Posts Tagged With: DIY

20 Weeks: Finishing What I Started

Um, if you didn’t notice, my 20 Weeks of Organizing went to hell in a hand-basket.  Yeah.  The idea was to make a list of 20 things, one to be completed each week, and then DO THEM!   Back in March, when I started, I even gave out the rules, including, “Keep the projects small – don’t list “organize office,” that’s too broad.”

So, naturally, I put items like “# 11) Completely gut and reorganize that junk room in the basement into a guest room, while simultaneously making the former office into a nursery” on my list.

Ok, so I didn’t really.  I kept my list to the rules.  The problem is, I got ahead of myself, which gave me a couple extra weeks.  And while I really wanted to listen to the wisdom of friends, telling me to taking it easy, not get in over my head, I mentally added #11 to the list, and then proceeded to work on it.  Dummy.

Then I got overwhelmed.  The basement and it’s junk room took over our lives.  I got obsessed.  Suddenly I was on a first name basis with the donation guy at the Goodwill, I was sewing curtains, my husband moved cabinets and counter tops to the garage.  I even called my mom over for reinforcements (and then wouldn’t let her do anything), like I said, Dummy.  I scoured craigslist for shelving.  I moved and rearranged and scrubbed walls.  I painted.  I panted.  I felt like passing out and giving up.  I gave up.  Then I read this post last week by the Organizing Junkie and I got up and did a little bit more.

There is still more to do, but I am to the point where I’m calling it good enough, so I can MOVE ON with my life and maybe get something else done.

So, here is the before of my basement junk room:

Suffice it to say that the other side of this room was equal to or greater than the mess you see above.

This is the other half DURING the work:

You can see that I set up a bed, painted a wall, and found a place to store canning supplies.  Hey – canning storage was #14 on my list!  I got to cross something off!

Here is the basement today – guest room.  I still need to hang the curtains that are sitting on my sewing table in the second window, and a couple of pictures, but you get the idea.

It’s done enough.  Next week I’ll post pictures of the nursery, and then I’m getting back on the wagon.  One small, specific item, that’s actually written on the list, per week.  From now on.  Oy!  Wish me luck!

Categories: 20 Weeks of Organizing, DIY | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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.

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

Weekend Update: Memorial Day Madness?

This past weekend, we tackled more items from the seemingly endless to-do list around here.  The weather was nice for most of the weekend and we were able to get a lot done.

Friday afternoon my mom came over to help me get a few things organized for the baby’s room and the basement spare room.  We sorted through some of our food preservation items and then I realized that using that spare room as a place to store all our outdoor gear and Rick’s tools and workbench wasn’t really working anymore.

So Saturday, the first thing we did was move his work bench, cabinets and tools out of the basement and into the garage.  Rick had surgery the previous weekend and was on weight restrictions for a week, so he, of course jumped into lifting heavy objects again the moment the restriction was up.  He’s getting a pretty cool workspace set up in there, and that made a lot more room to convert the room in the basement into something useful.

We did various projects around the homestead.  I’ve lost count, but no less than five were worked on, and some even got completed.  Some of the projects turned out good enough to warrant their own future posts.  😉  Rick spent more time cutting down the tree and we cleaned out the chicken coop since the weather was finally cooperative.  We replanted the cukes, since none had come up and it had been about two weeks since the seeds went into the ground.  I picked so many greens for every meal this weekend, and we grilled four times in two days.

I went ahead and put shingles on the roof of the beehive.  Rick’s parents gave us some spare shingles they had up in their garage rafters, and it was enough to cover the hive.  A good thing too, since the naked plywood was not loving our rainy spring.  Then, to be honest we were wiped out.

By Sunday evening, we were both pretty tired.  Monday we did a few projects (a very few) before I looked at Rick and said that I was spent.  Rick was tired too, probably from doing too much too soon.  Did I mention I’m 8 months pregnant?  Yeah.  And Rick just had surgery?  Oh.  Right.  That’s why were were tired.

Rick put the bike rack on the 4Runner and we cleaned up all our tools.  And then we went inside, made some pad Thai and watched a movie in the basement.  I’m pretty sure we’re mad.  Maybe we’ll try to rest next weekend a bit?  Maybe.  Only eight more weeks until baby (plus or minus a couple, of course).  We’re feeling the last…erm… push, if you know what I mean.  😉

Categories: Beekeeping, Garden | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Hugelkultur Project

A while back, when we  decided to take on the project of cutting down our 70-foot tall (plus or minus) honey locust tree in the back yard, I began doing research on what in the world we’d do with all the wood.  As you may know, a lot of the smaller branches have become mulch for the garden.  But someone from the Take Back Urban-Homesteading(s) community on Facebook suggested to me to build a ‘hugelkultur.’  A hoogle-whater?  So, of course I Googled it.

I’ll try to save you some time.  A hugelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture” – I think), is basically a raised bed in which wood or other carbon-rich materials is buried.  Some people lay logs directly on the ground, use a tractor to dump a pile of dirt on it and then start planting on their new, hill-shaped bed.  (I like the info in this link).

The advantages of this method of gardening is that the wood, as it rots, acts as a sponge, making it so you don’t have to water much.  Additionally, it releases nutrients over time into the soil, making it so you don’t need to fertilize.  And, as it rots, it leaves plenty of air space in the soil, so you don’t need to till.  Basically, it is a no-maintenance, self-composting bed.  The first year or two, especially with green wood like ours, it will actually draw nitrogen from the soil in order to start decomposition.  But thereafter, it will supposedly do nothing but give back.

Sounds like a good plan to us!  So we decided to give it a try in the boys’ backyard garden bed.  We don’t have lots of spare topsoil just lying around everywhere, nor the desire to buy any, so we thought it would be a better use of what we do have to dig down into the ground and bury the wood with our own topsoil and subsoil.

We dug down a good 12-14 inches.  Then we laid in some of the branches that were too thick to go through the wood chipper.  Then we buried them.  This left us with basically an instant raised bed, as promised.  We used some of the bigger, straighter limbs from the tree to make an edging (not yet complete).  Otherwise the boys would truck that dirt all over the back yard before anything could be planted there.

After an afternoon of being (unnecessarily) compacted by a 22 month old in a Tonka truck pushed by a 4 year old.

Fortunately for us, we have plenty of nitrogen-rich compost, thanks to the chickens.  We mixed a bit of that in to compensate for the initial anticipated nitrogen loss/Tonka truck compaction.  Henry wants carrots, tomatoes and watermelon in his bed this year.  We’ll keep track and let you know how it goes!

Does anyone out there have experience with a hugelkultur?  What about deterrents for little boys and their ride-on toys?  😉

Categories: Garden, Hugelkultur, Simple Living, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | 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


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

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