Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gardening On A Budget DIY

This spring we made a commitment to work with supplies we had before buying anything new for our house and yard.  I also wanted to keep the budget for plants and flowers in check (I tend to get carried away at the local nursery), which meant I was going to have to get pretty creative.

I still went to the nursery and got a few flats of annuals, but I found some great free and inexpensive ways to fill in the empty spaces in the yard.  In no particular order, here are some of my favorites.

1. Transplant wild plants/flowers (with permission, of course).  This was easy for me because my mom's house is on a wooded lot and she told me to take anything I wanted.

I had no idea wild snapdragons existed until my sister in law and I found huge clumps of them growing in a flower bed in my mom's front yard.  I dug up a half dozen plants and they transplanted beautifully.

Years ago I had tried to transplant wild black raspberries without success, but this time I made sure to take plants that were growing in the shade so I could transplant them in a shady spot in our yard.  They've done very well.  There are no berries in the photo because it is done producing for the year.

I was going to try rooting a cutting from one of my mom's wild grape vines, but this small vine was easy to dig up.  It wilted and looked dead for a few weeks, but I kept it watered and now it's growing nicely.  I don't expect grapes for a few years.

2. Buy plants at the end of the season.  I stopped at the nursery mid-July to pick up a few more annuals.  I saw that they had all plants marked down for the end of the season, so I snatched up some tomatoes, peppers and herbs.  They may have gotten a later start, but they're producing like crazy.

3. Grow from seed, later in the season.  I haven't had a vegetable garden in years because I don't have a good sunny spot for one in the backyard, but after I bought the tomato and pepper plants, I needed one.   I decided to create one in the side yard, between the house and the driveway.  

Bush bean sprouting

I had some extra space around the other plants so I picked up some morning glories and some vegetable seeds that had been marked down for the end of the season.  I paid between ten and twenty five cents per packet.   You may think that July and August are a little late for planting seeds in the garden, but lots of gardeners plant a second or third planting of things like beans and peas when their first crop has stopped producing.  For such a small investment, it's worth a try if you've got the room.  Also, because we've had a fairly cool summer, I've been able to continue to grow lettuce.

4. Take advantage of plants that reproduce.  There are lots of plants that do this, but in our yard, Rose Of Sharon is the most successful.

White Rose Of Sharon

Pink Rose Of Sharon

Rose Of Sharon seed pods

Rose Of Sharon develops seed pods which break open.  The seeds sprout nearly everywhere they land and can be easily transplanted.  If you don't have Rose Of Sharon in your yard, but know someone who does, I'm fairly certain they would be willing to give you some seedlings or seed pods.  If not, email me and I would be happy to send you some.    

5. Root cuttings of plants you already have or ask friends/family if you can take cuttings from their plants. 

Hydrangea is a good candidate for root cutting propagation.

A little research will help you determine which plants can be propagated from cuttings (and whether you need root powder), but sometimes, you stumble on them accidentally.  When one of my bamboo plants needed a little support, I grabbed a piece of a Weeping Willow branch Mr. W had pruned from our tree.  I used a hammer and pounded it about 6 inches into the dirt and tied the bamboo plant to it.  A few weeks later, the willow branch started to sprout new leaves and, I suspect, roots.  I'm going to leave it in the flower bed until spring and then transplant it.

Self propagating willow branch

Coming up next on our DIY spree, Mr. W demonstrates a breakfast favorite.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sweet Treat DIY - Chocolate Chip Cookies And A Rule Breaking Technique Or Two

I'm a little behind schedule.  I had a different sweet treat that I was going to post, but I don't have all the potentially necessary step by step photos to show you exactly how to make it.  The last time we made it, I got so into the process that I completely forgot about the camera.  Too bad, because it's a delicious recipe that you would most definitely want to make.  Your friends and family would have been so impressed that you made something this awesome that they would have lavished you with praise and, maybe, large gifts of cash.  It would have changed your life.  Really.

No worries, I'm still planning to share it with you.  Just not today.

Instead, I'm going to share my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I know you're probably thinking that there are a million chocolate chip cookie recipes, so this one can't be all that special or life changing.  But it is.  It comes from years of experimenting with different recipes, changing and tweaking ingredients, proportions and techniques.  I can't tell you how many cookies my family and I have had to eat to create this level of perfection.  I'm just that dedicated.  You're welcome.

A quick note before we begin.  I'm a rule breaker.  I also hate having extra bowls and utensils to clean up, so while most recipes will instruct you to sift (or stir) your dry ingredients together, I'm going to tell you to add the baking soda and salt to your butter/sugar mixture, instead of premixing it with your flour.  Pastry chefs everywhere are gasping at the thought, but it works and will save you a step as well as an extra bowl and make you feel all cool and dangerous.  Again, you're welcome.

Rule Breaker Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips (or dark chocolate if that's your thing)

Most recipes are going to tell you to preheat your oven at this point.  Don't do it.  To achieve the perfect texture, you really need to refrigerate the dough until it is thoroughly chilled.  More on that later.

Beat together softened butter and both sugars in a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs, vanilla, baking soda and salt and continue mixing until they are fully incorporated.  Gradually add flour.  Stir in chocolate chips.

The dough will become quite stiff after refrigerating it, so now is the time to divide it into portions.  I use a #30 scoop (1 1/4 oz.), but you can roll it into 1 1/2 inch balls or rounded spoonfuls if you don't have one.  Refrigerate the portions in an airtight container or zip top bag until they are thoroughly chilled.

When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°.  Place chilled dough scoops on an ungreased baking sheet with a few inches between each scoop.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  They should still appear slightly underbaked, that's what you want.  Allow to cool briefly on baking sheet before transferring to cooling rack or serving plate.  Any cookies that aren't eaten immediately should be stored in an airtight container.  Leftover unbaked dough can be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

For a little variety, you can easily turn these into chocolate, chocolate chip cookies.  Just add an extra tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1/4 cup baking cocoa to the butter/sugar mixture, then proceed with the rest of the ingredients and baking instructions.

Coming up next on our DIY spree, it's either a surprise or I'm just saying that because I don't know what I'm going to post.  Come back and see for yourself!


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Thursday, August 7, 2014

The DIY Spree Continues, Making New Wood Look Old

Earlier this summer, Mr. W and I used some wood leftover from another project to make some planting boxes.  I didn't like the way the bare wood looked, so for the first box, I brushed on some light walnut stain.  It's not bad, but it's not the look I was hoping for.  I wanted something that had the appearance of age.  Like it had been sitting around a potting shed for the last 50 years.

This is my salad box stained with light walnut.  Those are little lettuce seedlings.  

I played around with some other colors of stain we had in the garage.  I made swatches on a piece of scrap wood, but none of them were giving me the aged look, so I searched the internet for some ideas.

Lots of websites had recipes for mixing different colors of stain to achieve an old, weathered look, but I didn't want to buy multiple cans of stain for just a few small projects.  The technique that appealed most to me was using vinegar.  It's super simple and you can make gallons of this stuff for just a few bucks.  There is no guarantee on what your final color will be because it's not really a stain, but a method of speed oxidizing the wood.  I could explain the science behind it, but do you really care?  Bottom line is that you can use this concoction to get a cool, aged look in just a few minutes, but the color will vary depending on what kind of wood you have.

To make this magical concoction, you'll need a container, distilled white vinegar and some steel wool.  You will also need a paint brush and gloves.  I can't stress this strongly enough, DO NOT skip the gloves!  Not because this mixture will burn your skin (it won't), but because it will stain your hands.  Badly.  You will look like you haven't washed your hands since elementary school.  Old clothes are probably a good idea, too, because it will also stain your clothes.

Okay, now pay attention because this gets pretty tricky.  Pour some vinegar (a few cups or so) into your container.  Pull the steel wool apart a little and add it to the vinegar.  Now let it sit overnight.  I've heard you can cover the container, but I didn't bother.  If you think someone in your family may mistake it for salad dressing or a beverage, you might want to.

Application is equally tricky; paint it onto the wood you want to age.  There is no right or wrong way to do this, but you do want to try to avoid drips because they will show once the wood is dry.

Five minutes after painting the stain on the center portion, you can see how much it has "aged".

Now stand back and watch the magic happen.  The wood will age right before your eyes.  It will get lighter as it dries, but it will still look really cool and agey.  Like it's been sitting around for 50 years.

My "50 year old" planting box.

I'd love to hear about your results if you try this.

Coming up next on our DIY spree, a sweet treat.


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vintage Flair DIY

We're going to kick off our DIY project spree with a simple project for your kitchen and/or bathroom.  We're going to make a mason jar soap (or lotion) dispenser.  You've probably seen these all over the internet.  They're pretty popular and there are a number of ways to make them.  If you don't want to do any work at all, you can buy the precut lid with the pump insert and just pop it into a mason jar. You can use a new jar or an old jar, either way you'll get a vintage look.

The method I used is pretty simple.  You will need a mason jar, an empty plastic soap bottle and a few basic tools.

Begin by unscrewing the pump and setting it aside.  Next, cut the top off the plastic soap bottle.  I chose to cut just below the "shoulders" of the bottle, but you could cut just below the threaded portion of the "neck" if you prefer.  A hack saw works well for this.  Just be careful and take your time.

Next, trace the opening of the bottle onto the seal of your mason jar.  Use a sharp nail and hammer to poke holes all the way around the circle you traced.  When you've made it all the way around, gently pop the center of the circle out and slip the threaded portion of the bottle through the hole.  If the hole is too small, you can punch more holes to enlarge it or very gently enlarge it with pliers.

I flipped the seal over, traced the circle and punched my holes on the underside.

Now screw the pump back onto the threads (if the neck is loose in the hole, you can use a bit of silicone adhesive or hot glue to secure it to the seal).  Fill the jar with soap, screw on the lid and it's ready to use.  Trim the pump tube so it just touches the bottom of the jar if it's too long.

I didn't want to alter the vintage lid and seal, but I wanted them to be white,
so I painted a new set.

I also had a few jars that I wanted to paint.  I tried brushing on some latex paint, but the look was too rustic for me.  No matter how careful I was, the paint was uneven and you could see the brush strokes.  If that's the look you're going for, that's fine.  Just be sure to apply a protective clear top coat when the paint is dry.

If, like me, you're looking for a smooth, less rustic finish, spray paint works well.  I especially like epoxy appliance spray paint.  If you use white, the result looks very much like milk glass.  Just be sure to take your time and apply the paint in sweeping strokes.  Multiple light coats will prevent drips and give you a smooth finish. Go light on painting the threads of the jar or you won't be able to screw the lid on!

You can lightly sand over the writing to remove a bit of the paint if you want the lettering to stand out.  I chose not to, but it's up to you.


I liked the look of the white epoxy appliance paint on glass so much that I decided to try painting a clear glass dollar store votive holder.  It turned out great!  It gives a beautiful, soft glow when it's lit.

Coming up next on our DIY spree, a fast,easy, cheap way to give new wood an aged look.


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Monday, August 4, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy

Summer is so short.  You've got to make the most of it while it's here, and that's what I've been doing.  Mr. W and I have been keeping busy with all kinds of projects which doesn't leave me much time for blogging.  I started wondering, would anyone else be interested in the projects we've been working on?

I'm going to take a chance and assume they would.  So for a while, I'll be posting some simple (and some not so simple), inexpensive DIY projects.  I'll post photos and info so you can do them, too, if you'd like.

Tomorrow, we'll kick things off with some upcycled vintage flair.  See you then!


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Sunday, June 8, 2014

It's Summer, Let's Talk About Your Backyard

It may not technically be summer just yet, but after the severe winter we had, it's been summer to me ever since the temperature started to stay consistently above thirty degrees.  Now that we've got that straight, let's talk about your backyard.

People always tell me how lucky I am that we have a hot tub and a pool.  I suppose it's true that a little luck was involved, but it certainly doesn't have anything to do with money.  It's no secret that we got both our pool and hot tub from people who didn't want them.  We found them under the "free" listings on craigslist.

It's the hot tub that I really want to talk about, today, because I have a little secret for you if you should decide that you would like one in your yard.  Unless you're buying a new one and having it delivered and set up, you're going to need a strategy for getting it out of it's current location and into your yard and that's where the secret comes into play.

If you find a hot tub on craigslist that is calling your name, you're probably thinking that you need a big truck or trailer and half a dozen big, strong people to help you move it.  The truck/trailer thing, that's true, but you don't need a large group of friends to help.  You can do it with one or two friends and the help of six (or more if you've got them) pieces of six foot long PVC pipe.  At one time, we had multiple hot tubs (long story) and Mr. W used this method to move one from our yard to our neighbors yard by himself.  It's a long, bumpy, grass covered distance and he did it in less than 15 minutes.

Start by lifting the edge of the hot tub just enough to push one piece of PVC pipe underneath with your foot.  Push it back as far as you can, about a foot or so, then set the hot tub down on it.  Repeat with each of the remaining pipes, pulling the hot tub toward you each time to distribute the pipes approximately a foot or so apart.  You will now have "rollers" to move the hot tub to your truck/trailer.  Every few feet you push it, you will need to pick up pipes and move them in front to continue.  Try to keep two or three pipes under the hot tub at all times and you will be able to follow your path fairly effortlessly.  You will need one or two strong people to help you lift it (or tip it, if possible) into your truck or trailer.  When you get home, reverse the process.

One more thing I'd like to add.  We don't find it to be a lot of work to keep our hot tub clean, but you do need to use a test kit (or strips, if you prefer) to monitor the chemical levels of your hot tub.  Some people use bromine, but we prefer liquid chlorine for sanitation.  Not only because we use it for our pool, but it works much faster than bromine tablets.  A skimmer works well to get out bits of grass and other debris, but for anything that sinks to the bottom (dirt, sand) a suction type water shooter (from the dollar store) is useful and fun!


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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Do You Do It?

Do it yourself, that is!

In this house, we're all about DIY projects.  There is an immense sense of satisfaction for us in taking something and turning it into something else.  Or starting from scratch and ending up with something you've visualized.

A few years ago, we found this door at our local Habitat for Humanity store.  It was dirty and beat up, but it had its original hardware (love, love, love original hardware) and it was the perfect size for our office.  

We had two pieces of leaded glass that were given to us by one of Mr. W's friends, and we wanted to use one in this door.  We had a little retrofitting and some painting to do, but  here's what that door looks like now:

As you can see in the picture, our office is a pretty narrow room.  There was no way we were going to be able to use pre made furniture and get a good fit, so the window seat and the bookcases were also DIY projects.

For the bookcases, we purchased unfinished wall cabinets (base cabinets would have been too deep) and mounted them on a base to lift them up high enough to use the same baseboard trim we used in the rest of the room.  We built the shelves separately and then installed them on top of the cabinets.  After that, we primed and painted and then added trim and hardware.  They give us a lot of storage for such a small room.

The window seat doubles as a guest bed.  Underneath the cushion, we installed the top of the frame from a cot (the kind you would take camping).  It acts like a box spring would in a bed.  There is more "give" to the cushion/mattress than there would be if it were sitting on a solid piece of wood.  It's very comfortable.  We ordered the foam and had it cut to our specs at a local shop.  I made the slip cover.   The niches underneath have storage bins.

Most of the decorating in the room is DIY, too.  The art on the back wall, above, is a collection of artwork my kids have done over the years, as well as some photos my son and I have taken.  Most of the frames are from the thrift store.  They were all different colors.  I spray painted them all black.

The desk is more a matter of repurposing.  It's an antique sideboard that belonged to my grandma.  I've thought about refinishing it, but I kind of like the flaws it has.  The pictures on the desk, all but the heart shaped frame, are thrift store frames spray painted black.  The doorknob?  We found it laying around somewhere in the house when we moved here.  I just like it.

On the wall next to the door, I have a really special piece of DIY artwork.  It was given to me by a fellow blogger, Joanna at The Fifty Factor.  She's from the real town of Willoughby and picked up this poster for me (along with some other goodies) at a festival.  I matted and framed it in, you guessed it, a spray painted frame from the thrift store.

I didn't want to display my collection of paperbacks in the bookcases, so those are in an old suitcase (I heart old suitcases) on top of the armoire in our bedroom.

There are quite a few more painted frames around the house with family pictures and photographs Mr. W. and I have taken.

Painting frames and accessories black is a simple way to create a cohesive look.  I found a pair of bookends (um, yeah, thrift store, again) that were shiny gold.  I loved the shape and the weight, but the gold wasn't my taste.  I sprayed them with black spray paint, but intentionally left a little gold peeking through.

You would think I had gone through dozens of cans of spray paint, but I only used three or four to paint everything I've shown, plus a half dozen more things that I haven't shown.  I really like the kind that is primer and paint in one.

When I can't spray paint something, I can screenprint it.  This was a leftover piece of deck board.  I white washed it and then Mr. W. and I screenprinted it.

We've done lots of projects around here and I have ideas for lots more.  How about you?  Do you do it yourself?


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