Chris and Tarah Harlin talk with Marybeth Janerich outside their beautiful and functional chicken coops.
By Lizzi Brosseau
We are thrilled to be partnering this year with Wasatch Community Gardens on a virtual version of their Urban Garden and Farm Tour. In this special series of videos, we’ll be showcasing some creative, experimental and downright beautiful urban gardens and farms in the Salt Lake City community. Come with us, as we take a virtual peek over the fence into our neighbors’ backyards!
The Most Spoiled Hens in Salt Lake City
Urban chicken keeping is very popular these days, so we’re excited to be able to show you some of the most spoiled hens in Salt Lake City. Chicken coop ideas abound in the details of Chris and Tarah Harlin's backyard (also known as “chicken paradise.”) They’ve spent the last 7 years doing a bit of their own urban homesteading, and we hope that you’ll be inspired by what they’ve built.
VIDEO: Chris and Tarah Harlin Garden Tour
Tarah and Chris’ Association with Wasatch Community Gardens
Tarah first became acquainted with Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) in 2007, when she took a compost class. After the class she went home and she and Chris immediately started building a compost bin. She continued to take classes and brought back what she learned into their home garden. Eventually Chris and Tarah returned the favor by designing and building the chicken coop and run at WCG’s Grateful Tomato Garden.
When the WCG Urban Garden and Farm Tour first started, Chris and Tarah loved attending because they discovered a lot of ideas for their garden that they were eager to take home. Those inspiring tours helped them to eventually turn their backyard into an attraction of its own, and they became a stop on the tour for several years. One year, their home was the most visited site! They are happy to be able to do the tour (virtually) again this year.
Tarah, Anamelia and Chris in the “living room” of their chicken coop paradise.
Tarah and Chris’ Garden
In Tarah and Chris’ backyard there are spaces for relaxing, wandering, and also... pecking and scratching. This beautiful backyard has much to do, see and enjoy for any human, but especially a lot to do for any chicken! Or dog. Or blue jay, sparrow or carpenter bee or butterfly—the list goes on and on. Chris and Tarah have turned their quarter acre backyard into a beautiful haven for many creatures.
Colorful accents that are fun and functional; there’s a record player in the blue cabinet and flowers for cutting in the pots.
There are three outdoor seating areas in Chris and Tarah’s backyard, each one offering a different view of the garden. First is the patio directly outside of their back door, which is accessible through the house or the side fence via a shade cloth covered, winding stone pathway. This patio is hardscaped and covered with a wood awning, which covers a beautiful wood picnic table, perfect for those pre-COVID larger gatherings of friends and family. It looks out onto a green lawn space partially shaded by chestnut and Linden trees.
On the opposite side of their garage-turned-woodshop, there is a patio and seating area with a record player for enjoying some of their favorite albums, over coffee and toast in the morning or beers in the evening. Adjacent to the patio is a water fountain that was just installed this year. (A “pandemic” fountain, as gardening projects in 2020 are coming to be popularly called.) The pollinator garden provides the view for this seating area, and Chris says that every morning the garden smells like baking chocolate because of their attractive and fragrant Chocolate flowers.
Chris inspects their fountain for moss that needs to be removed.
Tarah and Chris started their pollinator garden two years ago and it has since grown into a lush and flourishing garden stop for pollinators. They love it for its beauty, fragrance, and utility as a pollinator attractor. The flowers also work wonderfully in bouquets and various flower arrangements, either fresh or dry. Herbs that have gone to flower remain useful as natural fresheners in the chicken coops. The “pandemic” fountain is the newest feature of the pollinator garden, placed close to their patio to provide relaxing sounds for restorative moments spent enjoying the garden.
trawflower and China Aster Moonstone growing in Chris and Tarah’s cut flower garden.
Crop Rotation via Cutting Garden
As we continue on our tour of Chris and Tarah’s beautiful garden, the pollinator garden pathway leads through a gorgeous blackberry arch with plump berries. On the other side are their raised garden beds. This year Tarah and Chris decided to do a bit of crop rotation, and are growing flowers instead of vegetables. In smaller gardens like Chris and Tarah’s, crop rotation can be achieved by growing a different crop than what was grown in previous years. This prevents extracting the same nutrients from the soil year after year, and to reduce the incidence of pests and diseases and is typically recommended to do every year if possible.
Growing fewer veggies this year was also a different type of rest, because processing a veggie harvest can be a lot of work! They are still growing a few veggies like runner beans, cucumber, chard, and peppers in their garden boxes, as well as various containers with trellises, but haven’t dedicated their garden beds solely to veggies.
Globe amaranth growing in Chris and Tarah’s cutting garden.
Instead, their raised beds are popping with globe amaranth, strawflower, Zinnia, Dahlia, Echinacea, and Sunflowers. Tarah uses the flowers in wreaths as well as bouquets. Chris noted that one unexpected problem with their cutting garden is that they love being outside, so it’s difficult to cut and take the flowers indoors because they are never inside!
Tarah’s and Chris’ adorable chicken coop that features a door from an abandoned Wisconsin barn, a dried wreath made from the cutting garden, and chicken themed nursery wallpaper.
Why are chickens so popular with gardeners? “Well, their poop can be gold,” Tarah says. Chicken fertilizer is one of the most tempting reasons to keep chickens if you want some seriously beautiful garden compost. But chickens can also provide weed control, pest control, and of course, they lay eggs!
Chris and Tarah said that when they bought their house 7 years ago, owning chickens and building a good home for them was the first thing on their to-do list. Years later they’ve definitely succeeded! The happy Harlin hens have taken over Tarah’s Instagram feed. Tarah says, “They are really part of our family, they’re not just egg producers.”
They built their first chicken run near their woodshop, but eventually realized it was too sunny of a location. They decided to move it to a shadier spot in their backyard that had been overgrown by weeds. Luckily, the chickens helped with the weeds. “They will destroy everything,” Tarah says. In this case, they definitely benefited from their chickens “destructicon” (as they call it) tendencies.
Designating a specific spot for their chicken run keeps the hens away from things they shouldn’t be eating. But with a chicken run this accommodating, it’s a wonder the hens ever want to wander from it at all!
One ingenious feature of the chicken run is a small raised bed for growing fresh greens that Tarah has covered with ½” hardward cloth so that the chickens can only eat the leaves growing through the wire and not the roots. This allows the greens to continually regrow for future feasts.
Their well thought-out chicken run has different zones, like a living room area and dust bath. There’s even a secondary dust bath for guests! Well... technically it used to be a herb and flower planting bed that Chris thought was a good idea when they were young and naive chicken owners. The girls promptly showed him how much better it would be as an additional dust bath, and decimated all the plants growing in it. Lesson learned! Chris and Tarah don’t have anything growing in their chicken run that they don’t want the hens to eat.
Anamelia, their young Buff Orpington, in one of the two chambers of a chicken coop.
As any urban chicken keeper will tell you, from time to time there is a need to isolate sick or new chickens. To create options for isolation, Chris added a chamber to the old chicken coop so that they can isolate a chicken when necessary. This also works really well for introducing new chicks to the flock. The two chambers are separated by a sliding door so that the chickens can be separated or reintroduced with ease.
Tarah and Chris decided to remodel their chicken coop and make it full of light and life, through all seasons. They also wanted to create a space where Tarah could hang out with the chickens. So they set to work building an additional chicken coop that is so cute, it could be listed on Airbnb!
The adorable interior of Tarah and Chris' remodeled chicken coop.
This chicken coop features a brightly colored ramp, and cozy but fresh nest boxes where they lay eggs. Tarah doesn’t like the smell of chicken poop, so she keeps herbs in the nest boxes. There’s also a chicken squatting area that they built at waist level so that it’s easier to clean up their poop. Below that is a mini chicken run, fenced and paneled-in to create a separate space for younger chicks from pecking older chickens.
The chicken ramp in the remodeled chicken coop, with hanging herbs adding to the cozy atmosphere.
Adorable chicken themed wallpaper lines the back of the coop, and it’s as practical as it is cute—this wallpaper is intended for a nursery, so it’s easy to wipe clean. “Way easier to keep clean than painted plywood,” Tarah said. Aside from being adorable, the coop has great ventilation, and is set up for easy cleaning and access by human and chicken alike. “They make it look really easy,” Marybeth said.
Recommendations from Tarah about becoming a chicken keeper? Do your research before you buy a chicken. They are so cute, but they are a live animal, so it’s important to learn about what they need first. Tarah says that there is a lot of information out there about chicken keeping, but in general the most important considerations are good ventilation, keeping them safe and protected from predators, and learning about the correct way to feed them. Tarah also pointed out that they need heat when they are first brought home, and that it can take about 20 weeks before they produce eggs. Another important thing to know is that eggs are seasonal. “You will get a lot of eggs at first,” Tarah said, “but in the following year they will take molting periods when they won’t lay.”
Tarah’s seed starting and potting shed that Chris made from found lumber, windows and even an old garage door!
Seed Starting and Potting Shed
When Tarah and Chris first moved into their home, the backyard originally had a large cement slab. They weren’t sure what to do with it, but as Tarah took flower and seed starting classes from WCG, she began dreaming about having a shed to start seeds in. Over the course of a year, Chris saved wood and windows and other building materials that he collected from curbside pickups in their neighborhood, and eventually started framing up the structure.
Tarah starts her seeds in January and February, and uses a rack with shelf lights. Shelves along the southern wall hold seed starting and potting supplies, just under a row of windows that provide the perfect amount of heat to keep the shed cozy in the wintertime. Tarah and Chris also use the shed as a place to dry and cure various goodies from their garden.
Pumpkin, a Buff Brahma, free ranging in Tarah and Chris’ backyard paradise.
Build a Paradise of Your Own
What was our biggest takeaway from our visit with Chris and Tarah? That time spent building a beautiful garden is never time wasted, especially if you love being outdoors rather than in. We hope you’ve been inspired and learned something that you can take to build your own backyard paradise!
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Modern Gardener Host and Author
Lizzi works for PBS Utah as a digital producer and host of Modern Gardener. Read more