New Trugs finally available!

It’s been a few years of work to get my trug designs just right, but now they’re finally available for sale through our Etsy store. We have two sizes available for now, small and large. The small one is great for collecting eggs or for any junior gardeners in your life, while the larger is great for almost anything you do in the garden. Each trug is handmade and no two are perfectly identical.

5trug3

Large Trug

trugs

Both sizes of trug

The trugs can be found here:

Large Garden Trug
https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/196743621/large-garden-trug-traditional-english

Small Garden Trug:
https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/196741769/small-garden-trug-traditional-english

To any of our blog subscribers, contact us for a discount off the Etsy price.

New Wild Bee Houses

Earlier this week I finished a new wild bee house design. After puttering about with a few different concepts, I’ve decided on this one.

greenbeehouse2It’s made from aircraft plywood, reeds and pine, held together with copper nails. The stain is a water-based, VOC-free solid colour. Now we wait to see what bees and bugs come to take up shop in our garden!

This design, as well as a version without a finish are available through our Etsy store:

https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/188835950/wild-bee-insect-house-green-bent-plywood?ref=related-0

 

Smoking & Curing Bacon

I’ve started smoking again. Smoking meats! After months of thinking about it, I finally did it. I made bacon.

Curing and smoking meat comes across as a difficult, time consuming task, sprinkled with a pinch of food poisoning. It’s not true. By following food safety rules and a few simple steps, it was easy as anything to make bacon.

When I say bacon, I don’t mean the supermarket bacon. The stuff wrapped in plastic, piled a foot deep in the refrigerator bins is not bacon. That “meat” is pumped with liquid smoke, chemicals for colour and lots of water to make it heavier and thus more expensive for you. I mean a piece of pork belly, dry cured with salt and herbs, air dried and then cold-smoked for nine hours. Once you taste real bacon, the supermarket version will be all but a distant memory (or nightmare).

I won’t go into a lot of the curing details. Essentially, pork belly (skin on) is put in a bag with salt, sugar and herbs for a week in the fridge with some weight pushing down on the flesh to expel the water from within. Once cured, the pork is washed, to remove the salt and herbs, and put on a rack in the fridge to form a pellicle (a film/skin for the smoke to adhere to).

Now, to smoke meat, there are two methods: cold smoking or hot smoking. Don’t know if the names give it away or not but, hot smoking uses heat, and cold does not. For the bacon, I cold smoked. To cold smoke, I needed to produce smoke without the heat. To do this, I made a stainless steel mesh wood dust burner. I bent to stainless to form a number five (or “s”, depending on how you see the world) and lit one end of the snaking wood. This way I could control the burn and lengthen the time of the burn.

FYI: I may have fabricated this, but it's not my original idea.

FYI: I may have fabricated this, but it’s not my original idea.

Since there was very little heat being created, and all smouldering wood was contained in sheet metal, I opted for a very cheap and recyclable smoking box: a cardboard grocery store box.

With a few slots cut for racks and access, the box I took from No Frills, had taken on the form of a no-frills smoker.

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As you can see this is the 53600 Ultra version.

The wood dust, hickory in this case, was lit and placed in the bottom of the smoker. On the racks I put two sides of bacon and a piece of cheddar cheese, and closed it up. After a couple of hours, things were looking good and the smoke was doing its thing.

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Grab a napkin, the drooling will only get worse.

The cheese was pulled after three hours, and the bacon remained in the box for a full nine until it had a nice coating of smoke all over the meat, fat and skin.

Smoking done!

Smoking done!

 

After removing the skin and resting it in the fridge overnight, I fried it up with some eggs and decided that if I get really fat from this bacon, it would be completely worth it.
SAMSUNGSAMSUNGSpecial thanks to the chickens for the eggs out the garden. I’d say thanks to the pig, but I never met her, only her streaky goodness.

On a side note, the rabbits were mated after breakfast. Beatrix is out looking at baby clothes, while Rex is relaxing with a cigarette.

 

Felt Planters

We like to grow a lot. To the point where we’re running out of space. I realized we needed to take advantage of the endless vertical space we seem to have. After some experimenting and research over the winter, I designed a felt planter to hang on our patio to grow strawberries in.

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I used EcoFelt which is made from recycled plastic bottles and stands up to the rigours of outdoor life. As the plants grow, their roots are air pruned as they reach the edges of the planter. The felt also helps retain water so the plants never go dry.

We bough strawberry plants from William Dam Seeds, about 25 root stock for $20, and within a few weeks the fruits have developed and we should be tucking into strawberry rhubarb pie very soon!

strawberry

 

There’s been a good bit of interest in these planters, so we’ve decided to put them online for sale on our Etsy store here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/154871760/felt-wall-planter-envelope

If you want a better deal and want to pickup rather than pay delivery, let me know and we can sort something out. If you time it right, you may walk away with some strawberries to munch on as well.

Free Wheel Hoe Plans

Looking for our wheel hoe plans? They’ve moved to our new site Spade & Feather:

http://blog.spadeandfeather.com/?p=112

 

Home-made Wheel Hoe

***UPDATE: We’ve posted the plans for making the hoe here: http://www.growingandmaking.com/2013/06/11/free-wheel-hoe-plans/ ***

This year we are planting an extra 1500 sq ft of vegetables and to make the work a little easier, I did some research into non-powered tools for preparing, maintaining and harvesting the new field. The one tool that kept popping up was a wheel hoe. Not a fake hoe, but a wheel hoe.

The wheel hoe is essentially a two handled plough that is pushed by the gardener rather than pulled by draught animals or a tractor. On a small-scale vegetable patch or in a market garden, it is the ideal size to keep the soil turned and the weeds at bay. Using different attachments, the gardener can make quick work of usually labourious tasks.

The wheel hoe has been around since the 1800’s but has made a bit of comeback thanks to companies like Hoss Tools who stayed true to original design. At $179, it is quite reasonable, but with the tools and skills to build my own, it was an easy decision to keep the money in the bank. The only prefabbed part I purchased from Hoss Tools was the hoe attachment as making it wouldn’t be very cost effective and required specialized tooling.

Aside from the mass produced models, there are a few blogs out there offering kits to make your own, but I couldn’t find any that offered the same features and versatility of the mass produced ones. After studying what felt like a few million images, I was able to use the data to create a 3D model that used the same hole placement for the Hoss attachments but used stock steel tubing and flat bar.

After cutting, welding, drilling and painting the steel body, I still needed to find a wheel. It wasn’t worth fabricating a steel wheel like on the original, so I looked at thrift stores for an old wheel off a kid’s bike or toy. No luck. Apparently kids in our neighbourhood don’t like donating their bikes for the less fortunate to buy. Back at work, and after cursing the little sh*ts in our neighbourhood for hours, I started scouring the offices and rooms for a wheel. As luck would have it, someone had snapped the casters of a drafting chair, rendering it useless. I helped make it even more useless by removing the foot rest loop which happened to be the perfect size to use as the wheel on the hoe!

The dark green parts are fabricated, while the light green was store bought.

The dark green parts are fabricated, while the light green was store bought.

After making a hub for the wheel and forming two wood handles, I assembled everything to find that I had a hoe that seemed, on frozen ground, to work quite well.

Yes, that is snow on the ground. What better time than now to get the tools ready for the spring!

Yes, that is snow on the ground. What better time than now to get the tools ready for the spring!

If anyone wants the plans as a 3D file or drafting, just post in the comments or email me and I’d be happy to share.

Chive Blossom Vinegar

This time of year the chives are growing well and sending up lots of scapes with flowers atop. We let ours grow in this year to add some colour to the herb garden. With such a bounty of flowers, I started to wonder what they could be used for. A friend of mine had the same thought so I did a quick search online for possible uses.

After typing “cloves” in google and obviously getting the wrong plant in my search results, my brain starting working again and I realized that I had taken dyslexia to a new level. There are lots of recipes out there for making chive vinegar, but I found that quite a few missed some key steps in preserving so I’ve added my version here.

First thing to do is locate chives in bloom. If you don’t have any in your own garden, I’d recommend permanently borrowing some from a friend. To do this, call said friend, invite them out for dinner, and don’t show up. While they are waiting for you, simply let yourself into their back garden and pillage their crops. Cut, don’t pull, the flowers right at the top of the scape. A little green won’t hurt, but too much and the colour of the final vinegar may not be the desired shade.

Once you have a good collection of blossoms, do not wash them. A lot of the recipes online specify washing that flowers. Why? Apparently people are afraid of bugs. Chives are a great insect repellent for your garden and if you do find any creepy crawlies on your flowers, just blow them off. If it really bothers you to think that a tiny insect may be in your vinaigrette, run back into the bubble you live in and breathe in the purified air, and take your medication. If you do wash them, you’ll lose the essence of outside and some of the flavour that the pollen will provide.

Sterilize a glass mason jar by either submerging in cool water and bringing to a boil, or by using a sulphite spray. When you are using even new jars, you must wash them well with soapy water before sterilizing. There is residue from the factory, and this should worry you more than insects.

In a saucepan boil some vinegar. I used white distilled vinegar (p.s. all vinegar in Canada is distilled by law) but you could also use white wine vinegar. Avoid apple cider vinegar as the taste is overpowering.

Stuff your blossoms in the jar and fill within half an inch of the lip with the hot vinegar. When filling your jar with blossoms, it really is the more the merrier. Push down any blossoms that won’t sink.

To create a seal between the jar and the lid, boil the kettle and pour some of the water in a dish with the lid of the jar dropped in. After two minutes, the rubber gasket will soften and then you can place the lid on the jar. Screw on the band (not too tight) and wait. Now stop waiting, and have a look at the liquid. It starts to bleach the flowers of their colour and take on a lovely pink hue. Leave the jar to sit in a dark place for a few weeks before enjoying.

Clove......errrr....... Chive vinegar

If you try this recipe, let me know how it works out for you, or how you dealt with the botulism.

Making a Sussex Trug

While watching Edwardian Farm, we noticed that they were using a really nice wood strip basket to collect fruit in. After looking all over the internet for what it was called, I found that it was a Sussex Trug. The design of the trug was developed over the last few hundred years and is renowned for its strength and durability in the garden.

The internet is an amazing resource where you can always find something on a specific topic. My topic was, “how to make a sussex trug”. Nothing. Then “how to make a trug”. Nothing. All I found was people protecting their trade secrets. Fair enough I suppose, but I just needed some basic information! In the end I found a video that at least discussed materials, and after a few paper models, I’d figured out the sizes and form of the strips.

Traditionally chestnut and willow were used to make the trug. Seeing as neither of those were readily available, I substituted with Baltic birch plywood. This isn’t your run of the mill plywood you get at the local big-box store. This is high quality, voidless, incredibly strong plywood. To simulate the thickness, I used 3-ply (1/8″-ish). The strips were cut with the grain into 60″ strips for the rim and handle, and 30″ strips for the basin.

To bend wood or plywood, you can’t just work it over your knee. The wood won’t shift, and if it does, it will snap. In the past I’ve built steam bending boxes, but at 60″, the strips were too big to construct a box for. Instead, I soaked the plywood in water overnight in a trough I made from some down spout and plastic sheeting. In the morning after soaking for 12 hours, I emptied the cold water and refilled with boiling water.

Soaking the strips of Baltic birch plywood

After another half an hour, the strips were fairly pliable. To create the desired shape of the handle and rim, I made two forms out of two 3/4″ pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) laminated and cut to the right size and shape. I lined the edge of the forms with wax paper to protect the MDF from soaking up any excess water from the strips.

MDF trug forms

With the forms ready to go, I worked quickly to bend the 1 1/4″ strips around the form, securing the strips with a ratchet strap. I left the forms with the Baltic birch wrapped around them in the sun to dry for the afternoon. That evening, I removed the bent pieces from the forms. At this point they loosely hold the shape, but need to be set in place to stay true to the shape.

The trug rim and handle after drying in the sun

Both rim and handle, are made up of three strips laminated together with waterproof glue. To do this, each preformed hoop is placed back on the form with glue between each hoop. It is important to alternate the seam of the hoops to avoid creating a weak point where the hoop will break. With the strips in place with glue between them, the ratchet straps went back on, and the pieces were left overnight to cure. Before bed I plunged the strips for making the basin into the water trough to soak.

The next day I added hot water to the trough as before, and removed the laminated pieces from the forms. After filing and sanding the edges round, I assembled the rim and handle. To hold everything together, I used copper nails. These nails will never rust, and when hammered into the wet basin strips, they leave blue marks in the wood which is pleasing to the eye. I think finding the right nails was probably the most time consuming part of the whole process. After going to Lee Valley and Home Depot, I found copper nails at Canadian Tire that were a little long, so I snipped a little off the end of each one.

Another feature of the trug is the wood feet to keep it upright and from spilling your harvest all over the floor. I used some leftover white poplar from our kitchen cabinet doors that I shaped and sanded to best match what I found on the internet.

Poplar trug feet

With the handle and rim assembled, it’s time to start the tricky part of nailing down the basin strips. Starting in the middle, the largest strip is nailed to the bottom of the handle hoop, then the feet, and finally the rim. As the wood is flexible from its night in the bath, it can be bent, with a little force, to conform to the desired shape. Strip by strip, the basin is assembled, overlapping each strip and carefully nailing each into place. Once complete, the rough looking trug is set out in the sun for the afternoon to finish drying which will set the pieces to their new bent forms.

On the final day, I trimmed all of the excess from the ends of the basin strips, and voilà, the trug is complete!

Side view of the trug

Top view of the finished trug

The trug is now waiting for the first harvest of the season so it can do its duty. At this point, I’m guessing that harvest will be weeds we’ve pulled from the garden. But don’t throw those weeds away! There are lots of things you can make from them. More to come on that in the following days.

Kitchen doors and cabinets are finally installed!

Last fall we started removing the kitchen on the main floor and began to set it up in the basement temporarily, while I finished building the cabinets and doors. The last few months have been nothing but thrilling! Washing dishes in the laundry sink, drying them on racks balanced on the washer and dryer in the poorest lit room ever built. As soon as the washer enters the spin cycle, the house shakes and you feel as though a helicopter is taking off in the basement with a box of glasses and dishes balancing on its landing skids. Somehow we’ve managed to not lose a single dish to our vibrating washer.

But the fun doesn’t end with the dishes! No! There’s also the pure joy of preparing food on a counter top with no sink. Not only is the sink missing, but it’s left behind a huge void in the counter that we cleverly covered over with a melange of cutting boards and strategically placed cardboard. Without this puzzle of wood and card, everything would fall into the waiting garbage bin that resides below the opening.

Luckily, these titillating experiences are about to end. I’ve finally installed the last of the doors and cabinets. We now have an almost complete kitchen. We’ve ordered our counter top and it’s on its way very soon, but I won’t hold my breath. Once in, I can do the finishing work of painting the doors, trimming out and then my better half will put her tiling skills to use on the back splash. I feel a huge relief to have everything installed, and I’m really looking forward to not living in the dungeon that is our basement. We will have a sink in our counter, a dishwasher, microwave and a new gas cooker. All mod cons on one level in one room! What a novelty!

The kitchen looking from the eating area

The kitchen looking from the living room. We removed a wall to open up the kitchen and to allow us to interact with people in the living room more easily.

This is our favourite part of the kitchen; an 89" pantry cabinet. Maximizing storage at its best!

After reading the above, you probably understand why “Long Suffering Wife” isn’t a name given to my partner, but one she has earned over a series of months watching me slowly assemble our dream kitchen.

Finished Cheese Press

I’ve finished my cheese press. I gave up on Friday night and finished assembling it on Saturday. I constructed it from an old maple table we were throwing away at work so there are a few nail holes in some of the pieces (it’s what you’d expect from a table used in a busy workshop). The base of the press is made from a piece of scrap I saved from a chair I built years ago. I CNC cut the base to help drain off the whey and ultimately flood my countertop.

The press is based on the typical Dutch-style cheese press. I had a look around online at what other people had made and modified it based on what I’ll be using it for and the material I had available.

After a coat of oil to protect the wood from staining, it’s ready to go. I’ll post more pictures later when I actually get it going with some cheese in.

By the end of this week we’ll have a hard cheese in the fridge ready to be waxed. The wax is for protecting it, not to remove hair. If you’ve made a cheese that has developed hair, leave it for a bit and see if you can teach it some basic commands or tricks.