Category Archives: Projects

Chicken coop upgrade

Last January, we added a new coop behind the chicken shed. It is a nice covered shelter with 2×4 roosts up off the floor. This made room for more chicks and provided an easy way to collect eggs and chicken manure for our compost pile.

The four new hens have just started laying and we obviously need another nest box. The girls were making such a racket trying to share this spot! So I added another hole that opens into the inside cupboard, by cutting a board and adding some trim. Complete with a divider and plastic tub of hay ready to go. The new girls (4 out 6) love the new coop and roost in here every night. But the older hens still like to sleep in the original nest box where we brooded the new chicks last summer. The tarp on the floor catches the chicken manure for the compost pile.They started using the third nest box right away. It’s so easy to collect the eggs from the inside cupboard. Every hen lays a specific size, shape and color, so it’s easy to tell the difference.

Chicken coop

Since we had to move our fence over recently, it seemed like a good time to do something different with this spot on the back side of our chicken shed. So began the chicken coop upgrade project.Plans began for a small attached coop when I came up with the brilliant idea of cutting through the back wall and use the existing shelves for nest boxes. 012_1We cut a hole and put up wood strips to cover the cracks in the old shed wall, and added a section of fence on the other side. The ground was leveled and covered with wire, with block walls on both sides. Salvaged wood and fiberglass was used for the next steps.A couple of 2 x 4s with smoothed edges went up for roosts. The floor was covered with straw and we added a ‘dust bath’ tub of wood ash and diatomaceous earth. Hens naturally take dust baths in dry dirt to keep away pests like mites. This tub will stay dry in here during the wet winter.

The shelf worked out beautifully for next boxes, where eggs can be gathered from inside. The large door on the downhill side allows for easy access. The hens are hesitant to use the coop as it’s new and different, but we’re optimistic that they will love it. Then we can more easily introduce new chicks in the future, using our old community nest box as a brooder. We’ll just divide the chicken yard with wire until the chicks are old enough to mix with the older hens.

Upgrade one year later

Terrarium: How To

Recently, I accepted the challenge of planting a terrarium for another member of AHA… and I just love the container! With the recessed area in the middle of the stone-like pottery base, it’s obviously made to be a terrarium. Great design – it’s stable and will not tip over. So this is how it came together… First I filled up the recessed area with 3/8 inch gravel mixed with some activated filter carbon (to filter the air and water). Then added a piece of fiberglass screen cut to fit, (or you could use moss), to keep the soil above the gravel. Gathered together some ferns, mosses, pretty rocks, and one of the ceramic frogs that our friend Marcella makes. So perfect for this piece!  I mixed and moistened approximate equal parts peat moss and potting soil and shoveled in a few inches. Then carefully added the plants and arranged the rocks and frog.008_1As an experiment, I added a small tillandsia (air plant) and bromeliad…  just to see if they will thrive in this new little ecosystem.

Succulent Firepit

Found this fire pit frame at a yard sale and knew it would look good planted with succulents that looked like fire. First I lined it with aviary wire and sprayed it black. Then came a layer of moss, and potting soil.

The ‘Campfire’ crassula capitella and Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ really do look like flames.

Nesting wreaths

012_1The new batch of nesting wreaths are bigger and better than before. Made with mosses, dryer lint, pet fur (freshly washed), strips of material, dried flowers and seed. With your feathered friends in mind, it’s wrapped onto a vine wreath with a wire hanger (no glue). Nesting wreaths start out as holiday decoration for your door or mantle. After the end of the year, it can hang outside, where the sunflower heads and amaranth will feed hungry birds, and then provide them with nesting material for spring.

Faux copper downspouts

The new downspouts and leader heads look really great! Spray painting them copper was an easy way to get the expensive look we were going for. It was so good to hear the rain splashing down them last night. The two downspouts that empty into rain barrels now have a two-way split that will deliver rain to a tank in the front when the barrels are full.

Garden stones

This is how I make the garden stones that are so popular during the holiday season. I mixed up a couple of batches using plastic frames and stamps (e.g. Poetry Stones kit). I use the vinyl patch type of cement and mix according to directions. Filled each frame, smooth flat, and pressed in a few new phrases. When they were totally dried and cured, I painted on some watered down paint… filling in the letters.

When that coat was dry, I sponged on a contrasting color on the top and sides. These make nice gifts that last forever… inside or out.

Succulent maintenance

It’s easy to refurbish succulent containers when they get overgrown and leggy. Almost as easy as arranging flowers in a vase.
Take cuttings of the succulents that you want to replant and set aside. They can be stored face up, in a shady spot, for up to a month.

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Trim up any succulents that are left or start fresh with new potting soil.  Poke holes in the soil and stick in the cuttings where desired.Water once a week and provide at least half sun. It only takes about a month for the succulents to fill back in nicely. This method also works for succulents in the ground. Take cuttings and stick them right back down in the soil. Dig out or trim the old stem… it will often come back with new growth.

Old fan blades and blooms

Mounted a couple of salvaged fan blades onto wood slabs that needed a little ‘something’. They fit in nicely on the greenhouse courtyard in the shade. The intent was to mount staghorn ferns on the slabs. But the wire guards are perfect for holding tillandsias (air plants).  Just in time for the first Epipyllum (orchid cactus) bloom of the season… just beautiful!

Harvesting Rainwater

This simple system stores enough water for my plants during the current California drought. It has been in place for over six years and consists of two rain barrels under roof downspouts, with 15 garbage cans between them. About an inch of rain fills all the containers yielding 570 gallons of rainwater storage. Our coastal fog (as seen in the background), slowly drips from the roof, and provides gallons and gallons of water with no rainfall, during the summer.
Tip: These dark colored garbage cans start leaking after a few years from being in the the sun, and last much longer sheltered with a redwood cover like the one shown here.
Overflow water from the barrels goes into garbage cans using short sections of garden hose. Drill hole into top of lid.

Each adjoining garbage can is connected by drilling holes into the sides and inserting a section of garden hose. Drill holes a little bit smaller than the diameter of your hose and a fraction of an inch lower in the side of each additional can.

Tight fitting lids keep out mosquitoes and other varmints.
Dip in to fill up a watering can or pump out using a submersible pump.
This setup is handy for drenching plants in cans or soaking in inverted lids full of water.

Chicken shed roof rainwater collectionAlmost any downspout can be put to use collecting rainwater.
Ready made barrels are available (about $80 – 100), but it is easy to make your own using used salvaged food barrels if you can find them ($15-20 in materials).

After a few years of draining the system overflow rain away from the house, we added this 550 gal tank. Once all the barrels and garbage cans are full, we open up the low faucets on the two downspout barrels, which have connected hoses flowing downhill to the tank. The barrels, then mostly empty, have the space to hold more water from the roof which then flows into the larger tank. This also prevents excess rainwater from flooding the area once the cans are full. This tank fills up with just 2 inches of rain.

Update: February 2016 – Added a 710 gallon tank, as well as more garbage cans to the barrels behind the greenhouse and in the dog yard. These two cans reside about 20 feet away from the barrel, overflowing through a hose downhill. With all the extra barrels and cans, we are now storing 2292 gallons of rainwater.

Homemade suet for the birds

During the winter and spring is when birds most benefit from this high energy food source.
Melt 1 lb. of lard in a big bowl in the microwave for two minutes. Mix in 1/2 cup peanut butter (optional) until melted. Stir in 2 cups black sunflower seeds, 2 cups chicken scratch (or other seed), and 3/4 cup of bird seed. Quickly pour into molds/containers and put into a cold spot or refrigerator until hardened.

Run hot water over molds to release the wreaths, and roll in bird seed to cover. Fold a (18″ish) ribbon or strip of fabric through the center of front and loop it through.

Slip into plastic bags and tie up the top with the ribbon or fabric. Store in a cool place – hang in a shady spot outside. Warning: Has been know to also attract raccoons, squirrels and bears.

Wax dipped pinecones

Pinecones are perfect kindling… even better when they are dipped in cinnamon scented wax. They look great in fire starter baskets on the hearth and make nice gifts for the holidays. Start with a slab of wax and some fragrance (available in crafts stores) and score a line in the wax with a knife. Hit it on the corner of the counter or butcher block along the line to break it up into smaller pieces.
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It’s wise to protect your stove area from hard to clean up wax splatters with aluminum foil before melting down the pieces of wax in an old pot on med-low heat. Brush off pinecones with a whisk broom if necessary to remove pine needles and/or dirt. Add fragrance and color (optional) to the wax when melted.

Use tongs to dip the pine cones. Submerge or roll around to cover with wax. Drain a few seconds before setting on a tray covered with parchment paper or foil. Stack the pine cones up more than one layer to cool. Extra wax that drips off can be thrown back in the pot. The lower the temperature, the more wax adheres to the cones. The photo below shows a cone dipped in freshly melted hot wax on the right versus when the wax had cooled down on the left.

Projects: Succulent furniture

Found this metal vanity at a yard sale… and thought it would look great planted with succulents.


I attached a basket of wire to hold the moss and soil.

Planted with succulents and cuttings… along with a small side table. Parked under the shade cloth arbor, and watered once a week or so.

Two months later…

Projects: Stone walkways

It started with a plan to replace the porch steps on the chicken shed and put in permanent stone path leading to it.

The rotten wooden steps were falling apart.

The rotten wooden steps were falling apart.

Railroad ties and stepping stones kept slipping around on the steep slope.

Railroad ties and stepping stones kept slipping around on the steep slope.

The project started with over 10 tons of rock on the driveway:

Nephew Joey and buddy Ray M. helped deliver the huge load.

Nephew Joey and buddy Ray M. helped deliver the huge load.


Then more faux stones for the big steps and gravel:

It took Ray months of moving rock and digging into the hard soil (and getting everything dusty in the process):

But it turned out really nice:

Succulent wreath ~ How to Part 2

The first step to making good succulent wreaths is growing the succulents that you intend to take cuttings from. When I prepare a wreath or other container, I start thinking about what kind of succulents to use, keeping in mind the plant’s needs (water/sun) and growth habit (tall/short). Pay attention to how your plants grow in different conditions to see what I mean. When working on wreaths, I stick with plants that will stay compact. Aeoniums are perfect with their rosette shapes and straight, sturdy stems. The cuttings should have a day or two to scar over and can sit for weeks.

Cover the area, laying on your favorite type of sedum and using a dowel, skewer or other pokey tool, make a hole and insert the cuttings around the frame. Starting with dry wreath forms helps keep the holes you poke open for the cuttings.The succulent cuttings secures the sedum in place where it can take root and fill in nicely.

Continue inserting succulent cuttings close together until the wreath form is full. Dunk into or drench with water. This plumps up the moss/soil and hold the cuttings tightly. Lay flat where it will get at least 2 or 3 hours sun (preferably morning or afternoon) and dunk/drench again when it’s dried out and feels light. We’ll check it again in two weeks…See How to Part 1 & Part 3

 

 

 

 

Succulent wreath ~ How To Part 1

Start with two wire box wreath frames (10″ to 16″D work best). Buy a few at your crafts store or larger quantities online. Soak some green moss (available at home/garden stores) in water.  Squeeze out excess water (being wet helps hold to the shape of the frame). Line each wire frame a thin layer of damp green moss, pressing down the center all the way around.

Add water to some of your favorite potting soil, stirring until it sticks together. Squeeze a handful at a time between your palms and make a continuous mound of soil around the circle.

Quickly flip the empty moss lined wreath frame on top of the soil ring, Squeeze it together and tuck in the moss on the sides. Fasten together by tightly wrapping with three pieces of heavy gauge wire (2-10″ and 1-14″ long). After fastening the 2 short pieces, flip it over so that the 2 twisted ends are on the front of the wreath (soon to be hidden by growing succulents). Wrap around the longest wire, bending the excess unto a loop for hanging. Twist wires and bend and stick the points into the wreath (this hides the sharp wires and secures the hanger in place).

Let dry for a day or two before planting with succulent cuttings. See Succulent wreath How To Part 2 and Part 3.

Succulent shoes, baskets and more

Getting busy making more succulent stuff. Succulent cuttings are so easy to create with… just plug and play!
Most of these things will go on consignment at  Wisteria Antiques and Gardens, a really cool shop in Aptos, CA… or sold at farmers markets and other events.
The baby shoes are popular lately. After drilling holes in the soles, fill them with potting soil. Prepare chairs or other frames by building a chicken wire basket and lining with damp moss. Same thing with wire baskets. Colanders (and other strainers) don’t need moss, and work great for inserting cuttings into the side. Once the containers are filled with soil, first insert cuttings in the sides (of basket, colanders and chairs), and press down the soil. I like to lay sedum (low growing succulents) around the edges on top of the soil, which will fill in and spill over the edges once rooted. Stick in succulent cuttings, grouping types that favor similar conditions. Set outside in part shade and water once or twice a week for about a month.

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More succulent stuff from the archives