Where growing, making & good living come together

By hand or by power: how do you cut your firewood?

Posted by on Friday 28 October 2011 in frugal, wood stuff | 2 comments

I’ve just taking advantage of another lovely autumn morning to cut some more wood for use over winter.

I was enjoying the sweet victory of finishing another log when I accidentally grazed the blade of the saw against my finger. It’s nothing – the hint of a graze, it drew red but not drops of blood – but it did make me grateful for the eleventeenth time that we use handsaws to slice the logs into stove size pieces.

John’s dad bought us a circular saw as a present last year – I believe it was ex-display or similar, so too good to be missed in his eyes – but we’ve not used it. John’s dad uses it when he’s working here (to save bringing his own) and I think John himself has used it once — but after his own handsaw/cut-hand incident a few weeks ago, I suspect he’s unlikely to use it again.

We’re … not the most graceful people. It’s not that we’re inattentive, we’re just clumsy. Sure, it takes longer but it’s not too hard work with a decent coarse-wood saw – we like the exercise that handsawing gives us desk-dwellers and that the wood gets to warm us more than once. We also like our fingers – it’s how we make our money, tip-tap-typing away at our desks – and dislike risking them unnecessarily.

But rejecting the metal menace sometimes feels like a bit of a Luddite manoeuvre. It also feels hypocritical: for example, we’re happy for John’s dad to use his big petrol chainsaw to cut a big tree into splittable logs (the splitting is done by hand) rather than us going at it for half an hour with a two handed saw.

If you use wood as fuel, do you cut it by hand or do you use power tools?

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My kindling cutting “helpers”

Posted by on Sunday 2 October 2011 in chickens, wood stuff | 3 comments

I had some company while cutting the kindling this morning.

Lily was taste-testing each stick as it came off the axe.

“Mmm, bit of a woody flavour.”

And a few minutes later, after Lily had gone into a sulk because she’d heard the fake camera click of my phone (she HATES all cameras for some reason), Lime the chicken came to see what was going on too — the first time she, or any of the chickens, have visited the top level of the garden, which is three flights of stairs away from the chicken coop/run.

She watched me chopping some kindling for a bit but she was more interested in John cutting wood in the woodstore though and spent ages stood behind him, head cocked to one side and making the occasional clucking noise, as he sawed up some logs. She seemed to have no interest in any of the many edibles on that level, just wondering what us crazy humans were up to. :)

(Appalling camera phone pics, sorry for the quality.)

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Adventures in frugal vertical gardening: salvaged planters

Posted by on Friday 3 June 2011 in growing, making, wood stuff | 7 comments

A few weeks ago, our next door neighbour with the gorgeous show house revamped his garden for summer. His deck is decorated like a room of the house (including an old vintage dresser, which looks fab with bedding plants draped out of the drawers and is currently topped with a birdcage and some matching framed photos) and he prefers to have just a few pots around the seating area rather than our overgrown scruffy (albeit veg-tastic) garden. As much as I like growing our own food, I do look at his garden wistfully sometimes – so lovely, so little upkeep! ;)

Anyway, so the guy with the great taste was tidying up his garden and at some point in his tidying mission, he decided he no longer wanted four wooden trough planters – he’d had them for a couple of years and they were looking past their best, so he dumped them on the (communal) bonfire heap at the bottom of our garden. I spotted the next time I was passing on the way into the woods with Lily-dog and mentally bagsied them – sure, they were a little past their prime but i) aren’t we all? and ii) they’re nothing a bit of TLC couldn’t fix.

I didn’t actually collect them until yesterday – but on closer inspection confirmed what I’d thought — a couple of bangs with a hammer (to reinsert some nails), a couple of supporting screws and a lick of paint and they’d be fine.

They’d got a bit damp in the recent rain so I let them dry in the sun for a while then wielding my hammer & screwdriver, did my minor fixes. The smaller trough was still in good condition so I just gave the wood a bit of a polish to freshen it up a bit. It’s not perfect but it’ll do as a small herb pot.

The three bigger ones, I cleaned up then slapped on a couple of coats of white acrylic primer. I didn’t want to paint all the way inside, just to roughly where I imagine the soil level will be.

I’d wanted some nice troughs for the balcony for a while – for salad and herbs right next to the kitchen door – and to maximise space, I decided to build another tiered planter stand thing. (The first one of those is proving very useful by the way – it’s currently filled with pots of different salad leaves.) I wanted it to be as simple as possible but the sides of the troughs were too angled to attach uprights to them – I could have attached them directly to the wall with brackets but prefer the flexibility of freestanding stuff where possible, so ended up building another shelved planter stand.

I did start with wider shelves, with room for extra pots on either side, but decided to make it narrower and neater so it would fit better on the balcony and be stronger. I have also added supports onto the bottom of each trough so they can be screwed onto the shelves to make them more stable/less likely to tip over – I just haven’t done that yet because I want to paint everything first. The narrower stand itself is stable but the individual troughs will be a bit top heavy.

The uprights are made from salvaged decking and the shelves from salvaged (due to being warped in parts) battens (both courtesy of John’s dad) – so structurally, it was completely free. I’m not sure where the primer came from (I suspect John’s dad brought that around too, it just appeared in our house) and it will need painting again — I have some leftover gloss paint in fun colours but I think I need exterior paint or an acrylic based paint for outside stuff (don’t I?) so I, gasp, might have to buy a little pot for that bit, unless I can scrounge some off someone else this weekend. Any colour suggestions by the way? (For context, the metalwork of the balcony it’ll stand on is painted black, the walls at that level are exposed Yorkshire stone and the window sills will be black when we get around to painting them.)

Still though, even if I have to buy a little paint, I’ll still be happy with the final cost and the finished item – it’ll more than pay for itself if it grows the herbs and salad I have planned. :)

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From pelmet to planter

Posted by on Tuesday 3 May 2011 in frugal, making, wood stuff | 6 comments

Yesterday, we went to see John’s mum & dad, and spotted that one of their neighbours had put a fancy (curtain) pelmet out on the street in front of their house to be taken away – either by John’s dad (who they know is a salvager of random things or by a scrap person). I thought it looked pretty sturdy so bagsied it instead.

A surplus plank of wood and four screws later, and I had a pretty new herb trough :)

The original plan had been to wall mount it (I had some old brackets that would work & look nice, and it would save having to add a back piece to it) but it turned out that because of a supporting fence post, it didn’t fit where I’d hoped to put it. It does though fit perfectly on the little ledge behind the greenhouse.

I’ve drilled some drainage holes in the bottom and will add more rocks-as-crocks to stop it getting waterlogged (if it ever rains). As I’ve mentioned before about that ledge, it’s not *that* accessible in the summer so I can’t use it for things I need to pick regularly – but it will be good for companion plants & not-picked-often herbs. It’s not massive — 5ft long, about 8inch deep and about 6inch wide — but it’ll make a bit of use of some otherwise dead space. Plus, I think it looks pretty cool :)

And weee, another freebie :)

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Our long weekend

Posted by on Tuesday 26 April 2011 in chickens, DIY, growing, wild food, wood stuff | 8 comments

Cor, I feel like I’ve not written here for weeks! Like Christmas, Easter doesn’t mean anything to us here – not even the consumption of chocolate – so we’ve just had four days of doing nothing. Well, not doing nothing…

On Friday, I spent a lot of time reading about Square Foot Gardening. It’s something I’d heard vaguely about before and suspected I’d borrow it’s spacing principles when sowing/planting in my various wooden planters, but Friday was the first time I sat down and read about it. Then fully converted to the idea, I built a 3ftx3ft raised bed from our old bathroom cupboard doors (4ftx4ft is more typical but my doors were 6ft tall so 3ft-square was easier and also tucked away better into a space next to the pond).

I reused the former hinge screws to mark out every foot around the frame, so I could easily divide it into those magic foot square sections with twine. I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll plant in it yet but looking at the planting guidelines, my nine squares could be a rather productive space.

We did have a rather lazy day on Saturday – mostly reading in the sun – but Sunday was productive again: we painted the bathroom. I’m holding off talking about our bathroom renovation until its finished (two long months and counting) but I will say, it’s now rather blue.

It needs some more filling/sanding then a second coat, but it’s feels like it’s finally starting to come together. Hurrah.

Yesterday, we had the bathroom flooring fitted (hence the rush to paint at least one coat on the walls on a sunny Sunday) then went for a dog walk at Shipley Glen. When we came back, I pottered in the garden – chicken chores and potting on (the third batch of tomato plants, the two types of courgette, some lollo roso lettuces). I’ve decided that I’m not allowed to sow any more stuff until I’ve dealt with the stuff currently growing – stuff that needs pricking out or potting on – so I don’t get overwhelmed and leave things in too small pots for too long, as happened at some points last year. I can’t wait until stuff can be planted out in the garden en masse though – the greenhouse is just about full of seedlings and the sun porch is pretty packed too. It would also be useful to be able to start clearing space in the salad troughs/pots – grow faster lettuces, I want to eat you!

On the chicken front, Ginger is still broody – I’m kicking her out of the nest box whenever I go down there to make sure she gets food and water regularly, and I’m getting some harsh bwarking in return. I think I managed to talk Blacks out of following her though – she was acting a little hot & bothered for a couple of days but I cooled her down a bit and she’s back to normal and laying again now.

And while we were down near the chickens yesterday, John spotted what he called “the biggest mushrooms I’ve ever seen in my life” – a slight exaggeration maybe but they are pretty sizeable:

They’re on the tree trunk marking the division between our and our neighbour’s gardens and since we walk past there at least once a day, I’m pretty surprised how they got so big without us noticing. I think they’re Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) – edible but only really when they’re young. These guys are probably past it now but I’ll keep an eye out for future fruiting.

So our four-day-weekend was a decent combination of laziness and productivity, how was yours?

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Charity shopping, planting and making – my fun weekend :)

Posted by on Monday 18 April 2011 in charity shopping, growing, making, wood stuff | 4 comments

Last night on Twitter, I asked people to put their hands up if they’d had a lovely afternoon in their garden/at their allotment yesterday and I got a sea of hands waving back – it is really bloody lovely out there at the moment, isn’t it?*

On Saturday, I blew my no spending month thing out of the window by going to a craft sale at Kirkgate Studios in Shipley – well, actually, I only bought two balls of wool and a postcard from there but since I was in Shipley… As with most poorer areas, you’re less likely to find exclusive designer goodies going for £1 but with eight charity shops, there is at least plenty of choice.

I bought 13 books. Thirteen! But 10 of them were (drama) work-related and two Monica Dickens books I’ve been considering buying off Amazon/Abebooks for a couple of months, so it wasn’t all spur-of-the-moment spend-spend-spend. Plus, eight of the books were in a 4-for-£1 offer so all 13 books cost £7.70 in total — not too bad. (And I’ve already found seven books to give away under my “buy 2, get rid of 1 old one” rule.)

I also bought a cute small plate to be our kitchen soap dish for 50p, another little dish for 50p because it was a tourist souvenir from Baghdad (and how often do you see those?) and a fake-patchwork duvet cover for £1.50, which I’ll turn into a cheat quilt like Lynsey’s from SwirlyArts made this time last year — again, something else I’ve been looking out for because I love Lynsey’s quilt so I was very happy to find it :)

Anyway, after all that spendery on Saturday, I declared Sunday would be a day for the garden. I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped (I’ll have to have some time off this week to get the rest finished) but I potted on lots of tomatoes & pumpkins, sowed nearly all my potatoes as well as more lettuce & annual herbs. I also made two new scrap wood planters – not the prettiest but certainly the easiest ones yet.

I believe the sides are old scaffolding planks or similar — John’s dad had a trailer full when we went over the other day. He said “they’ll be great for burning” until he saw me hugging them to my chest and squealing with planter-building delight. They’re about 3ft by 1ft by 8inches deep, with reclaimed decking for the bottom supports. Again, they’ll be lined but I think I’ll see how far I get cleaning them rather than painting them as I like the character of the wood. (Apologies for the somewhat shadowy photo – was in a hurry, camera battery was dying.)

I also made some super quick wire wall mounts for some herb pots in the greenhouse – I’ve run out of room on my staging/the floor at the moment so wanted these little pots (and five with baby sage seedlings in them) out of the way. I’ll have to make sure they don’t dry out too much but they’ll probably be fine for now.

Oh, and I also cleaned the windows for the first time this year on Saturday evening – they were, as you may expect, rather filthy but I did a rather good job, even if I do say so myself – not a single water spot in sight! ;)

* (People in parts of the US still in the soggy tailend of winter and people in the southern hemisphere who are heading into full on winter – sorry to gloat about our sunshine. We’re just not used to this nice weather in the UK and you know, talking about it is our national pastime.)

What did you get up to this weekend? Any frugal fun? Or planting progress?

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