Saturday, 11 June 2016

Couple of sticks and a bit of string...

That's all it takes to make big bubbles, well that and a washer...

It's been a nice warm day today, and as is often the case the kids were in the garden blowing bubbles, so I decided to finally make a bubble wand and prove that a bit of string tied to two sticks makes bigger bubbles than they could blow with those little round plastic things, I know this isn't a remotely new idea, but my kids haven't seen one so they still think I'm a wizard.

Making one is easy, take two sticks and either drill holes in the end or you can just tie the string to the sticks, as I used some spare dowel I drilled holes.

Before you tie the string together slide a couple of washers onto the string, or a bead or anything that has a bit of weight to it, the idea being that the washer (weight) will cause the string to sag in the middle forming a rough triangle shape.

Here's a diagram - 

Here's a few pictures of the one I made - 

Washer - 
Any kind of weight will do.

End of left stick - 

Left stick.

End of right stick - 

Right stick.

The whole thing - 

That looks like it might work.

And that's about it, it's really simple and works well you can make it any size you want, obviously the longer the string the larger the bubbles you can use any old sticks as long as they are sort of straight I used the type of string that you'd use for tying parcels up with (it was the first thing I grabbed) and in all it took about five minutes (if that) to make and the kids used it until they ran out of bubble mixture.

Large bubble blowing commences - 

The cat wasn't as impressed as the kids.

Even bigger - 

They seem to be getting the hang of it.

It was good to see that something this simple can hold their attention for so long, I suspect that had we had a gallon or two of bubble mix, or let them use all our washing up liquid they'd still be out there, and that may well be the down side, it'll cost a fortune in bubble mix or washing up liquid, but it's worth it to hear them laugh and gasp in amazement at the size of bubbles they can make.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Bookmarks from a scrap bit of wood...

I have a lot of random bits of wood from various sources, left overs from jobs and projects, and also from keeping the garden in check, recently I cut a couple of fairly big branches off a Sycamore that over hangs our garden, most of which I used as poles for growing things up, I'm in the process of fan training some of our fruit trees, I had some left over and decided to make myself a book mark or two in much the same way as the one I made for my wife.

For a small Christmas present I made my wife this bookmark as she kept using random bits of paper, letters or anything thin enough to stick in a book so I figured she should have a proper one so I cut a slice of cherry root and made her one with an owl on the top.

This one -

Pretty simple, but it looks better than an old letter.

As it turns out I'm just as bad for using random things as bookmarks and I decided I should have a bookmark as well, so using a bit of the Sycamore branch I set about making some bookmarks, the first thing is slicing up the branch, this can be done with a hand saw as long as you're careful, a band saw would be better, but I don't have one so a hand saw it was.

I took the branch and clamped it in my vice and just cut down roughly in several places to create slices, the wood was still a bit wet and the centre piece started to split so I wrapped a load of tape round the end and left the wood to dry out (I left it about a week)

Branch sliced and wrapped - 

The cuts are straight (ish)

Split centre slice - 

Still got some usable bits.

After a week I cut the slices off the branch apart from the centre one they where okay and had no splits so it was on to making them a bit thinner.

Wood slices - 

Loads of bookmarks.

To thin out the slices I made a guide that I could clamp into my vice, it's basically a piece of wood with another piece attached to one end, but not flush so that it creates a crude height guide and stops the wood sliding off the wood, once I had my guide I started planing.

Planing (and some sanding) commences - 

Some nice green patterns in the wood.

Now I could have left it there, it would be fine as a bookmark, but i thought I'd add a bit extra to it like I did with the owl one, so I went with dragons.

To get the dragon design onto the wood I printed out something I liked and then on the other side of the paper I covered the design in pencil, once that was done I taped the piece of wood to the paper and using some embossing tools I went over the outline and transferred it to the wood.

Design printed out (this was one of two) - 

I liked it, but you can choose anything you like.

Back covered in pencil - 

Make sure it's all covered.

Wood taped on to stop it moving about - 

Taped down well.

Embossing tools at the ready -

Cheap to buy online, handy for all sorts of things.

To transfer the design is just a matter of going over the printed part, pencils will work fine for this, I use the embossing tools mainly for drawing on thin metal but with wood they tend to indent it which helps for the next step.

Transference complete - 

Time for burning.

Once I'd got the design transferred I got out my wood burning (pyrography) tool and set about going over the design, if you don't have a pyrography tool you could always try it the old fashioned way, ever heard of poker work ? 

It's what people used before pyrography tools were invented, basically as far back as the Egyptians (and probably further) people have heated up small tools and burnt designs into wood, a small nail would do, as long as you insulate the end you hold, you could try a soldering iron, or why not paint a design ?

Design burned in - 

I need a lot more practice.

And I could have left it there, but no I decided to partly cut out each design with my scroll saw, which could also be done by hand with a coping saw, you could probably carve them using a dremel type tool as well.

All cut out - 

Ready for bookmarking.

Better test one out to make sure it works - 

Road test results are in... it works.

And if you want something more simple you could cut out a basic shape and experiment with a bit of colour, but remember to seal the wood with wax or varnish otherwise the colour could leak onto the books pages.

An experiment in colour - 


Believe it or not I used printer ink from one of those refill kits you can buy cheaply, but wood dyes work just as well and felt tipped markers would probably give similar results once the ink has soaked into the wood.

I have used some tools that people may not have, but all you really need is a hand saw a wood plane and some sandpaper all of which can be bought for less than £10 and you can always prepare a load of wood slices and let the kids design their own bookmarks on a day when it's chucking it down with rain outside.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Growing horseradish...

A natural progression for most gardeners is to go from buying seeds and plants to propagating your own, this has it's rewards and it's down sides.

The rewards are obvious, you save money, you learn how plants work and you also learn what works and what doesn't when it comes to propagating, and therein lies one of the down sides, sometimes things fail, you can read all the books, you can read the internet but it doesn't always work the trick (in my opinion) is to not give up, try again and in all honesty if I hadn't adopted this way of thinking our garden would be concrete and devoid of any plant life, I have failed a lot.

So what's that got to do with horse radish ? well horseradish is an easy plant to grow and it's easy to propagate, this will be the first of many (I hope) posts on how we go about growing things from cuttings and such like, I won't say our way is the right way simply because different things work for different people, it's just the way we do it.

Horseradish is in the same family of plants as cabbage and broccoli and similar plants, but unlike those plants which are usually grown from seed you can usually find horseradish in root form, this is how we bought our years ago, we got a small bit of root in a plastic bag.

Here it is now -

I need to remove the flowers.

As you can see we grow it in a pot (probably needs a larger one) the reason for that is it will spread if grown in the ground and it'll spread a lot, this one needs the flower heads removing, as we want the root there's no need to keep the flowers, if left it will have small clumps of white flowers, however any seeds it produces will most likely be sterile and not grow, so root cutting is the best way to go.

Taking root cuttings is easy and this applies to other plants and not just horseradish, I took three sections of root from the main plant earlier on in the year before it had started growing, around March time.

When it looked like this - 

It's not some kind of demon.

I lifted the plant from the pot and took three longish cuttings, all three have a lot of thin roots on them, but it doesn't matter if there are no small roots, each bit was about four inches long.

Root cuttings -

Time for potting.

Then all I did was put the three cuttings into pots and filled the pots with a mix of compost from our compost bins and shop bought compost, shop bought compost will be fine if you don't make your own compost.

Ready for soil - 

It will grow quickly.

Time to wait and see what happens - 

Fingers crossed.

And a couple of months later we have signs of life - 

The largest of the three.

It doesn't get much simpler and now we have four plants with which to make our own horseradish sauce, or rather I have four plants I can make sauce from, no one else in the house likes it.

I will be planting these and the original plant into much larger tubs so the roots can get nice and long, now all I need is a good recipe for horseradish sauce.

There are other plants you can do this with both edible and non-edible, Ginger for one, just buy a bit from the supermarket and grow from that, although it does require a different approach, Turmeric is another one, if you've ever seen Turmeric roots in a shop you can also get these to grow in a pot, and again once the plants get bigger simply divide them up, take what you need and as long as you keep a few bits of root you'll always have plants so taking root cuttings is a good and easy way to propagate plants.

Our Turmeric is just starting to grow again -


Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Allotment updates 2016 edition...

And so a new year (yes I know it's been a new year for a few months) and as ever there's loads to do on the plot, so here's where we're at with the allotment so far this year.

I started a little later this year, and this is what greeted us, which to be honest isn't bad at all -

The plot as of February -

As usual weeding is the order of the day.

After deciding to start at the top and work down I set about weeding around the raspberry plants and weeding out the strawberry and asparagus beds, this didn't take too long.

Bit of weeding done - 

Starting to look better already.

The other thing I did on this visit was to tidy up the path and put the mulch down, we do this every year, and we use the cuttings from the privet hedges we have around the house, normally I shred them and leave them in black bags over winter, then come spring we clear any weeds from the path and cover it in mulch, I also keep the saw dust from my wood working exploits to use on the path as well.

Path tidied and mulched - 

Path done.

Having put the main part of the path in a while ago I decided it was time to sort out the rest of it, so I marked out a small path that goes round our raised beds at the top of the plot, and then decided that rather than have string or some kind of edging like with the rest of the path I'd make some kind of framework, that way we can grow stuff, like peas, beans etc up it.

Frame work started - 

Bit wobbly, but it's a start.

And apart from more digging and putting in some garlic and shallots that was it for February.

So on to March.

March was much the same as February, more digging and weeding, and a bit more planting, I also finished off the frame work around the top section of path.

Path frame work done - 

Blue string to hold it together, it's what I had at the time.

Framework from another angle - 

Might be a bit 'rustic' but it works.

Time for some planting, first thing in was broad beans (Wilkinsons The Sutton variety) usually people plant broad beans and over winter them, but to be honest from my experience at least it seems to make no difference in how quick you get beans if you plant at the end of the year or whether you plant at the start of the year (around March) yes the plants will be a bit further along if over wintered, but they soon catch up when planted at the start of the year.

Beans in - 

Here's to a good harvest of beans.

I also planted a load of peas along the line of the new framework, this will stay where it is and we'll also grow other things up it as the year goes by, after the peas it'll be french beans (saved from last year) fingers crossed they won't get eaten like last year.

Peas in (I used Kelvedon wonder, they do well here) - 

You can't tell but there are peas there.

Next spuds, planting two different varieties this year, the first being reds (Rooster) and some whites (Maris piper) both are good spuds, and this year I'm planting them lengthways along the fence between our plot and the next plot, usually I plant them across the plot, but I've noticed that there's a slight slope towards the fence and when watering the water tends to run that way, so I figured I'd try planting the spuds along that side and in theory they'll get more water, the spuds at the end of the rows when we've grown across the plot always seem bigger and the plants do better.

Spud planting - 

We shall see if they do better grown this way.

I also put in a load of other stuff, carrots (autumn king) spinach (saved seed) pak choi (saved seed) chard (bright lights, beta vulgaris) beetroot (boltardy) turnips (snowball) and radish (sparkler 3 mix) and some mooli (mino early) most of the other things we'll grow this year (squashes etc) have been started off in the greenhouse at home and will soon be ready for planting out.

I also relocated our rhubarb plants from the bottom of the plot to the top of the plot, so now all the fruit type plants are near the shed, the rhubarb will get more shade there and from looking at other plots it seems to do better at the top end of a plot.

And that was March done - 

About half of the plot is doing something, or should be.

I only made one trip to the plot in April, on a decidedly wet day I figured it would be a good time to plant some onions (Stuttgarter) now onions are something I never seem to do well with, but I'm not giving up, it's odd as I can grow leeks, garlic, shallots pretty well, but onions not so much.

Onions in - 

The green things in the top right are leeks, those I can grow.

And that was it, as yet I haven't been back to the plot (but it's only just turned May) I will finish digging over and tidying up and fixing things in the next week or so, and then it'll be ready for the stuff in the greenhouse.

The story so far - 

It was a soggy day.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Industrial style lamps...

In this (long) post I will be turning two lamps into two lamps, which may sound counter productive, but bare with me, you can skip to the end of this post for the finished lamps and a short video of them working.

We have had two bedside lamps for many many years and to be honest they have become a bit tatty and they aren't in the best shape any more, so I decided to recycle them into something a little more to our liking, all I bought for this project was the two vintage look bulbs and the large chunk of Oak (which I got cheap) everything else I already had.

One of the old lamps (I'd already cannibalised the other one) -

Seen better days.

I could have just bought some cable and a switch, but these lamps are touch lamps, the ones that have four settings (dim, bright, argh! my eyes and who turned out the lights?) and as we wanted to keep this feature I took the guts out of the lamps and basically made some new bases out of wood.

Wood for bases - 

Home made Lady Rainicorn for scale.

The wood is four foot of air dried English Oak (around 5 inches by 4 inches) that I got for £10 from gumtree, I cut two sections (both around 8 inches long) out of the wood, which has a few flaws in the way of checks and shakes, but it is a lovely bit of wood.

Bases ready for processing - 

Centres & mark for where bulb holder will go.

Firstly I routed out the top of each block with a round over bit, I had thought I'd just leave them as blocks, but I prefer the rounded look.

Have bit, will route - 

I used the largest one I had.

Top routed - 

Better than plain.

Next I had to hollow out the wood so that I could fit the electrics into the bases, this was easier said than done, it seems my ageing router doesn't like Oak very much, well it is nearly twenty years old now, but it got there in the end.

Marked for routing - 

Time to hollow it out, might have to fill those cracks.

Routing begins, I used a router guide first, then did the rest by eye - 

I hollowed out about an inch and half in depth.

Once I'd hollowed out the block (to about an inch and half in depth) I then went round the edge again using a router guide to create a recess so that I could cover the electrics with a thin piece of plywood.

Recess done - 

Not the neatest job, but it will all be covered with green felt.

Next the hole for the bulb holder, I'm using different bulb holders for the new lamps, so a standard bayonet fitting rather than the small Edison screw that the old lamps had, because the ones I had lying about where cone shaped I had to first cut a hole then make it slightly cone shaped so that the bulb holder sat nicely inside, I used a 35mm forstner bit in my post drill to cut the hole.

Hole cut, on to making it a better fit for the bulb holder - 

It took a while to get all the way through.

To make the hole a better fit for the bulb holder I used a sanding drum in my post drill and basically sanded out the first half an inch of the hole so that the widest part of the bulb holder fit snuggly inside, I haven't used any glue to fix it.

Sanding for a better fit - 

Not very accurate, but it works.

Hole sanded out - 

Difficult to so, but it is slightly bigger now.

Checking bulb holder for fit, fit is good, onwards - 

Bonus, that worked well.

Mains cable exit drilled - 

I'll be using cable clamps as well.

Now for the metal plate that will act as a switch for the lamps, the old ones were all metal and as such you could touch them any where and they'd turn on and off, with these lamps I've made a copper disc that acts as the switch.

So on the opposite end of the lamp base I cut out a hole using a 44 mm forstner bit, the idea being that the copper disc will sit inside this hole snuggly and will be connected to the control module.

Hole for switch done, slight mistake needs sorting - 

That'll take some sanding.

As I went to cut the hole the wood moved and I snagged the edge, so I cut the hole a little deeper and sanded the top until the mark was gone, which took a while even with a belt sander, once that was done I cut a thin bit of plywood to fit into the base to cover the electrics.

Plywood cut - 

Should hold things in place.

Both bases done, now for some power - 

You can see what they'll look like.

For the switches I cut two discs of copper and polished them up - 

Need a bit of tidying up.

Tidied and polished (using a buffing wheel) - 


Right time to cram the gubbins into the base, this was easy as I'd basically just taken the guts out of the old lamps and stuck them in the new bases, you can buy these touch lamp modules online for a few pounds, they are easy to wire and most will come with instructions.

Electrics in place - 

Plenty of room.

As this type of touch lamp module works using capacitance I had to make sure that the yellow wire from the module was poking through the hole I'd made in the base, the idea is that the wire sits under the copper disc and when you tough the disc the light turns on, dims and such like, because the disc is a tight fit it clamps the wire very well and makes a good contact, I could have soldered the wire to the underside of the disc, but it's not needed.

Last few things to finish up, I cut pieces of green felt for the bases, this covers the plywood and my shoddy routeing and also stops the lamps scratching the bedside tables, and I took the cable clamps of the old lamps and used them on the new ones so there's no danger of the wiring being pulled out.

Felt ready for gluing onto the base - 

Green goes well with the Oak.

Re-used cable clamps, which I glued into the wood for extra hold - 

Better safe than sorry.
And that's it, not much to them really as I've re-used the old lamps electrics, and with the bits left over from the old lamps and what I have in my supplies I can make two new lamps and two candle sticks, so really I'm making four new lamps and two candle sticks from two old lamps, it's better than sending them to landfill.

Finished lamps (with vintage look bulbs) - 

I think they turned out well.

Here's a video of them working - 

And when it's dark they look like two exclamation marks - 

It wasn't planned honest.

Thanks for reading.