Cool Blog

Just a quick post today, as it’s a full-torque sewing day for me. If I get my projects done, I’ll post photos later.
I stumbled across this great blog yesterday, if you’re a DIY type like me. Yeah, it’s not from a little home blogger, but from the king (He prefers “Dean”) of DIY himself, Bob Vila.
http://www.bobvila.com/blogs/

Containing Compost

Finished Bin
We’ve always composted, and continued to do so after our recent move. We continued our conserving ways for several months before a neighbor showed up, glanced at the back yard, and cheerfully informed us that the city has fines for people with unsightly properties. Given that everyone else had been complimenting us on how much better the yard looked since we’d moved in, we pretty quickly narrowed down the object of our neighbor’s concern to the pile of dead leaves and grass clippings concealing the potato peels and egg shells.

On a trip to the local hardware palace for yet more perennials, I noticed a plastic compost bin for sale. “51 gallon capacity,” the sign said. That sounds a lot more impressive than “six point eight cubic feet” which also happens to be true. While it might be enough to hold kitchen waste, that’s nowhere near enough capacity for a lawn’s-worth of grass clippings plus  two shade trees worth of leaves. Plus, it looked like Dark Helmet’s hat from Spaceballs. We can do better, I thought.

In a few minutes of wandering the aisles, we located 2” x 4” x 8’ landscape timbers at $3.54 each for the corner posts and 6-foot cedar dog-eared fence planks at $1.17 each that would serve as rot-resistant sides. That, plus a bunch of deck screws and a few metal fence stakes, gave us a two-bin, 3’ x 3’ x 4’ compost heap for $55.05. We used scrap lumber for the boards to hold the front slats in place, and recycled the inner cores from dog poop bag rolls for spacers. Buying a 1” x 6” x 12’ and a foot of aquarium hose to replace the recycled items would bring the cost up to just a little over that of the pint-sized commercial model.

However we get a lot more bang for our buck: 36 cubic-foot capacity in each of the two compartments, to be precise, enough for grass clippings and leaves as well as kitchen waste. That works out to 11 cents per gallon of storage capacity, and, other than the recycled plastic spacers, it uses no petroleum products. Compare that to the $1.14/gallon of Mr. Helmet’s hat. May the Schwartz be with you!

Materials list:

3 – 2” x 4” x 8’ landscape timbers

28 – 6-foot cedar fence planks

9 – ¾” length pieces of plastic or metal tubing, ¼” to ½” diameter

144—2” decking screws, 9 – 3 ½” decking screws

4 – 5’ metal fence stakes

Tools:

Saw, measuring tape, marker, drill, screwdriver, level, sledge hammer

Instructions:

Cut the landscape timbers into 4-foot lengths.

Cut 12 of the cedar planks into 3-foot lengths for the sides of the bins.

The planks may split if you run screws directly into them, so it’s a good idea to pre-drill 2 holes on the end of each plank plus two more 2” from the centers of the 6-foot planks.  You can expedite this by stacking the planks and drilling them 4 or 5 at a time. Carefully measure the first plank and put it on top of each carefully stacked pile of planks as a template.

Lay three of the posts on the ground, spaced so that they line up with the holes in the 6-foot planks. Space the planks a finger’s-width apart for better air circulation.  Screw the planks to the posts using the 2” decking screws. The top piece will extend above the end of the post. You now have the back of your bin.

Stand the back up in the place you want the finished bin to stand and attach the bottom plank to the end, using one screw. Attach the front post to the plank with one screw. Use the level to insure that the posts are vertical and screw the front and back ends of the plank to the uprights. Attach the remaining planks the same way, again, a fingers-width apart. Repeat this procedure for the opposite wall and the middle wall.

You have a bin! Reinforce the walls by driving a metal fence post on the outside of each side wall and on both sides of the center wall, near the front posts. (Rooftop gardeners might want to place a cinderblock on either side of the front posts for support, instead.)

Front:

Attach a 4’ length of board to the center post at top, middle, and bottom, running the 3 1/2” screws through the spacers. Leave a little play between the spacers and the post, rather than running the risk of splitting them by screwing them on too tightly. They’re just there as guidelines. Do the same with the side posts.

Measure the distance between the spacers, subtract ½”, and cut the front planks to that length. Slide the boards into the slots as needed as your bin fills. Remove them when it’s time to move the compost out.

If you have the space and wish to double your capacity, you’ll need to get 12 more cedar slats and four additional fence stakes. Leave your side and center pieces 6 feet long and reinforce the middle of the side and center walls with the stakes.

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Fences, Neighbors

‘Good fences make good neighbors,” the saying goes. I understand that comes from farm life, where someone else’s livestock eating your corn crop or someone playing Finders, Keepers with your cow are Generally Frowned Upon. In the Burbs, although free-running dogs and toddlers can be a problem, it’s more of an esthetic thing. Maintaining boundaries is important. But some people’s idea of their boundaries includes whatever they can see from their windows, whether it’s in their yard or not.
We’re lucky in our current place. It came with a 6-foot cedar fence surrounding most of the yard, and a dense row of Leyland cypress along the other side. We weren’t financially equipped to put a board fence around the remainder, so made do with 4 x4 posts and wire fencing. The lucky part is that the sunny spot, where the shed and garden are, and the someday chicken coop will be, i.e., the industrial part of the yard, is blocked from public view. But what if you’re not so lucky?
Maintain your boundaries, and no one will notice the rest. Most humans, at least those not in direct contact with nature constantly, perceive the natural world as a “Green Screen.” If you keep the edges tidy, the rest will be a blur. So how do you do that?
If your garden has a public face, use an old Amish trick. Plant flowers along the edge facing the viewers. The Amish are fond of petunias. I like a combination of calendulas, dark red marigolds, and blue forget-me-nots. I’ve also used nasturtiums along the edges. Queen Sophia, with its bluish leaves and dark red blossoms is awesome. Keep the edges weeded, even if you fall behind on the rest of the garden. Better yet, keep the whole thing weeded and mulched, but I know how it is sometimes.
If you want privacy and can’t afford a real fence, make your own Green Screen. About the simplest and cheapest is PVC pipe. Make a rectangular frame with t-connectors at the bottom end so you can add two 2-foot long pipes for posts. Max size for stability is 6 feet high and 4 feet wide. If you need to go wider, say 5 or 6 feet, add an extra post in the middle of the bottom horizontal pipe.
Wrap nylon seine twine between the bottom and top horizontal pipes. It’s a good idea to wrap it all the way around each pipe before sending it down (or up) to the other pipe. Pull it snug. (Manly efforts to pull the string so tight the pipe bends are not necessary.) You can put a dot of glue at each wrap to keep it in place. If you want permanence, dig holes a foot and a half deep and put concrete in them. Stick the poles in and brace them until the concrete dries. If you want extra stability, but don’t want it there permanently, ram a couple of 3 foot long pieces of rebar into the ground, leaving a foot or so above ground level. Put the pipe posts over them and ram them at least a foot into the ground.
What size PVC? you may ask. I’d go to the nearest hardware palace, pick up the rebar and take it over to the plumbing supply aisle. Find the pipe that fits the rebar best. Ignore the strange looks from that guy in the overcoat. If you can’t find a pipe that fits snugly, go a size larger and wrap a plastic bag over the rebar before fitting the pipe over it.
Then plant something that grows vines. Annuals like beans, peas, morning glories, moonflowers, or perennials like rambling rose, grapes or hops*, whatever suits your fancy. In a couple of months, your yard will be your Secret Garden.
*hops grow 25 to 30 feet tall. To grow them on a little support like this, you’ll need to train them to zigzag back and forth across it. With hops, you might want to run your twine in horizontal Vs, rather than vertical, and put small notches where the twine wraps, in addition to the glue. For grapes, use horizontal wire supports, notching the sides of the pipe to keep the wires from slipping.