DIY

Tree Update and My Newfound Love of Mulch!

The tree saga continues.  I had no idea when we started this project that it was going to take so long.  Of course, this spring has been unusually rainy and windy, preventing us do-it-yourselfers from safely hugging branches as we cut the tree down.  But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A couple weeks ago we had a friend come help us get some of the higher up branches of the tree.  We were so grateful for Chris’ help.  He is a rock climber and used to work cutting down trees in the forest, so he came prepared with ropes and a super-light chain saw.  He cut down nearly all the top branches for us and helped Rick navigate them safely to the ground.  We have power lines on both the North and East sides of our yard, the neighbors garage on the South, and our own house to the West of the tree.  Not to mention the fence and the chicken coop.  It was quite a feat getting through that obstacle course.  Click the photos for best view.

   

Rick was able to get the last top branches down Memorial Day weekend on his own.  After the branches were down, I ran everything that would fit through the chipper and “finished” adding mulch to the garden.  I think I’m addicted to mulch.  It’s the first time we’ve used it and it looks so nice and defines the beds so well, and seems to be doing its job keeping weeds away (and certainly the mud!).  I’m an official mulch convert!

 

Now all we have left is the trunk and the main limbs.  They are huge, and will require a chainsaw, but thankfully they are out of range of the wires and other obstacles.  I’ve contacted a local mill to see about having the trunk milled into lumber.  We’re still trying to come up with a plan for the big limbs and branches though.  But… we’re almost done.  Almost.

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Categories: DIY, Garden | Tags: , | 6 Comments

New Nest Boxes

Lately we’ve been getting a lot of broken eggs in the nest box.  We have five hens sharing one box and I think it was just too crowded.  At least we hope that’s what’s going on and not that we have an egg eater.

We decided to build a new nest box for them.  It’s a free-standing box that holds three nests.  It took me most of Saturday to build with Rick’s help, but I think it turned out pretty well.

I started with a 1x3x8, a 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood that had an exterior finish on one side, some scrap lumber we had around the garage.

Rick was picking up more stone, so I drew the pieces I needed up on the plywood and cut them out with the jigsaw.  We miraculously got the camera to work, but no one was around to take pictures of me with the jigsaw.  My lines weren’t perfectly straight, but I figured the chickens wouldn’t notice.

I used some scrap pieces of 2×4 for the legs and attached them to the base.

By then the boys and I needed lunch and Rick came back with a load of stone, so I took a break.  After the stone was on the ground and everyone had been fed I went back to work cutting the pieces for the interior of the box.

I was glad to have Rick around for the assembly.  Some things would have been really difficult to manage by myself.  Here’s the basic construction nearly complete.  Just needs the last side and the roof.

I really tried hard not to over-engineer this project, as I tend to usually do.  When we took down the old nest box from the side of the coop, Rick commented that it was a virtual bomb shelter for the hens.  Haha.  Well, this one  is sturdy and I hope will be functional. See my sketch?  Not too over-engineered, right?

When we originally built the coop, we placed it next to the house.  And since our house is white with cream-colored trim, we left it cream-colored.  But since we were remodeling the coop a bit and it’s been moved to another part of the yard now, I really wanted to paint the nest box and the chicken coop some cute colors.

While I was painting the roof and in between coats on the nest box, Rick went after some too-long screws along the inside of the box with his Dremel tool.

After the roof was attached and the second coat of paint was drying, our neighbors came home.  They had left in the morning as I was setting out the plywood on the saw horses.  They were amazed that I had built the box!

We set the box in the chicken yard and immediately one of the hens took notice.  She tried to jump up and hit her head on the roof, which was overhanging a bit too far.  Rick trimmed it back a bit and then they were able to get in without much trouble.

We intentionally made it lower to the ground so the boys could help collect eggs. The chickens are getting used to it.  I was afraid at first that we’d have a revolt or that I made it entirely too small (the boxes are a cozy 11″ x 12″), but on Sunday they all hopped in (for some it took a couple tries) and took a turn.  We are probably going to locate it a bit differently than it is in the picture so they can have a bit more privacy, but so far so good.  Now I’m chomping at the bit to repaint the coop to match.

Did you complete any projects this weekend?

 

This post was part of the Food Soil Thread blog party!

Categories: Chickens, DIY | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sticks and Stones

What work!  Last weekend, after getting started on the tree, there was quite literally a yard full of limbs, branches and sticks.  So Saturday we went outside to tackle that before we could continue with any more tree removal.  We had also posted an ad on craigslist looking for free red flagstone for the patio we want, and someone responded saying if you come take it, it’s yours.  So Rick headed over there to check it out.  He returned three times with our neighbor’s truck with loads of awesome big, thick pieces of sandstone.  Perfect pieces.  And enough to do the patio!

Notice all these branches? They are now in 11 neat piles.

At the end of the day we estimate that Rick moved a ton and a half to two tons of stone, twice (once loading and once unloading), by himself.  And I had cut up all the branches and sticks into piles – eleven piles, all around the yard.  We’re only about a third of the way done with the tree yet.  Yow.  I so wanted a picture of all this to show you, but our camera, I think, is finally dead.  So it’s getting added to the list of things to buy before the new baby arrives.

Sunday, as you might guess, Rick and I were both stiff and sore – it was a lot of work.  Rick told Henry that he carried [the equivalent to] two elephants and Henry’s eyes turned into saucers and he was speechless.  Wow.  We decided to take it easier on Sunday.  No adding more branches tot he ground.  Instead, we scavenged the business park by Rick’s work for pallets, built a second compost bin and put the pedals back on Henry’s bike.

All in all, a great weekend.  Here’s the stats for the week…

Plant something – started some leeks inside, got seed potatoes in the mail, but not in the ground yet.

Harvest something – 21 eggs, a tiny bit of spinach.

Preserve something – nothing

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.  Rick also scavenged some parts for the grill.  We were driving through the industrial area by his work on Sunday and there was a grill out on the curb for the trash.  He looked inside and was able to take the ignition, burner, heat plate thingy and upper rack – all parts that had not been working properly or close to wearing out on our own grill.  He’d actually been to several stores last summer and searched online for the burner and the heat plate thing and was unable to find them… so score!

Want Not – Made a second compost bin out of scavenged pallets.  Also, after the bin was built, I peeked into the current (full) pile and found it to be HOT and doing it’s thing!  Yay!  And the stone of course.

Build Community Food Systems – Neighbor asked us about helping him build a smaller, barrel type compost bin.  He’s totally converting.  This makes me glad!  ;) Otherwise, arranged to sell some eggs.  That’s all.

Eat the Food – ate some black bean tortilla soup using ingredients from the freezer.  Elk twice this week too.  Lots of greens from the store though – I’m so ready for our own!

What did you do on your homestead?

 

This post was part of the Food Soil Thread blog party!
Categories: DIY, Garden, Independence Days | Tags: , ,

Starting Something Big…

We have a big locust tree in the back yard.  Rick has wanted to cut down it for a long time, pretty much since we moved in.  I liked the shade and I wanted to put a patio under the tree though, so I wouldn’t let him cut it down.  But last summer the roots and the ground around the trunk of the tree really started heaving, making putting a patio there a bad idea.  And then, last weekend when I was cleaning up the yard, raking up a million stupid bean pods from that tree, I suddenly switched sides – this tree is a pain.

Every fall it was dropping pods, usually after it snowed and was too late to clean them up.  They fall behind the chicken coop and under the lilacs and are nearly impossible to reach.  They make a huge mess everywhere.  And it was ruining my patio plans.  The tree provided a highway for squirrels who use it to steal chicken food and torment our dog.  And the squirrels built a nest in our neighbor’s roof, so anything to ruin their plans is a bonus in our minds.

So I sat on the couch Saturday morning daring myself to say out loud what I knew Rick would be overjoyed to hear.  Let’s cut down the tree.  But on one condition… that I could have my patio there with a pergola and grapes.  He agreed.

And he was overjoyed.  Rick immediately went for the ladder and the tree trimmer.  I wasn’t so sure about tackling this one ourselves – it’s a huge tree and we have power lines running along two sides of our yard.  But he was determined to get started.

It was pretty windy on Saturday, so he didn’t get much done.  But on Sunday it was really nice and the neighbor, Mike came out to help (hooray!) and they got really far.  I plan on tracking the progress of this project for the next couple of weeks until it’s completed.

I already had plans for reusing the trunk and the bigger straighter limbs, but I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with the rest of the branches.  I asked the now 6300+ people on the Taking Back Urban Home-steading(s) facebook page and got a lot of responses and great advice.  We are going to employ multiple suggestions.  Thank goodness I asked too.  Look at what we have to clean up after just a day and a half of trimming:

Some of those branches will become bean poles and trellises, some will border garden beds.  And some will become a huglekultur (more on that later).  The rest will become mulch for garden paths since we finally made permanent beds. Stay tuned for more tree progress over the next couple of weeks.

Here’s what else we did this week:

Plant something – nothing new in the ground since last week, but the lettuces, spinach and radishes are all poking their little sprouts up!

Harvest something – eggs

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.

Building Community – decided to finally sell some eggs – A friend is buying a dozen every-other week right now.  :)  Also all the neighborhood kids piled into the driveway while Rick and Mike worked on the tree Sunday.  We had the play kitchen out and the neighbor’s kids picnic table.  There were eight of them running amok with bikes, sharing lunch (fruit, pretzels and cheesy torts).  Fun times – I wish I had gotten a pic, but the camera was acting up.

Eat the Food – dried tomatoes, peaches, elk, duck, green beans and corn all from the freezer.

What did you start on this weekend?

Categories: DIY, Garden, Independence Days | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

DIY Pallet Compost Bin

This weekend Rick and I decided to move our compost bin.  Rick built it last year out of seven pallets he was able to scavenge.  I looked through all my old photos and posts and can only find a few random pictures with it in the background and no photos of its construction.  But that’s ok, because it wasn’t that great.

I mean it worked, we had two full wheel barrows full of compost (we put it in the neighbor’s garden), but the bin was poorly located, and too hard to move.  First off, we put it too close to the house.  It was really convenient for taking compost scraps to the bins from the kitchen, but it did attract some mice which wanted to move right in next door (in our house) when the weather turned chilly.

Basically the old bin was a two-bin system.  One side held compost that was almost ready and we added scraps to the other side.  Two of the pallets were hinged so we could open the bins and rotate things around as needed, but the whole thing was a bit unsteady and just awkward.  Here’s the best picture of it that I could find (that’s our neighbor, Haylee, in front of it helping Henry with his garden last spring).  See the vertical boards back there?

So when we tried to move it, it was all wobbly and heavy and kinda… well, you get the idea.  We decided we needed something better.  We built the bin Sunday afternoon reusing some of the same pallets and some scraps of lumber we had in the garage.  The new bin, with horizontal side boards, is in the chicken yard where they can have easy access to the goodies it will contain, and if it attracts mice, the chickens will take care of those for us too.  We’ll most likely build a second bin next to this one, as it was really easy (and we also generate too much yard waste for just one bin).

Here’s what we came up with, along with a “How-To” incase you want/need to build your own.

The design is based on a New Zealand Hot Box, modified to reuse the pallets we already had.  It’s roughly 3 feet high and about 4 feet square.  The size is, of course, dependent on the pallets you have.

Materials Needed:

  • (3) pallets in decent shape. Try to find ones with the top deckboards closer together, not further apart.
  • (4) 3′-6″ 2×2″ pieces of lumber.  We ripped a leftover cedar 4×4 post into fourths lengthwise.
  • At least (18) screws
  • (6) 1×6″ boards, approx. 4′ long each.  We had leftover fence pickets this size.  You could use (9) 1×4’s instead.
  • a saw, claw hammer, drill, measuring tape, sledge-hammer and helper

Directions:

Photo A

  • Use a hammer to knock the bottom deckboards off of the pallets.  Click on Photo A to see labeled parts of the pallet.
  • You may also have to saw the center projection of the runner boards off on the sides of the pallet that will become the back of the bin.
  • Using the saw, cut the ends of the 2×2″ stakes into a point.  These will be driven into the ground.  Two stakes will be used as corner stakes in the rear.  The other two will support the sides and make slots for the front boards.  See Photo B.
  • Photo D

    Photo C

    Measure the length of the pallet you plan to use for the rear of the bin.  With a helper drive a stake into the ground about 6 inches on each side of the rear. The stakes should be on the outside edge of the pallet.  Screw the rear pallet’s runners to the stakes (Photo C).  The wood on the pallets we used was quite hard, so we had to drill pilot holes first.

  • Have your helper hold the one side pallet in place while you measure and drive in the front support stake, making sure the side pallet is square to the rear.  The front support stake should be inside the pallet, butted up against the top deckboards and about 1 to 1½ inches from the runner that will be the front of the bin (Photo D).  Screw the side pallet’s runner to the back corner stake (again the rear stake should be on the outside edge of the pallet).  Repeat with the other side, making sure it is also square to the rear.
  • Photo E

    Finally measure the distance between the two side pallets.  This will be the length you will need to cut the 1×6″ boards into the removable front slats.  Fill your bin with compost and slide the slats into the slot created between the front support stakes and the front runners on the side pallets (Photo E).  These slats can be removed when you want to turn the pile or use your compost.  These bins are easy to make and if you want a second or third bin to rotate your compost, it would be very easy to build additional bins adjacent to the first.

To see more of my Do-It-Yourself projects click the DIY category on the right.

Categories: Compost, DIY, Garden, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Handmade Halloween – Bat Tutorial

Since last week I posted a tutorial for sewing a homemade garden gnome costume, I thought I’d share how I made H’s bat costume for this Halloween as well. This costume was also very inexpensive to make, and very easy.  It took me about 2 hours total, including trying to keep E distracted from pushing the stitching buttons on the sewing machine and away from the straight pins. Click the pictures for close-up views.

I started with a black jacket from Goodwill ($1.99) and took it with me to the fabric store.  Using the jacket as a reference, I bought 3/8 of a yard of black felt ($1.58) .  With the material folded in half, I had H lay on the felt with his arm outstretched and used straight pins to mark his wrist, elbow, armpit and waist.

Cut a wing shape using these measurements.  You could mark the felt with chalk, make a paper template, or freehand it (I just eyeballed it).  With the jacket zipped up, pin felt to the arm and side seam of the jacket.  Flip the jacket over and trim away any extra felt.  (I love that this jacket has a reflective patch on the back hem – good for trick-or-treating).

Unpin the felt from the jacket, but keep the pin marking the elbow in place.  You now have one wing that is two pieces of felt.  Use this as a guide to cut another two pieces of felt for the other wing, and mark where the elbow will be on the second wing.

Working with one wing at a time, twist together some pipe cleaners (77 cents for 25).  I used seven for each wing.  Center the… uh, stem(?) of the pipe cleaners at the pin that marked the elbow, between the two layers of felt.  Pin the pipe cleaners in place.

Bend pipe cleaners so that they make lines out to the points of the wings and pin securely between felt pieces.

Top-stitch both pieces of felt together, starting with the outside edges.  Then top-stitch on either side of each pipe cleaner. It might be fun to use contrasting thread so you can see the stitching.  Repeat this on the second wing.

Now you will secure the wings to the jacket.  You could sew them in place, use hot glue, or if you want to reuse the jacket later, use safety pins.  I used safety pins.  I pinned the jacket at the wrist, elbow, armpit, waist and hem.  Then I had H try on the jacket, adjusted the wings as needed and added more safety pins.

For the bat ears, I cut two pieces of felt in the shape of an ear.  Make sure they are big bat ears, not little cat ears!  You could do double layers of felt, top-stitched together here too, but I was running out of nap time and patience with Emmett, so mine are only one layer thick.  Pin and stitch pleats into each ear.  You might want to experiment with one or two pleats, etc.

Pin the ears to a black knit hat ($1.50 new).  Flip the hat over a stitch the ears on.  Alternatively, you could hot glue or pin the ears in place.

Ta-da!  A bat costume for $5.84 plus tax.  If you’re keeping tally, that’s $9.53 for two Halloween costumes this year.  If you could find a black hoodie at Goodwill instead of a jacket and a hat, that would save you even more.

When the 31st rolls around, H will wear his costume with black pants too.  He loves his costume – just what he wanted.  What are you doing for Halloween?  Do you dress up?  Are you making homemade costumes?  Carving pumpkins?

Note:  Please feel free to share this tutorial on your own blog, just include a link back here!  Thanks!

Categories: DIY, Thrift | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

How NOT to Make Cheese – in Pictures

In the last couple of weeks, I have tried and failed twice to make mozzarella cheese in my kitchen.  It’s supposed to be easy.  They say you can do it in 30 minutes with a microwave, or slightly longer without.  Here is a photo journal of my two attempts at cheese making.  The first attempt actually went a bit better than my second.  The pictures of my second try are in the thumbnails.

So without further ado, “How Not to Make Cheese” in pictures.

Step one: bike to local home brew store to buy rennet.  I bought vegetable rennet tablets as that was all they had at the time.  They do stock animal rennet, but were all out.

Step two: back at home, gather supplies including milk that has not been ultrapasturized.

Step three: heat milk to 55 degrees and add citric acid.

Step four: at 88 degrees, add rennet stirring with an up and down motion.

Step five: bring milk up to just over 100 degrees (some say 103 and some say 105).

Step six: Check that the curds and whey have separated.  The whey should not still be milky, and if it is, let it heat a while longer.  Note that the instructions for my first attempt did not include letting the curds and whey sit for 3-5 minutes, then cutting the curds with a knife.  I tried this on my second attempt though.

Step seven: scoop curds out into a bowl.

Step eight: drain as much whey as possible back into the pot.

Step nine: press the cheese into a ball.  Heat the whey and return the curds to the pot to heat.  On my second attempt, the curds were too soft.  I thought I’d try using some cheese cloth to keep them together while they were reheated.  It didn’t work.

Step ten: knead the hot curds.  Reheat as needed.  Eventually the curds will hold together and get elastic.  If they are crumbly, reheat some more.  This is where my second attempt ended, with super hard, dried out curds that would not hold together at all.

Step eleven: admit defeat.  After a hopeful beginning on my first attempt, the curds got all hard and dry and unworkable.  Not sure what went wrong.  On the second try, as I already mentioned, they got to this point MUCH more quickly.

Step twelve: feed the gross hard curds to the chickens along with the whey – they liked it all at least.

After my spectacular double failure, I was planning to give up cheese making completely, but Rick says I need to try again.  If I do, I will try using animal rennet instead.  Anyone have any ideas or suggestions for me on what the heck went wrong??

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, DIY, Food | Tags: , | 9 Comments

Handmade Halloween – Garden Gnome Tutorial

Last year, we found the funniest costume and we really wanted it for E (who has earned the nickname “Angry Elf”).  But we couldn’t find it in E’s size.  This year, Target is carrying the costume – for $20.

Basically these are brown and plaid, super-thin pajamas with a felt hat, fake beard and felt booties.  TWENTY dollars!?!?

So, I tried my hand at making it myself.  E already had hand-me-down green corduroy overalls and a red plaid shirt from H, so that part was easy.  Turns out, the rest was easy too.  Click the pictures for a closer view.

I got four pieces of 9×12″ felt for a dollar at Hobby Lobby.  Make that seventy cents – since it was my lucky day and the felt was 30% off.  And a piece of white craft fur for $2.99.

Step one: using two pieces of felt, trace and cut out hat shape.  Make sure to leave a seam allowance and that the brim will fit your babe’s noggin, plus a little wiggle room since the beard will be sewn into the hat.  I had to sew in little extra felt triangles since E needed just slightly more than 18 inches (pictured later).  Trace a beard shape on the back of the craft fur and cut out.  I suggest making the beard at the bottom of the piece fur so that you won’t accidentally cut the hair that hangs down at the bottom too short.

Step two: Cut two eyebrows from scraps of the craft fur.  Trim them to be a bit shaggy and then pin them to the front of the hat.  Sew eyebrows on.

Step three: If you need to add a bit of felt to make the brim fit your little one’s head, sew triangles to the back piece of the hat.  You can see my little triangles already attached where the beard is pinned.  Cut a six to seven-inch piece of thin elastic (I had some of this left over from a earlier project).  Center, pin and sew the elastic to the inside of the back hat piece.  Pin and sew the beard ends to the ends of the elastic.  Note that I sewed them as shown in the picture, but if I had a do-over, I’d turn the beard ends out before sewing them on so they’d lay more naturally when the hat is worn.  Details, people.  ;)

Step four:  Pin the right sides of the hat together, sew and trim up any threads.  Turn right side out.  Voilà!

For the shoes, trace and cut a sole, a tongue and two sides of a shoe that will fit your kiddo on two pieces of felt (or on one piece and cut both pieces at the same time).  Give the sides a nice curl, so when it’s put together the toes will curl a little.  Cut two 1.5-2-inch pieces of thin elastic.

Sew the backs of the shoe sides together, right sides out/wrong sides together.  The seams should be showing on the outside of the shoe.  Next sew the elastic to the inside, centering with the center of the back of the shoe.  Then sew the sides to the tongue, again, wrong sides together.

You’ve just made the “upper” of a felt elf shoe.  Although, the story books would usually have it happen the other way around… the old shoemaker would be proud.  At any rate, they should now look like sole-less shoes.  Pin the soles to the upper, again, with the seams showing on the outside.  Sew the soles on.

All done.  Little gnome shoes.  Not the best to use in a house with hardwood floors, unless your gnome can’t walk.  But they will do for one night on the streets, begging for candy and creeping out old people.

Finally, dress the Angry Elf as a happy garden gnome.  And laugh all the way back to Target to return that ridiculously over priced costume.  You just made yours for $3.69 plus tax.

Note:  Please feel free to share this tutorial on your own blog, just include a link back here!  Thanks!

Categories: DIY, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

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