Archive for March, 2013

Fun with gourds: Luffa soap and Canteen gourds!

So, I just picked up a few sections of wooden lattice for my Luffa gourds.  I plan on growing those for crafts with my daughter, and to make exfoliating soap with it as well.  Some people use pumice or sand in their soaps, but over time they may end up clogging your drain.  So the biodegradable way to add exfoliants to your homemade soap is to use coconut hulk, coffee grounds, and Luffa.  I much prefer the Luffa over the others since if you cut the Luffa  as I will show you later in the post, nothing goes down the drain at all!  

The Luffa plant is a climbing vine.  It’s pretty vigorous, so I’ve been told not to plant them near trees, or you’ll have Luffa’s hanging 30 feet off the ground and it might be a bit hard to get them.  Also, watch out planting them near your house.  The one I experimented with last year ended up climbing my downspout all the way to the roof.  This year I’m using 4’x8′ wooden lattice sections.  They were on sale (yay!) for $7 at Lowes, and that’s pretty good.  I’m going to drive posts into the ground and then secure the lattice to the posts going 8′ high.  With 4 sections, I should be able to grow about 8 plants.  If you read my layout post from before, you’ll see how I am planning on planting them.  I’ll have pictures once I’ve planted them.  I also plan to plant some bottle gourds.  They make great birdhouses and also canteens.  You can use different kind of gourds, it’s really just up to your preferences.

 

For this post, I will show you the Luffa soap that I made, and will give you instructions on how to make canteen gourds.

 

Here is the Luffa soap:

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As for the Canteen Gourd, here are some simple instructions, enjoy!

 

Canteen Gourd Instructions

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  1. Choose a gourd for your water canteens craft
    When making any crafts with gourds, you need to decide what kind of gourds you should grow that would work best with your project. For water canteens, you need gourds with a somewhat evenly thick shell. For this project we recommend the Mexican Water Bottle Gourd, a Canteen Gourd or Chinese Bottle Gourd.
  2. When to harvest gourds
    Let your gourds grow all summer. Harvest the gourds directly after the first frost. The plant will be dead, but the gourds will still be green. Be sure to leave a few inches of stem on the each of the gourds.
  3. How to dry a gourd
    The best way how to dry a gourd is to place it somewhere dry and cool. Swab the outside of the gourds with a 10% bleach solution. This will help prevent rot. Then hang the gourd up somewhere cool, dry and well ventilated. You can either attach a string to the stem or you can place the gourd inside a piece of panty hose and hang the gourd in the hose. Check the gourd once a month till dry. When the gourd feels light and sounds hollow when tapped, it will be dry. This will take from 6 months to 2 years.
  4. How to clean a dried gourd
    Soak the gourds in a 10% bleach solution water for about 15 minutes. Then remove the gourds and use a scrubby pad to remove the soft outer layer of the gourds. When clean. Allow it to dry again.
  5. How put a hole in the gourd
    Choose a tapered cork for the top of your gourd water canteens. Trace around the smallest part of the cork at the top of the gourd. Use a small bit on a drill or dremel to pierce holes around the traced hole. Do not use large bits or you will break the gourd. Continue to drill small holes until you can break the cork opening out. Surround the cork with sandpaper and use the cork to sand the opening smooth.
  6. How to clean the inside of the gourd water canteens
    The inside of the gourd will be full of seeds and soft fibrous material. Use a long curved wand of some kind to break up this material and pull it out of the gourd. A metal coat hanger works well. This task may take some time. Once the gourd is relatively cleaned out, put a handful of sharp stones into the gourd and shake it around to loosen addition material.
  7. How to seal the gourd water canteens
    Melt beeswax and pour it into the water canteens. Swirl the beeswax around until the entire inside of the gourd is coated.

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Water, Water, Everywhere; but not a drop when you need it

For anyone that lives in the DC Metro area, if you find yourself wondering where the sun has gone, and if it seems like it has rained every day for the past month; you are definitely not alone. There is a certain cruel irony for gardeners here in Maryland, which is that it rains nearly daily in February through April, and then the summer can be very dry. Now, that’s not always the case, as I remember a June and July about 2 or 3 years ago that felt as wet as it does right now. However, for the past 2 years, I’ve found myself supplementing my deck garden crops with “bought water” during the hot and dry summer months. Which brings me to my topic for today.

Free water.

Yes, water should always be free, and no that does not make me a communist. Now, I don’t believe that water should be given away when it is pumped, desalinated, or processed; there are costs that are associated with that and we can’t allow people to frivolously waste a finite resource by giving it to them for nothing. I do believe that when water falls from the sky, anyone fortunate enough to hold out a cup should be allowed to drink freely from said cup.

You have a 55 gallon rain barrel? More power to you! That’s a lot of cups to drink from.

Now, while it was technically feasible for me to install a rain barrel at my old house, I wanted to keep my rather smallish deck clear of too much clutter. I was sure my wife would put her foot down regarding a large barrel next to our deck door. Now, however, there is a yard that I can take advantage of, not to mention a larger roof in which to collect the water.

You too can join the rain collection club; it’s easy and can be cheap too! There are just a few things to consider before starting:

 

Here is the link to the list. After I started writing it, it turned into a major rambling rant, so I decided to preserve space by making the list a separate page.

 

Once I start construction of the rain barrels, I will post some pictures of the various stages of construction for everyone to see and hopefully learn from all my (many) mistakes that I’m sure to make.

So, now that you have decided to make the plunge and set up a rain collection system, now what?

-First gather your supplies after determining how much water you want to be able to store. Here is a link for a simple rain barrel.

-Second, determine if you will be using a first flush diverter, and if you will be just be buying one, or making one.

-Third, find a place to put the rain water collection system

-Fourth, build it

-Fifth, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You now are the proud owner of a completed rain barrel.

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You don’t have to dig deep to find dirt around here

…or in some cases rocks. Even a length of chain.

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Yes, it has been a busy weekend for me. I got my makeshift “greenhouse” up and running, did some work in the yard and even some home security and storage improvements mixed in. Where to start? Well, I guess with the dirt.

I decided to look around in my front yard, though “yard” is not really the case yet, since there’s no grass. We bought a new construction home, and since it was completed in the winter, there isn’t any grass growing in the front yet. The builder we went with doesn’t lay down sod, and from what I hear, many builders don’t anymore since it’s too expensive. Poor sod farmers, I bet they’re hurting without builders buying from them. But I’d have to assume they’re doing ok selling less but for more. Supply and demand economics for you.

Anyways, I was walking around and noticed several large rocks lying about, just on or above the surface of the dirt. So I grabbed my handy gardening fork and started digging them up.

…and more of them up

…and more

…and you get the picture.

Well, now you do. Those are just some of the many holes all over my yard now.

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Mixed in with 3 5-gallon buckets of rocks? A hunk of wood and a length of chain. Yep, I wonder how that got there?

The big thing about those rocks is that everyone with a yard knows that grass doesn’t grow on rocks. It grows barely on dirt, and then mostly the weeds prefer that. Really nice grass grows best in sweat and money. That’s at least been my experience growing up helping my parents in the yard. Countless hours of labor, bags of fertilizer, and oh yeah…blood. Grass loves it when you hurt yourself trying in vain to make it grow. It loves the carbon dioxide produced from foul curse words that you shout as you cut, stub, gash, mash, and crush various digits and limbs with outdoor tools that were probably invented by a torturer in the middle ages rather than a gardener.

But that task is done. For now. I’m sure there will be plenty more rocks and maybe even a car part or two that I’ll be digging up in the future.

The other task I did this weekend was get my tomato plants started. March is the time to get your tomatoes started indoors, and since I lack a greenhouse, I decided to improvise. A plastic shelf from Walmart and some mini greenhouses should hopefully work nicely. I never have had luck growing plants from seeds, but then again I never had any land to do anything with the plants once they grew, so there wasn’t much point in trying too hard prior to now. I also have a heat mat to keep the little seedlings nice and warm. The varieties I have started are Roma, Big Boy, Beefsteak and cherry. I have some pictures of my fancy-shmacy greenhouse rig down below.

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Up next was the home security improvements The security of my family is always the first and foremost concern of mine. That’s why I buy safe cars, install safety devices where ever I can, have an alarm system, and enjoy the 2nd amendment. As such, I also take precautions even though the risk can be small. I always think about what the risk level or chance of something happening is compared with the damage that it could cause. I have an alarm system, but that’s more of a deterrent than a fortification. Since 90% of all breakins happen through the front door, I figured that should be the place I start when thinking about home security. Since all my sliding doors already have bars on them, I didn’t have to worry about that. Most burglars and such don’t like breaking windows, it makes too much noise that is instantly recognizable. However, kicking in a door just sounds like a large “THUD”, and may even go unnoticed altogether. Except if you’re in that house. Most people think that a deadbolt is a security measure to keep your home safe. Not really, it’s there so your doorknob latch won’t be picked by the very simplest of burglars. Plenty of people know that just a half inch screw is the only thing holding that deadbolt plate to the door frame. So I installed a reinforced door frame plate. It literally took about a half hour for the door frame plate, and another half hour for the door reinforcer. If you want to install the frame reinforcer, don’t forget that if your door breaks, there’s no point in strengthening your frame. So there’s really two parts to bracing your front door. The frame and the door itself, always do both. The whole job went pretty smoothly except for the part where I didn’t quite set the frame plate back far enough, so now the door doesn’t seal as well as it did before. I’ll have to fix that soon, since a lot of bought air is now sneaking out the gap in the weatherstripping and the door. At least that’s the only thing that will be sneaking in or out that door. Here are some of the pictures of the completed job. Take note of the picture of the screws. The one on the left is your standard door frame screw, and the one on the right is the reinforced screw that came with the plate. I plan on cleaning up the door frame plate, but since that requires cutting and painting, I think it will have to be on another weekend. I think I need a cold beer and a long movie 🙂

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