Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Homemade plant pot maker ... ...

As an avid gardener I'm always on the look out for ways to make things easier for myself, and even better if it's cheap (or free) and I can recycle some stuff.

Not so long ago I was looking about at various websites when I came across a plant pot maker, now as the name suggests it's a tool for making plant pots, but out of newspaper, the ones I saw were made of wood, and I thought they were great, basically when it comes to seed sowing time you use this little gizmo to make paper pots, then you sow your seeds in the pots and when the plants are ready you just plant the whole thing, save time and money and you don't have to disturb the plants roots by removing them from pots, which isn't always easy to do.

I could have bought one, you can get them from various websites for a reasonable price (just google "plant pot maker") but I figured I could save a few quid if I made one myself, and it's easier as I have a lathe, I could have made one by hand, using a hammer and chisels, but I wanted a more polished tool, and besides I enjoy making things.

So off to the mole cave, which in this weather is more than a little cold (it's not really a cave, it's a shed, I bet you guessed that already) And after rooting around in my pile of wood I found an old section of fence post which I found last year and used part of for making a collett chuck.

I cut 2 sections off the post, 1 for the handle and 1 for the base, as the post was 6 inches square it required a little bit of turning to get it round, but the finished result is easy to use and has a nice feel, but it has been made to fit my hand so I guess it would feel okay to me.

Here it is -

I didn't notice the hole until I'd started turning it.
Not much to look at really, I didn't get too fussy with it, just added a little detail to the handle and gave the base a little bit of a curve, as the caption says I didn't notice the hole until I'd started turning the wood, but in all honesty I quite like the fact that it's not perfect, it does the job I made it for, which is what matters.

Another picture, this time with some pots - 

It works !!!
I made a couple of pots to see if it would actually work, I did spend some time whilst I was turning it to get it quite precise in terms of measurements on the parts that actually push the paper to make the base nice and secure.

You can use newspaper, which means you can have another use for the newspapers before you chuck them in the recycling bin, or you can use other types of paper, in the picture above I used a bit of red paper that we have for the kids to do crafty stuff with, it worked just as well, so if you use red paper you could give plants as presents in attractive biodegradable pots ;-)

All in all I am pleased with it, it will save money (it didn't cost anything to make) and it will save time, which I seem to have less and less of these days, and making the pots takes about a minute or so and is easy to do, as the next lot of pictures will show.

Step one, get some paper (newspaper is good)

Tear the paper into strips, roughly the size you want your pots, remember to leave about an inch over hanging, then start rolling it around the handle.

Step one picture - 

Rolling the paper.
Step two, once you have rolled the paper into a tube you need to fold the over hanging end in on it's self.

Step two pictures - 

Leave some paper over hanging.
Then fold the ends in.

Fold the paper in towards the middle.
Once that's done you then need to get the base and push the handle into it, this will make sure the end is secure and stop the plant and soil falling out of the bottom when you pick it up, push it in as hard as you can, I've found giving it a little twist helps as well.

Sealing the pot base.
And you should end up with a pot, the base should look like the picture below.

The pot base - 

You get the idea right ?
If not here's another picture with a couple of pots I made earlier - 

Pot bases.

Pot maker with finished pot - 

Easy as, and free plant pots, bargain.
It's simple to do, and doesn't take long to make a load of pots, you will need to keep them in some sort of tray, they will obviously get wet when watered and may not be quite so sturdy, they are paper after all, but they should stay together well enough to be transported to the planting site and planted. I figured I would make a lot more garden related items before spring, things like a new dibber.

Just a quick update, and I probably shouldn't point this out if I plan on selling these things, but you don't actually need a tool like this to make paper pots, or course it helps, but if you used a plastic tube, about the size you wanted you could wrap the paper round it in the same way and then just fold the ends in and maybe put something down the tube to help fix the base of the pot.

Of course having you very own pot making tool is preferable ;-)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I've got a lovely bunch of... bird feeders ?

It's the time of year when our feathered friends may be having a little trouble finding a good meal, so why not help them out a bit ?

Just lately our youngest has developed a taste for coconuts, or rather coconut milk, it started when I got a couple from the supermarket so I could use the shells, it's amusing to watch her sitting on the sofa with a straw sticking out of a coconut with out a care in the world, it's what's great about having kids.

So onwards, I got the coconuts to use the shells for making bird feeders, not original I know, but as it gets colder we like to help the birds out a little, we don't feed them everyday but we do try and make sure they can at least get a meal every few days.

I built a bird table a few years ago and up until this year it was pretty much all we used, we would just make up some food and lay it out on the table, with a bag of peanuts hanging on one side and a seed feeder on the other, so as to give a mixture of things to eat, and we have had some interesting visitors, we regularly get magpies and jays in the autumn and winter, we get robins,wrens,finches and on occasion we even get a greater spotted woodpecker, we also get great tits,blue tits and a whole load of other birds.

This year though we decided to try and get some more into the garden, so we used the coconut shells as feeders as well and we've hung them in trees to offer a little cover and some near to the front room window as well, mainly because we dabble in photography and we figured we might get some good pictures.

Here's the coconut feeders -

Bird feeders ready to go.
All you need to do is drill a hole for some string to go through so you can hang them on something, it helps if you manage to crack the coconuts more or less in half, then you can pack them with food.

The food is easy enough to make, we have tried different things but settled on doing things the same way now, it works, and it gets a lot of interest from the kids, they love to watch the birds in the morning and evening feeding and flying about the garden, they get to learn about birds and how they behave, so we kind of use it as an educational tool as well, our son is especially interested in them.

We hang the feeders near to trees in order to provide a little cover for the birds, it seems to work, all the feeders get emptied pretty quickly.

Here's one in one of our twisted willow trees - 

The smaller birds like this one a lot.
And I've also made one from scratch similar to the ones you can buy, this was to see if it was easy for my son to have a go at, but to be honest the coconut method is probably the easiest you can get.

Here's the one a made a while ago - 

Complete with bird :-)
This one is hanging about two metres from the front room window, and it does get a lot of attention from a variety of birds, mainly the smaller ones and this young starling, the picture was taken last year.

Right here's what we tend to use for our bird food. We buy the 1kg bags of seeds you can get from places like poundland, the Bill Oddy ones, they have a good mix of things that different birds like, and they are cheap, we've also bought packets of meal worms when they have them.

We basically get out the blender and chuck in some seeds, a little bread, about a slice (we make our own bread, so we usually have a slice spare) then we use either a fat ball or a small bit of lard (27p per block from Tesco) or some other type of fat, the bacon juices from the grill go down well and it helps to stick everything together.
You can add bits of apple, the blackbirds like this a lot, we have even used small bits of cheese, and other fruits, pears etc you can also chuck in a little cooked bacon rind, some of the larger birds like this, like magpies, and peanuts (not salted) Just mix it all in a lump, you can use a large bowel and then pack it into your coconuts the birds will love it, you can of course just buy them, but it's more fun for the kids this way (if you use a blender don't mix it for too long, you don't want to break the seeds down too much)

It's okay just to lay the mixture out on a bird table as well, but we wanted to encourage the birds to come a little closer to the house so the kids could see them better and so we could photograph them.

As we grow a variety of sunflowers we usually take the seeds we need for next year and lay the heads about the garden for the birds, this requires a little more work on their part but they seem to like them, so if you grow a sunflower in a pot lay the head some where for the birds, the sunflower hearts are very good for them at this time of year, it'll help them fatten up a bit.

Sunflower heads - 

Ready for the birdys.

Before I go I thought I would include some photographs taken by us of some of the birds we get in the garden, some were taken last year, they aren't the best but you'll get the idea.

Thanks for reading (pictures below)

Robin on our bird table (taken in the winter) - 

We get robins every year.

A magpie, we have had regular visits from these for the last few years, they are quite nervy birds, they don't stay long on the table, they take what they want and fly up to the large sycamore tree at the bottom of the garden to eat what ever they got, still nice to watch them.

Remember to salute them if you see them, bad luck if you don't ;-)
Next up, a great tit looking through sunflower seeds from our sunflowers, the smaller birds will almost always go for the sunflowers if they are about, then go for the food if there's no sunflowers.

Seems to know what it's looking for.
And then we have the jay's they have only been coming for a bout a year or so, they prefer the peanuts, but will go on the table for other stuff if there's no nuts, we have a pair that visit in the winter months on an almost daily basis, maybe you could make a project out of your bird watching, you could write down what birds ate what food, how they ate it, did they take it to a tree to eat, or just stay on the table ?

The jays - 

They don't seem to have any trouble getting the nuts.
Another jay in a tree - 

Don't know what it's looking at.

Make your own chunky knitting needles... ...

If you've read the last post I did you'll know I have been adventuring into the realm of knitting, with pretty good results (I'm happy at least) We now make our own floor and dish cloths, mainly because ours our better than bought ones, and last longer, and when finished with they can be composted, sounds like a winner to me.

Anyway I mentioned in the post about other applications for knitting, and I came up with the idea for knitting hanging baskets, admittedly this isn't a new idea, but I decided to ponder it a little, and after trying to knit with some fairly thick string I figured I'd need bigger needles to actually have a proper go, either that or some thinner string, I was feeling creative so I went for making the needles in the end, and here's how I did it.

Okay so I've kind of cheated a little, mainly because I bought two lengths of 12mm dowel for the needle shafts, at a cost of 68p each, so £1.36 for the pair, I could have turned the shafts on my lathe, but if I'm honest it was the last qualifying session of the 2010 formula 1 season and I didn't want to miss it, and in my defence I didn't actually have any wood as long as this, or that I wanted to turn down to 12mm, I have plenty of wood, it's just marked for other projects and such like.

So with my two lengths of dowel I trundled down to the mole cave and set about putting a point on the end of each needle.

Picture time -

Starting the point.
I started the point off by clamping the dowel in a vice and using a small block plane to shave the ends down, again this was done as it's less time consuming than sanding, again had I turned them I could have made the point at the same time.

Once I'd got a rough point I then sanded the ends using the sanding disc I made for my lathe, and with a fine grade sanding disc on it I was able to get a nice smooth point on each needle.

Finishing the points - 

I should have removed the bar code sticker first.
Both ends done - 

Pretty much equal, ish :-)
After I'd finished the ends it occurred to me that I would need some kind of stopper on the opposite ends, so that anything I was knitting wouldn't just slide of the end, I had some rough turned pieces of wood lying about so I measured a couple until I found a bit that I felt was big enough to fit on the end of each needle.

For the needle ends I got two sections of wood from the roughly turned piece I chose, and then marked the centres of each part, by drawing lines across each bit to find the centre, the same way you would find the centre of a circle on a bit of paper.

Then using a spade bit I made a hole in the centre of the needles end, and as it turned out the dowels were a little larger than 12mm, either that or the spade bit is wrong, a large drill bit would do just as well.

Needle end and spade bit - 

Spade bit and needle end.
The dowel turned out to be closer to 13mm according to my vernier which was okay as it meant I could get a nice tight fit on the needles ends, and with a spot of wood glue they wouldn't come off easily.

I did however have to sand the ends of the needles so they would actually go into the holes I'd made.

Sanded needle end and end - 

Needle and end.
Once that was done it was just a matter of finishing the ends, I did this using the sanding disc on the lathe, and then I gave each needle a good sanding with a finishing pad to make them nice and smooth, and below is what I ended up with, which is a set of knitting needles that are more or less 3feet long.

Knitting needles - 

Not the best picture, but you get the idea.
I think they turned out okay, and for about £2 and 45minutes work they are pretty good, and they work, they are a little strange at first because of the length of them, but after a while you get used to holding them, and just to prove they can be used I did a quick few rows of string.

String knitting - 

Much easier to use this type of string.
Of course you can use chunky wool as well, but I made these for the purpose of knitting hanging baskets, and yes you did read that right, I have already made a prototype which I will post about eventually, it actually looks quite good as it goes, but I'll let you be the judge of that when I get round to writing the post.

You can easily make something like this yourself even with out the lathe and such like, all you need is a drill a spade bit and some wood and sand paper, or you could just use a large drill bit, 10mm would be about right, of course with out the lathe sander it may take a little longer to make them, but there is a lot of satisfaction to be had in making your own tools.

I will get round to doing the hanging basket post as soon as possible, so stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Just a quick re-cycling tip ... ...

Do you have any old plastic cards about ? you know the sort of thing, old credit cards, or even ones that get sent through the post (they really annoy me) well before you cut them up take a minute to ponder this, these plastic credit type cards make excellent filling tools, and can be adapted to work as tile adhesive applicators.
And after you have finished you can cut them up and bin them, might as well get a bit of use out of them first, and sometimes it's handy to have one because you don't always get the applicators when you buy a tub of grout or adhesive.

Here's a picture -

They'll do in a snip.
As you can see I've been a bit rough with one, but it still does the job, you may want to do it a little tidier than me ;-) but you get the idea, using one to fill small holes save time as well, as you can get a really smooth and even finish, which means you don't have to do any sanding or clear up any dust.

So before you bin them, just take a minute to think about how you can use them, do you have any small holes that need filling ? maybe where a picture once hung ? and indeed take a minute to think about how you can use other things before you throw them away.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

I can knit ! ... ...

Yes you heard it right, I'm a bloke and I can knit (sort of) so what you going to do about it grrrr ?

Seriously though there is a reason for me attempting to knit for the first time in about 20 years (I learned to knit in school) the reason is that I vaguely remember my nan I think making her own dish cloths and floor cloths, although I think she actually used to crochet them, I tried crochet and failed (I will have another go)

Why bother ? well it goes back to the same thing I've said in a lot of posts, no one makes anything any more, least that's how it seems to me, we tend to just buy it, and usually for as cheap as possible.
I think this attitude (and I'm just a guilty ) is actually harmful, our kids don't know what it's like to pick up a bit of wood and make a tool out of it, why should they ? when they can buy it ? and this mentality means our kids are loosing touch with certain skills, like wood working and such like, and not only that they aren't encouraged to think, to be creative and inventive, this I find is quite a sad situation, I'm not pointing any fingers as to who is to blame, I don't think any one person or group of people are to blame, perhaps it's society as a whole that needs to change ?

Anyway here's a picture of the first bit of knitting I've done in 20 odd years -

I think it turned out okay, after 3 attempts :-)
Okay so it's not perfect, but in all fairness it's a cloth and not a sunday best jumper, it's knitted from parcel string, I had loads of it lying around, I got it cheap from some place or other, and I think you can pick it up by the ball for under a pound most of the time, and for a pretty large ball.

It was easy enough material to knit with (even for me) and the end result is quite pleasing, and not as coarse as you might think, in fact I've seen fancy ex-foliating wash cloths made of rougher material.

As cloths go it works as expected, it's actually better at picking up dirt and grime than any of the bought cloths we have, and I'm not just saying that because I knitted the thing :-) and it can be washed and re-used, unlike some cloths which after a couple of days have to be thrown away, if it gets stained a little soak in bleach will sort it out (if you use it, other wise a very hot wash will do) and when you have finished with it, because of the nature of the string it will degrade, so chuck it into your compost bin and it'll break down pretty fast.

So what about time ? most people these days seem to not have time to do anything (even cook a real meal) well I managed to make the cloths (I ended up with 3 from one ball of string) while watching tv, and a more accomplished knitter would probably have managed this in a few minutes, so time isn't really an issue, even I managed to keep up with the program whilst knitting.

Once I'd finished the cloths I got to thinking about other applications for knitted stuff, apart from clothing, so I started messing around with other materials, here's a picture of some knitted garden string -

Natural garden string.
Now I have to say that this wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be, I think the problem is that the string wasn't quite as flexible as I thought, and I was using small needles, but it was possible, and after a quick bit of research on line I found that some people have tried similar and knitted hanging baskets and such like, only they have used much bigger needles, so I made a set, which I will dedicate a post to, along with a post about my first knitted hanging basket ;-)

I don't think we have any excuses for allowing the loss of skills like this in our children, it's up to us as parents to teach them things like this where we can, and if not find some one who can, I'm lucky I have quite an array of tools which I will show both my kids (son and daughter) how to use, and I will show him and her how to go about making things, I feel I owe it to them as a parent, and lets face it in this day and age certain institutions don't put the effort in, this is probably the reason why skills are being lost.

All in all I enjoyed making the cloths, there's something very pleasing about linking a length of string / wool together in this way, but then I enjoy using my hands for making things, that's what they are designed for, not just picking something off a shelf and paying at a counter, we were given hands and brains for a reason, I think it's about time we started using both a lot more than we do.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Cold frame from free cycled windows ... ...

Here's yet another thing I've made using recycled things, this time four square windows I got from free cycling.
As it happens they are actually quite nice windows, wooden framed with hand made glass in them, the glass has a slight blue tint to it, I also got a couple of replacement glass panels with them, which is handy in case any of the panels get broken.

It wasn't a difficult thing to build, it's basically a 2x2 frame covered with 10mm tongue and grove, the windows sit on top, and open upwards, I made the 2x2 from some sections of wood I had lying around, I used a table saw to rip the lengths of wood down to size, a handy tool to have, you can pick a half decent one up for about £100

Here it is -

This was taken when I'd just finished building it.
I have fixed the whole thing to the wall of the house, but it's only held with 4 screws, so it can be moved pretty easily. I fixed the windows at a slight downwards angle, to help any water that collects on the glass flow away, and it also increases the amount of sun light that gets into it.
Finally it was given a coat of black paint, again there was method in my madness, if it's black it will absorb more heat, meaning (fingers crossed) I will be able to start things off a little earlier come spring.

All in all it was a bargain cost wise, only cost about 10 quid for a cold frame 6 feet long and 2 feet wide, it didn't take long to construct, and it will hold a good few seed trays, and some pots, and probably (again finger crossed) it will out last any cold frame I could have bought.

Here's another picture -

It seems to be weathering quite well.
It currently has a very large cucumber plant in it, with a couple of good sized cucumbers on it, I don't think it'll be too long before the temperature inside the cold frame is too low for the plant, but it seems to be doing okay at the moment.

I finally managed to get the patio slabs laid properly (after 2 years, long story) and the whole section of the garden looks pretty good, even if I do say so myself, by the way the pots in the picture above were also free cycled, they are actually from an old flue, we got 5, foot long sections, which as you can see we've used for pots, there are a few the other side of the cold frame, the band round the top of each pot is copper, it helps stop slugs and such like.

Free cycling is a good way to get things for your projects for free, and you also get the benefit of helping some one out as well, it's a good way to do things, helps stop so much stuff going to land fill to.

Thanks for reading.