Tag Archives: projects

Eco-Saturday: Newspaper seed-starting pots

Last year, I showed you how to recycle Ro-Tel or enchilada sauce cans into planters for starting seeds. I’ve saved cans all year and have about three dozen to start the season — not bad, but not as many as I’d like. (I try to start at least a dozen of each tomato variety I intend to grow so I’ve got a good selection when it’s time to decide which plants go in the garden.)

To make up the slack, I’m recycling newspaper into biodegradable seed-starting cups.

I could do a step-by-step photo tutorial or a series of diagrams or some such, but the video embedded above is way better than anything I’m likely to come up with. What I particularly like is the simplicity of the design — you don’t need a background in origami to turn a sheet of newsprint into a neat little square planter. The size is also good; peat pellets and a lot of the commercially available planting flats are so small that your plants won’t have room to grow, and you’ll end up having to transplant them to keep them from getting leggy and rootbound long before the last frost date. These are big enough that your tomatoes shouldn’t outgrow them before Planting Day.

I’ll probably use two sheets of newsprint rather than one on mine to ensure they’re sturdy enough to hold up until April 15.

And yes, I know there have been some concerns about whether newsprint is safe to use in the garden, but Cornell University reports most newspapers have switched to soy- or water-based inks that won’t hurt your soil, your plants or you. I feel quite confident in saying heirloom tomatoes started in recycled newspaper pages and planted in your backyard are far better for the planet (and you) than Frankenfood grown on a factory farm 1,500 miles away and trucked all over creation.

In other news, here’s Day 4 of my giving-things-up-for-Lent project:

lent4

I love this skirt, but the “one size fits all” label in it is and always has been a lie. That drawstring is purely decorative; a wide elastic band holds up the top, and it’s much too tight for comfort. Too bad, because a solid black broomstick skirt is a handy thing to have. Maybe someday I’ll find one in my size. In the meantime, I’ll toss this one in the thrift-store box for a thinner person to enjoy.

Emily

Befores and afters

I spent most of today searching for a paper towel dispenser I could mount below my cabinets. I have no idea why, but they’ve gotten rare as hens’ teeth. Why everybody wants to take up precious counter space with a paper towel holder is beyond me, but the kind that sit on the countertop were all I could find everywhere I went. We searched six stores before we finally found one at Menards.

Another thing that’s become scarce: Those three-tiered hanging fruit baskets like everybody’s mom had in the kitchen when we were kids. I try to keep fruit on hand for snacking, and I wanted a set of those hanging wire baskets like we had in our kitchen when I was little. No dice. I finally had to order a set from Amazon, because I couldn’t find them locally.

Anyway, after I rustled up a towel dispenser, I set to work cleaning the kitchen cabinets. My spice collection is ridiculous and was taking up half a standard cabinet and an entire corner of the counter. While I was at it, I organized a junk drawer. Here’s my handiwork, with a couple of fun little mini-recycling projects included:

This corner was just ... yeesh.
This corner was just … yeesh.

I can feel my blood pressure drop when I look at this countertop now.
I can feel my blood pressure drop when I look at this countertop now.

Stuff fits much better when you put it in proper storage containers. Even if you have to stash the noodles in a cotton-candy tub.
Stuff fits much better when you put it in proper storage containers. Even if you have to stash the noodles in a cotton-candy tub.

Good luck finding anything in that mess. Look at all that junk. And my last attempt at organizing the spices resulted in that gray tray, which corralled some of them nicely but made them impossible to get in or out of the cabinet.
Good luck finding anything in that mess. Look at all that junk. And my last attempt at organizing the spices resulted in that gray tray, which corralled some of them nicely but made them impossible to get in or out of the cabinet.

After. I merged a bunch of duplicate containers, took all the stuff that was stored in bags and put it in jars, and moved a bunch of spices to that new shelf I built yesterday, as the configuration of the cabinet was better for storing cans.
After. I merged a bunch of duplicate containers, took all the stuff that was stored in bags and put it in jars, and moved a bunch of spices to that new shelf I built yesterday, as the configuration of the cabinet was better for storing cans.

Junk drawer. Standard issue.
Junk drawer. Standard issue.

Yes, I sorted all the hardware into an old candy box. You know I'd be thrilled if Ron brought me a box of hardware for Valentine's Day.
Yes, I sorted all the hardware into an old candy box. You know I’d be thrilled if Ron brought me a box of hardware for Valentine’s Day.

I was kinda proud of myself for coming up with that candy box thing. And yes, that’s a sonic screwdriver in the drawer. Ron bought it for me last year. It’s an actual screwdriver, too. I love it.

Hope your day was productive, wherever you are.

Emily

Score one for Pinterest.

Most of the crap I find on Pinterest is … well … crap. But I went looking for storage ideas today and liked this excellent little space-saver so much I wound up using it as my excuse du jour for taking a field trip to the hardware store.

The whole unit fits neatly between the fridge and the wall.
The whole unit fits neatly between the fridge and the wall.

The version somebody pinned from Classy Clutter (which is an excellent site, BTW) looked prettier than mine, but I’m lazy. And cheap. And lazy. And my station wagon is in the shop at the moment, getting its transmission rebuilt, so I didn’t have a good way to bring home a ginormous piece of bead board for the back. And did I mention I’m lazy?

Here it is before I loaded it, so you can see how it's put together.
Here it is before I loaded it, so you can see how it’s put together.

If I feel ambitious later, I can unload it and take it outside and hit it with a few coats of spray paint, but I think we all know that isn’t going to happen.

Anyway, instructions for my version are below the fold. I made it four feet high, partly because of the aforementioned station-wagon-going-AWOL issue, partly because my refrigerator is only five feet high, and partly because I could buy an eight-foot-long board and have it cut in half for $2.22.

Continue reading Score one for Pinterest.

Gardening in January

I know, I know, I owe you an Eco-Saturday. I had one in the works, but I’m being treated for insomnia, which has created some obstacles to my usual blogging patterns. (The tradeoff: I might finally catch up that sleep deficit I’ve been running since 1988.)

Anyway. I’ll make it up to you next weekend, but in the meantime, I want to show off the work we did for the garden today.

I’ve spent most of the winter buying a galvanized metal fire ring every couple of weeks and rolling it into the garden to use as a raised bed. I now have six rings — five lined up in the garden, and one tucked into a shady corner next to the garage door, ready to be inoculated with the morel mushroom spores Ron ordered for us the other day.

I had some good intentions about using the rings as composters, but I haven’t had time to pick up horse manure this winter, so we just took advantage of a pretty afternoon to cruise up to Lotus NatureScapes, where we picked up seven big Rubbermaid tubs full of compost for $10. You read that right: $10 for all the compost we could haul home in my station wagon. A similar quantity of prepackaged topsoil from a big-box store would have cost at least $75, and I’d have had a mess of non-recyclable plastic bags to deal with when I finished. Such are the merits of bulk purchases from mom-and-pop businesses.

Anyway, we filled two beds and got a good start on a third. If the weather cooperates, I’ll try to pick up a few tubs of manure next weekend and start cooking up some thermophilic compost in the remaining rings. We’ve still got plenty of time to make a couple of batches before spring.

While I was moving the fire rings into position in the sunniest part of the garden, I repositioned the walkway slightly and put a thick layer of leaves — which Ron has been piling back there since November — between the beds to keep the weeds down. Here’s how it looks now:

ringoffire

ringoffire2

They should be more impressive come July, when big, healthy tomato plants are growing out of them.

When I finished with my outdoor gardening, I came inside and set up my planting shelves so they’ll be ready to start seeds next month:

plantshelf

I borrowed an idea from Ron’s mom and outfitted each shelf with growlights. I’m keeping the shelf in the basement this year so I won’t have to spend all my time chasing the cat out of it. (I should probably tell the guy next door that I’m starting tomatoes down there so he won’t mistake my Tigerellas for weed and call the cops. I love our local K9s, but this house is altogether too small for an enthusiastic German shepherd to go dashing through it in a futile search for nonexistent contraband.)

Emily

Projects on the horizon

So I now officially have two mural-painting projects lined up for this spring on Route 66.

For the first, I’ll be spending about a week painting a mural in one of the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M. The owners and I haven’t settled on a design yet, but they’re getting me some measurements and looking for some historic photographs I can use as the basis for a rough sketch.

For the second project, I’m spending a couple of weekends painting a mural on the side of a privately owned tourism center in Staunton, Illinois. Depending on the weather this spring, I may do that one first. We’ll see.

I’m pretty amped about both projects. The one in Staunton will have kind of a rainbow theme, which means I’ll be carrying on a tradition of sorts: I was obsessed with rainbows when I was 9, so in addition to icing a rainbow on my birthday cake, Mom painted a rainbow and clouds on my bedroom wall.

Where my DIY streak started.
In case you were wondering where I got my DIY streak: Mom painted the rainbow mural and made the quilt on the bed, which my dad refinished, and for which he also built a canopy (not pictured, obviously). I believe Dad refinished that nightstand, too.

It’s been a couple of years since I worked on a mural, and this one in Staunton will be my biggest yet — 60 feet long and 10 feet high, which is at least twice the size of anything I’ve done up to this point. We’ll see how it goes.

We went up to Staunton this afternoon so I could take some detailed measurements and put my hands on the surface I’ll be painting. After doing murals on smooth interior walls, waferboard, textured Masonite, two kinds of siding, and a late-model car with its factory finish intact, I’ve come to appreciate the value of handling the surface and looking for potential obstacles before I start the mural instead of jumping right in and then realizing — after I’ve already invested several hours in the project — that the wall is resisting (or worse yet, drinking) the paint, or there’s an electrical outlet right smack in the middle of my design, or something else that would have been good to know in advance.

On the way back, we stopped at the Michael’s store in Edwardsville, where I picked up some materials for staging nicer food photos. While we were there, I caught a sale on canvas and stocked up. Stay tuned for whatever creative outburst that inspires.

Emily

A little gloating

With the last Friday and Saturday of 2014 behind us, I can gloat a little bit about the fact that I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution: I’ve posted an entire year’s worth of weekly Vegan Friday and Eco-Saturday projects.

I wasn’t sure I’d have enough Eco-Saturday ideas to keep going after this year, but after I sat down and looked at what was left on my original list and went through some books and websites in search of other possibilities, I realized I had enough potential material to carry me well into 2015, so we’ll keep rolling with that tag until I run out of ideas.

Vegan Friday was a bit trickier, partly because my standards are high: If a vegan recipe is a pain in the arse to make, I’m not trying it, and if I try a recipe and it doesn’t taste good, I’m not posting it. That filters out a lot of recipes. It was a worthy project while it lasted, but I just don’t have the time or will to continue it for another year.

Instead, I’m turning Vegan Friday into Vegetarian Friday. Aside from an occasional batch of chicken posole or pigs in blankets, just about everything I cook is meat-free, so coming up with 52 different recipes should be easy, and staying in my culinary comfort zone should give me more time to stage photographs properly instead of trying to snap something with my iPhone on the fly because I just realized it’s Thursday night and I still haven’t come up with a good replacement for the vile-tasting-but-gorgeous Brussels sprouts I made Monday or whatever. It occurs to me that my light-therapy lamp and a couple of sheets of foamboard would probably go a long way toward making my recipe posts a little more Pinterest-friendly.

The vegetarian recipes should help advance one of my long-term goals, which is to reduce my meat consumption in a sensible, sustainable way. (I’m still sorting out the details, but in essence, I’m hoping to phase out one food category per quarter until I’m more or less vegetarian again.)

I have a couple of other projects up my sleeve, too, but I’ll share those once I figure out the details.

Emily

Vegan Friday: Hard cider

Yes, I drink my cider out of a Champagne flute. The shape of the glass helps preserve the carbonation.
Yes, I drink my cider out of a Champagne flute. It’s that good. Plus the shape of the glass helps preserve the carbonation.

That’s right, kids: This week’s Vegan Friday project is booze.

This is not a quick recipe. It’s not terribly labor-intensive (you’re looking at maybe 30 minutes of actual work), but it’s done in three steps, and you have to wait two weeks between each step, so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this isn’t the project for you. Details below the fold.

Continue reading Vegan Friday: Hard cider

Yuuuuuuuck.

It’s cold and gray outside, and it’s making me tired and grouchy.

Only one way to handle a crappy day: Work on a Route 66 project.

Fortunately, I have one brewing. Rich Henry, proprietor of Henry’s Ra66it Ranch on Route 66 in Staunton, Illinois,¬†mentioned on the Yahoo! group the other day that he was looking for a volunteer to paint a Rainbow Bridge mural on the side of his building. I told him I might know a girl. ūüôā

I can’t drive two and a half hours in the dark¬†to go paint a mural in the rain¬†right this second, but a cold Monday evening seems as good a time as any to get out some colored pencils and work up a rough sketch.

Emily

 

Belated Eco-Saturday: DIY rain barrel

Sorry I’m late with this. We had to wait¬†for the weather to warm up so we could finish this project.

One quick way to reduce your water consumption¬†is to collect¬†rainwater¬†for the garden.¬†You can buy prefabbed rain barrels, but most of them are ridiculously expensive, and it’s easy to make your own for less than $50¬†worth of materials. Here’s how to do it:

Materials
Large plastic trash can with a lid
3/4-inch hose bibb (a.k.a. spigot)
3/4-inch metal washer
Two 3/4-inch female-threaded unions
Three-inch-long, 3/4-inch male-threaded nipple
Teflon tape
Small tube of silicone caulk
Bungee cord(s) long enough to stretch around the top of the trash can
Cheap mulch cloth*
Three 18-inch square pavers
Flexible downspout extender

Tools
Drill
3/4-inch hole saw bit
Tinsnips or utility knife
Scissors
Hacksaw

Start by using your hole saw bit to drill a hole about 4″ from the bottom of the trash can.

Wrap the threads on the barrel end of the spigot with Teflon tape. Slip the washer over the threads, put a bead of caulk on the washer, and push the threads through the hole as far as possible.

Reach into the trash can and screw one of the unions onto the threads from the inside.

When you’re done, caulk around the washer just to make sure you’ve got a good seal. I’d have used clear caulk instead of white, except I’d already screwed up and tried to seal it with pipe dope a week earlier after¬†I discovered all my old caulk had dried up. I forgot that pipe dope never dries. Oops.

Caulking around the outside is probably overkill, but I wanted to make sure it wouldn't leak.
Yours will look better, because you won’t have pipe dope residue smeared everywhere.

Drill another 3/4″¬†hole about 2″-3″¬†from the top on either the left or right¬†side of the barrel, depending on where you want your overflow pipe.

Teflon tape helps make a tighter seal.
Teflon tape helps make a tighter seal.

Wrap one end of the nipple with Teflon tape, insert it into the hole, and screw on the other union from the inside. Use caulk on both sides to make a watertight seal.

Once the caulk cures, cut a piece of cheap mulch cloth big enough to cover the top of the trash can, with about 4″-5″¬†draping over the sides, and secure it with bungee cords. (You may need to cut a small hole in the cloth to accommodate your overflow pipe.)

An extra pair of hands helps with this part.
An extra pair of hands helps with this part.

Drill¬†a 3/4″ hole in the trash-can lid. Using the tinsnips or utility knife, enlarge the hole until it’s big enough to accommodate the downspout extender.

Put the lid on the barrel. Stack your pavers next to the downspout, set the barrel on top, and cut the downspout off about a foot above the top of the barrel. Install the downspout extender and direct it into the hole.

This lid was a pain in the arse, because it was convex. If you can catch a sale on one of those huge contractor trash cans with the flat lid, I'd recommend getting one. It will save you a lot of hassle.
Fact: Convex lids are a pain in the arse to work with.

Finish by attaching a hose to the overflow pipe and directing it away from the house or into another barrel.

Emily

Merry Christmas. Blink and you’re dead.

We have a Christmas tree at our office.

Our office Christmas tree does not have a topper.

I do not have any act-right.

The dollar store near our office is selling treetop angels for $3.

So, obviously, this had to happen:

Fascinating race, the Weeping Angels. The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely.
Fascinating race, the Weeping Angels. The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely.

A weeping angel is the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life form evolution has ever produced, and right now one of them is about to be trapped inside my office.
A weeping angel is the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life form evolution has ever produced, and right now one of them is about to be trapped inside my office.

I couldn’t help myself. Really, I couldn’t. The reporter who sits behind me is a Whovian, as are two copy editors, all the IT guys and at least one person in advertising. And that empty spot at the top of the tree is just begging for a worthy decoration.

Besides, somebody already¬†brought in one of those Elf on a Shelf things, and they’re at least as terrifying as the Weeping Angels. If you don’t mind a voyeuristic elfin ratfink carrying out covert espionage operations all over the office from Thanksgiving until Christmas, you shouldn’t be fazed by a quantum-locked assassin masquerading as a divine emissary.

I suspect the Elf on a Shelf of being a Weeping Angel in disguise anyway. I mean, it does seem to be quantum-locked, and we are advised not to touch it.

Come to think of it, that’s a little unnerving. The prevailing theory among Whovians is that Santa is a Time Lord, because he doesn’t age, he doesn’t die, his bag is obviously bigger on the inside, and the only thing that could manipulate time and space efficiently enough to allow for several billion deliveries in a single night is a TARDIS. (Evidently his doesn’t have a functioning chameleon circuit, either, since it always looks like a flying sleigh, which¬†is almost as inconspicuous as a flying¬†British phone booth.)

I can think of only one Time Lord whose ethical standards would be¬†so dubious as to allow him to infiltrate children’s homes with poorly dressed Weeping Angels.

Don’t pull on Santa’s beard, kids. You’re liable to find John Simm hiding back there.

Emily