Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Upcycled Rain Chain in Action

Today it poured rain a good 2-3 times after a bout of warm weather that didn't seem like it would yield to this.  I spent the day more indoors than out for a change.

This is just a short post and update of the copper and brass rain chain that I assembled a few weeks ago.  You can find the original post for that, here.

I made a little movie of the chain right after the biggest downpour.  It works quite well.  Please ignore the shovel I left out leaning against the barrel.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cut-off Jean Shorts and Shopping Bag....No Scraps

It's getting kind of steamy here in Portland.  For the last week or so, temperatures have been rising into the mid 80's.
Though I wear jeans most of the year, I usually break out my collection of cotton, Summer skirts and flip flops to stay comfortable.  This morning, however, I decided to make a pair of cut-offs......and, a bag.
I have scads and scads of jean scraps.  I just plain have SCRAPS.  I have made a few shopping bags out of them.  The two pictured below are from several different pairs of jeans, overalls and army fatigues.

"old (er) bags"

Today, however, I didn't want to add to my scrap pile as I have done so many times before.  So I decided to take up the challenge of turning the jean legs I had harvested into a bag without creating a single scrap.

I was successful.

This was not, by far, my best sewing.  It isn't totally symmetrical.  It's kind of bunchy in a few places.  But, it is quite sturdy and will fit quite a few groceries.

Nothing whiter than white Oregonian legs in early June.

"Hey a tree.  Check out this a......bag made out of jean legs!"
I don't think he's impressed.

So, for anyone who might happen upon this post in the interest of doing the same thing, below is a rough diagram of what I did.

Also, please note that this was done with a pair of Levis 501's.  Straight leg jeans work well.  Skinny or pegged jeans may not work so well.....

Here also, is a breakdown of the above:
  1. Cut off jean legs for shorts.  Done.
  2. Cut open jean legs following either inseam or outer seam.
  3. You now have two roughly rectangular pieces.  Lay them flat, right sides together.  Cut out two rectangular shapes on either side of the center seam.  This forms the main shape of the bag and the handle.
  4. This is a breakdown of the parts you now have: A-F.
  5. Sew C and D together on the short sides.
  6. Sew E and F to either side of A.
  7. Sew E/A/F together with B and C/D as shown.
  8. Right sides together, join the right side of B with the left edge of E.  Sew C/D together with the bottom edge of A and B and continue sewing around the side of A/B to join up with E.....and this is where I realize I didn't really complete the diagram.  But, basically C/D, the bottom of the bag, wraps up the side.
  9. Finally, hem the top edge of the bag and edges of handle to keep it from fraying.
So, there it is.  I realize that my description may not be super helpful, but therein lies perhaps a reason for someone to comment or ask for a better description.  I will gladly oblige. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Nuthatches and the Log Bird House

The log house....minus it's original "green roof" of sedum and grass that a
gang of young squirrels came along and tore the crap out of for reasons that 
I cannot say....It still has a wood roof and the nuthatches don't seem to mind.

We have several birdhouses in our backyard.  Most of which I've made from old cedar fencing. Also, most of which are designed to the specifications for chickadees and wrens.

I made this log bird house about three years ago.  A 6" in diameter piece of maple, originally destined to be firewood, I noticed it in the stack of wood.  It's pithy, crumbling center sparked the idea of hollowing it out to make a birdhouse.  So I did.

The log house sit's on top of the split cedar fence in the "native plant garden".

Fast forward, three Springs later, the log birdhouse is now home to a pair of Red Breasted Nuthatches.  These energetic little birds showed up at the feeder for the first time just this past Winter. Their soft, almost guinea pig-like twittering is a unique trait as is there low profile and hopping around, often upside down on tree branches.  The nuthatches, along with a few Downy Woodpeckers and Bewick Wrens are relative newcomers to our yard.  I don't know for sure why, but there has definitely been an increase in the variety of wild birds in this neighborhood since I first moved here in the mid-ninties.

Red Breasted Nuthatches are an interesting little bird.  Not knowing much about them prior to looking them up on the web, I was delighted to find that it is in fact quite uncommon for them to take up nesting in a bird house.  Thus, I suppose, they thought that the log house was a suitable hollow stump.

"mom" or "dad" Nuthatch (both male and female heads have same markings), peering out at me.

Additionally, nuthatches have the unusual habit of surrounding the entrance hole with tree pitch.  It is thought that this is a deterrent to predators.  This habit of making a "sticky threshold" leads them to another unusual habit.  Instead of landing outside the entrance hole and then going inside as is the habirt of many hole dwellers, they actually "dive bomb" into the hole from a branch a few feet away in order to avoid the sticky pitch.  Below is a picture of the male making his dive entry and also a little movie clip of them in action....

"Dad"  (he has the namesake red breast) makes his dive bomb entry into the house.
Notice the pitch around the entry hole.

It's been about 10 days now since I think the chicks first hatched out.  I can hear their soft twittering when the parents arrive with bugs to feed them.  I'm not sure when they will fledge, but I hope I get a glimpse of the babies.  Perhaps also, they will come back next year?!

I just wanted to end this post with a few tips for anyone who has found themselves here looking for birdhouse specs--with the added caveat that I pretty much only make functional bird houses that will actually attract birds and give them a safe home to raise their young.  I don't, for example, make houses that look like this.  I make them without paint.  No perch (offers easier access to larger predatory birds). When making the entry hole, if you use a borer then the edges should be filed down so that there aren't right angles (think of how it would look if a woodpecker made it).  For Chickadees, wrens and nuthatches, the entry hole shouldn't be no more than 1 1/8" in diameter so that it well keep out slightly larger and very pervasive English Sparrows.  The floor space is usually about 5"x 5" and should sit about 8"-10" below the entry hole (again, this is another measure to take to reduce the risk of predators getting at the eggs or young).  Don't use metal on the roof (too hot) or place in direct, full sun, or hang it with the entry facing the direction that gets the most rain and wind.  Hang the house 7'-10' up in a tree in such a way that there's no easy access (rooflines, large parallel branches, etc.) to climbing predators such as cats or raccoons......BTW, I want to give credit to the "bird house man" I met several years ago on Sauvie Island.  He taught me most all of the above and I sadly do not know his name.

Here are a few final pics of the actual construction of the log house. Note my ever-present "helper" who nearly always shows up when I pull out tools.

Hammer.  Chisel.  I also burnt out some of the core with coals from the fireplace.

Going for the hammer......

Finished hollowed out log.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Upcycled Copper and Brass Rain Chain

The metal aisle at Goodwill has been one of my favorites in the past many months.  I've been collecting various "bric a brac", all of which is either copper or brass, to make a rain chain.

Rain chains, an alternative to the conventional downspout from a gutter, are a neat way of appreciating the otherwise unseen rain water that comes off your roof.  Prior to making this one, I shopped for and priced a few copper ones, all of which were beautiful but rather too pricey.  Since rain chains (at least the manufactured ones) are just an actual chain or series of bottomless "cups" that allow the water to trickle downward, it seemed like it would be an easy thing to construct.

My first rain chain I made for one of the smallest gutters on our house.  It drains a roof pitch that is about 10' x 15', and it collects a surprising amount of water.

The chain itself I cobbled together using old brass light fixture canopies, candle and incense holders, a brass ashtray, copper cups, brass bells, the center of a copper tray, a brass chain necklace and heavy gauge copper wire.

A cone, fashioned from the cut an hammered interior of a brass platter, forms the
 initial spout from the gutter.

Brass bell and ashtray.

Brass candle holder suspended from copper wire from and incense burner paired with a brass light canopy.

The chain drains water into a reclaimed wine barrel in which I cut a large round hole in the top of and placed a large brass platter.  Filled with beach glass to act as a filter and having several holes drilled in the bottom, the platter serves as a mosquito-proof cap to the barrel.

Note the seepage in spots around the base of barrel.  I kept this barrel too dry for too long.  These seeps slowly subsided and where helped with an application of tree pitch.

Finally, a place for my beach glass when I'm not using it for growing paperwhites.

Antique brass spigot plumbed in at base of barrel for access to the rain water.  
The barrel is also outfitted with a access spigot at the bottom and an overflow spigot at the top back (not pictured) that goes into a hose that leads to the downspout drain.  When I first set up the barrel and since it's May here in Oregon, I thought I'd have a little time to affix the overflow valve.  WRONG.  Just a few days of rain filled the entire barrel.  

I now have about 75 gallons of rain water.   So far it's been nice to use the spigot to fill up the watering cans or rinse off muddy hands before going indoors.  

I have three more barrels that I will eventually be hooking up.  The next one I'm think about setting up a small basin "foot bath" at the base to rinse off little feet after exiting the sandbox.  Fun stuff......

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Control Cabbage Root Maggots (and other pests) without Pesticide

A cabbage, in it's natural, home-grown garden environment is truly a thing of beauty.  Unlike the neatly trimmed green orbs we find in the grocery store, in their natural garden state they more resemble a giant green rose.  Some can grow as much as 3' across.  They range in color from pale green to blue-purple.
Nutritious and versatile, both Western and Eastern cultures have grown cabbages for thousands of years.  I suppose I could blather all day about cabbages and their many cousins:  broccoli, kale, turnips, radish, cauliflower, kohlrabi and even arugula but what I really want to offer up here in this post is help for the home  grower.

Can you see the tree frog?.....  They love to hide in cabbages.

 Cabbages and most all brassicas are a host to many pests.  The worst of the lot (at least here on the West Coast) are Cabbage Root Fly Maggots and Cabbage Moths.  Though I learned a fair amount of gardening skill from my grandparents, one thing I no longer do is douse any of my plants with any sort of pesticide.  I don't even use bacillus thurengiensis, which is a natural bacteria that will kill caterpillars, but is indiscriminate and will kill ANY caterpillar--even those who pose no threat to your cabbages.

The most insidious pest I have encountered here in the Portland area is the Cabbage Root Fly Maggot.  These little red-eyed bastards will come along in the Spring and then again in the Fall to lay their eggs at the base of the stems of cabbages and other brassicas.  Though the adult flies themselves never take a single bite of the plant which they choose to lay eggs on, the tiny little oblong white eggs will hatch within days into little hungry maggots who will munch away at the roots of the host plant until there is nothing left.  When I first encountered a very bad infestation out on Sauvie Island, I was actually lifting wilted cabbage starts out of the ground that had absolutely no roots left.

The tiny eggs of a cabbage root fly, on my finger tip. 

Eggs, found where they were laid by the adult.  These will hatch in 2-3 days and burrow down to start eating first the fine rootlets and then the main stem.  Maggots will increase in size 20x or so from egg stage before entering pupae stage.

I recall my initial research of how to control cabbage root maggots was pretty dismal.  I think there was one, fairly benign pesticide which was supposed to work okay but I didn't use it (I no longer recall the name).  In one of my gardening books I found a description of how to use cut-out disks of tar paper that you would slit one side and slip it around the base of the stem of the plant to serve as a shield against the hatching maggots (which can't burrow through the tar paper). At first, the tar paper method sounded great but it didn't really work well for a couple of reasons.  First, we must have a particularly crafty strain of Cabbage Root Flys here around Portland, as I found fly eggs UNDER, not on top of the tar paper.  Some of the flies had actually crawled under the paper and deposited eggs on the soil, thus rendering the paper pretty much worthless as a shield.  Secondly, I found that the tar paper collars were restrictive for the cabbage plants, which didn't seem to grow as well with the collars around them.   I think it makes their roots too hot and dry.  So, after some thoughts on my own, I came up with an idea of covering the entire plant.

There are many kinds of crop covers such as Remay, and such out there that can achieve adequate protection for brassicas with the added bonus that it will protect them from ALL flying insects.  However, after trying them out I found them fussy and fiddly to deal with.  They wound slump in the rain, blow off in the wind and were generally a big pain in the ass to deal with when I needed to get under them for weeding and fertilizing.  They also had a tendency to get really HOT and if you have much experience with growing brassicas you will know that HOT is not your friend.

So, I came up with this idea--I took some screen door mesh, folded it this way and that and produced free standing "tents" that would not blow away in the wind, sag in the rain or retain heat.  An added bonus is that you can also reused them year after year.

Newly planted starts with covers.

Same plants, a few months later, covers removed.  These are now large enough to handle a few bugs.

Now, of course this method of covering the young brassica starts isn't as attractive as an uncovered garden with pretty rows of plants.  But, the nice thing is that by the time the starts grow large enough (and beautiful and pest-free) the cabbage root flys have usually dissipated with the warmer weather.  Also, a half grown cabbage can actually stand to endure a few lingering root maggots as the plants are now large enough with roots deep enough to withstand some chewing.

So, my fellow cabbage lovers......if you have happened upon my barely-read-by-anyone blog seeking help with your battle with root maggots, below is a basic "how to" for making covers.

  1. Get yourself some metal screen mesh.  It needs to be metal so that it will hold it's shape.  Aluminum is okay but the old-timey steel mesh is the best.  It should be at least 36" wide.
  2. Cut a length of screen to cover 3-6 plants.  I plant my cabbages about 18" apart, so if I want a "tent" for four then I need 72" plus another 20" so that the ends can be crimped together.  Also bear in  mind that the longer you make your tent the more difficult and unwieldy it will be to get it in position over your plants.
  3. Fold the screen lengthwise into thirds.  Then lightly fold lengthwise in half (this forms the peak of the tent).
  4. While folded in half, crimp together the ends of the tent.  I do this by folding 1/2" forward and then back on itself 3-4 times and then using pliers to crimp the fold solid.  If you're nor already wearing gloves at this point, I would now put them on.  The ends can also be sewn shut with wire.
  5. To get the tent to stand up, you will first need to fold down last  3-4" of the ridge on either end. Then stand the tent up in position and work it this way and that until it stands open on it's own.
So, there it is.  A final tip for using your tent:  If your ground is lumpy or uneven and you have gaps under your tent, don't ignore them, as flies will find a way in.  Simply hill up a little dirt where needed.  

I've been using these covers for three or four years now.  I've since found that they also work well for covering beets and chard if you are troubled with leaf miners.  They also offer some protection from

Happy cabbages....

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tick Tock. Old Clock

It's been almost a year since my last entry.....

Shame on me.

Much has happened over the last year, but instead of boring my virtually nonexistent readers with a very long update, I'm going instead for a rather appropriate and quick entry about a mysterious old clock that doesn't work.

This clock hangs on the wall next to the pantry door in our newly remodeled kitchen (there, slipped in one update).  I've had it since about 1990.  Purchased from Star's Antique when it was still in NW Portland, I was first drawn to it by it's hand made, folk artsy appeal.  A rather big chunk of change at the time, I shelled out $110 for it.

Fast forward to now, it has traveled with me over the last 20 years from a rental house near Mt. Tabor, to an apartment of NE Sandy and then to my present house in North Portland.

Miss "L" stands on top of the microwave to show scale.

Made from solid oak and plywood.  The oak grain has a very dark stain that seems to be left over from being stripped of heavy black laquer such as one would find on a piano.  The pieces of the case have been hand cut and nailed together.  Even the numbers on the face have been carefully cut by hand.  The clock hands were snipped out from a piece of tin and the pendulum appears to have come from an older, professionally made grandfather clock.  Inside the case is a rusty old hand wound clock mechanism that maybe worked at one time, I don't know......To me, instead of a clock it is more like an art piece.

On the bottom of the little drawer at the bottom of the case, handwritten in blue ball point pen is, "C. G. Duncan Clockworks, Marshalltown Iowa.  This is the only clue I have as to it's story.  A google search led me nowhere and so it remains a mystery (until maybe, just maybe someone out there will read and be able to tell me).  I've always thought this clock has a look and vibe about it that it was made by someone in confinement.  Maybe a jail?  Maybe an institution?  Though it was obviously made with care, it also seems that the person had a lot of time on their hands and limited resources. 

So, there it hangs, in silence.  My intro into hopefully getting back into my blog.....Now that I've said that I HAVE to do it, right?