25 April 2010

Flat wall book holder

At Knock Off Wood, there are some great bookshelf designs. We are a family with a lot of books but also with a lot of bookshelves. However, as soon as I saw the flat wall bookshelf, I thought of at least two places in our house where we could use one. The first is on my daughter's room near her bed. She is an avid reader of chapter books. At the moment she is going through The Secrets of Droon series and The American Girl series at the rate of about 10 books a week. At night she turns off the reading lamp attached to her bed and then stashes her books under her pillow. I've asked her to place them back on the bookshelf or in the library basket but due to our infestation with witches, she's afraid to get out of bed at night. So, I made a smaller version of the flat wall book holder for her to hang right next to her bed where she reads. She loves her World Map and wasn't willing to let me remove it from the wall, hence the smaller size (just 14" across). Still, it holds three hardcover volumes of poetry, eight softcover series books, seven hardcover series books, or five Where's Waldo books, another bedtime favorite. Now she can just reach over, stash her book and turn out the light without having to worry about witches.

We painted it dusty rose to go with the muted pink of her bedroom and because I'm so into shiny finishes at the moment, after two coats of semi-gloss paint, I sprayed the shiny enamel finish over it as well. My design is slightly different from Ana's but this is because I didn't have the instructions in front of me when I made it, just a quick sketch with dimensions in my notebook. Baby was napping and I didn't want to run back in the house and risk waking him by getting my laptop. Still, I'm very pleased with how it turned out and most importantly, so is my Savannah!

Strawberry Fountains Forever

Yesterday was planting day. Our shipment of fruit plants arrived on Thursday and we had to get them in the ground as soon as possible. I ordered 75 strawberry plants to begin my strawberry fountain, which I hadn't yet constructed. I planned to build it from 2" x 12" non-treated boards that were 12' long. With the outer box measuring 6' and the inner box measuring 3', there would be no waste. The idea behind the fountain is that you can better reach the berries to pick them, raise them up so they have warmer soil temperatures and separate them from other crops so you can give them nutrients separately.

Building it was a cinch and all of my corners squared up perfectly except for one where the wood was warped into a minor "C" shape. Kevin purchased a new Makita drill and driver for me and I love it! Not having to change out the drill bit and driver all the time made the job go really quickly. We decided to fill the bottom half of each level with 6" of composted wood chips and chicken manure. The compost was filled with worms and would be a nice layer of nutrients for the greedy strawberry plants when their roots grew through the topsoil. They should also help to hold some moisture in and break up the clay soil for better drainage. If we have another frost, I can sprinkle a blanket of straw on them for the night. Once the plants are larger, I will keep the straw bed on permanently to reduce weed growth and let the decomposing hay add nutrients to the soil.

The three types of strawberries we are growing are early glow, sparkle, and sure crop. Fortunately, while we wait for these to grow and blossom and produce their first crop (most likely next summer), we can still pick strawberries at our local apple orchard to make strawberry jam for the year.

Preparing the raised beds were a family affair! Savannah got her shovel and bucket to play in the soil and William fancied himself a backhoe, digging and pushing soil around. Perhaps he'll own his own landscaping company one day since he adores mulch, soil, and sand. Of course, now the hard part is going to be keeping him out of the strawberry fountain now that all 75 plants have been rooted there. I must begin building the kids' playset and sandbox so they have a safe place to play but I haven't even purchased lumber for it yet!

Poor Kevin, his job was to plant the new raspberry canes, of which I believed I had ordered 4. Turns out, I ordered 3 each of 4 types, 12 total! He had been working hard to prepare a small row for them by hand, which is very hard work considering how thick our rocky clay soil is and he nearly passed out when I told him about the mix up. Fortunately, his dad has lent us his tiller this year which is so heavy duty it does a decent job on our soil.

All in all a good day on the farm - 75 strawberry plants in, 12 raspberry canes in, 4 blackberry canes in and 1 additional blueberry bush. I also planted two peony clusters from my neighbor who thinned her beds and am really looking forward their lovely blossoms.

19 April 2010

Big Kids Picnic Table in Cilantro

Here's what I've been working on and the reason why I needed to finish that pair of sawhorses. Starting on Thursday, I began cutting wood to build this:

On Sunday I finished all the construction and sanding and filling the screw holes with wood putty during one of William's naps. This picnic bench is solid in case you were wondering and the only part I needed my husband's help with was moving it from the garage to the lawn for painting. Even he was impressed with my construction job, which says a lot. He's already wondering when I might build the adult version to replace the picnic bench that came with our house but is rotten. (He even said if I keep up the construction learning, I might be able to build our next house.)

I sanded it very carefully with the orbital sander because I wanted to be sure no one gets a splinter on my account. Savannah helped me pick out the paint color, a high quality exterior paint in cilantro by Valspar that should make this picnic bench last a long time. She helped me paint the first coat after trying it out for size. It should easily fit four of her friends.

I painted two coats of the exterior paint, which has primer in it, then used two coats of a clear shiny topcoat for exterior use so it would be easier to clean and wipe down and have a better feel.

The biggest compliment of all is that as soon as all of this painting business was dry, my daughter couldn't wait to start her tea party in front of the forsythia bushes. She looks so cute in her spring dress!

The plans for this picnic table are available for free from Ana at Knock Off Wood. Ana is my new favorite person. One week ago, I would have purchased this picnic table, but this week, thanks to Ana's great plans and inspiration, I built it myself and it cost me only $15 in lumber, $4 in outdoor screws and $30 in paint and I still have 3/4 of a can of paint leftover that I plan to use on my potting bench, so $27 total. And to my great surprise, it stands solid and stable, perfectly level and square. Yay, Ana and yay me! Also thanks to Ana I now have a long list of other creations waiting for me to build them including outdoor benches, indoor tables, daybeds with trundle, and bookshelves. The possibilities seem endless!


Remember that gift I asked for, my circular saw? I said my first project would be to make a pair of sawhorses and thanks to Ana at Knock Off Wood, I did it! Ana posted instructions for how to build a sawhorse table. I didn't want the table, I wanted the sawhorses so I can use my saw for another project. For just over $10 in lumber and $3 in wood screws, I built my first pair of sawhorses all by myself while William napped. I had to spread the construction out over two naps.

I almost gave in to the urge to paint them a bright flamingo pink, but alas, I am a practical girl at heart and these sawhorses are meant to see a lot of sawing action. One tip, build them backwards from Ana's plans. I built one sawhorse following her plans in order and the second starting with the leg cross supports, then adding the legs and ending with the top, and it was much easier, faster, and more stable to work on. I didn't need clamps or a helper or feel like I needed a third arm building them backwards.

Can I just say that I'm so impressed that they stand up strong and level! I finished them on Thursday and have already completed my first project with them, but I'm not yet ready to reveal it since it's drying under a coat of paint.

18 April 2010

Some rest

Spring is a busy, busy time on any farm or homestead. Once that snow melts away, all you can see are projects that need your attention. Last year I thought one thing that was missing from our outdoor space was a hammock so I set out to make sure we didn't go one more year without one. For $99, I chose the polyester hammock from LL Bean because polyester endures weather better than cotton. The polyester is so unbelievably soft!

The package arrived on a Monday and during a William naptime, Savannah helped me put it up on Wednesday between two trees with a 13ft stretch. I wish I could say it was hard work and it took us a long time, but it only took us a few minutes... Nevertheless, we spent the rest of the day in the hammock, feeling that we deserved it.

I'm so glad we have it but I can see this seriously impacting the rest of the work we need to do around here.

13 April 2010

Girl's best friend

There was a time where I might have asked for a shopping trip as a gift or a pearl necklace or a massage. Now, of course, it's a different story. Now I ask for a circular saw (a Milwaukee 6394-21 15 Amp 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw, to be specific). Already it's a toy the whole family adores.

Are boys just born knowing how electric tools work?

And I haven't even had a chance to rip wood yet...just wait until they see what I can do with it. I'll have to start with building a pair of saw horses.

11 April 2010


See that capital "T" in trouble? William's name around here has become William Trouble Bacon. Here's why:

 You read the manual, while I take it for a test drive...

 Mom, quick, I think something's burning in the kitchen!

Works every time, Flu$h! Flu$h! Flu$h!

Everyone else has electronic toys, why can't I? And the mohawk? I just wake up like this!

Yesterday Savannah was asked to put her chocolates in her Easter basket so William couldn't get to them. She moved the box but had to go back to search for one "missing" chocolate. I'm already half way to yelling at her for "losing" a chocolate when their stains are next to impossible to remove from carpeting and clothing so I help her in her hunt only to find little brother's palms and cheeks smeared with chocolaty goo. The baby scored his first chocolate. Savannah burst into tears and after cleaning off her brother, who was then on high speed Trouble mode, I asked her why she was crying. Fortunately, she said it was because she knew she was in trouble, and not because her little brother ate one of her chocolates. Good answer rascal.

03 April 2010

Gardening with chickens

The view from my kitchen window is of a terraced rock wall partially shaded by pines and with a crab apple tree and forsythia at one end and the chicken coop on the other. Sounds lovely, right? Except that time has taken its toll on the wall so that little of it appears beneath the piles of pine needles. I vowed to reclaim the space this spring after who knows how many years of neglect.

Savannah is my little helper. I suppose William is too since I garden with him in the backpack and he has to cooperate so I can work. The chickens also help! They are eternally curious about the goings on of their human family so whenever we garden outside, they keep us company. As I rake away the pine needles, Scarlet and Penny stayed within a few steps of the rake so they could eat up any tasty morsels uncovered by the rake. Savannah feeds then grubs whenever one is unearthed. As the girls eat grubs now, it means fewer insect problems in the coming months.

I had to pry out of the earth many of the large stones that had toppled over years ago and find a new spot for them along the wall. Each time I lifted another stone Scarlet would run over and eat up any worms, ants, pill bugs, etc that she spotted. The chickens till the soil with their feet. They have powerful legs and claws and scratch the earth much better than I could aerate it with a garden fork or cultivator. Our soil is a very thick clay so I really appreciate the help!

As we work the soil and the girls eat their fill of all natural protein, the boys keep guard. Coburn keeps guard on top of the rock wall while Lucky keeps an eye out from below.

We love our girls (even if two of them turned out to be boys). Three days into my terraced wall project, I've restacked two levels of the wall and removed nine wheelbarrows of pine needles for composting elsewhere. Some of the bulbs I planted area already much happier and the crocuses have pushed through.