Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Allotment update...

So time for another allotment related post, time seems to be flying along this year despite that we've managed to get the plot sorted and pretty much ready for veg and such like, we're just waiting for it to grow and in the mean time I've taken down the shed I was using as a work shop and put it up at the allotment, well more or less any way.

This was the plot at the beginning of March -

Not much going on to be honest.

Apart from the two rows of spuds and the broad beans not much else was going on, so all we did was dig over the ground and weed, I did deploy a minion to help spread a bit of fish blood and bone about, she's very good with the rake.

Minion deployed - 

Doing a grand job.

That was about it for March, like I said not much going on, and so onto April, which has proved quite busy, the broad beans are showing signs of life (bit further along now from when the picture was taken) and they've all been nibbled by broad bean weevils, but this shouldn't affect them in the long run.

Broad beans at the start of April -

I plan on planting two lots this year.

The metal shed I had at home was a little past it's best (I'm going to build a new slightly larger wooden one this year) so I decided I'd take it down and use what I could at the allotment, in the end I got a shed the same width, but half the depth out of it, which is just enough to store some tools and materials, I do plan on using part of the roof as a small garden for growing salad stuff, and I've sectioned off part of the inside of the shed so that I can use it as a raised bed for growing tomato plants in, of course I will need to make a window to let light in.

New (to the plot any way) shed - 

Not the prettiest of sheds.

I've also added a water butt (an old plastic bin) to one side of the shed, as per the councils rules that all sheds should have water collection of some kind, the other half of the roof will be a small roof garden, we figured that with using part of the roof and part of the inside of the shed to grow things we haven't really lost any space in having the shed on the plot.

Water butt in place - 

Does the job.

Because it didn't take as long as we thought to put up the shed we also managed to get some more spuds planted, we've now got six rows on the go, some will be ready earlier than the others, we're also growing three different varieties this year, Swift, Pentland Javelin and Maris Piper, the Swifts and the Pentlands are showing signs of growth now, which is good as I had though we'd planted them too early.

We also put in some more garlic, the stuff we planted last year in the autumn is coming along nicely, and along with the spuds and garlic and shallots we put in some french beans,carrots, pak choi, parsnips, beetroot and we've started of this years squash selection in the greenhouse at home, and lastly we put in a couple of rows of mystery brassica's, it was from and offer my wife put in for so we've those to look forward to as well.

French bean rows - 

Six rows in all.

Squashes sown - 

Not quite as many as last year, we're still eating last years.

Maris pipers in the ground and earthed up - 

Can't beat spuds you've grown yourself.

You may have spotted the bins in the last picture, this year we've decided to try forcing some of our rhubarb plants (we have three now) and so far it seems to be going quite well, it's not something we've tried before so we'll have to see how it turns out, forced rhubarb is meant to be sweeter and more tender, and as we have three plants, but we're only forcing two of them we'll be able to compare, which should be fun though it has to be said the bins probably aren't the best thing to use for forcing.

One of our forced rhubarbs - 

It's much bigger since this was taken.

And here's what the plot looks like now, a few weeds, but an hour or so with a hoe will sort that out, since taking on the plot four years ago the amount of weeding we have to do has gone down, I guess persistence pays off in the end.

The plot - 

Soon be full.

Something else that we've started doing is propagating some of our plants, we actually started last year, but we've had some good results which I plan to write about soon, I personally have found taking cuttings and getting them to grow to be quite rewarding.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

First of the year (allotment update)

It's the time of year where I stand looking at our allotment plot and wondering where to start, and thinking about the yearly battle with weeds and the elements and everything else.

Kind of like this - 

Only difference is this bloke looks younger than me.

I've started early this year, mainly because I wanted to sort out a new gate and a path, and try and get the divide between the plots sorted out, so this post is basically the result of 4 days work spread over a few weeks, we are now pretty much ready for the years crops, I've started a load of seeds off in the green house and I've also planted some stuff at the plot.

This is the plot at the end of January -

Where to start?

First things first, the new gate, I did put a gate in when we first got the plot, but it seems this may have caused some confusion as from the front it looked like one plot, when in fact it's two, so that was the first job.

Gate almost done - 

New gate on the left, the old gate I put in on the right.
I used a salvaged fence post for the main gate post, the gate is made from a piece of 4x4 I cut down, once the post was in and secure I hung the new gate on one side of it, and the old gate on the other side, so now there are two defined entrances, one for each plot, and I also increased the height of the divider between the two plots by about a foot.

I covered the gate in old laps from some salvaged fence panels, it's not the best looking gate in the world, but it'll do.

Gate done - 

I did say it wasn't the best looking gate in the world.

I also straightened out the front of the plot, which is basically a large sheet of metal, it had sort of flopped down and bowed out a bit as well, mainly due to it also making up part of the compost bin, I had to dig out a fair amount of the compost to get at the metal sheet, once I had I hammered in a load of large stakes and then fixed the metal to them, the front looked a lot better once done.

Front looking a bit more respectable - 

Not perfect, but better than it was.

And then a Shrew - 

Not a great picture.

Even though it looks like nothing is going on at this time of year, there's still a lot of wildlife about, this little chap ran up to me while I was doing the gate, and no matter what time of year it is as soon as your spade hits the soil robins appear.

And that was that for the first trip, on the next visit I finished sorting out the compost bin, and got the path done.

The plot on the next visit - 

Nice gate, shame about the rest.

It wasn't the best day for working outside, but I got the compost bin sorted, and I got the path done as well, along with a bit of digging, I also used laps from old fence panels to make an edge for the path.

Path done, and some clearing - 

The path isn't as wide as it looks.

So far so good, on the third visit the aim of the game was to move the strawberries, I had already made a raised bed for our asparagus plants, and on the day I got the path done I also managed to build a raised bed at the top of the plot for the strawberries.

I had some help on this visit, the kids did a load of digging all over the place, I'm sure it'll help in the long run (once i fill in the holes) and my wife helped move the strawberries.

After a load of digging and moving and planting we now have a strawberry bed where you can actually see the strawberries, they are now next to the raspberry plants and where the asparagus plants will go, the idea being that these plants won't be moved again, which leaves the rest of the plot for veg.

The rest of the strawberry plants have gone into the pyramid we have in our garden, and a load of tubs as well, in all we have close to two hundred plants now, we started with a lot less when we first got the plot.

New strawberry bed - 

Quite a few plants in here.

The plot when we left - 

Almost ready.

On the last visit it was just a case of digging and a bit of planting, I put in two rows of spuds, I'm trying a few different varieties this year, I also put in a load of onions, not sure they'll do much, must admit I've not had much luck with onions and I also put in a few rows of broad beans, I also had to dig through where the strawberries used to be to get out as many weed roots as possible.

The plot when I arrived - 

Not much left to do, to get it ready for spring.

And after a bit of digging and planting here's where we're at - 

Looking pretty good, just needs some more plants in it.

About a quarter of this is planted up, a bit early perhaps? -

Looks neater if nothing else.

And that as they say was that, I've started off a load of stuff in the greenhouse at home, ready for planting out in a few weeks, we're trying to grow as much as is possible in the space we have, which means cramming in a fair bit more than perhaps is recommended, but so far we've managed to get good crops, and it should show that we are committed to getting the best out of the plot, which seeing as our council has changed the rules a fair bit should go some way to keeping them happy.

Thanks for ready and here's to a good year for growing.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Kids flower presses...

Just a quick post, I meant to get this done a while ago but time seems to have run away with me.

So every year we try and make the kids a few things for their Christmas stockings (yes I know Christmas was a while ago) and this last year I decided to use my wood threading kit to make them some flower presses.

I've made simple flower presses before, which you can read about here (opens in new window) but thought I'd make a slightly more kid friendly press this time, the one in the other post is a bit basic, more functional than anything else.

Here they are -

No they're not upturned tables.

At first glance they do kind of look like little upturned tables, which is what the kids thought they were at first, which made me chuckle I have to say.

The wood for these cost nothing, the plates are made from an old book shelf, and the four screws are made from an old hardwood spindle, obviously a press like these would require a thread cutting kit, either a shop bought one or home made for cutting the threads, I also had to turn the spindle down a bit on my lathe, but you can always try out the how to in the link I posted above for a simpler version which works just as well.

To make these I cut four squares of wood (two for each press) then I drilled four holes in each square of wood, the holes in one half need to be slightly bigger to allow the screw to pass through, but not so big that the plate can slide off it, the holes in the other half need to be the right size for your threading kit.

Here's a picture of one of the screws - 

The screws are quite chunky.

And that's about it really, it's basically a wooden clamp, all that's left to do is cut some squares of cardboard and find something to press, I made these so the kids can press flowers or leaves for use in their various crafting pursuits, I'm also planning on making a much larger press, but for pressing apples and such like.

 With card to pack things out - 

Just needs something to press.

I did also make them some small mushroom ornaments, I've made a few to sell and the kids seemed to like them, so I made some in brighter colours, there's only two in the picture, but I did also make some red ones with white spots for my older daughters who also seem to really like them.

Mushroom ornaments - 

Colour schemes chosen by the kids.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Homemade moulds for wax blocks...

As we have a load of wooden furniture which needs a good waxing from time to time, and because I use a fair amount of wax of the wooden stuff I make it's always good when you can get your hands on a load of wax cheaply, and through our free-cycling escapades we've recently acquired a load of wax, about 2kg in fact for free.

Here's some of it -

Looks like toffee, doesn't taste like it.

What sort of wax is it ? well as far as I can tell it's a mixture of beeswax and carnauba wax, where's it from ? well again my best guess is it's actually a type of mould releasing agent for the use in fibre glass moulding, and it smells a lot like the polishing sticks I use on turned wood sometimes, which are a blend of beeswax and carnauba wax, and some oils.

This is all well and good, but in it's current form it's not that easy to use, mainly because it's very hard, and although it would be okay on hard woods, it would most likely scratch softer woods.

So how to process the stuff ? well that's easy enough, we just need to melt it, but before we do we also need something to put it in, as in a mould of some sort.

I made two moulds, which will give me slightly different sized wax sticks, which I can use for various things, to start I got a couple of blocks of wood and marked out (roughly) some rectangles.

Moulds marked out -

The squiggly line is where I'll remove the wood.

Next thing to do is remove the wood to make some cavities, to do this I used forstner bits and a post drill, large drill bits or spade bits would do just as well.

Cavities made -

This is the smaller of the two moulds.

I used a small drum sander to tidy the cavities up a little, I wasn't being too fussy to be honest.

Cavities sanded (roughly it has to be said) -

Why the holes and the extra bit of wood ?

You may have noticed the extra bit of wood and the holes I've drilled in each bit, I have a little experience with moulding things, and decided that even though I'd be lining the moulds with foil I might still need a way to get the wax blocks out once set should they stick, hence the holes, these are for pins that are fixed into the other bit of wood, the idea being that once the wax has set I can just push the pin plate into the holes in the mould and push the wax blocks out, I clamped the two bits of wood together to make sure the holes lined up when I drilled them out.

I made the pins from a small bit of dowel - 

A spot of glue on each one fixes them in place.

Everything lines up - 

Seems to work as intended.

Right onto making some wax blocks, this as I mentioned is just a case of melting the wax, now at this stage you can think about adding extra stuff to the wax, essential oils for example if you want a nice smelling wax, or you can add oils like linseed oil, tung oil etc for a softer wax, you can even add tints to the wax, which is something I intend to experiment with.

To melt the wax you should use a double boiler, or a glass bowl over some boiling water, like you would use to melt chocolate (probably not a glass jar in a pan of water as I have)

Melting the wax - 

How to stress out your wife in one easy step.

I added a little raw linseed oil to this batch just as the wax was starting to melt as I wanted a softer wax, and as things were progressing I lined my mould with tin foil, cling film would probably melt and may cause problems when it comes to getting it off the wax once set.

Mould lined - 

Ready for wax.

Wax poured (and now we wait) - 

Should be set in an hour or two.

And here's the finished block - 

Looks like caramel, doesn't taste like it.

The foil came off the wax easily, although it did leak a bit and the block had stuck to the base of the mould, having the pins to push the block out where handy, and worked well (better than I thought if I'm honest)

To use the stick (which is much softer with a bit of linseed oil) is just a case of rubbing it on the surface of what ever you want to polish, I tested it on our kitchen table, which takes a pounding most days, so is in frequent need of a coat of wax.

Once a liberal coat of wax is on the wood all you need to do is buff with a soft cloth, it does take a bit of elbow grease, but it's worth it in the end.

Here's the table top before waxing - 

It's quite dry, so the oil will help feed it, the wax will protect it.

Apply wax and buff, minion deployed - 

Buffing commences.

My minion gave up after a few minutes so I finished the job off, and after about ten minutes (including applying the wax) the table now has a nice shine to it.

Finished - 

Not bad.

And that's that, it does buff to a nice shine, and it will last a bit longer because of the carnauba wax, which is quite a hard wax, next I intend to make some tinted sticks to use on turned pieces, and as we have a load of wax we should be okay for polish for a while, not bad, and free.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Simple Walnut shell pincushion...

So another year begins, and seeing as Christmas has just gone you may have some stuff lying about, specifically nuts.

We don't normally get nuts in their shells, but this year as I've been making nutcrackers we got a small bag, well I had to test the nutcrackers out.

The thing is what do you do with all the shells once you've eaten the good bit? well as it turns out Walnut shells are quite useful for making pin cushions, all you need to do is stuff them with something you can stick pins in.

Okay so it's not a new idea, I've recently seen something similar in one of our museums but it is easy to do, and you can put any empty shells you might have to good use, maybe make some for the next Christmas ?

 Here's the two I've made so far -

Perfect home for pins.

To make these all you need is a Walnut, crack it open, but do it as carefully as possible as you want the shells intact with no cracks, I've found that using a flat bladed knife and prising the shell open works quite well.

Once you have your Walnut halves if there are any sharp edges give them a rub with some sand paper.

Shells ready for their cushions (these have been sprayed with clear lacquer)


Of course you can paint the shells in any colour you like, I've sprayed a couple with silver paint, and then finished them off with a coat of clear lacquer.

Silver shells -

Quite pleased with how they turned out.

Once your shells are done all you need to do is make a small cushion and stuff it in the shell, making the cushion is easy, I'm not known for my needle craft skills, but if I can do it anyone can.

Get a rough circle of material, about 5cm across, I used red and black velvet for each of the two I made, but any small scrap of material will do.

Material - 

I did say rough circle.
Then I took a wad of stuffing (the stuff you find in cushions and such like) and stuffed it in the middle of the material, then I stitched up the end, so basically what I made was kind of like a draw string bag.

Stuffing -

From an old cushion.

Pin cushion nearly done - 

I had to trim some off, it was a little big.

The cushion after I'd trimmed of the extra material - 

Should fit a bit better now.

Then all I did was stuff the cushion into the shell, I didn't need to use any glue to secure the cushion, but it would probably be best to use a bit just in case.

And here are the finished pin cushions - 

All done.

Simple to make, and a good use of what would other wise end up on the compost heap or in the bin, and they make nice little gifts for people, you could add a bit of Velcro to the bottom so that it can be attached to a wrist band, or a sewing machine, this would also stop the pin cushion rolling about.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wood threading kit...

For some time now I've looked at making threads in wood, and although I've found many solutions, I've not really been that sure I'd be able to replicate what I've seen, so to that end I decided to buy a ready made set, this one came from Axminster.co.uk it's a great kit...

Here it is -

Looks familiar ?

If you've ever done any type of metal work, specifically making threads and such like then this may look familiar, it is basically a tap and die set for wood, and works in pretty much the same way.

You make a hole in the wood, and using the tap you make the internal thread that the bolt part will bite into, it helps to oil the tap before hand, I used linseed oil.

Like so - 

Oiling the tap first makes a difference.

The cut internal thread (the nut if you will) - 

Not very clear, but you can make out the thread.

To make the bolt (external thread) you use the cutting box, using a bit of oil on the wood and leaving it for a few minutes makes a difference, you get a much cleaner thread.

The cutting box - 

You can just about see the cutting blade.

Wood ready for threading - 

I used some oil on it to make cutting smoother.

Thread cut - 

Nice and neat.

It's a good tool to have and I'm thinking of numerous things I can make with it, apart from the stuff I've already made that is, the parts I'm making in the pictures above are for something I've made for the kids Christmas stockings, but I can't tell you right now what they are as there are beady eyes everywhere.

One of the things I've made so far are nut crackers, I've made two so far, the first being a test using some scrap wood, but it turned out well, and it works, I had though the pine I used for the bowl part would crack under the pressure, but it's holding up well, the second one I made is a bit bigger, probably too big, but again it worked well.

The nutcrackers - 

Test piece made from scrap wood.

 And another, this is made in part from pallets - 

Despite it being a bit big I'm quite pleased with it.

After I made these I started to wonder what else I could make, and as it happens we were in need of a new tape dispenser (our old one broke) so I thought hey lets see if I can use the thread cutting kit and make a new tape dispenser, again it's made out of scrap bits of wood.

The tape dispenser - 

Slightly over engineered it has to be said.

I cut the basic shape out of some old shelves, the centre ring that holds the roll of tape is also made from old pine shelves, the nut that holds the ring is made from part of an old beech table leg (there's a reason it's not pine) I reused the tape cutter from the old dispenser, I was going to make a new one, but it was easier to use the old part.

The various parts of the tape dispenser - 

If you're going to do it, you might as well over do it.

As you can see the wooden ring goes inside the tape roll, and sits in the middle of the dispenser, and the bolt holds it in place, not to blow my own trumpet, but this works better than the old one, the old dispenser had a habit of spitting the roll of tape out, this doesn't plus it would probably withstand a small explosion, it's a bit heavy.

The reason I didn't make the bolt part out of pine as well is because it doesn't take a thread very well at all, even with oiling first the cutting box just chewed the wood to bits, which is why I used beech for the bolt part of the nut crackers as well.

As you can see here - 

Not great.

A wood with a tighter grain seems to work much better for making the external thread, although pine seems okay for the internal thread which I don't mind as I like to combine woods now and then, I'm looking forward to making loads of other things using wooden threads, and I'm probably going to get some more of these kits, but in a smaller size, I may even try my hand at making some of my own.

Thanks for reading.