Nesting Box Curtain
Leave a couple inches below your curtain to allow it to close freely.

Make Your Own Nesting Box Curtain for Clean Eggs and less breakage

There are two main reasons that you might consider installing a coop curtain on your nesting boxes:

Reduce Egg Breakage - Let's face it. Sometimes eggs get broken. They are laid on top of other eggs. The hen rolls them around after laying, as is her nature. Shells are sometimes weak because the hen is not getting enough calcium into her eggs, due to age or nutrition or both. Chickens who don's see eggs don't seem to go looking for them out of curiosity or out of recalling how tasty they can be. And you don't want to let them get a taste for eggs. If many learn the fine art of breaking eggs from one another, they will likely make a daily mess and ruin a lot of eggs.

Stop Chickens sleeping in nesting boxes A hen who is avoiding bullying or having difficulty finding a spot on the roosting bars, make choose a nesting box for her sleeping quarters. The problem is that sleeping chickens leave droppings behind. The result is dirty and/or stained eggs and messy nesting boxes.

Gives the hens a little privacy and security for that vulnerable moment of laying her egg where her cloaca (aka. vent) is exposed and can be injured by curious or aggressive flockmates.

In all of these instances, we are aided by a great chicken keeper wisdom. "Out of Sight. Out of Mind."

Make your own Coop Curtain

You will need:

A length of dowel cut a couple inches longer on each end than your nesting box will serve as a curtain rod. I used an old broomstick with rubber chair leg caps on the ends to help hold the curtain from sliding off and to keep the rod from sliding out of the hooks.

Note: You can take your dowel to the hardware store to make sure your hooks and caps are the correct size.

Fabric - denim, canvas or other cotton - I used some reclaimed canvas and liked how it is heavier and tends to fall closed on its own - you could double lighter fabric

2 screw hooks to fit your dowel - you should be able to slide your dowel into the hooks

thread, sewing machine, pins or clips

flat iron

Installing the Coop Curtain Rod

Install a heavy duty screw-in hook, keeping the hook 2" or more from any obstruction or, as in my case (see left) corner.

Install a screw hook to hold the nesting box curtain.
Tip: Predrill the hole for the screw hook. Use a screw driver to finish the installation with ease.
Hooks for hanging Nesting Box Curtain
Screw hooks installed to carry Nesting Box Curtain

Make sure that your caps fit snugly on the end of your dowels and the dowels fit in the hooks.

Temporarily hang your curtain rod on the hooks. Add the rubber chair leg caps. If that all works fine, you are ready to measure for your curtain. These are going to be unique to your coop, so take a piece of paper and note the measurements you take.

Now for the WIDTH of the panels. My nesting box has three nests in it. I took three measurements - from the left hook to the center of the first nest box. From the center of the first nesting box to the center of the second nesting box. From the center of the second to the center of the third nesting box and finally from there to the right hook.

Also measure the HEIGHT from the top of the hook to where you want the bottom of the curtain to fall. Leaving it above the litter will keep it cleaner and allow the panels to close even when litter builds up in winter.

Draw patterns for each of your panels, using the height and length measurements you have made. Now add 1/2" to each of the sides and bottom. To the top, add 2" to the top. Draw around the outer lines with a heavy marker from SHEETS of paper, taped as necessary.

Around each panel, press and turn up 1/4" on all sides. Stitch.

Turn up 2" on the top and stitch within 1/8" of the edge, creating a 2" casing for the rod. Double stitch the ends.

Install the curtain panels in the proper order left to right. Hold the rod up before the nesting boxes to confirm that you have the panels laid out properly. Hang the rod on the hooks you previously installed. Add the chair leg caps.

Nesting Box Curtain
Leave a couple inches below your curtain to help it close freely.

You may wish to use a clothes pin to hold the curtain open. Chickens are notorious for being terrified of new things and this can help them adjust.

Nesting Box Curtain Installed
Clip open the panels to help the chickens get used to their new nesting box curtain

I also installed a manure shield (upper left) as the curtain is near the roosting bars. this will keep the litter and the chickens feet cleaner on their way in and out of the nesting boxes. This is a simple scrap of plywood, attached with a couple of screws into the upper horizontal wall support and resting on the lower support which carries the hooks.

The chickens never skipped a beat using their nesting boxes. Each day I closed one of the curtains. I am happy to report that broken eggs are rare now and the nesting boxes stay clean . Success!

How to identify jumping worms, prevent them and what to do if you've discovered them in your garden

What are jumping Worms??

Note: The above was determined to be an ordinary earthworm - sedate and almost sleepy when I lifted it from the soil in my blueberry patch.

Jumping worms have been in the US for quite some time, imported to the US probably on plant roots. However the recent concern has arisen because they seem to be spreading quite rapidly at this time. They resemble the "normal" earthworms and nightcrawlers which we are accustomed to seeing in the garden. It is interesting to note that earthworms are not native either. Because they can be helpful in speeding the decay of humus (decomposing leaves and other plant material) into soil nutrients, we have come to think of them as beneficial.

The difference with jumping worms is that they tend to appear in much greater numbers and have voracious appetites. This can create soil devoid of all nutrition affecting plant growth. These worms are likely to be devastating to the forest landscape here in Vermont as it is dependent on very slow decay which consistently feeds the many native plants and trees. Areas where they have invaded show a lack of low growing plants in forested areas. Some groves, such as hemlock stands, are naturally devoid of low growing plants, so look for a change from the norm.

As a gardener, jumping worms can cause slow growth, plant failure and reduced harvest. They can also destroy the earthworms and nightcrawlers to which we are accustomed.

Identifying Jumping Worms

This video was sent by a fellow gardener wondering if this might be an example of the jumping worm.

A first sign of jumping worms can be an unusual texture of the soil, which looks like coffee grounds. This is the worm castings (poop). You would also likely note an absence of bits of decaying matter - bits of grass or other decaying matter that you typically see in your garden.

If you are digging, pulling weeds or harvesting root vegetables and see a worm that is more active than the normal earthworm, you can suspect it is likely a jumping worm. I have developed the habit of picking up any worm and having a look at it before deciding it is benign.

Jumping worms are often present in numbers in an area. Pick the worm(s) up by hand or with your trowel and place in a container. Relax, take your time and have a good look. These worms are not poisonous nor can they hurt you so there is no need to be nervous about handling them. They are pretty good climbers so don't leave them in an open container as they can escape pretty quickly.

When disturbed by a touch, a jumping worm will thrash around. This is the most identifying feature of jumping worms. A regular earthworm may move but with a slower, sedate movement.

Examine the worm closely. On a jumping worm, the clitellum (band of tissue near the head which contains reproductive organs) closely encircles the entire body. In an ordinary earthworm, it is raised and is only on top.

Preventing Jumping Worm Infestation

The best way to deal with jumping worms is to prevent infestation in the first place.

Plant Roots

Jumping worms often arrive on plant roots. Purchase bare root plants and grow your own vegetable and flower seedlings if possible.

You can wash potted plant roots in three changes of water but because the eggs are minute, it can be difficult to be sure you have eliminated all of them. Also, the eggs may still be present in the wash water, so your wash water could spread them wherever you dump it. Heat is the only known way to kill the eggs (100 degrees +) for several hours.

Buying worms

Don't buy worms advertised as jumping worms, crazy worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers for any purpose. When buying worms, ask!

Solarize Your Soil Amendments

Watch carefully for jumping worms and the coffee grounds texture in any material You are considering for addition to your soil. They love compost, manure, leaf litter and mulch because of the high volume of organic matter.

Solarize bags of potting soil by leaving them in full bright sunlight for 3 days. Temperatures above 100 degrees will kill the worms and eggs.

Solarize compost by laying down a tarp. Place material 4 - 6 inches deep on the tarp. Pull in the edges and add another tarp, tucking the top tarp under the bottom one. Leave for 3 days in full sun.

Solarizing in the garden can be helpful in killing eggs, but the worms likely just leave the area if they find it too hot.

What to do if you find Jumping Worms in your soil

There are some things you can do.

If possible, take photos and video and also photos of the soil where you found them.

Destroy the worms in one of the following ways:

Place in a tightly sealed plastic bag and either leave it in the sun or place it in the freezer. Then discard the entire bag in the trash.

Drop them into alcohol, vinegar or water mixed with a squirt of dishsoap.

It won't completely solve the problem, but can help to control the population in that any you kill will not reproduce.

Solarize the area where you found them:

Solarizing probably won't kill adult worms as they will probably just move on to a cooler area. But it will kill eggs. The adults will die over winter.

Solarizing is likely most effective in the spring because the adults will be dead and the eggs unhatched. But solarizing the area can help at any time to reduce the number of eggs.

To solarize the area, cover the area with clear plastic and leave it there in the heat of the sun for 3 weeks.

Report suspected jumping worms

Upload photos of jumping worms you find to to help track the invasive species.

Dehydrating and Freezing Herbs

Harvesting Herbs

Cleaning your herbs:

Damaged thyme leaves to be removed before washing in preparation for dehydrating
It is common for plants such as this thyme to have damaged or dead leaves. Pinch or snip them off.
Dead and damaged leaves have been removed from this sage.
The sage on the right has had any dead or damaged leaves removed. (Debris on left)

Place your herbs in a large bowl of water so the plant material has room to move with ease. If you have a large amount, work in small batches. I like to rinse in one side of the sink and have the strainer of my salad spinner in the other side to catch the herbs as I swish and remove small handfuls.

Time to clean the herbs in cool, clean tap water using plenty of water to flush away debris.
Time to clean the spearmint!
Washing mint in cool tap water to demonstrate the grass and debris that may not be apparent.
Note the bits of debris left behind after lifting out small handfuls of spearmint, swishing as we go!

As we swish the herbs freely in the water, any dirt, insects or other debris are rinsed into the water. Swish and lift small handfuls and transfer them into the strainer basket of the salad spinner.

TIP: If you don't have a salad spinner, you can lay your herbs in a colander to drain and then on a clean bath-sized towel. Pull the corners of the towel together and lightly roll and flip the towel to help to dry the leaves.

Dehydrator Method

Herbs in the Dehydrator
Herbs placed with ample airspace in the dehydrator.

Place a single layer of herbs, not touching, on the trays of your dehydrator. For best flavor, dehydrate at 95 - 110 degrees F. Times vary depending on the plant you are working with. My thyme took a few hours, sage twice that long. Herbs are ready when they snap or crumble between your fingers. Each has its own texture.

Sage keeps its shape even when dry, for example. It can be stored in whole leaves or rubbed between thumb and forefinger to crumble it into material similar to what you find in the market. Thyme crumbles easily leaving stems that are better picked out as they don't easily break down in cooking.

Store right away in sealed plastic bags or other airtight containers to prevent mold. Herbs left in the dehydrator will get soft again.

Air Dry Method

After washing, lay plants out on trays until they are no longer wet from washing. Tie in small bundles, allowing for air flow, and hang until dry. Or lay out on sheet trays until fully dry, turning frequently. A fan can help speed up this process. If humidity is high, it can be difficult to get the herbs to dry completely. Watch for mold.

Freezing Herbs

After washing, finely chop herbs. Put them in containers for use and freeze. Most herbs will freeze into a solid block so I like to freeze them in small amounts. Another solution is to freeze them on a sheet tray and then bag them once frozen.

My favorite method for freezing herbs is to chop them in the food processor and spoon them into an ice cube tray designated for this use (the lingering flavor of basil is not that good in a pitcher of lemonade - ask me how I know) . Once frozen, pop out the cubes and bag them up for long term storage. Then I can toss a cube of basil in a pot of sauce or use several for a batch of pesto.

Savor the flavor all winter long !!

Picking Herbs


Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Preserving Herbs

We've just experienced quite a flood here in Vermont! And still most days have a mild to moderate rain shower. The hours for gardening have been brief for weeks and one must optimize them. After a recent rain shower and more in the forecast, I decided to harvest some garden herbs. As the rain came down, I worked indoors to clean and preserve my harvest.

My little herb garden has grown each year and now contains some hearty perennials -

Horseradish - won't be harvested until late October or early November.
Thyme ready to harvest
Sage ready for harvesting
Spearmint ready for harvest.

Harvesting in mid summer is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Many herbs have a spreading habit and can create chaos in the herb garden. Pruning contains plant growth, ensures adequate sunshine, prevents crowding, and allows for adequate air flow. Giving the plants more room helps to prevent bacterial and fungal infections in plants which can occur under crowded conditions.
  • You get fresh herbs to use now!
  • Pruning encourages fresh plant growth and removes areas of insect damage and dead foliage which can become havens for pests and disease.
  • Makes future harvesting easier
  • Delays blooming which degrades the quality of the leaves as the plant redirects all of its energy to making seeds.
  • Pruning off diseased or insect damaged parts helps to determine whether the damage is ongoing.

How to harvest:

Note the branching growth pattern of this mint (Before). A new shoot emerges above each leaf. You want to clip the stem just above a leaf joint - where the leaf meets the stem (During). What remains are two side shoots which will develop rapidly (After). Many herbs grow this way and benefit from this same type of pruning.

Mint Needing Pruning
Spearmint crowding the horseradish showing the need for pruning

This mint is crowding the horseradish and because of all the recent rain, one of my goals with this harvest is to let the sun in and improve airflow around the plants to help them recover from excessive rainfall. The mint will make a lovely tea, fresh or dried for winter use.


The spots on the horseradish leaves look like Alternaria or Cercospora spot, both are common fungal pathogens affecting horseradish and worsened by wet weather. Horseradish will not be harvested until late October or early November.

Basket of Herbs
A basket of thyme harvested in the same way as mint.

Collect your herbs in a towel lined basket or basin and add a fresh towel between types of herbs to make separating them in the kitchen easier. The black spotting on this thyme will be clipped off in the kitchen before washing. As the rain begins to fall, it's time to head to the kitchen to clean and dry the harvest

Now to the kitchen to clean and preserve our herbs!!

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