My garden is going crazy this summer. I still haven’t had much success starting from seeds, but I’m not too shabby at the rest of it. I went out this morning to check on things and my little cherry tomato plant is covered in jewels. And some of them so itsy bitsy it’s too adorable to believe. I’ve been eating them straight off the vine all morning, filling up a big bowl and eating them like popcorn, not even bothering to wash off the dirt. One of the pleasures of home grown food, there’s nothing to be afraid of and there’s nothing like eating a fresh tomato warm from the sun.
When I buy plants it’s usually while I’m doing something else. I’ll pick up a little something while I’m buying nails at the hardware store. Or I’ll buy some herb seedlings along with my groceries. I haven’t been to an honest to goodness nursery since I don’t even know when. But with my friends coming in to town I wanted to do the backyard up and I had an Atticus that needed to be entertained, so I consulted yelp and went to a nearby nursery. Holy cow was it amazing. I could have spent forever there. There were butterflies and hummingbirds all over the place, so used to people that they’d fly right up to you and hover in your face. I took my time picking out primroses and ranunculus while Atti zoomed up and down the aisles and searched for the perfect red flower to take home for his contribution.
I think I found a new happy place. If they served food there I might never leave.
I have a compost heap off to the side of the house, and since gardening and any kind of yard maitenance has been an absolute zero on my priority list, I never get over there.
So imagine my surprise when I finally found myself in that corner of the yard and found tomatoes growing out of the compost heap. Last years rotten tomatoes must have gone to seed and here in November I’m getting fresh grown tomatoes. It just feels symbolic.
These hanging baskets can’t get cheaper and add a gorgeous pop of color to your front porch.
Today I’m sneaking in one last summer project before I turn my attention to the changing seasons. This move has changed everything about how our family lives. We’re actually turning into outdoor kids. You guys, I have a tiny tan on my arms!
This house was SCREAMING for baskets full of plants to hang from the eaves. I could hear it begging every time I pulled in the driveway. But I have a whole lot of projects going at once, and I need a LOT of hanging baskets to get the look I wanted, and even with my sale mojo the cheapest price I could find was $15 a piece. The house might have wanted hanging baskets urgently, but I cared more about something to sit on outside.
So I did what every good crafter does. I hit the dollar store. For about $1.50 I got what I needed to make these baskets, and saved myself a freaking fortune. All you’ll need is something solid and somewhat stable, with handles on the sides. Just about anything will do. Before I found these I was going to buy a plastic punch bowl and just drill a bunch of holes.
The first thing you’ll need to do is make a drainage hole where there probably isn’t one. I am so haphazard with my plant care I’m always either drowning them or starving them, and I have killed more than one plant (this year) by over watering without proper drainage. So learn from me, it’s not a step worth ignoring. Plastic is one of the easiest things to drill through, and I did this with just a regular old paddle bit.
Cut two lengths of rope about six feet long, or as long as you need to get the height you want your baskets to hang from. Cross them in the middle, and then thread each end from the outside of the basket, through the handle to the inside of the basket. Stretch the ropes apart to give it a stronger base.
Tie the two ends on each side of the basket together, and use the knot to hang from a hook. The end.
For the last three months nearly all I’ve thought about is bringing our family life outdoors, and the projects I’ve been spending my time on reflect that. There’s still so much I want to do out there, but the seasons march on whether I’m ready for them or not. All the outdoor furniture living in my head will have to get to the back of the line. I’ve got Halloween to start thinking about.
I did it! By the end of the day I was a sore, sweaty, mess. But in one day I built three pieces of outdoor furniture for absolutely nothing. And I did my part to save the planet by keeping a bunch of pallets out of a landfill, and saving all the waste that would have been made if I had gone out and bought this stuff. Wins all around!
My last project is this plant…shelf. Stand. Bookshelf, but not for books, thing. I had this weird little alcove, I think when it was built it was meant for a grill (but ours doesn’t fit there), and I thought that getting a little stand or something to put there would be perfect. But making it myself and for free? Even more perfect.
To start we’ll make the side pieces. Again, if your pallets have planks on both sides, you’ll want to start by removing everything on one side. Then, just as we did for the compost bin, Saw down the middle of the pallet as close as you can to the center beam. Do that on both sides of the center beam, and these pieces will make the sides of your shelf.
You’ll need to replace the beams you just eliminated so that your sides aren’t just wobbling around everywhere, so remove all the nails and wood pieces from that center beam, do the same from another beam, and make sure that they’re the same size as each other.
For the shelves you’ll need another pallet, and this time instead of cutting through the planks, we’ll be cutting through the beams. Saw through the beams between every two planks or so (depending on the width of your planks, this is all guesswork of course) until you have three shelves.
Since I had this specific space keeping the shelves together, I didn’t even worry about attaching the shelves to the sides. I just slid them through the gaps between the slats and figured that it couldn’t really go anywhere. But if you want yours to be free standing, then screw the shelves into the sides.
I positioned the top shelf towards the back of the side pieces so that the shelves were kind of staggered. There’s no real reason for that, I just liked how it looked. A few more screws down through the top and this project is finished.
Most of the time my beef with pallet furniture is that it rarely looks like anything besides furniture made from pallets. Which means that unless you are a careful decorator, you’ll look like you’re a poor college student gathering milk crates around your table made out of an industrial spool. But that all changes for me once you take it outside. In the garden the extra nail holes and random printing just *works* for me.
This project was the afterthought as I was challenging myself to use up all of the pallets, and now I think it just might be my favorite. Which is why these kinds of creative challenges are worth the sweat and sore muscles.
This backyard that I keep going on and on about, the backyard that has changed the way our family lives and made all of Atti’s dreams come true, also offered me a ton of projects to get done. I mean inspiration. Right. It’s offered me a ton of inspiration.
There is still a lot of building refuse left around the backyard, some of it buried just under the surface of the dirt behind the retaining wall, others just stacked up in enormous cardboard boxes left on pallets. Over the last couple of months I’ve been clearing some of it out, throwing a lot of it away, and moving more of it around so that it’s there if the landlord should want it, but in the meantime it’s out of my way. After all that I had five pallets on my hands.
Right now it’s basically a fireable offense for a craft blogger to not make something out of any pallets that happen to cross her path. Be careful if you decide to google ‘Pallet Furniture’ because your pinterest account may explode. The rustic look isn’t my personal style so I haven’t been paying too much attention to this trend, but Free is practically my personal mission statement, so it was time for me to get on board.
In part to give myself a challenge to give the creative mojo a little shove, and in part because I had one day to work with Bear and a video camera, I decided that with these five pallets, I was going to come up with three projects, and finish them all in one day. First up, a compost bin.
This project is basically my answer to several overbuilt, useless, purely decorative compost bins I’ve seen over the last few months as I was researching options to make my own. I found some that were also made out of pallets but they were so ridiculously built that whoever designed them could never have actually been a gardener. Pretty little gates that were way too small for wheelbarrows, platforms and fences that made the walls so high you’d have to lift the shovel up above your head to put anything inside it. I just sit behind my computer screen and smh. This design is simple enough for anyone uncomfortable with power tools to cut their teeth, but it’s also an honest to goodness functional bin.
Some pallets have planks on both sides of the interior beams. Mine didn’t, but if yours does then remove them. Then saw the pallet apart, as close to the center beam as you can. Repeat that on the other end so you can remove the center beam. You’ll need four of these pieces.
To install this in your yard, dig a trench a few inches deep to the dimensions of your bin and then bury the sawed ends into the ground, leaving the finished end up.
Wanna see it in action? Here you go!
Next door to my church is a huge open lot. They’ve made a couple of attempts at some organized gardening, but this year they just left it open for a giant free for all. So my friend Dave and I pounced on it.
This is a perfect summation of everything I love about living in Modesto. Available, fertile land; a temperature that allows you to grow things in January (sometimes); and experts nearby eager and willing to pass on their knowledge. Dave is a super expert agronomist, spending decades working on breeding fungus resistant garlic, and he also happens to be just a nice man I go to church with who has become my friend. When we found out that he has this background and I’m desperate to learn, we thought our friendship must have been destiny.
We’ve been taking this season to lay the infrastructure, so I’ve been learning all kinds of things about watering, compost, mulch, and fertilizer. Just last night I went out and harvested some broccoli to eat with dinner and I felt like a cavewoman bringing back sustenance. This self-sufficiency thing is seriously powerful.
Never in my life have I been successful at starting seedlings. Well, I take that back. One time I was successful, but it was the great poppy explosion of ’08 that resulted from my dumping an entire package of seedlings on the ground and them sprouting up like little firework explosions. Anytime I’ve tried to actually do it in an orderly fashion. Total dud.
When we moved into this house, the gardens were pristine and there was a beautiful kitchen windowsill just begging for plant life. I never managed to get an herb garden going in the last place, and my cooking was suffering for it. I thought I was ready to try again. Of course, I made this decision just as every nursery was done with selling their summer herbs. My only choice was to try seeds.
I bought some beautiful pots, I read my garden books, I took a deep breath and prepared to try again. And this time? I did it. I got seedlings up from every kind of seed I planted. And they sprouted, and they grew, and they kept growing, weak and spindly little things reaching for the sun like a man in the desert stretching for an oasis mirage. Apparently my sweet little kitchen windowsill does not get very much direct sunlight. And my seedlings were starving.
I’ve been spending time with a sweet friend of mine, an older man I go to church with. He and I became fast friends when I first moved back to Modesto. He just gets me. After years of being friends with him, I discovered he has a PhD in horticulture. Although he now works in sales, he spent most of his career performing in vitro fertilization on garlic strains to breed a variety more resistant to fungus. He is literally an expert on growing food. So every Wednesday, he’s been coming over to give me little lessons. He was the one who explained why my seedlings were so leggy and what I needed to do to save them. He picked a spot in my backyard for a compost pile and told me how to manage it. We went back to my old house where he talked the new renters into letting us in the backyard to cut some roses, and then he showed me how to propagate them. We have big plans for building elevated grow boxes where they’d get the most sun, propagating new grape vines from some existing in the backyard, and growing berries in the tiniest of spaces.
Some day I’ll have a farm where I grow every kind of food. My first step was to take those sad little seedlings out of the windowsill and plant them in a sunny spot. Hopefully they’ll take off and I can add a new skill in preparation for my big future.