chicken run

Is this Sydney’s smallest green roof?

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The small green roof, fully installed and planted on the end of the chicken run.
The small green roof, fully installed and planted on the end of the chicken run.

A green roof is where a garden is installed to cover a roof, typically to a depth of 150mm on top of a strong waterproofing layer. It’s a great way of getting extra greenery into a property, and the roof also asborbs water run-off.

About a month ago I stumbled across the book Small Green Roofs, on Amazon. It’s a wonderful book that has 40 different inspiring case studies, all covering small, non-commercial green roofs (full book review to come).

Feeling inspired (and running short of projects around the house), I decided to construct a green roof at the end of the chicken run.

At 1.2m x 1.6m (1.9m2), this may be Sydney’s smallest green roof.

The corrugated iron that previously covered the end of the chicken run.
The corrugated iron that previously covered the end of the chicken run.

When we created the chicken run, I installed several left-over sheets of Colorbond at the end of the chicken run, to give cover for the chicken feeder (and the chickens!). This is now replaced by the green roof.

The structural ply installed, along with extra structural support.
The structural ply installed, along with extra structural support.

The starting point was to install a sheet of 25mm exterior-grade structural ply. This is very strong (and heavy), and it provides the base for the green roof.

The next challenge is to deal with the extra weight of the green roof. For a soil depth of 150mm, a green roof weighs 250kg per sq. m. That’s a lot!

Thankfully the chicken run was constructed strongly in the first place. To provide extra support, I installed a new vertical post (front left corner of the new green roof in the picture above). This was concreted into the ground. Extra rafters were installed, along with bracing back to existing posts.

Other than the structural ply, everything else used wood and materials salvaged locally, or left over from the house renovation.

The sides of the green roof go on.
The sides of the green roof go on.

The sides of the green roof were constructed out of left-over roof beams, 200mm high. Because the sides of the wood were very uneven (from sitting in the weather for 10+ years), I put in an extra layer of ply to assist with waterproofing.

There’s a 20mm gap along the bottom edge of the green roof, to allow water to drain away.

The waterproofing complete, ready for the garden itself.
The waterproofing complete, ready for the garden itself.

I had some left-over “pond liner” paint, so I used three coats of that to seal the base and sides of the green roof. On top of that I installed a layer of 20mm Atlantis flo-cell (left over from the reworked raised garden beds). A layer of geotextile then keeps the soil out of the drainage system.

The green roof planted out.
The green roof planted out.

As a stroke of luck, just as I was ready to fill the garden bed, a friend rang to ask whether I needed any soil, as he was clearing out his back garden. A ute load’s worth of soil later (courtesy of GoGet), this is the final green roof.

Green roofs would typically be planted with sedum (a low growing succulent), to cope with the extreme conditions and low water levels. In this shaded position, however, that isn’t an option.

Instead, I’ve put in some water crystals, and have planted out the garden with a mix of:

  • lomandra
  • dianella
  • ferns
  • native ground covers (native violet, white root and northern cranesbill)

Already it looks great from the back verandah, and I’ll blog new pictures in six months after (hopefully) the plants have all grown up.

Keeping rats out of the chicken run

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Laying down wire underneath the full length of the chicken run, to keep out the rats.

“Rat cunning.” It’s an expression you hear, but you don’t fully understand until you see them in action.

When we created our chicken run, we ran aviary mesh up the sides of the run, and chicken wire across the top. Old concrete garden edges were dug 30cm into the ground on all sides, locking down the wire.

We thought it would be enough to keep out the rats. Boy were we wrong!

Within a month, rats started tunneling under the fence from the convent next door. They went under the concrete edging, and opened up new holes every night. (It doesn’t help that we back onto the railway line, which is both rat haven and highway.)

While the the chickens themselves were safe in their Fort Knox of chicken coops, the rats were scavenging any feed scattered about by the hens.

So I spent the last few weekends digging up the chicken run, laying down wire, and then cementing in the gaps. A lot of work, but hopefully the chickens should be safe now.

Of course, the wire will rust away in a few years. Had we known what we know now, we’d have bitten the bullet and laid a concrete slab when we created the run.

Still, this should last a while. And maybe when these defenses fail, I’ll be feeling more enthusiastic about laying a slab.

The take-away message: don’t underestimate rats, particularly when you live in the inner-city.