I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Several 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.
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.
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.
My living room has a wonderful wall of windows that makes you feel like you are sitting outdoors in the sunshine. But because we live on a busy little road, they needed a covering that could be closed at night for privacy. The three 4x6 foot windows are side by side with a 12-inch space between, creating a 6x14 foot expanse needing to be covered. There was another 4x6 foot window on the wall by the fireplace that would also need covering. The least expensive drapery material I could find on sale was $13.50 a yard. And the simplest extra-long rod and hardware was going to cost well over $200, creating a bill of about $500. Ouch!
I grew up listening to stories of curtains, quilts and dresses made from empty flour sacks. My ancestors recycled before it was the “fashionable” thing to do. I’ve always appreciate their thrifty creativeness, and learned to sew before I entered my teens. So I wasn’t about to let this big glass monster devour my purse. I began browsing through the local hardware and thrift stores looking at the merchandise with an eye for repurposing.
I needed 21 yards of material for a drapery style covering. Seventeen yards would do if I made short curtains rather than long drapes. I didn’t find any flour sacks, but bed sheets were on sale for $4 each! I bought eight twin flat sheets for $24. And, best of all, no sewing was required. So I saved precious time as well. Later, when I had the time, I hemmed them to the length of the window so they wouldn't collect dust and pet hair off the floor.
Now I needed to find 14 feet of something long and rod-shaped that wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg. I found my solution in the plumbing department. PVC piping was inexpensive and could be painted black. I’d painted plastic before, so I knew to use a spray paint made specifically for plastic and to let the paint cure for a couple of days before putting it to use so it would resist scratching. I couldn’t find black café-rod holders, so they were painted black as well. And even though the inexpensive curtain clips and rubber chair-leg covers I used to cap the ends of the pipe were already black, I gave them a coat of the same paint too so they would blend in nicely. Since they are 10 feet up in the air, you can't tell what materials they are made of.
Obviously these thrifty curtains don’t have the elegant look of drapes, but they serve their purpose just fine. The clean, simple lines don't compete with the nice view out the window. And the total cost was less than a hundred bucks, so these economical little jewels were a small fraction of even the best bargain-hunter price out there. My purse and I think they are lovely, and I’m sure Grandma would be proud!
After dozens of modifications, I’ve finally settled on a floor plan for my new greenhouse-barn combination. Because space is limited, I wanted to make sure I utilized every square inch to its fullest potential. I’ve been studying the needs of all the livestock and plants that may eventually inhabit this structure and hopefully have arrived at the best way to incorporate all of their needs into one building. I plan to build my “green-barn” in three phases so that I can ease myself into the care and maintenance of each species and make sure I am ready and able to commit the time necessary to help them thrive. I currently work full time as a nurse. And some of the livestock, such as goats, will need more consistent care than I have time to give right now. Sometime in the future, I plan to ease out of full-time work into a part-time position, before eventually enjoying my little burbstead paradise full time.
The first phase will contain a small passive solar greenhouse for seed starting and trying out a few tropical varieties to make sure the phase two greenhouse side doesn’t need any alterations. The other half of the green-barn will house two or three lightweight ducks and three or four hens. The floor of the greenhouse portion will be slightly sloped toward the east wall with a drainage pipe leading outside, much the same as you see in shower stalls or public restrooms to direct water drainage. The livestock door will be permanent and large enough to accommodate the largest potential future occupant. The people door can be moved with each addition.
Phases two and three, if and when time and money allow, will include a tilapia tank with an aquaponics bed for growing vegetables year round. The barn area will be doubled and possibly tripled, allowing for more poultry or rabbits or miniature goats. In phases 2 & 3, the potential rabbit hutches will be high enough off the ground for poultry and/or goats to walk under, so the floor space will be able to serve double duty. And portions of that under-hutch floor space will most likely contain worm bins to grow food for fish and fowl and, of course, for making that wonderful black-gold for the garden.
Our lot is currently about one third of an acre. Our neighbor on the north side is willing to sell a small strip of the lot that joins our property. The additional 1/3-ish acre will determine how large our little greenhouse/barn will eventually become. I love dreaming about the possibilities while realistically working out the details. And sharing adventures with other small-scale homesteaders is great inspiration!
Do you have a door in your home that you never close? Is it just one more dust magnet taking up space? Or perhaps you are remodeling your home and can’t figure out how to make a door fit in an awkward space. Why bother hanging that expensive slab of wood if you’re never going to use it anyway? Why not try an archway instead? It’s really not that hard to do. And not very expensive if you use scraps of leftover materials. Of course, if you can’t get your hands on any scraps, you can always buy the materials at your nearby home improvement store affordably.
If you already have a door hanging, just take the door off the hinges and remove the wood facing from the wall. In the picture below, you can see the shape of the opening where we were going to hang a pair of bi-fold doors. This opening is four feet wide, but you can make an archway of any size just by rounding off the corners with a little sheetrock (also called drywall) and elbow grease. You can see how the triangular pieces of sheetrock easily reshape the corners into an elegant arch.
I used pieces of an old cardboard box to make a template for my arched corners. After I cut the shape from the cardboard, I taped it to the corner of the doorway and I stepped back to make sure it looked right. You may be happy with your first attempt, but I had to take it down a couple of times and try again until it looked the way I wanted. Then you just use the cardboard template to draw four shapes on your sheetrock. You’ll need two for the front, and two for the back of each corner. If the opening is tall enough, you can cut two single arched sheets that span the entire opening from side to side.
Before you can put the sheet rock in place, you’ll need to frame in the two upper corners of the doorway with a few small scraps of 2x4. It doesn’t matter which direction the little studs are facing, as long as they are securely in place and you can find them with your nails or screws. I taped the cardboard template in place so I could be sure the 2x4 scraps wouldn’t be sticking out past the area I wanted to cover. Once the corner shapes are nailed or screwed to the studs, you’ll need to measure the width of the door frame and cut a long, narrow piece of sheetrock the same width to run the length of the new archway from floor to floor. Half-inch sheetrock, which is the thickness usually used for walls, will need to be soaked in water for a few hours to help it bend to the shape of the arch. But ¼-inch sheetrock will bend fairly easily without soaking. Since I was using scraps, and didn’t want to wait for it to soak, I decided to try slicing the back side every inch or so to allow the stiff board to ease around the corner. If you decide to try this, just be sure not to cut all the way through to the paper on the other side. Since the finish on my walls isn’t smooth, it worked out just fine.
Raw corner edges of sheetrock are always covered with metal corner bead. There is a plastic version made especially for curves, but I didn’t know that at the time and had several straight metal pieces that needed to be used anyway. I’d never put any on a curved edge before, but figured it would work the same as cloth when I’m cutting a curved edge for a sleeve. So I clipped both sides every inch or so with a pair of metal shears and carefully bent the metal to the sheetrock edge. It worked like a charm! Be careful not to bend too quickly though, or you’ll end up with a sharp angle rather than a smooth curve. And do the bending slowly or the metal will break at the cut joints. Guess how I know that! HA!
After everything was nailed in place, all of the edges and cracks were covered with joint tape just as you would on any sheetrock wall. I like the mesh filament type of tape with the sticky backing. It costs a little more, but is much easier to work with. After it’s all taped up, just apply the joint compound (sheetrock mud) as you normally would. The original walls in my old house aren’t very straight. So, to make the new, straight walls blend in, I decided to use a textured finish on the walls. You can read more about working with sheetrock and textured wall finishes at GinasInspirations.com – The Wild Garden Burbstead | Building a little homestead in the suburbs.
As I browse through my seed catalogs, I can’t help but notice that the number of seed varieties for most plants are downright overwhelming. And so is the advice about which ones to plant in different parts of the country. Every producer has a different recommendation and, unfortunately, none of them live in my area. Any variety of plant will react differently when its growing conditions change. Soil structure and fertility, sun exposure, heat, cold and water all impact the plant’s growth and production. Even within the same growing zones in the same state, results can vary. So how do I know which seed will perform best for me?
I’ve read several articles lately about “landrace” vegetables, and I think I’ll give it a try. The concept makes sense, really. It’s sort of a “survival of the fittest” exercise. So this year I’m going to choose several heirloom varieties that are reported to do well in my climate zone, save the cross-pollinated seeds from the ones I like best, and plant that group the next year. Then repeat the process indefinitely. From what I’m reading, the result will be a vegetable that’s best suited to my needs and my own little corner of the world. And since ” global weirding” seems to be the new weather pattern, having a genetically diverse crop that will be able to thrive, regardless what Mother Nature decides to throw at it, sounds like a good idea as well.
I’m sure a landrace vegetable probably wouldn’t be appealing to everyone. And I can understand why someone who is selling their crop at market would want all their product to be uniform for their customers. But for those of us who are growing in small gardens for our own tables, it sounds perfect.
Biscotti is the perfect complement to that hot cup of coffee or warm cocoa on a cold winter day. It isn't difficult to make, but does take a little time. Honestly, though, it’s worth the effort when you’re sitting by the fire with your favorite book, savoring every delicate morsel as it melts generously in your mouth. Yum! So, let’s get started. The first thing you’ll need to do is gather all your ingredients and utensils.
First, your utensils:
Baking pan (at least 15 inches long)
Parchment paper (you can grease the pan instead, but the paper is WAY easier)
2 medium mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons (cup, 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, tablespon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon, 1/8 teaspoon)
Whisk or blender
Now for the tasty stuff: (in parentheses are some ideas for variations)
1/4 cup unsalted butter (salted works too and so does margarine)
1/4 cup sugar (I tried brown sugar once, it changes the flavor a little and makes it darker)
1/4 cup Stevia in the Raw (you can use Splenda or just another 1/4 cup sugar, if you prefer)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (almond and amaretto are a nice combo)
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur (or almond extract)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (you can replace the whole wheat for plain flour if you like)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or 1/4 cup each flour and cocoa powder to make chocolate biscotti)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coarsely ground almonds (run sliced ones through your blender. Other types of nuts are tasty too)
1 cup dark chocolate, broken into very small pieces (or mini chocolate chips, or more nuts if you’d rather)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In one bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extracts/liqueur.
In another bowl, combine flour(s), baking powder and salt.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients in one of the bowls, then fold in the nuts and chocolate. (The dough is very stiff and sticky. Using butter or flour to reduce the stickiness makes it easier to work with.)
Roll dough into a log and place on parchment paper. Flatten into a 14-by-3-inch rectangle and 1 inch thick. Place paper and dough on pan (recipe in photograph is doubled)
Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven, remove parchment paper and large cookie from pan and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 5 minutes. Place a new sheet of paper on pan. Leave oven on.
Move paper and dough to counter and cut a thin slice from each end (the short, 3-inch ends) with the serrated knife (Use light pressure and small “sawing” strokes. The cookies are very fragile and will fall apart if you use a heavy hand.)
Transfer each 3-by-1-by-1-inch cookie to pan with the cut sides facing up/down. (Again, cookies are fragile, so you have to be gentle. Using a dull knife or something similar to slide under the cookie, as in the photograph, is helpful during the transfer)
Return to oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, turn cookies over, and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Turn the oven off and crack the oven door to allow the cookies to cool completely.
This allows cookies to become a little drier so they will keep longer. Once they are cooled, you can dip them in melted chocolate, as I did in the top photograph, and drizzle with more chocolate, or dip in sprinkles. They make a nice gift and keep well.