Wild Garden Girl

Learning With Lily

Gina GainesMy daughter and granddaughters moved in with us this spring, and we’ve spent most of the summer trying to rearrange living quarters to accommodate everyone’s needs. Having three generations under one roof is sometimes a challenge, but I wouldn’t miss a minute of it!

Another challenging aspect of the move has been adding another species of indoor pet to the kennel room. Before Lily, my oldest granddaughter’s sweet little Angora bunny, moved in, my two dogs and two cats shared a 4-by-25-foot storage closet that we transformed into a “critter castle” complete with its own heat and air conditioning that keeps the room from going too far below 50 or above 80 degrees. There is also an attached outdoor area with about the same amount of floor space that is safely screened in for our four-legged fur-babies to enjoy when we are at work or sleeping.

Lily 

entrance

When Lily arrived, I remodeled the top shelf in the kennel room to create a 10-by-2-foot hutch for her. On the shelf underneath the hutch, I placed four worm bins to collect and manage the poo and spilled food that sifted through the hardware cloth floor. Underneath the bins is the floor area that the dogs use as their sleeping quarters.

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I constructed an enclosed nesting box for Lily, thinking she would need a dark, quiet area to rest. The floor and walls were thoughtfully lined with hard plastic I salvaged from the worm-bin lids. I took extra time making sure she couldn’t get to any of the edges with her teeth, to keep her safe. I also made another partially enclosed area for her to rest that had a smooth, plastic floor to give her feet a break from the wire floor whenever she wanted. That floor is slanted so the urine and poo would roll down into one of the bins below. I was pleased with the results, but Lily was not impressed. Apparently she is a “private pooper” and doesn’t like to do her business out in the open.

Her first week in the hutch was miserable for me and probably not much better for her. I couldn’t keep the tiny nesting box cleaned out fast enough. I found out the hard way that rabbits drink an enormous amount of water every day and make just as much urine. In addition, they produce at least twice as much poo! This wasn’t working out for either of us.

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So, I boarded up the entrance to her nesting-box-turned-toilet and hoped she would begin toileting in the area with the slanted floor. She seems to be quite content with this new arrangement, and so am I. Now, I just rotate the worm bins each day to make sure all the little wigglers get their fair share. Potty problem solved.

wool

Because I love to crochet and have always wanted to learn to spin yarn, I’d considered adding fiber animals to our little burbstead sometime in the future. Even though I wasn’t quite ready to make that leap, Lily’s arrival is turning out to be a great learning experience. She actually seems to enjoy being brushed, and the amount of wool I get with each brushing is amazing!

The dogs and cats love to investigate the process and nudge my arm to let me know they want to be brushed too. Each one, including Lily, roam around in the kennel while waiting for their turn. It’s amazing how quickly they’ve all accepted each other. Even so, I always keep a watchful eye and keep their supervised “play time” at a minimum.

Although this summer hasn’t gone as planned, and my blogging has taken an unexpected break, I’m happy to be one step closer to my burbsteading dream with our first little livestock animal, even if she is also a sweet little pet. I’m also enjoying having little ones in the house again, even if only for a while. Hopefully, I’ll be able to blog more regularly now that everyone is beginning to get settled in.

Three Sisters

Gina GainesPlanting the "three sisters" (corn, beans and squash) together promotes good health for each. Beans provide nitrogen for all three, but especially the nitrogen-greedy corn.  Corn also needs lots of moisture, which the large squash leaves preserve by keeping the soil shaded.  The corn, in turn, provides a natural support for the beans and additional cover for the squash in very hot climates.  The beans also keep the three "bundled" together, making it difficult for prowling animals and heavy winds to damage them.  Unfortunately, it also can make harvesting for us humans a little more difficult as well.  

beancorn

I planted my three sisters at the same time this year because I was in a hurry. It looks like the beans are "loving the corn stalks to death" and may even pull them down if I don't add some stakes.  Next year, I'll be sure to go back to the original plan and let the corn get two or three feet tall before planting the beans. The squash always goes in at the same time as the corn.  I plant mine in 4-foot-wide circles so I can reach my short arms into the center from all sides to harvest.

Next year I may try a fun experiment and plant a very tall variety of corn in a 6 foot circle.  As the corn grows, I'll gently bend the stalks toward a pole positioned in the center of the circle, creating a tee-pee for my grandchildren to play in. I'll plant the squash and beans at the outer edge of the corn circle so the corn will still have her sisters to "play" with when the kids are away.  Experimenting with new ideas is part of the fun of gardening, so why not have a little fun?

Building a Hugelkultur Bed

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Gina GainesMy gardening philosophy is that Mother Nature knows more about growing vegetation than we humans do. So I try to pay attention when I see her working! I guess that’s what appeals to me about the Hugelkultur method of gardening. It mimics the way nature creates good soil. And since soil is the foundation of my garden, I want it to be as good as possible. Tilling leaves, chopped twigs and compost into my hard, rocky Georgia clay the first two seasons after we moved in improved the soil tremendously. And this method will expand on that same principle.

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Just as with anything else on the internet, there are many types of Hugelkultur designs to be found. My beds are pretty simple. I just loosened the top six inches of soil and place logs, branches, twigs, leaves and dirt on top each other in lasagna-type fashion. After placing log borders to contain all that natural composting goodness, and fencing the deer out of our future buffet, I planted a variety of vegetables and flowers for us to enjoy. 

If you would like to learn more about this ancient form of gardening, just visit www.permies.com or google the word Hugelkultur. You won’t be disappointed!

From Spools to Jewels

Gina GainesMany years ago, I purchased a couple of imperfect spool racks to use in my sewing area. I didn’t mind that a few of the pegs were missing since they were only a buck each. When I moved, my new sewing area didn’t have a wall to mount them on, so I put my spools of thread in a plastic drawer bin, where they remain today. I didn’t discard the racks because I was sure such a useful shape would eventually find another purpose. After adding a few pieces of cedar stripping pulled from the interior of the closets we ripped out of our current house, the spool racks were dismantled and transformed into a lovely jewelry rack.

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The bars that contained all of their pegs were used on the far right section for bracelets and miscellaneous items. I spaced them farther apart than they were on the thread rack, so there would be enough room for the bracelets to dangle. On the center left section, I pulled out every other peg with a pair of pliers, then filled the hole with wood putty and sanded it smooth. This created a space where large round bracelets would fit nicely. 

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The extra pegs from those rows were used on the center right section for necklaces. I drilled a small hole between each peg and, after dipping the damaged ends into a little glue, inserted the pegs into the holes.

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For my earrings, I used a small piece of leftover cedar paneling ripped from the enclosed carport remodel. After cutting wavy-shaped holes in the center of two small rectangular pieces, I just glued them together with a pretty scrap of lace between them. Placing the lacy frame on hinges allows me to get to the backs of the post earrings.

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My jewelry rack is built to fit one of the short walls of my dressing room, but you could create a shape to easily fit any space. I was nervous about painting that wall black, but it really made the jewelry shine!  

Cornbread Memories

Gina GainesDuring an exceptionally long, stressful day of nursing, I developed a craving for some good ol’ Southern comfort food. Just thinking about the sweet aroma of cornbread baking in the oven gave me the strength I needed to make the drive home. With single-minded determination, I leapt out of my scrubs and into my comfy cloths in a mad dash to the kitchen. While the cast-iron skillet heated in the oven, I whipped the magical ingredients into just the right texture. Cornbread batter has its own unique consistency, you know. It must be just a bit thicker than cake batter, but thinner than a soft dough so that it will smoothly slip from the bowl to the skillet. The sound of the batter sizzling as it hit the hot skillet combined with the aroma of the searing crust created a beautiful symphony. I could hardly wait to take it out of the oven. 

While the batter was making its magical transformation to solid form, I placed the other half of my Southern delight in the freezer. For some, this ingredient would be milk. For me, only fresh, ice cold buttermilk would do. As I reached for the glass in which I planned to combine these two distinctly different elements, I remembered the first time I tasted this tangy-sweet delight. Such an enchanting memory could not be housed in an ordinary glass! Oh, no! It could only be contained in a Mason jar! And neither would an ordinary spoon be special enough to savor the treat. I must have Nannie’s teaspoon. This exclusive device is not a mere teaspoon for measuring ingredients, mind you. This long, elegant spoon was used by my grandmother exclusively for the purpose of stirring sweet, Southern tea.

cornbread

Placing the spoon in the jar put a smile on my face that erased the day’s turmoil and allowed me to embrace the simple pleasure of a simple meal. The ice cold buttermilk poured over the hot crispy cornbread created a deliciously warm treat for my taste buds and a deliciously warm memory for my heart.

Top Bar Bees

Gina GainesI can’t imagine there is anyone left who hasn’t heard about the serious decline in our bee population and the dire consequences to life on this planet if something isn’t done to help. There are a number of apiaries across the country, but they are not able to correct the problem alone. The best remedy for this problem is the backyard beekeeper. 

 

BEE stuff

I kept bees about two decades ago but had to give them to my brother-in-law when my life became too hectic to take proper care of them. He’d only had them for a few years before the now infamous “colony collapse disorder” wiped them out. It left us sadly disappointed. I am now at a place to resume beekeeping, but my back is not as young as it used to be. Smoothly rearranging 30-, 45-, and 90-pound hive boxes full of buzzing stingers is a feat I am no longer physically capable of. And purchasing expensive hives, frames, and comb sheets won’t fit into my screaming budget. So what is a backyard beekeeper to do? Why … pull out the DIY beekeeper inside you, of course!

If you are interested in beekeeping and share my creaky predicament, you might want to investigate the Top Bar beekeeping method. The traditional method of keeping bees in our country is using vertical Langstroth hive boxes. With this method, you move different depth boxes containing 10 or more frames each. These heavy boxes are rearranged periodically as the bees work in order to keep the brood strong and the honey flowing. The Top Bar hives are horizontal and consist of only one “box.”  With this method, you leave your long, horizontal box stationary and move only one, or a few frames at a time to achieve the same purpose. Because you move a smaller number of frames at a time, you must visit a Top Bar hive more frequently than a Langstroth, but the work isn’t back breaking. 

cutting

Top Bars are also much easier to construct and can even be made from scrap (my favorite!) lumber.  The people in Africa and Asia build their hives out of barrels, baskets, clay or whatever they have on hand. 

bars

Last weekend, I ferreted out enough 2x2 scraps from my woodpile to make 28 bars. I still need to cut a flat space at the end of each of them so they will hang nicely in the hive body I plan to make this weekend. 

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I had to use a circle saw to make the angled cuts, so my bars aren’t as perfect as the ones I’ve seen on the internet sites I’ve been perusing. But bees are famous for being able to remodel any structure they can find into a cozy little home-sweet-home of their own. They will build their hive in trees, houses, pipes, baskets, nooks and crannies. They are nature’s ultimate DIY’er! So I’m sure my less-than-perfect bars will suit them just fine. I’m looking forward to sharing our burbstead with my tiny kindred spirits. My inner beekeeper is just buzzing with excitement!

One Day Bookshelf Project

Gina GainesSeveral years ago I made a bookshelf out of old louver doors and a few wooden boards.  The poor thing has been dismantled and repainted three times and you'll probably notice in the photos that it needs yet another coat of paint.  We're currently remodeling this room and the bookshelf was put up in a hurry to get the books out of storage.  Taking it apart, painting it, and putting it back together is probably going to be on my honey-do list this summer!  

This bookshelf is really easy to make and can be free if you have some old doors lying around.  The louvers in these doors were about 12 inches wide, just right for the scrap 6-foot shelving boards I had in my woodpile. You can use any size doors to fit your purpose.  You’ll just need to match up the boards you use as shelves to the width of the louvers.

shelf 1

Using metal brackets, I joined a pair of matching doors to a board cut to the same height.  This created the back of the bookshelf.  If you only have one set of louvers, you can use an old solid door or leftover lumber for the back.  I left the hinges on the doors and just created the sides of the bookshelf by bringing the left and right panels around toward me.  Make sure to position the doors so that they swing in the same direction to make the back and sides before joining them.  Then secure one of your shelving boards to the top of the doors.   Using wood screws to fasten the top board will make it easier to dismantle if you need to later.  Also, I think screws make the shelf sturdier than nails would.

shelf 2

Once the back, sides and top are stable, you’ll need to knock out opposing louvers on the left and right sides so that you can slide your boards through to create the shelves.  I used a hammer and a large screwdriver, but you can use a small saw if you have one.  After the louvers are out, sand the area smooth and just slide in the boards to create your shelves.  If you are going to paint the bookshelf, it’s easier to paint the boards before placing them. 

That’s all there is to it!  An easy, one day project to re-purpose old louver doors into a useful and attractive shelving unit.