Friday, July 1, 2011

Living Roof Coops

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Last year when my husband built our chicken coop, he wanted to make it unique and decided to add a living roof. He said it would be a "one of a kind" coop -  "Nothing else like it in the world!" Well, it turns out that there is really "nothing new under the sun" and there are a lot of awesome living roof coops made by some ingenious chicken keepers...

I had a lot of interest in the coop last year when I wrote about its construction (The Coop's Beginning), so I thought I'd share how the roof has progressed and go into more detail on the actual steps of adding a living roof.

The photo on the right was taken shortly after we completed the coop last August.

And this is how the roof looked this spring! Until last week, I hadn't even watered the roof. The type of plants that I chose, sedums, are very drought tolerate and require little water, but after a month of less than an inch of rainfall the roof was looking a little parched.

Why did we choose to add a living roof to the coop?

  • We make living roof birdhouses and bird feeders that we sell at our local Farmers' Market and Jeff thought that a chicken coop would be the ultimate birdhouse!
  • It's a great natural layer of insulation on the rooftop, keeping the coop cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • It's an excuse for another garden!
  • It has a great aesthetic appeal--it just looks cool...
  • The chickens appreciate having an attractive coop.
Here's the steps that we took to make our living roof (on a much smaller scale!):

  • Waterproofing the roof: Jeff, my husband, actually made a separate roof tray on top of the existing roof frame. He then lined the roof with roofing tar paper. I wouldn't use this as a water barrier if you are planning on planting edibles; plastic sheeting or a pond liner would then be a better option.
  • Drainage: This step is particularly important if you choose to have a flat roof design. There needs to be some way for the water to drain, but not into the coop itself. It's a lot like planting a container garden. There first needs to be a layer of either crushed rocks/gravel or you could get creative and recycle or repurpose something you already have on hand--plastic containers, packing peanuts, etc.
  • Soil: A good-quality potting soil is essential. Make sure the soil is moist and compressed as much as possible. To keep the soil from sliding down the the pitch of the roof, Jeff added horizontal slats across the roof frame. The actual depth of your roof and the amount of soil needed will depend on the type of plants you use. One of the advantages of the variety of plants that I have on my roof is that their root system is very shallow (only an inch or two) and a large depth of soil isn't necessary.
  • Sphagnum moss: This step is not necessary in all living roof constructions, but I've found that it works well in our design. I add a thick layer of water-soaked sphagnum moss; it not only holds the soil in place, but retains a large amount of moisture (up to 10 times its weight). The moss also decomposes slowly so, with luck, it will extend the life of the roof ... and I'll have several years before I have to redo the entire job.
  • Chicken wire: I secure the soil, moss and plants in place with chicken wire pulled tightly and stapled to the frame of the roof. Then I trim off the excess wire, and tuck more moss around the edges or anywhere that the wire is still visible.

  • Add the Plants! This is a personal preference and it depends on the purpose or function of your living roof. As I mentioned earlier, the type of plants I chose, sedums, require little maintenance and once established they are very drought tolerant. After planting a lot of rooftops, I've came up with my top 10 list of favorite plants. They're all super tough, reliable and winter hardy (zone 3-4; -30 degrees). Click on the link below to see photos and a more detailed description ...

    1. Sedum kamtschaticum 'Orange Stonecrop'
    2. Sedum sarmentosum 'Graveyard Moss'
    3. Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce'
    4. Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'
    5. Sedum spurium 'John Creech'
    6. Sedum kamtschaticum 'Weihenstephaner Gold'
    7. Sedum lydium 'Lydium'
    8. Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut'
    9. Sedum hispanium 'Blue Carpet'
    10. Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'

    Here's a few more examples of living roof coops. I love how they're all unique, creative and inspiring!

    Photo courtesy of Debra Miller
    "The coop is made of cedar and has a green roof--basically a pool liner with some strategic drains, some coconut husk/dirt mixture and a bunch of sedums. I planted 'hens and chicks' on top for a little insider humor!"--Debra Miller. You can view more of Debra's photos on her flickr stream and visit her blog--bee's nest.
    Photo courtesy of Tim Trullinger
    "I love the look and the garden on top really did keep the interior temp down. Besides that, we harvested nearly a year's supply of great Italian spices. Apparently basil, oregano and stuff don't object to having their roots baked a bit if you leave town for a long weekend!"--Tim Trullinger
    Photo courtesy of Liz Jenkins
    "We used 3/4-inch plywood and caulked and painted the bottom as well as added a black plastic liner under the soil to keep moisture from entering the coop. If the chickens can get on top of the coop, as ours did, they will destroy it. We are revamping ours to be enclosed because the chickens were free ranging--they hopped right up once they figured out they could and ate everything in sight! So this year we are working on a screening for it so we can grow herbs."--Liz Jenkins. Visit Liz's blog-- A Fresh Space.

    Kathy Lafleur's Amazing Chicken Coop
    Photo courtesy of Bonnie Manion
    "Kathy has transformed this aviary into a 'palais de poulet' for her hens. On the top of her roof she added roof tiles and planted beautiful thriving blooming succulents."--Bonnie Manion. Visit Bonnie's blog--VintageGardenGal

    Kippen House--"A gardeners chicken coop"
    "Kippen House chicken coops are not your typical farm accessory. Aesthetically modern and made-to-order, these chicken coops also include built-in garden space so you don’t have to sacrifice a square inch of your yard when adding chickens to your urban farm."--Kippen House

    Share photos of your chicken coop on our Community Chickens facebook page. I'd love to see them!

    To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit ...the garden-roof coop. View our living roof birdhouses at Rebecca's Bird Gardens.


    1. My coop is in shade but I'll try Ivy!

    2. Everyone is into green living - even chickens! The green roofing isn't just aesthetically pleasing; it's also a great absorbent of rainwater, and it definitely provides insulation for the chickens.

      Adam Waterford

    3. Amazing post! Brimming with inspiration!!!

    4. I am in the process of building my garden shed/chicken coop. Part of the roof will have a living roof. My question is how deep is the living roof on your chicken coop? Looks to be about 4 inches? thanks! Brenda

    5. It’s a great idea to make this kind of roof! It’s very lively and environmentally friendly at the same time. Waterproofing is the best way to keep water leaks from damaging your property. I hope to see more of your projects soon. :)

      Richard Boles


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