Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wren House

Look at Shawn's project!  Isn't it adorable?  He's been talking about making a birdhouse for a while now, and last weekend, he suddenly just jumped up off the couch and declared, "I'm going to make a bird house."

So he did.

He looked up some plans on google, and after weighing the options, decided on the wren house.  (It's also suited for chickadees.)  Then he went through our scrap plywood pile and found some random pieces that were roughly the same thickness and went to measuring and cutting.

We just got a new hand saw that cuts really well so I think that helped in the motivation.  And we were tired of being cooped up in the house.

I helped a bit with the nailing together because it required more than two hands, but other than that, from start to finish this was all his own project.  It was so easy and quick, I think we're going to have  a few more birdhouses popping up around our yard in the next few weeks.

He painted it the same color of our house so it blends in.  We'll see if the wrens like that or not.

Here it is right next to one of our windows so we can spy on them.  We've seen chickadees checking it out here and there.  I hope someone moves in soon!

Oh, and here's a house finch and northern flicker in our front yard just for good measure.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mycorrhizae (My-core-rye-zay)

The other day I was turning a bit of the soil in my garden boxes and noticed a large amount of fungal growth or mycelium just beneath the surface.  There was so much in fact, that I had to take pictures of it.  It looked really cool and some of it was white, while some of it had a bit of an orange tinge.

See the hyphae? So stringy...

I immediately ID'd it as a fungal growth, but unlike mold which is totally gross, this was really pretty and didn't smell at all.  I really hoped that it was mycorhhizal fungi, so I did some research.  Though I'm still not a hundred percent on what it is exactly, I'm hoping that that's what it is.  Either way, I welcome it with open arms into my garden soil.

All natural soils have billions of fungal cells, sometimes making up 50-80% of the biomass of soil.  Whoa. They are there to decompose the organic matter and release the nutrients that are trapped in the organic stuff back into the soil for use by plants.  Mycorrizal fungi in particular create symbiotic relationships with plant roots, onto which they attach themselves, and provide the plant with a high water and nutrient absorption rate since it basically increases the plant's root mass.  In return, the plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates since fungi don't have photosynthetic powers.  (This is just the quick and simple explanation.)

Pretty cool huh?  It's believed that as much as 95% of plants have some sort of mycorrhizal relationship so these little guys are super important. 

Ah, nature.  You're so wonderful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Buzz Buzz

You hear a lot these days about the plight of the poor old honey bee.  They are dying by the billions due to pesticides, herbicides, and global warming... all that bad stuff that humans are creating.  Along with these horrifying tales you also hear bits and pieces about how important bees are to our survival.  As the main pollinators of plants that produce the fruit and vegetables that we consume each and every day, the collapse of the bee population is no good for us.

One of my dreams is to keep honey bees.  The rewards are many: happy pollinators for 16 miles around (that's how far they can go), fresh honey, and good feelings of helping an important species thrive.

But I haven't gotten around to that yet.  It seems like a lot of work, and to be honest, the idea of getting stung enough times until the bees get used to your scent is not a sacrifice I am willing to hurdle just yet.

So I'm doing the next best thing.

Mason bees.  Have you heard of them?  They're super cool and a great species to welcome into your garden for those less willing to endure the pain of honey bees.

Mason bees, also called orchard bees, are solitary, meaning they don't have colonies and all females are fertile.  They lay their eggs in beetle holes made in logs or hollow twigs.  They are great pollinators and the best part is that they don't sting unless they get squeezed.  They are safe to be around and are just as good at pollinating your plants and fruit trees as honey bees.

Oh man, they're so cool.  Read the article regarding how they lay their eggs.  Why is nature so amazing?

So Shawn and I made some Mason bee homes this weekend.

It's so easy, you can do it too.

First we found an old weathered 4x4 and some pieces of plywood from our old scrap wood pile.  Next we cut 2 pieces of the plywood: one for the back of the house which will be used to anchor the house to the fence, and one for the roof.  Then we cut a piece of the 4x4 off at an angle so that the roof part would be slightly slanted for rainwater runoff.  Then we drilled a bunch of holes into one side of the 4x4, 3 and 1/4 inches deep, using a 5/16 in. drill bit.  Then we screwed on the back and the roof and we were finished.  We attached it to a fence post next to our garden boxes where it will get lots of sun, and stood back and admired our handy work.

Very little measuring went into this project.  You can get much prettier mason bee houses for $30 at nurseries but this one was free AND made out of scrap materials.

We did make one mistake though.  After we had made three of these, we realized that the 4x4 we used was cedar.  Cedar has a strong odor that repels insects.  Luckily, it was a weathered piece of wood and I think after a year of so being in the weather again, the holes will eventually lose their smelly-ness.  So hopefully next year we will have some renters.  So if you're going to do this, make sure you use hemlock or fir instead of cedar.

They're so easy to make, we'll probably be making more here in the near future.  Using the correct materials, of course. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Upcycling success

Two years ago, we purchased a mini greenhouse.  It was a great buy.  Without it, the cucumbers last year wouldn't have happened and all the seeds wouldn't have gotten the good start that they get every year.  The only problem with this little greenhouse is that the cover was made out of plastic.  And what happens to plastic after it sits in the elements 24/7 for over two years?

It breaks down.  Falls apart.  Goes to shit.  Plastic is really dumb that way.

Sad holey plastic.  Not to be confused with holy blessed plastic, which doesn't exist.
Which is really annoying.  The front panel and the top part had fallen apart so badly that it was like nothing was there.

This left us with three options - 1. Buy a new cover.  2. Buy a whole new greenhouse. Or 3. Somehow make a new cover.

#3 was, in my opinion, the only reasonable and sustainable option that I would even consider.  Duh, I'm the queen of reusing and I hate plastic with a burning passion.  Besides, a new cover would just fall apart in a couple years and buying new stuff is just not in my nature when another option is even remotely possible.  Any reason not to buy plastic is a good one in my book.

So the first thing that needed to be done was to salvage as much of the old cover as possible.  I removed the front and top by cutting out the panels and leaving the reinforcement ribbon and figured the rest was in good enough shape to last another year.  This kept the shape of the cover while leaving an edge for me to sew the new panels onto.  I also took out the zippers from the front panel to use again.  Next, I dug up an old shower curtain from the old place and cut out two pieces to fit the two panels I had removed.  Then my sewing machine and I had a little weekend afternoon date.

Presto, new greenhouse cover.

It probably doesn't let in as much light as the last one did, but it lets in enough, and the heat is really what is nice about a greenhouse.  My seeds that I started last month are resting comfortably in there and probably really enjoyed the crazy summer weekend that we had.

Hooray for upcycling!

Down with plastic!


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