Tag Archives: DIY

Almost Free Raised Bed Garden

So last fall I was working in the bush and went by this huge burn pile about ten times a day. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention to a fifteen foot tall pile of trees on a pipeline right of way, but this pile had a lot of short 2″x8″ planks all over the base of it.

I was thinking that it was a huge waste, so when the job was done, Gerri and I went out there and packed up the minivan with over seventy of these little beauties.

That's what they call rustic. People pay big money for rustic.
That’s what they call rustic. People pay big money for rustic.

We weren’t sure what they could be used for, but we figured that we could find something better than global warming, so we stacked them on a pallet and covered them in a mattress bag that we had saved for just such an occasion.

Then, the other day I was repurposing part of our flower garden. It was completely choked out with lily of the valley, and I wanted to put something a little more useful in it, so I cut out a corner that gets pretty decent sun, sifted out the roots and shoots, and mixed in vermiculite and some of the worm castings that I’ve harvested over the winter.

I love picking handfuls out of the bin and sitting on the kitchen floor with a couple of tubs beside me. Sorting the worms and organics from the rich compost soothes my weary nerves and also helps to fight ISIS. Don’t ask me how, but nobody has been killed by ISIS while I was sorting worms. Probably.

This is the screen I made for sifting dirt out of two refrigerator shelves crossed and zip-tied together. They were free from the Share Shed. It’s also the repurposed flower garden.

Hey, it's not fancy, but free is free.
Hey, it’s not fancy, but free is free.

I then dug up some of the wild chives that were growing at the side of the house and transplanted them to the new herb garden at the front.

There were a lot more than I needed, so I turned the chunk of old manhole by the street into a new home for the rest.

I don’t know how I got so far off track, but let’s get back to the story.

I was wondering what else I was going to use my castings for, when I thought of building some raised bed gardens out of logs. That would be a problem, seeing as we don’t have a truck to haul the logs in, or any machinery to get them to the back yard. We also don’t have the money to hire it out, so my gaze fell on the pile.

Mattress bags are a very handy thing to have around.

I cut one in half, and then ripped them in half to make corner supports, and then I just made walls two boards high.

Yeah, I know it's basic. That's why I was confident I could do it.
Yeah, I know it’s basic. That’s why I was confident I could do it.

Now one of the huge problems with gardening in this area is the deer. They are everywhere. If you don’t put up an eight foot high fence, or cover your garden with deer netting,  then you are just courting disaster.

Another Share Shed treasure we got was an 8 person dome tent that had some pretty large holes in the roof. We kept the base, because it was a good tarp with eye holes already sewn in, and we kept all of the poles. I drilled a 1/2″ hole in the top of each support, and Voila!

We don't know if it will work yet, but in theory it looks good.
We don’t know if it will work yet, but in theory it looks good.

I’ll cover that in the Ross Deer Netting that I bought, and then maybe some poly so I can start planting a bit earlier. I am going to build two more of these, so I should be able to fit quite a bit of the food we are hoping to grow in them. It’ll be about 30 sq ft of garden space, and I think that’s good for our first time.

So all in all, we spent:

  • $15 for gas to get the wood and Share Shed goodies
  • $4 for the screws
  • $30 for 100′ deer netting(I could’ve got used chicken wire for $2)

Under $50 to build and deer-proof your garden seems pretty good to me, if it works. I shouldn’t count the gas, because we just love driving around together, and it was our day off, but I figured it would still be a bargain and I’ll still have 50′ of deer netting for next year.

Let me know what you think. Should I change anything?


We Rendered Lard!

Yep, that’s right. We bought half a pig from a local farmer, and I asked him to save the fat from it, so we could render it down for soap. I would never have thought of it, but the lady we get our eggs from had mentioned it to us one day this fall, and we decided, after reading several accounts of how nice the soap is, to try a batch or two and check it out for ourselves.

So this morning I started the process. She had told me the basics of putting some water in a pot, then put in the fat. Seemed simple enough, so I took my large hunks of frozen fat and threw them in the pot. Then I started to watch a YouTube video on rendering lard the proper way.

I was quickly running to the pot, pulling the chunks of fat out, and cutting them up into small pieces.

That was a handy tip to know. As it was, the rendering took about ten hours, but apparently it would have taken much longer if I had left them in huge chunks. Everyone on the internet says that it is way better to get it ground up by the butcher, but those people maybe didn’t get one of these when their Nan died.

That old grinder has had a lot of use.
That old grinder has had a lot of use.

She used to grind up everything with that thing. I haven’t used it since it was in her kitchen, but if we end up with a bunch more fat, I am going to pull it down and put it to work. Even if it’s just for nostalgia’s sake.

So after a day of hanging out on the stove we ended up with this.

Apparently, that is good lard. I really don't know lard though.
Apparently, that is good lard. I really don’t know lard though.

and this

We weren't sure about the cracklins, but after a bunch of salt, pepper, and onion powder, we came around.
We weren’t sure about the cracklins, but after a bunch of salt, pepper, and onion powder, we came around.

So this weekend, we will be trying out the lard in soap. There are tons of recipes out there, so we will try a few of them and see. If any of you have tried it before, maybe you could let us know what worked, or didn’t work, for you. We would really appreciate and hints or tricks that you have.

We would also love to hear any scents that really get you going. For me, it’s always been patchouli, but I really love other woodsy scents as well. That’s what perks me up during a morning shower. It makes me feel like I’m in an old Irish Spring commercial.

Except it’s in India.

But with more green, and cleaner water.

I’m maybe not as simple as I think.


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Preserving Our Future


I had to make some space in the back room for putting soap up to cure today. That meant condensing the canning shelves into a few spots from their once sprawling positions. If this was Risk, the preserves would own North America and Australia, which as you should know, will win you the game in a hurry.

While I was doing this, I started thinking back to last summer and fall, when I brought a completely overwhelmed family from an hour east of Toronto, to a town of about 1000 people in the middle of nowhere, BC.

I remember being so worried that everyone was going to end up resenting me for uprooting them from the life they knew and plopping them into a town where this year’s graduating class is four students. I can adjust to pretty well anything, but I know from experience that not everyone is like that.

I mean we went from $45, unlimited bandwidth, ultra high-speed internet to $90, 80GB limit, sometimes fast enough to watch The Office Xplornet. You can see why I might be worried, right? Two teenage girls with computers and gadgets don’t like to wait for Miranda Sings or PewdiePie to spread their wisdom with the masses.

But they do wait.

Without complaining.

And I love them for that.

I was worried about the culture shock that Gerri would feel when she got here as well, and I know it was really hard for her to deal, so she completely immersed herself in canning to keep her mind busy.

It started with Saskatoons, when a friend showed her that there was literally tons of berries within a mile of our house. I think she got tired after about her tenth gallon, and it trickled out from there. Then there was a PSA (more on them later) about a lady bringing a truckload of fruits and vegetables from the Okanagan. I think we got a case of nectarines, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, and a bunch of other things that we don’t grow.

We need to expand our back room soon. Maybe a new shed for worms and soap curing?
We need to expand our back room soon. Maybe a new shed for worms and soap curing?

After that, it was our abundant crab apple tree and a tarp under it, with Gerri and Lannie shaking the multitude of fruit down to make jelly, butter, and applesauce out of it. (I was able to get a bag out of the freezer later, and add it to some jars of moonshine. It really helped to cut down the harshness of the liquor.)

Then came the Fall Fair. She entered three things. I believe it was mango chutney, raspberry lime jam, and salsa. This was the result.

There was a little excitement.
There was a little excitement and I don’t know why it says Alberta Horticultural Association.

So needless to say, we had a few shelves packed full of canning, and now it’s reduced to part of a shelf. I would always decide to not grab something when I was in there, because I would tell myself that it had to last all year.

Well, all year is almost up now. We made it through nine months of our new life, and everyone is relatively unscathed. I say “relatively”, because I think the girls are adjusting to it, but they haven’t completely left their life in the east. I know it took me a lot of years to be comfortable being away from everything I knew.

Yes, the snow is melting in our sleepy town, and soon it will be green, with budding trees and flower lined streets and parks. Soon the fruit will ripen in the bushes and the cycle will begin again.


So I’m putting some of these roasted peppers on my pork chops, and I bought a huge vat of vanilla ice cream to smother in canned peaches and Saskatoons, because we don’t have all year anymore. We only have a few months.

It makes me feel really good when I eat something that the person I love the most in this world put so much effort and heart into. I know that it was done when she was struggling to make sense of her new world, and to try and put her old world to rest. I also know that there are so many other “addictions” she could have turned to to help cope with this change. The fact that she chose canning over heroin or booze has proven that she not only loves her family, but that she loves herself, and to me that is more important than anything else.

Thank you, Baby. For everything you’ve done, and continue to do for us.

And for continuing to wear my toque. No matter how much it makes you look like a gangsta hobo.
And for continuing to wear my toque. No matter how much it makes you look like a gangsta hobo.


P.S. At the top left on the side bar are the social media outlets that we are currently employing. If you could choose your poison, we can let you know of future posts that way. I’m sure fans of other pages/communities are getting sick of me hijacking their space.

Also, if you are on Google+ we have started a community at Backyard Homesteading.

DIY Soap Cutter For Under $20

So I was crying to my buddy, Johnny, about trying to cut the soap straight with a knife, on the chopping block that I bought at the thrift store for $2. I had measured out the inches down either side of it, but it was still coming out all wonky.

I told him that the top is an inch apart, but the bottom could be a quarter inch out either way. I know that it wouldn’t make a huge difference, weight wise, but I lost a bar on each loaf from over compensating. I’d like to make sure that all of the bars are uniform, because if you lost a bar on every loaf, it would be really cutting down on profits.

That’s going on the assumption that we will sell any of the bars. If we don’t, then there will be a lot of misshapen solstice gifts being handed out this winter.

I showed him the picture of my dream cutter. (Only because it looks awesome, not because I have a clue that it even works)

When he saw that it was $259, plus exchange, plus shipping, he said that I could make one for about $75 or $100, after he quit choking on his ramen noodles and cursing with that Cape Breton flair.

Apparently he forgot that you also need some skill in woodworking, and that’s not something I’m known for.

I told him that I would pay him to build one for me, and he said that he would. I was excited about that, but he wasn’t sure when he could get it done by. I explained to him that I needed it right away, because I couldn’t keep cutting the bars the way I was.

That was when he had a brilliant idea.

I didn't see the grey one until later. It looks like a better box for the soap, but this one will work.
I didn’t see the grey one until later. It looks like a better box for the soap, but this one will work.

I think the grey one is pretty much the same box, except it might be a tiny bit deeper than the one I got. This one doesn’t leave more than a couple of millimetres above the bar to fit the blade into the guide, so even a little bit would help. The $2 chopping block came in handy, because there is a lip on one side of the mitre box for stabilizing it against the front of the bench.

The chopper isn’t as wide as the Norpro, but it will do until the good one comes in. Either way, for under $20 I can accurately measure and cut my soap bars. That’s all there is to that.

You are probably thinking to yourself, that it’s going to be more than $20 with the shipping, but it isn’t if you get yourself a bunch of beeswax to get the price up over $25 to take advantage of Amazon’s free shipping.

Just a suggestion, you know you’re going to need it. 😉


P.S. We did cut up a loaf with it, and I have to tell you that it worked so much better than freehand with a knife that I couldn’t stop smiling while I slid and sliced. I’m such a newbie nerd.