Archive for the ‘diy projects’ Category


My most viewed, most pinned, most popular post on this blog is one that I wrote about our rainwater catchment system, which Steven created and installed back in March 2012. That post still receives daily hits, so clearly the interest in rainwater collection is very alive. I have often been asked to see more details, particularly how the water is accessed, so I thought it was time I filled in some blanks. If you missed the original post you can read it here.

Our catchment system, currently:


When the tank was first installed, we had trouble coming up with the right tank fittings to complete our vision, so for a while we accessed the water straight from the bottom of the tank, through a rubber fitting attached to a short section of hose. Steven has since buried a line out to a more convenient location at the front end of this little side-of-the-garage space. (Also, the container is now fully enclosed, for UV protection).


The line runs down the length of the side yard, from the tank at the back of the garage, along the garage wall (under the nursery pots). It takes a turn in the front, near the white pot, and runs parallel to the glass partition pictured above.

catchment_2014_3The line then comes up to where you see the spigot, concealed between the cedar pickets (for reference, you can see the very end of the frame of the glass partition in the photo above). All above ground pipe is insulated with readily available pipe insulation, and held on with zip ties.

The cedar section in front of the concrete block wall will eventually have a small sink on it, and behind the (removable) panel of pickets, is storage for a hose and a place for a drain. This little side yard is a fun project in progress. Another post for another day maybe…


And a few closer details:


After the water is diverted at the Clean Rain Ultra, it enters the top of the tank. Coming up with the right fittings for this project was a little tricky, which I mentioned above, as the tank input and output openings are not sized to cooperate with most standard plumbing parts.



The cedar panel that surrounds the outcoming line is left unfastened for easy access to the tank’s shut-off valve. Because the catchment system is gravity feed, low pressure fittings can be used, such as the rubber one used here, with stainless pipe clamps. That rubber fitting compresses onto a PVC reducer. The reducer is threaded to fit common 3/4″ PVC pipe fittings. On the other side of the rubber fitting, it compresses directly to the tank outlet.


Steven also added a cleanout for the underground line, which a pressurized garden hose can be hooked to in case a clog ever needs to be blown out. The cleanout can also be used with a non pressurized hose, in case we ever need to fully drain the tank. Additionally, it’s helpful to be able to drain lines during periods of freezing temperatures.


We’ve been really happy with the Clean Rain Ultra, which I talked about in the original post. It’s been easy to maintain, simply needing an occasional clean-out of the screen, and it does it’s job keeping the tank free of debris and diverting the water.


The rubber hose attached to the spigot is just a section of washing machine line. It makes it really easy to fill watering cans.


We use our catchment water constantly, and appreciate having such an abundant resource. Easy access and ease of use allows us to take full advantage of our investment. I feel inspired every time I get water from this tap!

If anyone has questions, feel free to ask and we’ll try to answer. I always appreciate seeing such enthusiasm for self sufficiency and creative solutions to real needs.



In response to a question in the comments below, the following drawing shows the connections to the top of the tank. You can click the photo to enlarge.

catchment_2014_drawingPart of what made this set of parts tricky to come up with, is PVC and ABS are not traditionally made to interact.

No glue was used, and hasn’t been needed. We wanted to maintain the ability to take it apart if need be. Also, PVC doesn’t hold up well to UV, so insulation is recommended (as well as from freezing). Some people also paint their PVC to protect from UV.

In the photos above, which show the top of the tank, the second ABS fitting is visible. The first ABS fitting and section of pipe is below the level of the cedar top.

The opening at the top of our tank came covered with a large threaded cap. This cap has a smaller threaded cap within it to allow for inspection of the tank contents. The larger caps with inspection cap are available online, if yours didn’t come with one. We left the larger cap on the tank, and threaded the ABS fitting into the inspection hole.


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I have a fun, simple project for you this week, and it will most likely cost you nothing, take you just a few minutes to make and will create habitat for garden pollinators. It’s also an enjoyable way to observe nature at work. With a little pile of scrap wood we made a few mason bee houses for our garden and yard, and a couple to give as gifts as well.


Mason bees are small, cute, oblong, fuzzy little bees that make efficient pollinators in the garden. They can be blue-green, or dark-colored like the one pictured above. This little lady is not the first to make a nest in this hole in our unfinished door frame.

The female mason bee gathers nectar and pollen and stashes it in the back of the hole until there is a sufficient food store for her young. Once there is enough food to supply the larvae, she lays an egg on the food store and then seals the egg in with a bit of mud. She then brings in more pollen and nectar in front of the previous mud layer, lays another egg, covers it with more mud, and stacks like so until the cavity is full. Once the cavity is full, she seals the hole with a final layer of mud. Maybe you have seen these mud filled holes and wondered what was in there.

Here is a link to more information on mason bees, if you are interested in learning more – http://gardening.wsu.edu/library/inse006/inse006.htm. I think these little bees are pretty fascinating!


We have an endless supply of scrap wood from our various home projects and are always looking for functional ways to use it up. We cleaned up some sections of 4×4, cut an angle at the top to accommodate a little sloped roof, and then drilled 1/4 inch diameter holes in the outer rows and 3/16″ holes down the center. We used all the depth we had in this case, and drilled almost to the back of the 4×4. Typically, larger diameter holes are recommended (5/16″), but maybe our bees here on the coast are pretty small, or maybe they actually prefer smaller than the recommendation. The hole in the door frame is about 1/8″ in diamter, for example.

We used sections of old fence pickets for the roof (not totally necessary, but shelter from rain is nice, right?) and as a backing to make mounting it easy.

Apparently, it is best to hang the house facing east or southeast, for morning sun. The face of that door frame above is pretty much dead south, so a little variation from that recommendation probably won’t break the deal.


I’m looking forward to observing these bees more closely. We really enjoy creating habitat for beneficial species of all kinds at our place.

How do you invite beneficial insects to your garden?

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This week we started our first set of Shiitake mushroom spawn. We had a few small Alder trees on our property that needed to be removed, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start growing our own mushrooms. True hardwoods are a little tough to come by here, but Alder makes a great host for a number of mushroom varieties.


We ordered Pearl Oyster and Shiitake plug spawn (essentially, hardwood dowels inoculated with a particular mushroom species), from Fungi Perfecti. They are located right up in the Puget Sound of Washington. For a company more local to those of you on the east coast, there is also Oyster Creek Mushrooms in Damariscotta, Maine. I have been impressed with Paul Stamets’ work for years, so it felt great to support Fungi Perfecti.


The process is pretty simple. Holes are drilled throughout the logs – 5/16″ x 1 1/4″ deep –  spaced about every 4-5 inches apart.  We used 5 small to mid sized Alder logs in this case.


Then the dowels are pounded into the holes so they are flush with the surface of the bark.

mushrooms_1000_4This step was optional, but we opted for the safer route and heated some beeswax to seal each entry. This protects the interior wood, and minimizes potential competition or disruption to the spawn.

mushrooms_1000_5We set the logs in 2 different sites, shady with filtered light, propped off the ground on small cuts of wood.

mushrooms_1000_6As a final step we watered them, and now we let them do their thing, with occasional watering during dry periods. Hopefully we will have successful inoculation of the logs, and we should be able to start harvesting shiitake mushrooms by next year. We will do this same process with our oyster mushroom plugs soon.


Mushrooms are a great source of essential amino acids and a number of vitamins – including A, B12, C and D. Many mushroom types are supportive to the immune system, have been shown to lower cholesterol and have been found to be cancer-fighting. The medicinal qualities of Shiitake mushrooms (as well as so many others) have been well known for many years, and they are delicious too!

Here are a couple of resources for those interested:

Medicinal Mushrooms – http://www.medicalmushrooms.net

Paul Stamets – http://www.fungi.com/about-paul-stamets.html

Shiitake Health benefits (grow kits available too, out of Mississippi) – http://www.naturalmushrooms.com/shiitake_mushroom_medicinal.php

Anyone growing mushrooms at home? I can’t wait to see these start to grow!

This post has also been published on Tend this week.

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This time of year my hands are especially prone to becoming rough and dry – constantly in the dirt planting, weeding and digging. I rub them daily with lotion, to restore lost moisture and smooth any roughness (this and this have been my all time favorites for years).

Last week I finally decided to try my hand at making my own lotion with herbs we grow here in our gardens… Let’s just say, it is a little bit ridiculous how excited I am at the outcome. I don’t know why, but I didn’t think I would achieve such an amazing final product. It’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a nourishing cream – save for a super minor tweak here and there. I’m psyched. Totally!

I did some research to get a sense of the process. I started with, “A Complete Book of Herbs – A practical guide to growing and using herbs,” by Lesley Bremness. I also found a few online resources. I knew I wanted to use lavender – possibly my favorite floral herb,  and we have an abundance of the notoriously skin-supportive calendula blooming right now. I have also been learning about the healing properties of elder flowers, which are blooming right now, so they felt like a natural addition as well.

With a general feel for the ratio differences between salves and lotions, a sense for what I wanted as my outcome, the help of this site for the process and quantities,  and then with what I had on hand, my recipe ended up something like this:

Approximately 1/2 cup of a mixture of calendula flower petals, elderflower and dried lavender

then fill to 3/4 cup with olive oil

.4 ounce beeswax

1/2 ounce witch hazel

3 1/2 ounces calendula infused water

15 drops lavender essential oil

(ounces are by weight)


A little bit about the herbs I chose:

Calendula – Reduces inflammation and soothes the skin. It is a wonderful herb for the general care of skin irritations of all kinds. “Calendula has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations. Calendula has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties making it useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed  skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, diaper rashes, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin.” (mountain rose herbs – http://mountainroseblog.com/healing-calendula/).

Elderflower – Soothes dry skin and has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It is a supportive tonic for all skin types, particularly mature skin. Reputed to soften skin and smooth wrinkles, fade freckles and soothe sunburn.

Lavender – Has antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, soothing and stimulating. A healing and gentle cleanser and tonic for all skin types. Aroma-therapeutic as well, acting as an uplifting nerve tonic.


I measured a generous 1/2 cup of calendula petals, dried lavender flowers and elder flowers (separated from the stems), and then covered this combination with organic olive oil until I had a total quantity of about 3/4 cup.


I poured the mixture into a double boiler, covered it, and slowly warmed it, letting it set at a very low heat for about 3 hours.


I weighed out nearly 1/2 ounce of beeswax


and made an infusion of calendula petals and purified water.


When the oil and herbs were steeped to my satisfaction, I strained them into a jar,


squeezing any excess oil out with clean hands.


The oil infusion was then placed back in a warm pot of water and gently heated with the beeswax, until the beeswax was fully incorporated.


Once incorporated, I set the jar on the counter to cool to room temperature, blending periodically with an immersion blender. Then I measured out my witch hazel, calendula infusion and essential oil.


All the ingredients were gradually blended until I reached my desired consistency.


The final step of blending was the most exciting, as the whole mixture gradually transformed into something beautiful and creamy.


The cream is smooth and silky, and not too heavy or oily – particularly when applied to freshly washed skin. Steven is appreciating it as well, for dry elbows and knees, and areas that have been exposed to a lot of sun recently.

Next time I will try different, more deliberately chosen oils, and will explore some other herbs with properties specific to my skin and it’s particular needs at the time. My skin is loving this combination though, and my hands haven’t felt so soft in quite some time!

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Red elder trees are blooming everywhere right now. They are all along the roadsides out here near the lakes on the edge of the woods, and there are a couple growing right in our yard. Until recently, when I was reinspired by a photo of elderflowers intended for cordial, by a fellow instagrammer halley roberts, I had pretty much ruled them out as a useful plant, knowing that the leaves and fruit contain toxic “cyanoglycoside sambunigrin” (with further research, the fruit turns out to actually be edible if prepared correctly (cooked, de-seeded), and is used by some to make jam). I did some further research and learned that the flowers of red elder are safe and gentle for internal and external use, and can make a beautiful, healing addition to the medicine cabinet. The flowers of the elder tree – both red and black – are the most mellow part of the plant.

Please do your research, and always double triple quadruple check when identifying a plant that is new to you, if you plan to consume it or apply it to your skin.


I harvested a few elderflowers from each tree in our yard, and a few from a few different trees off a roadside nearby. It’s getting late for collection and I think I just made it. Many flower clusters are now transitioning toward the fruiting stage.


I made a tincture with some of the flowers, and used the rest for another project I will share soon. For the tincture, I separated the flowers from the stems, loosely chopped them, and filled a jelly jar (about 7 ounces) with them. I covered the herb with 3 parts Everclear to 1 part water. I labeled my jar, and tucked it into a dark cabinet and will shake it each day. It should be ready for use in 4-6 weeks.

[I would have been more selective in my alcohol choice, but Everclear is what we had on hand. As a little aside, Everclear makes an excellent disinfectant. We fill small spritz bottles with it, and take it with us when we are out and about to keep our hands clean.]

Elderflower has diaphoretic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties. The flowers have long been used to treat many kinds of inflammatory and congestive conditions of the respiratory tract, and has been traditionally used to treat flu, colds, mucus, sinusitis, feverish illnesses and other upper respiratory tract problems, as well as hay fever.  Externally, elderflower soothes irritable, itchy skin.


I will try to report back in a month or so, when it’s time to strain and bottle our tincture.

Do you make your own medicinals? If so, what are some of your most used medicinal herbs?

[a few references:

Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch


http://www.ageless.co.za/herb-elder-flower.htm ]

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I love yogurt all ways – made up sweet in a smoothie with fruit, savory with seeds and herbs, as a topping on meals or a spread on sandwiches, as a supplement to swig down doses of flax oil and molasses… the list goes on. It has always been an important dietary staple in our home, and the benefits of eating cultured dairy are many. My only qualm, in past years, was with the countless plastic quart containers that accumulated with our yogurt consumption.

I don’t know how it took me as long as it did to discover how easy it was to make yogurt myself. It’s really, really easy!

There are many yogurt tutorials out there, I am sure, but we all do things a little differently so I thought I would share my method. Now that I’ve developed a rhythm, I find the process to be so easy I can do it almost without thinking. While it takes many hours from start to completion, the actual time required of you to be in the kitchen is maybe 10 minutes, as most of the time is simply letting your yogurt do it’s thing.

I make one gallon of yogurt at a time, but you can make any amount that works for your household. I like to make the most of my yogurt-making sessions, and typically we (mostly I!) consume about a gallon of yogurt every 2 weeks.

Ingredients and Materials:


Plain yogurt (for your starter)

Jars or other seal-able glass storage containers

A milk thermometer

A pot or pots large enough to hold your milk

Stainless measuring spoons

Stainless or glass stirrer

A few notes: You will need as much milk as the amount of yogurt you want to produce. For example, to make a gallon of yogurt you need a gallon of milk. I use Organic Valley Whole Milk. I wouldn’t recommend using skim, but a lower fat milk should work fine. You will need about 2 Tbs of yogurt per quart of milk. I use Nancy’s organic whole milk yogurt. You will need enough storage jars to accommodate the full quantity of milk, plus a small amount of extra (equal to the quantity of yogurt starter you use).

To Make:

The short… heat milk, cool milk, mix in yogurt starter, pour into containers, incubate, refrigerate.

The long….


1. Clean all of your materials thoroughly (pots, jars, stirrers, etc). Since we are dealing with fermentation, and are attempting to cultivate healthy bacteria – not unhealthy bacteria – cleanliness is very important, and is the easiest way to insure success. You can use the sanitization method of your choice. I scrub everything thoroughly, rinse with very hot water, and then do a final rinse with purified water and drip dry (this isn’t “sanitization” per se, but it works well for me).



2. Pour your milk into your cook pot/s and heat to 170-175 degrees, stirring occasionally. I set my stove to a medium low temperature and let it heat slowly, so that if I get distracted it’s unlikely I will burn the milk. I have accidentally allowed it to reach 190 or so without burning, due to the slowness of the temperature rise. You don’t want to burn your milk! It will taste yucky.



3. Once your milk has reached temperature, take it off the heat, stirring for a minute or so to avoid scalding on the bottom. Now let it cool, down to about 110-115 degrees. This will take some time, so you can go on to do other things for a while. (Heating the milk is a precautionary measure, to kill any unwanted bacteria that may compete with the bacteria you are trying to grow to make your yogurt. Cooling the milk is important so you do not kill your starter).



4. When the milk has cooled to 110-115,  pour a small amount of it into one of your jars, and mix with the appropriate amount of yogurt starter per the quantity of milk in the pot you drew from. Stir the small mixture until the yogurt is dissolved, and then pour it back into your pot of milk. Now mix it in so that it’s well dispersed throughout the pot of milk.



5. Pour your yogurt milk into jars, lid them loosely, and now it’s time to ferment.



For the incubation period, I set all of my jars on a heavy glass bake pan and place it in the oven.* I heat the oven to 100 degrees and then promptly turn it off.  Every few hours, I turn the oven heat back on (a minute or less, set at the lowest temperature possible) and then turn it back off. I usually leave my yogurt to ferment for 12-18 hours (this is relatively long, so you may like to experiment with different fermentation times).

*Note about using an oven: My oven doesn’t maintain a  temperature lower than 170 degrees. It has a digital readout though, that tells me what temperature it is inside so I can monitor the rise and turn it off at the appropriate time. I have a rule for myself that I CAN NOT multi task while waiting for it to heat.  It is too easy to get distracted. I have nearly cooked/killed my yogurt before. Take care not overheat and kill your yogurt. If your oven can maintain a heat of 100 degrees on it’s own, you have the perfect yogurt maker!! If you do not have a digital readout, a minute or less of heat is plenty. You are simply providing assistance in the fermentation process by creating a warm environment. I aim for around 100 degrees for yogurt fermentation, though lower temperatures will work as well. It will just take a little longer.



When your yogurt is finished, seal your containers snugly and store them in the fridge.

I find it really satisfying to put away a gallon of fresh yogurt! Your yogurt will have firmed up quite a lot – something like creamy pudding – and will firm up a little more once it refrigerates. It should have that pleasant, slightly sour/sweet smell. Home made yogurt is not as thick as store bought (in my experience), but the thickness will depend quite a bit on how long you ferment for – firming up more (as well as becoming more tart), with longer fermentation time.


Now that you have your own yogurt made, you can use it as your starter for the next batch. I have read that if you are using your own starter, it should be no more than 2 weeks old, and if it is older than that to start with a new starter again, though I haven’t verified how important this actually is. I usually use my own starter 2 or 3 times, and then start with a new one again.


If you have never made yogurt before, I hope you try it! Feel free to ask any questions you might have.

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This week I repaired an old favorite sweater.

My work can be hard on my clothes, so I have a few designated “work sweaters.”  This wool sweater, even though it’s ill fitting and really kind of frumpy, tends to be my favorite. It’s loose and warm and easy to toss off and on throughout the day.

Some time last year, one of the elbows developed a hole, which got so big I stopped wearing it, afraid I would ruin it forever… But I missed that old sweater…


sweater_elbow_patch_2Before patching, I sewed the hole up, loosely but securely, so it wouldn’t continue to unravel.

sweater_elbow_patch_2aI almost could have called it done at this point, but that fix is not nearly as fun or lasting as patching.

sweater_elbow_patch_1I made a patch pattern to my desired shape and size, and then cut 2 patches from an old leather skirt. Then I marked out and punched my stitch holes.

sweater_elbow_patch_3The location of the hole was the perfect reference for where to place the patch. For the other sleeve, I matched it to the first by measuring, and then eyeballing it into position.

sweater_elbow_patch_4I think that now it’s better than new! I also like to think my sweater even looks a little less frumpy now.

Are you a fan of elbow patches? I love how this look has made a comeback in recent years.

More patches from the past – tweed on cashmere.

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Last week’s linen project… a set of humble, hard working dish towels and a couple table napkins, too.

This is one of the easiest projects ever. Simply cut to your desired size – leaving room for seam allowance – and hem. I included loops on the towels, to allow us to hang them from a cabinet knob next to the sink.

This week I’m working on something from my wardrobe. This project is a mix of fun and practical. I’ll share once I’m done.


Aaaand, I’ll be back soon with a post on how I make yogurt! I have had a few requests over the last year, and have been meaning to post about it for a while.

Enjoy the weekend, friends…

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This week’s DIY project was a little something for our car. We like to have the basics set up so our vehicle stays organized, and so we are prepared for spontaneous day trips or long days out running errands. One thing we needed was a functional place to put waste, like banana peels, apple cores, small recyclables, etc while on the road. It didn’t need to be large, would preferably be washable, stable so it didn’t tip over, and easy to access from the driver and passenger seat.


I tracked down a quart sized yogurt container (which was satisfyingly difficult to find since I make my own yogurt now), and built a small fabric container around it. I installed snaps on the fabric container, and also on a leather strap I cut, so it could snap in and out of where ever it was hung, with ease. The container is made with a heavy hemp canvas (my favorite fabric in the world!), and lined with a waterproof nylon material I had leftover from a custom order some time back.



It’s hanging from the seat frame down near the floor now, but can also be hung from the back of the headrest. We don’t generate a lot of trash (especially not while in the car), so the size is perfect.


Do you organize your car? Any fun tips?


Last week’s DIY here.

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Over the years we have tried to grow, regrow, and propagate many kinds of things. Steven has tried to regrow some things that I thought were pretty far fetched, but it’s amazing what plants can do. Once, we even had a totally far out (far out as in nearly rotting) stalk of broccoli start to put out new growth in our compost pile, and this was discovered after turning it up from 2 feet deep!

I can’t remember if we ever tried celery, but when I saw this by the clever folks at 17apart, and decided to give it a try, the first thing Steven said when he saw it was, “that looks like something I would do!” Celery is steadily growing, and it’s happening remarkably fast.

The first photo up at the top was taken 4 or 5 days after I cut the stalks off and put the end in water. I have just potted it in soil and am excited to see how it does from here.

So before you scrap that veggie end, consider a little experiment with regrowing it!

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