the garden project

Making things

Recently, I have been making things:

Rave baby! (Leon with his hands in the air, aged 1 day)

The second one took a bit longer, and is kind of still under construction.

Actually the shed is also still under construction, lacking as it does a door; it has however had front battens added since that picture. Construction post to follow. I’ve also got going with this spring’s planting in the raised beds over the last month — more to follow on that as well.

the garden project

Making raised beds from pallets

Last week I made a fourth raised bed for the garden; like the previous 3, the wood came from a couple of deconstructed pallets rescued from a nearby skip. It took me just over an hour (with power tools: a hand-held circular saw and a drill with screwdriver fitting; add about another 30-60 min if using hand tools), which did not include the time to deconstruct the pallets. Here’s how I went about it (apologies for the lack of as-you-go photos; I wasn’t thinking of blogging it at the time!).

Another of my raised beds, with some broad beans growing in one side. (The other side needs some more compost…)

The basic construction is 3 pallet-planks per side (for a total of 12 needed), cut to the size needed (in my case, 3 paving slab widths on the long sides and 2 on the short, to fit the intended gap). Measure up your planks, and cut them to size.

Long side of raised bed (once complete); 3 135cm planks.

Short side of raised bed (once complete); 3 90cm planks.

The next step is to attach everything together. It’s possible just to nail/screw the planks directly to one another at the corners, but that won’t be very stable. A better bet is to use a thicker piece of wood as a brace at each corner, and screw the planks to that. Happily, pallets are constructed with a couple of nice thick ribs down their middles which are ideal for this. Cut 4 corner braces from this. The length of each brace should match the width of 3 planks, so that it’s the same height as the plank-sides of your raised bed.

Take the first set of three long planks, and two of the corner braces, and screw the planks to the braces at each end. Repeat with the other set of long planks and the other two corner braces. You now have two long sides of a rectangle, each held together by the braces, but not attached to each other.

The bracing piece, shown from the inside (with both long and short sides attached).

Now screw the two sets of three shorter planks into the braces at each end, to make the short sides of the rectangle.

From the outside, planks on two sides screwed to the brace. As a rule, the long and short sides should be the same height, but my planks were slightly different widths and that didn’t quite work out. Aesthetically suboptimal but still perfectly functional!

That’s it! These should be pretty sturdy, especially once filled with soil to strengthen them. You can rest them on existing soil (in my case, where I’ve levered up the paving slabs from the garden), or, if you make them slightly deeper, you can put them straight onto concrete, put cardboard at the bottom and shovel compost in at the top, and treat them as a very large container.

Note on tools and fixings:

  • You can do all of this with a hand saw, and I have done in the past, but a hand-held circular saw makes it all a lot quicker (and in my case, at 7 months pregnant, makes it feasible; I’d have struggled to construct this on my own by hand).
  • Nails can substitute for screws, but they won’t be as secure.
  • Whatever the packet may say, screws go in quicker and easier if you drill pilot holes first. The screwdriver fitting on a power drill is also a godsend, but again, hand tools do the job, just a little slower.
  • A set-square is useful to get the cut lines straight. If you don’t have a set square, all hand saws have a right-angle marker and a 45 degree marker on the handle.

Building a table

I went to a workshop on Wednesday at the OffMarket Freeschool (running for another week yet, with some great workshops still to come!) on furniture building. It was very much about using what you have around: we started out with some thick plywood, a table top, and some lengths of 2×2, and we fetched up with a pretty solid table.

(I also discovered the wonders of a handheld circular saw. Awesomeness.)

The basic principle goes like this:

  • Work out how long you want the table’s legs to be, and cut 4 lengths of 2×2 to that.
    Hint: If you’re starting with 4 separate bits of wood and cutting them all down, it’s a good idea to line them all up next to each other, aligned at one end, and mark the line straight across all four at the other end. If you have pre-cut ends, plan to use those on the floor as they’ll likely be straighter than your cuts.
  • Next, take some pieces of plywood maybe 4-6″ wide for the supports. These will fit under the table, outside the legs, and act to support them. Pieces wider than 6″ are fine, and in fact will be stronger; but remember that you may want to be able to fit your legs under the table, and a support that’s too wide will prevent that (see the photo of the finished table below to understand what I mean here). You want two pieces the same length as each other for the short parallel sides of the table, and another two pieces the same length as each other for the long parallel sides of the table. Put the table-top upside down on the ground and work out where you want your legs to be, then mark up and cut the supports accordingly.
  • Attach the table legs to the supports. Ideally each one should be overlapped at one end, and overlap the next at its other end. In the photo below, the support on the left overlapped the end of the middle support, which in turn overlapped the end of the right-hand support (you can’t unfortunately see this as it’s behind the legs. I should have taken another photo!). Put in one screw per leg side (so two per leg) all round, then go round again putting a second screw in each joint. It is definitely worth drilling a pilot hole first!

    Table upside down on the floor, supports being screwed to legs
  • Turn the whole thing back the right way up, and straighten up the table top. Measure roughly where the middle of each leg is, drill a pilot hole straight through the table top and into the leg, and put a screw through the pilot hole. You want one per leg.
  • That’s it! Table!

    Finished wooden table standing in middle of floor
  • You can adapt the same basic technique to make all sorts of different sizes of tables, but also stools, benches, and anything else with four legs and a top. (We also discussed making something a bit more like a chair, with a slight adaption of the technique.) Our tables were pretty rough-and-ready, but with slightly more careful choice of materials (and maybe a little paint afterwards) you could produce something more elegant.

    And it was fantastic fun!


We are weeds, vegetation…

Yesterday I went down the allotment to harvest weeds.*

Specifically, I dug up a bunch of dandelion roots, and gathered a handful of what I suspected was (and now am sure is) chickweed.  I’ve been reading this fantastic herbalism zine, which told me that both of these are medicinally useful.

Dandelion root can be used to stimulate the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys; or just as a general tonic containing lots of minerals (including iron, potassium, and calcium, all particularly useful if you’re vegan).  To preserve it, dry the roots (wash them and leave them somewhere dark; if you split larger roots down the middle they’ll dry faster), and store them in a sealed container in a cool, dark place.  To use it, make a decoction by putting 1oz of root and 1pt of water in a pan and simmering until the water has reduced by 50%.  Strain and drink.

Chickweed is good as an infusion of dried herb for coughs and hoarseness; and as an infused oil to treat minor skin problems (burns, rashes, itching, dryness).  Alternatively you can just eat the leaves as a salad leaf.  I tried my sample plants after I’d IDed them, and found it quite tasty.  To dry it, it’s best to hang it somewhere dark and warm (but spread on a windowsill is fine if that’s the easiest option for you).  To make an infusion, pour boiling water over the dried herb, cover, and leave for 10-30 min.  To make an infused oil, macerate the dried herb in olive oil, place in a warm sunny window for 2 weeks, strain, and bottle in a dark glass bottle.  (You can make a stronger oil by adding more herbs and leaving for another fortnight.)

I can’t yet report back on how these work (or taste!) as I’m still in the drying stage.  I’ll update in a couple of weeks.

The best bit about all of this is that these are not plants which I have any trouble at all in growing.  Currently the chickweed is popping up all over the squash bed as the squash dies down.  I’m incredibly pleased to find out that there’s something useful (beyond just chucking it in the compost heap) that I can do with it. 

Next task: try to establish whether any of my other weeds are useful.  Sadly I’m not sure we have any yarrow. 

* I planted some broad beans and early dwarf peas, as well — we have an Aphid Problem which means that the only chance to get any actual broad beans is to get the plants up and producing in the spring before the aphids have woken up.  Which in turn means overwintering them.