

Talk With Your Local Officials

talk with your local officials

The nice thing about building in the countryside is code officials are much easier to work with than in the city. I’d suggest calling them and asking for details about the process, what it entails, and the order in which to complete the steps. Usually it starts with a perk test to get a septic installation permit.

They’ll come out and perform a soil drainage test called a “perk test”. The results of the perk test will let you know what size and type of system you’ll need to install. They’ll include that info on the permit.

Get Your Permits

get your permits

You’ll need to get all your paperwork done and permit in hand before you even talk with contractors. They get a lot of calls so they often won’t work with someone until you have that permit. Getting a permit can take time: between wait times, scheduling a perk test and going rounds with officials, it took me about 60 days.

One word of caution I’d offer is don’t take anyone’s word that a permit has been issued, have the county provide you an official copy of the permit directly. I learned this the hard way, another story for another day.

Talk With Local Contractors

talk with local contractors

Follow my advice about choosing a certified septic installer (I talked about this above [hop link]). You want to get at least three quotes from people who seem like they’d be good to work with and have actually come to the location.

Get Clarity On The Process

get clarity on the process

Ask your installer these questions and then reach out to the health department and verify the process.

  • When do you plan to start work?
  • How long will the work take?
  • What things would cause a delay?
  • What things could you encounter that would increase the price? (rocks etc.)
  • When will the inspection happen?
  • How and who will trigger the county to schedule the inspection?
  • What happens if we fail the inspection?
  • What happens if we pass the inspection?
  • What do I need to get from the county after this is done?

Set Expectations Up Front With Contractor

set expectations up front with contractor

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so getting crystal clear up front with your installer is important. Have a conversation about these items below so you know what will happen, when it will happen and what happens if it all goes wrong.

  • Can you provide copies of your profession licenses, copy of your insurance policy etc.?
  • Can you provide a basic contract/warranty info ahead of time?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you?
  • What’s a reasonable turnaround time to expect a call back?
  • How much notice will I get when you’ve finalized a date to start work?
  • Do you want to be present during the work or not? Make that clear
  • When and how will payments be made?
  • Who is paying for materials? Equipment Rentals?
TIP: Some counties have systems that you can search by contractor’s name or license number. Search theirs to see how many permits are in their name and look for any liens, fines or other red flags.

Septic System Layout

septic system layout

The day of the installation should go pretty smoothly. Most of these installers are busy and they have the process down pat. Usually they’ll start by laying out the runs with a laser level, it’s technically possible to do it without one, but any professional should be using a level like this.

laser level
marking drain field

The goal here is to run the lines along the contour line of the land, so that the lines are running 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch downward slope per foot. This is all going to be oriented and placed to where you want your future home to be, so make sure you are clear on that. You usually need to be 15 feet from the house, but it varies by local codes.

Digging The Septic Tank Pit

digging septic tank pit

Next, they’re going to start digging the hole to drop your tank into, this should be above the leach field unless you have a pump or more complicated system. This hole will depend on the size of your tank, but usually about 8-10 feet deep. You want to watch the installers to make sure they check that the pit bottom is level once they’ve removed the material. The goal here is to have a reasonably level tank when they drop in the concrete or plastic tank. I think if I could do it all again, I’d ask them to have some sand or gravel to put as a base at the bottom, but that might be overkill.

digging hole for septic tank
hole for septic tank

Digging The Leach Field Trenches

digging the leech field trenches

Depending on several factors, they will either drop the tank in right then or start digging the trenches. During my installation, the tank delivery truck wasn’t coming for a few more hours so they kept digging.

digging trernches for leech field
septic tank leech field trench

This is where my contractors really showed their skill. The little backhoe they ran was a decent sized machine and the guy running it was able to get that slope of ¼ inch per foot with impressive accuracy. The other guy used the laser level and a grade rod to check the trench the entire way.

He also picked out larger rocks to prevent damage to the drain lines and used a hand shovel to smooth the bottom of the trench to be a consistent down slope.

Repeat For Each Of Your Lines

repeat for each of your lines

Next, they created additional trenches to get the required length, all the while picking out rocks, smoothing the trench floor and checking for the slope all along the length.

Install The Septic Tank

install a septic tank

At that point the delivery truck showed up with the tank and the drain lines. The truck had a built-in trestle arm that extended off the back of the truck to lower the tank into place.

delivery truck
trestle arm

They lowered the septic tank into the ground and checked the level of each corner with the laser level again.

septic tank in hole
laser level check

Installing The Drain Lines

installing the drain lines

The drain lines were an EZ-Flow or EZ-Drain style line. Basically, a corrugated drain line with perforations in it, surrounded by packing peanuts and held tight with a netting cover. After talking with a lot of people, this style has a pretty good track record and makes for quick installation. I’ve heard some bad reviews of the EZ-Flow style lines, but they were pretty few and far between, often with some other mitigating circumstances.

ez flow lines
ez flow drain line

EZFLOW drain lines – Note: remove white cover before installing

It’s important to make sure your installers put the lines in the correct way. The little sausages have a filter fabric cover the top half of the line, you want that on top so it screens dirt from getting into the lines and clogging it. The bottom half is not covered to allow for better drainage. Make sure that filter fabric is on top!

The lines come in a bundle as a set of three: a center drain line and two buffers on either side of it. This helps keep the dirt from getting in too close, allowing for increased drainage once buried.

drain lines in place
drain line coupler

This process went really fast. The sections were very light and they connected easily with the drain line couplers. Only the middle line needs to be connected because the two outside tubes are just spacers.

One final note is the importance of not driving any heavy equipment over these lines. A smaller truck or a smaller bobcat is fine, but nothing bigger or you’ll crush the lines. Make sure you know where they are and have the area fenced off during construction.

Connecting The Tank And Drain Lines

Connecting The Tank And Drain Lines

Once everything was laid out, they moved on to connecting it all up. It was a mix of semi flexible lines and PVC pipes. They again ensured the lines had the right slope to make sure the liquids flowed correctly.

connecting drain line to tank
drain line connections for a septic tank

It’s important to note that at this point everything should be totally open because the inspection requires an open pit. The inspector showed up at this point for me, so some of the photos are after the inspection and partially buried.

septic line connections
septic tank drain lines

Install The Septic Filter

install the septic filter

Inside the tank there is a hard-plastic filter that screens out solids of a certain size from entering the drain lines. You’re aiming to only have liquids flow out of the system into the lines. This should be pulled out and cleaned off each time you have your tank cleaned, roughly every 3 years.

installing a septic filter
septic tank filter

Get Inspected

get install inspected

This process was pretty painless. The inspector showed up and used the laser level to check the slope, looked at the connections, reviewed the permit and plot map, then signed off on everything. My installer informed me that the inspector doesn’t rake them over the coals as much as he used to when they first started. Your inspection might be more involved, my inspector told me he never had any issues with the systems these guys installed, even years later.

Mark The Tank Inlet

mark the septic tank location

I hadn’t thought about this, but when I build my house, I’ll need to actually connect the tank. My installer used a board to cover the opening of the tank to block dirt from getting in and also to make it really easy to find the opening when it came time to connect. This simple thing saves a lot of digging in the future.

septic tank
marking septic tank install

Fill in the Holes

fill in the holes

Next was putting all the dirt back in, but only after your inspection is complete! This part is pretty simple, but as you do it, make sure you don’t have any large rocks sitting on the lines. My installer followed the bucket and picked out rocks as they went. I was glad to see their attention to these details.

filling in holes
backfilling septic line trenches

Smooth Out And Final Grading

final grading

You most likely will have some left-over dirt, so I had them just spread it out over the space. Figuring that the soil will settle a little bit over time, I figured adding a little on top would be just about right.

grading out area
smoothing leech field dirt

Get Your Documentation From The County

documentation

The last step is to make sure you get everything you need for the septic for future use. This usually takes a few days to a few weeks, but it’s really important to get the documents.

Septic System FAQs

septic system faqs

Concrete Vs. Plastic Septic Tanks

Plastic tanks may be used in some areas and are sometimes preferred because they’re lighter. This makes them easier to install. The downside is they can be more easily damaged during installation and have been known to sometimes “float” up. Concrete tanks are heavy and stay in place. The delivery truck used for mine came with an arm to lower the tank in, so installing my concrete tank wasn’t too difficult.

How Long Will A Septic Last?

Typically, septic tanks will last 40+ years if installed correctly and properly maintained. Your mileage may vary depending on a lot of circumstances.

How Much Is A Septic Permit?

Permits typically start at $300 and can go into the thousands. Areas with high cost of living, more environmental review and tricky soils will cost more.

Will A Septic Tank Work Without Power?

In general, yes unless you have a pump as part of the system. Most systems rely on gravity, so the draining is a passive process.

Can You Use Bleach In Your Septic Tank?

In moderation, it’s possible to use bleach, but not highly recommended. A Septic tank operates on live bacteria cultures breaking things down. Bleach can kill those cultures. A small amount of bleach diluted among thousands of gallons will not be a big deal, but it should be used sparingly. Try to space out the use of bleach and use alternatives, like baking soda mixed with bleach.

How Often Should I Get my Septic Tank Pumped/Cleaned?

In general, you should get your septic tank cleaned every 2-3 years based on use and assuming proper design. If your septic tank is under sized then you should consider doing this more frequently.

How Much Does It Cost To Clean A Septic Tank?

Typically, you can expect to pay between $300 and $500 to have your tank cleaned.

Can You Install Your Own Septic Tank – DIY Options

Yes! In some cases, municipalities allow for owners to install their own, but realize you’re still subject to inspections etc. Some places will not allow it unless you’re licensed/certified. Installing your own system shouldn’t be taken lightly and speaking frankly, unless you have done them before or do similar work, I wouldn’t suggest it. Running the equipment to dig, getting the slopes just right, connecting things up and using the right materials are all important.

Your Turn!

  • How much was your system? Include size, run length, location, bedrooms, and year installed.
  • What tips do you have for getting a septic system installed?

Baby Quail – How To Raise Quail, What To Feed Them & More!

Baby Quail - How To Raise Quail, What To Feed Them & More!

How to raise baby quail

The past two years I have been trying my hand at raising baby quail for eggs. Now that I’ve learned a lot, I thought I’d share how to take care of baby quail and how to raise quail. Many of you know that three years ago, I set a goal for myself to start growing most of my own food. Many of you might remember this past summer when I got my chickens, soon after I discovered quail was another way I could keep my food local.

While I was learning about chickens, I also learned of quail which have a few unique attributes that really appealed to me. In my journey to grow my own food, I knew I had to design everything to minimize the work I put in while maximizing what I get out.

Are Quail Easy To Raise?

Now that I’m over 2 years in Quail I’ve come to appreciate how easy quail are. In short, quail are quiet, easy raise with minimal space requirement, they produce a lot of eggs and require little cleaning. Here are a few of the main highlights of why quail are so easy!

Quail Are Prolific Egg Layers

Quail lay more eggs per bird than chickens do. While their eggs are smaller, you get a lot more. While a chicken will lay around 200 eggs a year, quail will often lay upwards of 300 a year. I also found them to lay more in the winter unlike chickens that slow down in the winter some.

Start Laying Fast Too

One of the biggest draws for me with quail is that from hatch to first egg is around 6 weeks! Compart that to chickens which don’t lay their first egg until their 6th month! This is a really big deal because you need to feed them during this lead up period and you’re spending money and time with no eggs in return. So quail are great if you want to get eggs sooner rather than later.

Quail Are Quiet

One thing that I really love about my quail is how quiet they are. While chickens are pretty quiet, except for a rooster, quail make almost no noise at all, even when startled. This is really good for raising quail in a city or in a small backyard. When I set mine up, most people didn’t know they were there even when they walked right by them. They barley make any chirping noises and that chirp doesn’t carry far at all.

Quail Are Easy To Raise

I’m still amazed at how hands-off quail really are, they are super easy to raise. When I raised my chickens, I thought they were easy, I setup my feeders and waterers and on busy days at work, I didn’t have to worry. With Quail I worried even less. They don’t eat or drink a ton, they’re cold hardy, and they can be raised on wire mesh so the dropping falls out, literally cleaning the cage on its own.

Quail Don’t Take A Lot Of Space

How many square feet per bird? You only need 1 square foot of cage per bird. When I first heard this I was very skeptical because one of the reasons I raise my own food is to make sure it’s done humanely. Well now that I’ve worked with quail, a square foot really is a lot of room for a quail. They’re small birds and they like to huddle together and are pretty sedentary animals.

You Can Raise Quail On Wire Mesh

Like my above point, when I heard about raising quail on ¼ inch wire hardware cloth I was worried that their feet might get cut up. I talked to a lot of people who’ve done it before and they all raised on wire too. When I built my quail cage hutch I did it with the hardware metal cloth with ¼ inch gaps, I’m glad I did. Over time I checked their feet and observed their behavior. I even put a piece of wood in there with some bedding to see if they preferred it, they actually avoided the wood.

How To Take Care Of Baby Quail

how to take care of baby quail

I raised my quail from both hatchlings and from eggs. The guy I bought my first round from threw in a dozen eggs for free so I tried it out. Quail are pretty much like chicks, you want to make sure they’re fed, watered and warm. You can read my post about how to set up a brooder for chickens, it’s mostly the same for quail.

What To Feed Baby Quail

Quail feed comes in crumbles called Game Bird Chow, which is a high protein between 19%-30%, for baby quail food you want at least 25% to let them grow. You want to get “crumbles” not pellets. The main producer of this is Purina and is available at any farm supply store. I picked up mine at Tractor Supply and just got the highest protein content I could find for the first 8 weeks. A 50lb bag ran about $20 and lasted a very long time.

How Much Water Does A Baby Quail Need

Only a few ounces of water per baby quail is needed, but you want to refresh it regularly to keep it clean. The one thing you need to make sure is that they don’t fall asleep in the water because they can drown in it. Baby quail are ridiculously cute and I remember them falling asleep mid stride only to lay down right where they were, so I did a shallow dish and put some smooth river rocks in it so they couldn’t lay in the water directly, but still access the water.

How To Keep Quail Warm

You want to keep your quail at around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When you setup your brooder (indoors) make sure it’s just big enough so that the baby quail can get away from the heat. The trick here is to point the heat lamp/bulb to one corner, then watch what the baby quail do. If they all pile in the hot corner, they’re not warm enough. If they all pile in the opposite corner, they’re too warm. If they move around without clumping up at either extreme, you’re pretty good. Move the lamp closer or further to adjust heat intensity.

How Long To Keep Baby Quail In The Brooder Before Going Outside

You want to keep the baby quail in an indoor brooder for about 5 weeks and I’d time things so when you put them outside it’s during the warm part of the year. Spring or summer is ideal, if you’re in the winter months, consider keeping them inside a bit longer.

 

What Type Of Quail Should You Get? – Quail Breeds

what breed of quail to get

There are a lot of different types of quail you can consider for meat, eggs and hunting. In general you’ll be limited to what you can find locally, but also consider online sources that you can purchase. My advice is to go what you find locally because you know they’ll do well in your local climate

Coturnix Quail

Coturnix Quail

  • Good For: Eggs & Meat
  • Size: 7 inches, 3 ounces
  • Can they fly: minimally

This is one of the most popular breeds of quail and the one I choose to raise. They’re good as egg layers and as meat birds, making them super versatile. They are also reasonably cold hardy and easy to take care of. They don’t really fly as much as they fall gracefully.

 

Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail

  • Good For: Eggs, Meat, & Hunting
  • Size: 9 inches, 6 ounces
  • Can they fly: Yes, they fly well

These are another common breed that people like because it can be used for meat, eggs with the addition of flying for hunting. They are about twice the size of a Coturnix so you get more meat from them if you decide to butcher them. Since they fly pretty well, you want to make sure you have netting to prevent them from flying away.

 

Button Quail

Button Quail

  • Good For: Pets
  • Size: 4 inches, 2 ounces
  • Can they fly: Yes, they fly well

Button quail are mainly for pets or if you want some variety. They’re very small and their eggs are about half the size of other quail breeds making them less practical. I’d suggest only getting this as a novelty or pet. They do also fly very well, so netting is required.

 

Japanese Quail

Japanese Quail

  • Good For: meat and eggs
  • Size: 5 inches, 3 ounces
  • Can they fly: Somewhat

These are also somewhat common among breeders. They are good for meat and eggs, but not really for hunting if you’re interested in that. They don’t fly very well, just enough to get out of harms way if a predator is around.

 

 

How To Raise Adult Quail

adult quail

Once you’re out of your brooder which you should be doing indoors, it’s time to move them outside during a warmer part of the year. I mostly kept feeding them the same food and just switched to a normal quail waterer.

The process is mostly the same as raising chickens, so read this post about my tips to raising chickens here. https://thetinylife.com/tips-for-getting-started-keeping-chickens/

How To Build A Quail Cage

quail cages

I built a quail hutch that was 2×4 feet and 2 feet tall with a small door. I put it on legs so it would be an easy working height for me. I made mine so that all sides, including the floor, were made of ¼ inch hardware cloth. Once I was done building it, I set it up so a compost pile was underneath the cage, letting the droppings fall into the pile below.

There isn’t any real special method to this, I’d just make sure you allow for 1 foot per bird and think about ease of cleaning. Here is a video of my quail cage hutch

How To Cook Quail – Quail Recipes

how to cook quail

If you’re looking to quail for meat, they taste pretty much like the dark meat in chicken. The easiest way I find is to grill them. How many quail per person? Typically, 2-3 quail per person gives you enough meat for a meal. You can either leave whole, removing the innards or you can “spatchcock” them flat.

Grilled Quail Recipe

  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 tbl garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh pepper
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tbl Cajun seasoning

Marinate quail over night in plastic bag. Preheat grill to at least 400 degrees. Cook 3-4 minutes a side or until internal temperature is 165 degrees.

 

Quail FAQs

What is a baby quail called?

A baby quail is called a chick.

How long before baby quail can fly?

A baby quail will start to fly as soon as 3 weeks depending on breed.

When re baby quail born?

Baby quail can be born at most any time, but often is more likely in warmer months.

What do baby quail eat?

Baby quail are feed a high protein feed called “game chow” in crumbles form.

Do quails fly?

Yes, some breed can fly. Some will not be able to fly at all or flutter around.

How long to boil quail eggs?

It takes about 2 minutes to hard boil a quail egg.

How long do quail live?

A typical quail will live 2-3 years

How long does it take a quail egg to hatch?

A quail egg can take up to 8 weeks to hatch.

How often do quail lay eggs?

Quail will lay eggs most days, roughly 1 per day, around 300 per year.

 


Quail are a great way to have livestock in the city or another way to grown your own food easily. They produce a lot of eggs quickly, they are raised in a square foot per bird, are able to be kept on wire without harm (so dropping simply pass through the mesh) to minimize cleaning.

Oh did I mention they’re really cute?

Your Turn!

  • Have you ever raised quail or considered it?
  • What tips do you have about raising baby quail?

DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes Ideas For Chicken Tractors – Quick, Easy And Cheap Options

DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes Ideas For Chicken Tractors – Quick, Easy And Cheap Options

DIY chicken nesting boxes ideasNesting boxes in a chicken tractor can be a tricky thing. When I was building my own chicken tractor for my first flock of chickens, I ended up trying a lot of things. Some things worked and others didn’t. The absence of a floor is a challenge because the tractor is open to the ground. There is no surface to put anything on and the ground is not an option because the coop has to be moved each day.

I needed a DIY nesting box idea that was easy to make, cheap, easy to clean, and something my ladies liked to cozy up in to lay their eggs.

Chicken Nesting Box Considerations

things to consider with your nesting boxes

Before we get into my experiments, let’s talk about the purpose and function of your box. A nesting box is simply a container of some sort, located in your coop, where – you hope – the chickens will lay their eggs. This does two things: the hens are more likely to lay eggs because they’re less stressed and the eggs are easier to find.

Typically, you want this place to be out of the main area of the coop, a little more private, a little cozier, lined with hay/straw. You’ll save a lot of cleaning If you can avoid having these boxes under or near the roosting bars because chickens poop a lot when they sleep.

Some people have finicky chickens that are little prima donnas – my silkies were kind of like that – but in general, I don’t have time for that! If you stick with your typical chicken breeds, you’ll find good layers without the drama. For me, my ladies never had issues laying eggs anywhere I put some dry hay. There were days I was like “screw it” and I literally just put a gob of hay on the ground and called it good.

Nesting Box Size

nesting box size

You want a box that is 12” x 12” x 12”. It can be bigger; it could be a little smaller depending on your breed. Honestly, it doesn’t matter that much. When I first started, I was so concerned about finding the “right” answer to this. After years of keeping chickens, I’ve come to learn they’re not picky, so don’t fuss over this too much.

What Do You Put In A Nesting Box

what to put into a nesting box

Hay. It’s that simple – any old hay that’s dry and free from mold will work. The most important thing is that it’s dry. If you have hay that’s soaking wet you could run into issues with illnesses in your flock, but dry-ish hay keeps this at bay.

Again, when I started, I wanted to make sure I did things right. So, I bought a round bale from a farmer. One round bale is about 5 feet cubed and that gave me a ton of hay. In a pinch, I’ve used dried leaves from the yard, but I find hay easier to use and is readily available.

How much hay do you put in a nesting box?

how much hay to put in your nesting box

I put enough hay to cover the bottom of my nesting box about 2-3 inches thick when fluffed up. I only changed it when it got significantly soiled or wet, otherwise, I let it ride. If the hay was older, I’d reach in and fluff it up some, if it didn’t fluff up because it was so broken down, then I’d change it.

How often do you clean the nesting box?

how often should you clean your chicken coop and nesting box

My general rule of thumb was to clean the nesting box once a month when I changed the hay. All my boxes were plastic to facilitate easy cleaning. I’d use a Clorox wipe to quickly wipe it down and sanitize the inside. If the boxes were really dirty, I’d clean it right away. If the hay got wet, I’d clear it out right away, make sure it fully dried, then covered the bottom with fresh hay.

How to Prevent disease in your chick coop?

how to prevent disease with your chickens

Every two-ish years I’d replace the nesting boxes just as a matter of course, grime builds up and things break down. Doing this kept things fresh, germs at bay and since I chose cheap options for my nesting box, it wasn’t a big deal.

The one exception to the above rule of thumb is when I found a dead chicken, which thankfully happened rarely. Over the years I had two chickens die, one from a dog attack and the other just dropped dead. If I knew it was killed by an animal bite, I didn’t worry because I knew the cause of death.

If the chicken just died without an apparent cause, my thoughts would wander to a possible disease, though it’s not super uncommon that their little heart just gave out. Out of an abundance of caution, I removed the chickens from the coop and looked them over. Next, I removed all the bedding, raked out the run and let it l dry out really well. Then, I scrubbed down every inch of the coop and replaced all the bedding.

How Many Nesting Boxes Do You Need?

How many nesting boxes do you need for chickens

You’ll want one nesting box for every 4-5 laying hens. This will allow them to have enough space so they will not be crowded. This also prevents e piling two chickens into one nesting box; although they still may do that if they are feeling chummy.

What Should The Nesting Box Be Made Of?

what nesting box materials can you use to line a nesting box for chickens

This is one thing that doesn’t get asked enough. I try to have as much of my flat surfaces in my coop be made of durable and easy to clean materials, such as plastics, laminate, metal, etc. It’s also great if your nesting box is made of something that is cheap, because after cleaning things for a while, the grime just doesn’t want to come clean. If your container is cheap, you can just toss the old and swap out with a new one.

I’ve tried several things, which I’ll get into now.

Nesting Box Ideas And How They Worked For Me

chicken nesting box ideas

Traditional Wood / Metal nesting box

I’ve built these before out of plywood and looked at buying them from places like FarmTek or Tractor Supply. I think a lot of people try these when they first start because they’ve decided in their mind it’s what a nesting box “should be”. For your average backyard chicken hobbyist, I find them to take more time to build than they are worth. The store-bought metal boxes are expensive and make me feel guilty when tossing them out because the funk won’t disappear even after cleaning them a million times.

They’re great to look at and could be justified (or required) if you’re running a commercial operation but there are many other workable options that are easier to build, just as easy to clean, and cheap to replace. I’d skip this option unless you really want to build them.

5 Gallon Bucket Nesting Boxes

five gallon bucket nesting box idea

nesting box 5 gallon bucket nesting box lid perchThese were my first nesting boxes I ever made. I bought a few buckets with lids, cut an opening into the lid, then made a bracket to hold them in the coop. A bucket with a lid costs less than $5 new from a big box store and you can find them everywhere. If you are on a tight budget you could try to get free buckets from the bakery at the grocery store. By and large, these worked very well with only one main drawback.

Cleaning out the buckets is a breeze; the plastic is slick and super durable. I can wipe these out quickly and every now and then wipe down with vinegar or a bleach solution to sanitize. If you can, choose a darker color so any grime stains don’t show, the white ones get a little dingy looking after a while even though they’re clean.

The one major downside I found was that they were hard to mount. The bucket will be on its side so you need to mount a round object. To add to the complexity, they’re often tapered making it trickier to make a bracket.

how to make a 5 gallon bucket nesting box

The best way I’ve found is to cut the lid opening, then lay the leftover piece of plastic on the bottom of the bucket as reinforcement. After that, screw right through into a solid wall. You can use some washers to make sure the screws don’t tear through. The trouble with my coop is I didn’t have enough wall space to mount them all so the chickens could get into them easily. Otherwise, this would be my preferred method.

Milk Crate Nesting Boxes

using a milk crate for a nesting box

black snake in milk crate nesting boxI tried these when I first went from a permanent coop to a chicken tractor for the first time. I used to two screw hooks drive into the wall that held the milk crate. It was off the ground by a few inches so that when I moved the coop they didn’t get hung up. They worked really well in general and I had the crates laying around.

Here is the only photo I have of them, when a black snake climbed into the box and starting eating eggs.

The one downside to these was the latticework because it collected grime and dust. Unlike the smooth simple surface of a bucket, it took more effort than it was worth to clean all those little nooks. I soon abandoned this nesting box to make sure I kept things sanitized.

Cement Mixing Tray Nesting Bin

cement mixing tray nesting box for chickens

hens and rooster in chicken tractorThis ended up being what I settled on for my nesting box solution, though if I had more wall space, I’d stick with 5-gallon buckets. I was walking around one of the big box hardware stores when I found these tubs, they’re a smooth plastic tub that’s all black, roughly 2 feet by 3 feet.

I liked that they are black and would hide any dinginess. The slick plastic was very easy to clean and the tub was pretty sturdy because it is intended for mixing concrete. It also was just enough space for up to 15-20 chickens in one tub, meaning I only had to go to one spot for all my eggs. It also had a thick rounded edge all around the container, which let my ladies hop up on the lip comfortably without any danger of cutting up their feet.

The tub was filled with hay and placed on the ground directly. Then when I pushed the tractor, the tub was so slick and light that it was pushed along without any problems.

Chicken Nesting Box Tips and General Advice

chicken nesting box tips

To sum things us, I wanted to finish with a few points that I wish I was told more directly when I first started. Chickens are the perfect homestead animal because they’re easy to take care of, they are fun to watch, and they make a lot of protein each day. They don’t require a lot of effort, they are very forgiving, and they give back so much.

Ryan’s Tips

  • Chickens aren’t that picky, so don’t over think things
  • Set yourself up for success by choosing the right breed
  • Make the nesting box easily accessible
  • Choose nesting boxes that easy to clean and cheap to replace
  • Make sure the hay stays dry and clean
  • Keep your nesting boxes out from under roosting bars

Hopefully that helps you wrap your head around making a nice home for your hens. You’ll enjoy keeping chickens and all the eggs-ellent benefits that come from the newest members of your homestead family.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for raising chickens?
  • What do you use for your nesting boxes?