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Winter & Spring Sowing {DIY mini greenhouses)

Grumpy old man winter took a small step back today and allowed me to get a head start on gardening season!  Yay!  Last spring, I was determined to successfully start my own plants indoors (every other time I have tried this, it’s been a bust due to less than ideal lighting), so I set-up a grow station in my basement, complete with fluorescent lights of varying color temperatures.  A sound effect would best describe how this effort turned out, but we’ll just leave it at — thumbs down, boo, no work-y.  This may have something to do with my low-maintenance approach (oops), so I immediately began searching for a more low-key (read: lazy) method.  My imagination led me to a quaint backyard greenhouse made from recycled materials, but common sense, lack of time and a little research led me to winter sowing (or mini greenhouses, as I like to call them).  So, that’s what I did today… and you can, too!

I have no idea how this will turn out, but EVERYTHING I’ve read leads me to believe it will be a success.  The water or milk jugs act as little greenhouses, so your seeds will be growing outdoors… also great because this essentially eliminates the hardening off step.  Since this is an extremely low-cost approach to starting seeds, it’s worth a try.  For much more detailed information from someone who has actually seen results, visit A Garden for the House to learn more, including what to sow and when.

A quick how-to, you’ll need:

  • water or milk jugs (or something that will allow light to penetrate), make sure they’re clean inside.
  • potting soil (make sure it’s potting soil, not garden soil – I vote for an organic type)
  • an x-acto knife or something similar (scissors could work in a pinch)
  • seeds
  • small rocks (for drainage)
  • trays to set your jugs in (optional)
  • duct tape

Remove caps from jugs.  Cut around them, just slightly below the handle – but leave a 1-2 inch uncut section (this will act as a hinge) to provide easy access to the interior.

Seed starting using a water or milk jug

Carefully poke several holes in the bottom of your jugs.  You could use anything sharp, I started using the x-acto knife, but found it much easier to use a soldering iron (outdoors, as the smell of melting plastic will stink up your house).

Inexpensive way to start seeds

 

Place a few rocks in the bottom of your jug – these will help with drainage and will also add weight should your location be windy.

Start seeds outdoors

 

Fill your jug with 2-3 inches of potting soil (p.s. – if you are eco-minded and using organic soil, you may want to find one without peat moss – a web search will give you more info about this).  Moisten your soil, and plant seeds according to package.  I used a bag containing 16 dry quarts – it was the perfect amount to fill 18 jugs.

 

 

seed starting tutorial

 

Place your jugs somewhere outdoors where they will get plenty of sun, won’t easily blow over, and are out of reach from any pesky critters.  If you will be placing them on a patio or someplace you want to keep clean, you may choose to place trays under them (storage tub lids, paint trays, or seed starting trays would all work).  Place a piece or two of duct tape (no need to seal the entire seam) along the opposite side of the hinges so that the jugs don’t blow open.  I’ve placed mine in a barren flower bed along the side of my house.

DIY Mini greenhouses

 

The cap hole will provide a way for moisture to enter.  The jug itself should provide enough protection to allow plants to grow outdoors before they would typically be able to do so.  Many people plant/place their jugs outdoors while there is still snow on the ground (thus, the term winter sowing), and the seeds will germinate when they are ready.  The plants will be more hardy than those started indoors and from what I understand, the problem with lanky seedlings is eliminated.  Once warmer weather rolls around, you’ll want to keep an eye on your plants and may need to vent the jugs a bit more to prevent overheating.  Read more about winter sowing and what to do once your seeds have sprouted and it’s time to transplant, at A Garden for the House or Get Busy Gardening.

Have you tried this method?  Let me know how it worked for you! 

Happy gardening!

 

 

shelf

If you’ve read one of my previous  DIY blog entries, you may remember how much I love the woodworking plans on Ana White’s website.  During the last year, I’ve built several of Ana’s plans… this ‘barn-beam’ being one of them.  Since I live in a tiny house and am always in need of more storage space, I modified the plan slightly to include interior storage.  I typically finish my projects with a low or zero VOC stain or paint, but wanted a weathered wood finish and winter isn’t the best time to have special stain shipped.  So, I ignored my better judgement and opted for a locally available yet non-eco friendly finish which included pre-conditioner, and stacking two separate Minwax stain colors.  I love how it turned out, but the process left me with a headache and frustration over using something so toxic.  I later found how to achieve a nearly identical finish with a homemade non-toxic stain made of vinegar and steel wool – keep reading to find out how to make your own!

stain comparison

First, here is the link to the shelf plan: Barn Beam Ledges

It’s about as simple as they come – if you don’t have many tools, this is one you can make using only a hand saw, hammer, and nails.  If you choose to use my storage modification, you’ll need a screwdriver as well.

shelf storage

Next, my storage modification:  Rather than attach the front board with nails, attach a hinge near each end so that the front board acts as a drop-down panel.  Finally, attach a small screw-in eye and hook in the top center of your shelf to hold the front panel shut.  After seeing the photos (click to enlarge) it should make sense, but feel free to comment below if you have questions!

shelf hinge

shelf hook

Now, my favorite – THE STAIN!

This stain relies on oxidation and despite my biology background, chemistry was not my strong suit, so you won’t find me explaining how this all works.  I can tell you though, it works, and it works beautifully.  However, it’s also one of those things that relies on a number of factors, so you may get a slightly varied finish depending on how heavy you coat your wood, type of wood, age of your stain, etc.  Consider saving a piece of scrap wood from your project to test on that day that you will be staining.  Note that your stain will need to age for a few days prior to usage.

You will need: 

  • Green or black tea bags (depending on your wood, see notes below)
  • Very fine steel wool (I bought mine at Lowe’s and used #0000 grade)
  • White vinegar
  • An airtight glass jar
  • Brush
  • Cheescloth (optional)

How-to:

Fill an airtight jar with white vinegar (other vinegars should work, but I haven’t tried them).  Take one piece of your steel wool (it needs to be of a very fine grade so that it will break apart/dissolve properly) and stretch it out and pull it apart a bit.  Submerge this in your vinegar.  Seal your jar and leave it to sit.  You can gently shake it once a day to encourage it to break apart, though this is not necessary.  It should be ready to use in several days, but I left mine sit for about two weeks.  The photo below shows what it looks like at the beginning and at the two week mark, after shaking (prior to shaking you will have clear-ish liquid with a lot of steel wool sediment on the bottom).

vinegar stain before after

Depending on the type of wood you’re using – the day you will be staining, prepare your tea.  The tea will be brushed onto your bare wood prior to staining in order to impart tannins onto the surface, thus allowing the stain to react, and creating your simulated weathered finish.  If you are using standard lumber or pine, you will likely need to apply tea first.  Softwoods are typically low in tannins, whereas hardwoods are higher.  If your wood is naturally darker in color (more brown or red-toned like cedar), it probably won’t need tea first.  If in doubt, test an inconspicuous spot on your piece, or a scrap piece from  your build and use only the vinegar/steel wool stain on it.  Wait several minutes, and if the wood color does not change you will know you need to pre-brush with tea.

For the tea:  how much you need will depend on the size of your piece to be stained.  Mine was small, so I boiled one cup of water and let 3 green tea bags steep in it for about thirty minutes.  Then I brushed all surfaces of the wood with it, and let it soak in.  I sped up my dry-time by using a hair dryer on low for a short time.  Make sure everything was coated – anything that was left uncoated will not change color.

Staining:  I was a little worried about the smell of the stain, but it just smelled like potent vinegar.  In general, it’s not a bad idea to do things like this outdoors, but if you are staining something small and/or it’s winter, a big plus of this stain is its lack of chemicals; so, it’s not a big deal to work indoors with an open window.  You may wish to wear gloves, as it can stain your fingers a little.  Once your wood is dry (if you brushed with tea), slowly open your stain – there will be pressure that’s built-up (hydrogen gas?).  If you’re working on a project that you want to last a very long time, you might consider straining your stain into another jar by using cheesecloth.  I stumbled upon a comment by one person that said any little pieces of steel wool that unknowingly make it onto your wood may cause small dark spots to appear years later.  Whether or not this is true, I have no idea.  Evenly brush stain onto your wood (following the direction of the wood grain, as always).  It’s best to do only a single coat unless you want an almost black finish (which is what will happen if you double-coat).  I could see a change in color almost immediately and it continued to slightly darken over the next few minutes.  Keep in mind that the ends may be more porous and will turn darker.  You can sand any darker areas after your wood is dry.  You should now have a beautifully weathered-looking finish!  Stain can be kept for quite a long time from what I’ve read, but when it comes time to dispose – please do so responsibly (use it up by coating scrap wood perhaps?) since steel wool bits probably shouldn’t be going down your drain!

I skimmed several websites when learning about how to make this stain, but by far the most useful was the Friendly Home blog  If you want more detail than what I’ve offered (and sealer suggestions), her blog entry and many of the associated comments are really helpful!

Happy staining, and an early…

Happy Heart Day

gooe raspberry brownie recipe (whole grain!)

I promised my raspberry brownie recipe ages ago but didn’t have photos to go with it until now.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day –  these are gooey, fudgy and decadent – best eaten with a fork (and a scoop of milk chocolate ice cream?)!  The best part (aside from eating them) is that they contain whole wheat flour and are easily made lactose-free.

(By the way, I think I’ve finally gotten this dual blog thing down – so no more random photos popping up to email subscribers!  Yay – and thanks for your patience!)

First, the printable version:  click on the image below to enlarge, then print.  

gooey raspberry brownie recipe (whole grain!)

Brownies: 

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C packed brown sugar (make sure there are no clumps)
  • 4 oz (8 Tbsp) unsalted melted margarine (as usual, I use Fleischmann’s unsalted because it’s lactose-free)
  • 2 tsp milk (I use oat milk, any type will suffice)
  • 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder (my favorite flavor-wise is Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/3 C white whole wheat flour (I’ve not tried it, but you could likely use regular whole wheat as well in these)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (if making lactose-free, double check ingredients on these!)

Raspberry Filling:

  • 1 1/2 C raspberries (if frozen, place in colander & run under lukewarm water until thawed a bit)
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 C sugar

Prepare raspberry filling:

  • In medium sized microwave-safe bowl, combine flour & 1 Tbsp water (taken from your 1/4 C water). Stir until smooth.
  • Pour in remaining water (discard an additional 1 Tbsp if you used frozen berries as they’ll have more moisture).
  • Add sugar, stir until combined.
  • Last, add raspberries and stir/mash them up into your mixture.
  • Heat in microwave until boiling (you’ll need to watch – it may take a few minutes depending on your microwave).  Allow to bubble/boil for ~30 seconds.
  • Stir/mash your berries again and then return to microwave and heat them until bubbling/boiling for an additional 15-20 seconds.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • (if you do not want seeds in your filling, allow to cool 20-25 min. before straining mixture through a sieve or cheesecloth.)

simple microwave raspberry sauce

Prepare brownie batter:

  • Preheat oven to 325•F.
  • Lightly spray/grease (bottom ONLY), a pie plate with 8 inch or less diameter across the bottom; then, lightly flour and shake off excess.
  • In large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy.
  • Add both sugars and mix on low or stir by hand until well combined.
  • Add melted margarine, milk, cocoa, flour, salt and vanilla.  Stir by hand until all dry ingredients are combined into mixture.
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • Pour half of batter into pie plate.
  • Pour/spread raspberry filling on top of batter.
  • Top with remaining brownie batter (it’s okay if the raspberry filling doesn’t stay underneath the batter – see photo below).
  • Bake for 55-60 minutes.  Start checking with toothpick at 50 minutes – remove from oven as soon as a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool about 30 minutes.  At this point, you may choose to serve them warm & gooey (YUM!), but they won’t have fully solidifed yet.
  • If you’ve waited to eat them until cool, cut with a butter/table knife (makes a cleaner line than a sharper knife).
  • Optional: garnish with chocolate syrup and fresh raspberries.

brownie layers

brownies cut

brownies 2

Have a dessert recipe you want see next?  Let’s hear it!

Happy Tuesday :)

Ugh – I did it again!

Image

Apparently I am computer illiterate.  I joke all the time that my parents don’t what they’re doing on a computer!  Now it’s me!  I keep attempting to post on my new ‘spinoff’ blog – but wordpress automatically brings me back to my home blog.  Sorry – I will figure it out soon. :)  p.s. – This is a painting I did of Juno – my sister’s pup, rescued from the Joplin tornado a few years ago.

 A Valentine’s Day treat recipe will be posted in the next few days!

Gluten-free Cider Donut Holes (easily made lactose-free)

I have been craving donuts since fall… but not just any donuts – the apple cider kind you find at farmer’s markets and orchards.  Last night I finally took the plunge and decided on a recipe to try.  I opted for a gluten-free version because I have been piling in the white flour this week and my body sure can feel it.  The only gluten-free donuts I’ve ever tried were some obscenely expensive frozen ones from the grocery store.  Yuck… I figured anything could be better than those.  I also wanted a recipe that could be easily made lactose-free.  Oh man, these are gooood!  I used Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Pear Cider because they didn’t have any of their spiced apple cider available, and it left the donuts with just a warm hint of pear flavor!  I am fairly new to gluten-free baking so can’t take any credit for this recipe (though feel free to read my hints and substitutions below) — visit gluten free on a shoestring for this and other gluten-free donut  recipes.  This has inspired me to work on a naturally sweetened (ie applesauce, molasses or honey) version next – fingers crossed!

My hints/substitutions:

  • I used a Babycakes Cake Pop Maker (I usually don’t bite on these gadgets, but found one on clearance and it really made the whole process super quick and simple!) Don’t worry if you don’t have one, oven-baking instructions are given on the recipe.
  • If you’re using the Babycakes machine, you’ll want to fill the bottom wells almost full (but not quite, or the first ones you fill will start to rise over the edge by the time you fill the last few).  4 minutes was the perfect length of time for baking (they will look fairly light on the top half even when they’re done).
  • If you prefer a heavy coating of cinnamon/sugar, you’ll want to roll them in it IMMEDIATELY after removing from the pan or it won’t stick.
  • Best enjoyed right after baking (they’re still great and tender once cooled, but the texture may seem just a bit more spongy like an airy muffin).
  • For a lactose-free version, simply replace the butter with unsalted Fleischmann’s margarine or Earth Balance buttery sticks (but be aware, the latter has a distinct flavor).
  • Rather than apple cider, I used Pear Cinnamon Cider from Trader Joe’s – worked beautifully.
  • I should but don’t have a kitchen scale, so rather than using the gram measurements for flour/corn starch, I lightly spooned the full amount of flour into the measuring cup and then added 3 Tbsp corn starch (or 1.5 if you cut the recipe in half).

Gluten-free Cider Donut Holes (easily made lactose-free)

What’s your favorite kind of donut?

 

Tiny (5x7) Mountain Road Trip Painting

Painter’s block no more!  The last several months, I’ve started a few paintings and just couldn’t quite bring myself to finish them.  They were all very true-to-life detailed pieces… perhaps that was the problem.  So, this morning the sun was shining brightly in my work room and I pulled out a palette knife and a tiny (5×7) less-daunting canvas and got to work.  These thoughts were my inspiration:

It’s a sunshine-filled day and you’re on the open road.  You find it hard focus on driving as your gaze strays to the distant snowcapped mountain range.  Minutes later, it’s all a blur in your rear-view mirror and you’re wishing for a pause button.  So, I paused the sunny-skied view stuck in my thoughts and focused less on details, more on the broad scope.  This was the result.

Tiny (5x7) Mountain Road Trip Painting

Where do you escape to in your thoughts?

Block print queen anne's lace

Last year, I signed up for a printmaking course at the local community college.  It was cancelled due to low enrollment and I vowed to explore the topic on my own (pokey) time.  Fast forward to a year later… I gradually began buying supplies when I found them on sale and then my sister gave me a book and a few more tools for Christmas.  So, today I whipped out my trusty Sharpie marker and started sketching all sorts of summery/floral designs.  I transferred my drawing and cut my first design.  The photos above are what resulted — not the clearest prints (also not the greatest inks), but not bad for a first try.

orangeweeds

Should you feel inspired to try block printing, YouTube is a great resource!  These are the items you would need to get started:

  • brayer (small roller)
  • baren (or something else to apply pressure with, even a spoon or mug could potentially work)
  • ink (block printing ink – I used Dick Blick inks but there are many other brands, for those on a budget perhaps even liquid acrylics or a stamp pad)
  • thick paper (cardstock or a brown grocery bag)
  • carving surface (I used Speedball Speedy-Carve, but there are other options)
  • lino cutter (this multi-tip tool is handy, also by Speedball)
  • smooth surface to roll your ink (a piece of plexiglass, a plastic tray, etc.)

First, you’ll need to freehand or transfer your design/artwork onto your carving surface.  A hint for transferring: flip your drawing/artwork over (you should be able to see your design through the paper), scribble over the back of the design using a pencil.  Flip your paper back over (design/artwork side up), and set it over your carving surface.  Now, trace your work with a stylus or draw on top of it with a pencil, and as you press down, the pencil scribblings from the back side will allow the image to transfer onto the carving surface.

I won’t go into the details of carving and printing, as it is much easier to do an internet search and watch a video of this (this one is fairly helpful:  http://youtu.be/WNsTQpVlmw4

One last little fun tip:  in addition to carving artwork, you can also make prints from natural items (nature printing) such as leaves and feathers.  A little tricky when starting, but fun once you get the hang of it!

I’m looking for ideas for my next print – any suggestions?

Hope your week is off to a happy start!

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