Favorite DIY Posts

It’s that time of year when we look back at all we accomplished (or didn’t) and I thought I would share with you my most popular DIY posts from 2013.

1.  DIY Bed Warmer and Cooler DIY Bed Warmer

By far the most popular project, and probably one of the easiest! This makes a wonderful, easy and inexpensive gift and is a must-have if you don’t like to get into cold sheets in the winter – or hot sheets in the summer!  I wrote a complete tutorial with lots of pictures on how to make your own bed warmer/cooler.  To see the tutorial, click on DIY Bed Warmer and Cooler (in red) above.

 

 

 

2.  Almond Milk Ice CreamHow to make almond milk ice cream

So many people are trying to go lactose free, and almond milk is a great alternative to dairy! Recently I have also developed a recipe for almond milk greek yogurt along with almond yogurt ice cream!  I will be posting those articles (with recipes) next week.

 

3.  DIY Vegetable Rennet  purple thistle

Making cheese with your own rennet made from plants instead of the inside lining of a baby animal is so much more appetizing – especially if you shun animal meat!  I will be planting cardoon this spring to begin making more goat’s milk cheese.  Cardoon (a relative of the artichoke)  is supposed to be the ultimate plant material to make vegetable rennet!  Stay tuned for that one.

 

4.  Soda Can Heater  Soda Can Heater

This was one of the first DIY projects for our future homestead.  Making the soda can heater was a lot of fun.  My hubby and I researched a lot of soda can heaters on the internet and then came up with our own design for the heater.  We changed a few things as we went along, including the delivery system into our travel trailer which is parked up on our future homestead.  It’s amazing how much heat can come out of such a simple, non mechanical device that requires no electricity and no firewood!

 

5.  Stevia Syrup  How to make stevia syrup

Growing stevia from seed, harvesting the leaves and making it into syrup was a learning process!  I quickly found out that stevia grows best in full sunlight with an adequate amount of water and no crowding, especially from the overzealous zucchini!  When refining the stevia into syrup, I discovered a way to take out some of the “green” taste with coffee filters.  I am still learning how to cook with it, however. Another post on why I chose to grow and refine my own stevia is HERE.

 

 

6.  The Outhouse  Roof braces for the outhouse

Necessity called and we answered.  This is a continuing series of posts on how we built our outhouse up on the future homestead!  For the first post, click on the title The Outhouse above.  For the second post click HERE, the third post click HERE and the fourth post click HERE.

 

7.  Gravity Flow Water System Gravity flow irrigation system

This was a two part article (HERE is the second post) on how we set up our gravity flow watering system, beginning with rain collection from the metal roof of our tool shed to the final step of automatically watering our fruit and nut orchard.

 

 

8.  The Worm Farm  Vermiculture

Maybe one of the easiest yet complicated projects we have tackled. Learning how to moderate the moisture level so we didn’t end up with a worm exodus of massive proportions (again) was tricky, but once we had several tray layers going (which I think is the key) we have been very successful with our vermiculture bins!  Click above for the first post, then click HERE for the second post and HERE for the third.

Well – there you have it!

Thank you, my faithful friends and co-bloggers, for a wonderful first year of blogging.  May 2014 bring you peace, happiness and health!

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Worm Compost Tea

Last Christmas 2012, my hubby and I gave each other worms.

Yup.  We did.

A worm farm, of course!   I thought some of you might like to hear how it’s doing and how we have used the worm composted …. um….. well…… stuff.

Vermicompost tea

The top tray where I am adding the worm food – bits of fruits and vegetables, paper, coffee grounds, cardboard, egg shells and dried leaves.

If you didn’t get a chance to read about our worm farm and how we set it up, you can read about it HERE and HERE.

I have been rotating the trays – mine has four – but unfortunately I haven’t kept tract of how many trays of finished worm compost we have harvested. Lets just say we have used up several trays so far.

Red wigglers for worm farm

Here is a picture of the worms. The picture is a bit blurry because I couldn’t get them to stay still and say “cheese”!

We have used the worm compost to re-pot quite a few of our house plants, I potted up the two stevia plants growing in the garden with worm compost to bring them inside for the winter, and I have also made worm compost tea for watering. The plants seem to be greener and grow faster with the worm tea and soil, and I certainly don’t miss having to buy expensive fertilizer for my house plants.  Honestly, there’s nothing better!

How do you make worm tea?  Easy.

Worm Farm Composting

The bottom tray with the “finished” worm compost.

I just take about a cup of worm compost to two cups of water, let it steep overnight, strain off the liquid and – voila – worm compost tea!  I add just a bit more water (no chlorinated water – please) because a little seems to go a long way.  I haven’t had any problems with burning any plants – it seems this stuff is pretty mellow and yet chock full of the good stuff! I have very happy and healthy plants!  🙂

And the worms?  Well, lets just say if they could smile they would be grinning from ear to ear!  I think I finally got the moisture balance right after the “great worm exodus” I had when I was first learning how to compost with worms.

Vermiculture

One of the red wigglers! Anyone want to go fishing?

Really, you want the top layer – the one you are adding vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds (with paper filter), paper egg cartons, crushed dried egg shells, etc. to be the wet one.  The next one down, the one most of the worms will be in, should be pretty moist, but not sopping wet.  The tray underneath that one is usually a bit drier – not dry but not really wet either. There might be a few worms in this layer also.  The bottom tray (of mine, at least) is like the fluffy compost or potting soil that you get from the store.  This is the tray that you harvest the worm compost from to make tea or to pot up your plants with.  This balance of moisture in the trays seems to be the best for the worms.  If it gets too wet, they migrate down.  If it is too dry, they migrate up!  The worms aren’t too particular once you get a few trays up and running.

Worm Tea from Compost

A pint jar of freshly “brewed” worm compost tea!

We will probably start harvesting some of the worms this spring to use as fishing bait!  I know they have been making babies, because there are worms of all sizes in the trays.  I have even found a few of their eggs!

If you decide to try your hand at worm farming, and I certainly hope you do, spend some time doing a bit of research first!  There are several companies that make worm farms and lots of retailers who sell them.  Check out all of them to get the best size and price for your needs.  I have listed a few below:

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply   This is where I got mine at 20% off

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm    This company also sells the worms

Woodland Direct       This company offers three different brands:  Can-O-Worms, Vermi-Hut, and Worm Chalet.

If you would like to try worm farming (it’s actually called vermicomposting) but don’t want to fork out a lot of money for a commercial worm farm, you can google for “DIY worm farm” and come up with a lot of results.  Here are just a few:

Modern Farmer,  Happily Ever Crafter and Kiwi Urban Homestead

There are a lot of other blogs that cover the DIY subject of building your own bin, but these will give you the general idea.

I have truly enjoyed worm farming.  My grandchildren take pleasure in checking on their progress every time they come over and I think they are learning a lot about composting and permaculture because of the worm farm, even though they don’t know it yet! And let me tell you – the worms are almost like having pets!  Of course I can’t name them all, but the level of attachment I have developed for my worms is quite strange – perhaps unnatural.  😉    Ah well.

 

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Feed The Birds

Bird feeder made from a pine coneEarly each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes.
In her own special way to the people she calls,
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs.
Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
Their young ones are hungry,
Their nests are so bare;
All it takes is tuppence from you.”
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag,
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.
“Feed the birds,” that’s what she cries,
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.
All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you:
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag,
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.”

These are the lyrics to the Mary Poppins song “Feed The Birds”.

It’s such a simple thing to do.  Feed the birds. They are so important.  They wake us in the morning with their melodious song.  They eat bugs that would otherwise devastate our gardens and orchards.  They provide us sustenance with their flesh and their eggs.

Some birds have even provided me with trees!  My almond and my pomegranate trees are both “volunteers”, brought to me by birds.

Charles Lindbergh once said:  “I realized that If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”

Although I don’t know exactly the worth of a tuppence, I do know that in dollars and cents, a pine cone bird feeder is a fairly inexpensive gift we can give to our feathered friends.  Especially at this wintery cold time of year.

Go to the store and buy some shortening.  It doesn’t have to be the good stuff, the cheap stuff will do.  Then get a bag of wild bird seed.  Of course, I like the organic kind.  But the birds aren’t picky. Make a pinecone bird feeder They will take what you give them. You could also make up your own mix of seeds – perhaps some millet, sunflower, cracked corn and/or barley!

Now, find yourself a pine cone! Actually, any size will do!  In fact, if you make several small ones, they look like Christmas ornaments hanging from the tree!  I am blessed to have a few huge sugar pine trees on my future homestead.  The cones from the sugar pine are huge – anywhere from 12-18 inches in length.  They develop at the top of the pine tree where the pine pitch on them glistens in the sun.  It’s really a beautiful sight!  However, I would not like to be under the tree when it starts to release the cones!  These things are so heavy that when they drop, they leave divots in the ground!  They do have really big pine nuts, some of the biggest pine nuts known, that are very tasty and edible!  Some day I will figure out how to harvest the nuts because I adore pine nuts and they are so expensive to buy!

Once you have your pine cone, tie a string or ribbon or wire to the top so that it can hang from a tree, with the bracts facing upwards.  Tie it well because you don’t want the pine cone falling to the ground with the weight of a bird on it!  Also, I tie mine with wire.  Last year a bird decided that twine was delicious, and he chewed right through it!  Silly bird!  😉

DIY pinecone bird feederHang the pine cone, positioning it just above your work surface. I hang mine on a cabinet knob, and then put waxed paper under the cone to catch the dripping shortening and seeds.  I didn’t have any waxed paper today (because of all that holiday baking!), so I put a pie plate under mine this time.

Now, gently heat up the shortening.  I do this in the microwave, but you can also do it on the stove or even in a hot water bath.  Just be careful not to get it too hot – it could catch fire.  Besides you just want it to be liquid, not molten lava!  I used about 1-3/4 cups for this large pine cone.  Then stir in about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of your bird seeds.  As you can see, some of the seeds fall to the bottom and some seeds (especially the sunflower seeds) float on the top.  It doesn’t matter. Make a pinecone bird feeder

Now, tilting the pine cone a bit with one hand and pouring the shortening/seed mixture with the other, carefully cover the pine cone bracts.  Don’t worry about globs here and there or missed bracts.  The birds don’t mind.  🙂   At this point, while the shortening is still fairly liquid, grab another handful of the bird seed and pour it directly onto the pine cone.  Gob it on.  Any of the shortening and seed mixture that dripped on your waxed paper (or whatever you put under the cone) can be scooped up with a spoon and gooped on to any bare bracts. DIY bird feeder made from a pine cone

Now, leave it to sit for a while.  Once the shortening has cooled off and re-solidified, you are essentially done. This really should only take a few minutes because shortening is solid at room temperature.  If you still have a lot of shortening and/or seeds on your work surface, no worries – just scrape it up and put it back into the shortening for the next pine cone feeder you make!  You can see that I made a complete mess!  Warning, if you are as messy as I am, you need a BIG work surface and a lot of waxed paper!   🙂  pinecone bird feeder DIYTake it outside and hang it on a tree.  I like to tie a pretty ribbon on the bottom, just to please the humans.  Don’t tie it onto the top because it might get in the way of the bird seed and also just encourages the birds to peck at it.  It may take a day or two for the birds to find it, but once they do, it’s amazing how fast they can devour every last seed!  Then, carefully take it down and fill it up again!  You can do this a couple of times, but I think once you have used the cone 3 or 4 times you should probably throw it away, simply because by now there might be some kind of bird ickies on it and you don’t want to spread disease!  Therefore, when you look for your pine cones, get 3 or 4 of them, so you can feed the birds through the winter!

“I don’t ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. There they are, and they are beautiful.”        Pete Hamill

Pretty Pinecone Bird Feeder

 

I am visiting these parties:   Freedom FridaysFriendship FridayFrom The Farm Blog HopEat, Create, Party ; Little House Friday DIY Linky;  Small Footprint FridaysPinworthy Projects PartyFarmgirl Friday;  Friday Flash Blog PartyWeekend re-Treat; Family Fun FridayFriday’s Five Features; Friday Favorites; Old Fashioned Friday

Winter Homestead

We recently took the last weekend trip up to our future homestead for this year, to put everything to bed for the winter.  Since we don’t live up there yet, and especially since we don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle to travel over deep snow or muddy roads, we will only venture up there a few more times (weather permitting), until early next spring. It has rained up there a little and our water storage tank is starting to collect a bit of water.  The mushrooms are springing up all over the place and some kind of critter is enjoying them as a snack!  Partially eaten mushroom

The artichoke plants got a heavy blanket of leafy mulch.  First, I placed a scaffolding of branches around the artichokes, so the oak leaf and pine needle mulch won’t crush the tender artichoke leaves.  Then, I raked up wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of oak leaves and pine needles and tossed them over and around the plants, about 1-1/2 to 2 feet thick. That should hold them until next spring.  An added bonus is that artichokes like slightly acidic soil, and as the mulch breaks down it will add a slight acidity and other nutrients to the soil!Mulching artichokes for winter

The gazebo had to come down also.  The gazebo is one of the first things up in the spring and one of the last items to come down in late fall.  We love sitting in the gazebo on our anti-gravity chairs, reading books or magazines after a hard day of working on the future homestead.  The entire gazebo is screened to keep us safe from the hungry mosquitoes or nasty wasps!

The fruit and nut trees in the orchard have lost their leaves, so it was time to spray them with a dormant spray.  I have a hard time trying to figure out a balance with sustainability and organic issues when it comes to my fruit trees. To spray, or not to spray, that is the question!  You see, the cherry trees got attacked by a voracious caterpillar last year, the apricots got spider mites and the peaches got leaf curl.  So what would you do?  I decided to go ahead and apply dormant spray – especially since there aren’t any leaves or fruit on the trees at this time.  It’s either do that, or have the trees suffer and perhaps not produce any fruit at all or, worse yet, die.  I prefer to eat fruit from live trees.  Of course, anything sprayed on the trees when they have leaves, blossoms or fruit will be eco-friendly and organic!  If anyone out there has a better solution, please tell me!  Any opinion or advice on this subject is always welcome!Dormant spraying fruit orchard

The soda can heater was reattached to the trailer.  This device prevents the trailer from freezing inside fairly well.  Of course, if there isn’t any sun for a few days the soda can heater will not work.  However, as soon as the sun cracks through the clouds, this puppy cranks up the heat!  If you would like to see how we made our soda can heater, click HERE.  We did drain the water pipes in the trailer – just in case!  It’s easier that way.Soda Can Heater

The windows in the outhouse, trailer and shed were locked down and doors were bolted.  We also loaded the truck with more firewood to take down to our current home in the valley.  We love wood heat as it heats to the core!  We don’t have much firewood left in this pile, but we will need to get another truckload of it in January when we come up to burn a brush pile and work some more on our back road.  This is the wood left over from an incident that happened to us a few years back when our entire 30′ x 330′ easement was harvested of all trees so that electrical lines could come down our private road, past us  and to the house at the end of the road, through a grant given by and executed by the USDA.  Unfortunately, that house was not built with permits and was also not up to code (even though I had advised the USDA of this fact long before the logging was done), so the power poles or lines never went in!  If this ever happens to you, just know that it is impossible to fight our government for negligence unless you have a lot of money!  I refuse to be bitter about this, but a lot of valuable timber was cut from our property against our wishes and unfortunately no one will take responsibility!  At least we were able to keep some of the wood for firewood!Stacked Firewood

Another year has passed on our future homestead and we are happy with the projects we tackled this year. Next spring we will put the finishing touches on the outhouse, finish our new back road to complete the loop on our property, and begin clearing for our garden and chicken coop!  And maybe, quite possibly, start building our house!

I am sharing this article at:   Make, Bake and Create;  Healthy2Day WednesdaysDown Home Blog HopCottage Style PartyWildcrafting WednesdayWhat I Learned WednesdayWicked Awesome Wednesday;  Whatever goes WednesdayShow and Share WednesdayWined Down Wednesday;  The HomeAcre HopHome and Garden ThursdayFabulously Frugal Thusday;Thriving ThursdaysSimple Lives ThursdayMountain Woman RendezvousCatch A Glimpse Party;  Create it ThursdayFrugal Days Sustainable Waysl ; Time Travel Thursday;  Freedom FridaysFriendship FridayFrom The Farm Blog HopTGIF Link PartyLittle House Friday DIY Linky;  Small Footprint FridaysPinworthy Projects PartyFarmgirl Friday;  Friday Flash Blog PartyWeekend re-Treat; Family Fun FridayFriday’s Five Features; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday

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