Do It Together: Community Garden Renovation

This is where I’ve been.  And in the attic; and crawl space; and yard; and garage— you get the idea.  Last September I was asked to participate in the renovation of our community garden (P-Patch).  The year before, forward looking volunteers at the garden had applied for and received a $20k matching grant from the city.  The “match” part requires that an equivalent amount of volunteer hours and donations must be leveraged to receive the full grant (that’s how I understand it anyway). Countless meetings, setting up a Google Site and other information systems, navigating dreams/realities/personalities: now we’re finally building.  What you ask?  Permanent paths and edging (my focus), 22 4x8’ food bank beds, a bamboo garden, a mushroom garden, a hillside of native plants, a children’s garden, a mural, new irrigation, and signage.  I stand in awe what $20k can do with a grippe of willing hands and minds.  

The concept above was created by one of two landscape architects who were hired for the project and who have gone above and beyond their compensation. The LA created the Google SketchUp drawing partly from my team’s initial path design (below)

ASIDE: I can’t say how helpful the suite of Google products has been (and to be fair, Microsoft’s Power Point and Office helped along the way).  But seriously, Google Earth, SketchUp, Sites, Groups, Docs, Spreadsheet/Forms, search, Gmail… Google may be one of several corps taking over the world but as far as this project they’re helping ensure they have a better world to take over.

One afternoon I decided to wield my new SketchUp skills (see mantle project (1) and (2) where I developed them) to weigh in on the design of the raised 4’x8’ food bank beds (inspired by my own).  The Food Bank team decided to use 2x6 juniper stacked three high for a raised height of 18”.  Juniper surfaced as our best alternative for edging the paths and for many of the same reasons it’s perfect for the beds.  It is sustainable, economical, beautiful and generally not easy to come by (more info on Juniper here from the Oregon State University Extension Service).

Here’s the ~1.25 acres that we’re renovating.

I’ve spent the equivalent of a couple days out surveying the paths.  It’s been fun working with others, and by myself, to map out the space.  In the background, with the aid of grant money and donations, several years ago volunteers built the beautiful red timber framed barn and gazebo.  I’ve learned a ton surveying but will have to expound on that later. 

Far into the planning process, we decided to build a prototype for the edging of the block path concept we envisioned.  24 of the 8’ - 6x6” juniper were purchased for hose bib posts.  The rest of the 2x6 and 6x6s were for the first steps we’d take in edging the paths. 

The juniper, especially the 6x6 is gorgeous.  The 2x6s were the last of the lot so they had a lot of character even if too many were not really suitable for our purpose of path edging (the vendor will let us return them and we’re ordering about 800 more of them so it’s not a big deal).

Last Friday I finished the surveying and the next day 50 volunteers dove into trenching 1000s of feet for new irrigation lines, augering post holes for the hose bibs, and laying polypipe.  I had to bow out after the survey to make sure Kelly and I stay on track with pre-baby projects… we are crazy: two more new circuits down and only one old circuit left to replace.  Productive and enlightening days these are.


Seattle Hands On Skills Fair

Sustainable Northeast Seattle is hosting the second annual Hands On Skills Fair.  We attended last year with our friends Lauren and Barrett, and we all loved it.  Between the four of us, we learned some container gardening tips, how to make cheese, ideas for clothing repurposing, water cistern installation, and Tai Chi basics; plus made soap and bread, and got to spend time together.  It was free last year, but this year there is a cost of $15 which covers the whole day of whichever workshops you like.  Matt is considering attending this year, but is also really excited about various house projects and may decide to work on those instead.  Lauren and I were considering going but I think we’re going to skip it because we have other commitments and can’t attend the whole day, and we also feel like we already attended most of the workshops we really wanted to last year.  We may practice some hands-on skills independently in honor of the day.  

For Seattle folks who didn’t attend last year, I highly recommend it.  The event was well organized and attended, and there was a great sense of community.  If you want to go, make sure you register soon to save your place for your favorite workshops before they fill up.  And if you don’t live here, maybe you can create an event like this in your community.  


Ooooh, I am so excited about this!  Mother Earth News is putting on three fairs this year and one of them is very close to us, in Puyallup, WA.  Over 100 workshops and demonstrations on growing food, homesteading, green building, renewable energy, and probably whatever self-sufficiency / DIY / sustainable living skills you can think of!  We are so there.  Who wants to carpool with us?

Ooooh, I am so excited about this!  Mother Earth News is putting on three fairs this year and one of them is very close to us, in Puyallup, WA.  Over 100 workshops and demonstrations on growing food, homesteading, green building, renewable energy, and probably whatever self-sufficiency / DIY / sustainable living skills you can think of!  We are so there.  Who wants to carpool with us?


DIY dog stuff for safety and to save money

1.  Toys

If you have dogs, you have probably noticed that most conventional dog toys are filled with that horrible white polyester stuffing and often a plastic squeaker.  You may have also heard horror stories (or experienced them) about dogs eating those squeakers and needing some medical intervention.  The polyester stuffing can also be irritating if eaten, which is more of an annoyance, but still… avoiding doggie stomach upsets is always preferable.  I have two solutions to this problem:

1a.  Make dog toys out of scrap materials in the house

You could sew something if you really wanted to, but let’s face it: dogs don’t know that their toys are a duck, an elephant, and a frog. 

That is for the humans, and we do enjoy watching them fetch Duck, squeak Frog, or carry Pinky around.  The dogs just know it’s a soft thing to chew on.  My very most basic dog toy can be made in under a minute.  Take your bag o’ used-up socks (what, don’t you save all your retired socks to use as cleaning rags, disposable cloths for painting, and dog toys?), choose a good one, and stuff a bunch of other socks into it.  I used whole socks for the stuffing, and I can’t decide whether cutting them up into smallish pieces would be better or worse in terms of potential eatability.  Tie the end in a knot and you’re done.  They love it!  You can also put in a squeaker, but I didn’t in this case because I wanted to give the dogs a toy they could have in their crates without worrying about whether they’d eat or choke on the squeaker.

I also made a simple toy out of a scrap of fleece fabric.  I had made a fleece sheath for Max’s harness (more on that later).  A couple of times, Sonny found Max’s harness and wanted to play with it.  Harnesses should not be chewed, so I decided to give him a better alternative.  I took an extra piece of fleece about 1.5’ long and several inches wide, rolled it lengthwise, and tied three knots in it.  Sonny likes it.

Even dogs like to make their own toys out of household items!  Fortunately, this pillow was on my list for replacement long before Sonny found it.

1b.  Modify store-bought dog toys

I wait until a dog rips the toy open.  They’re supervised enough with such toys that I can take away any ripped toys before they have a chance to eat the innards.  Then I pull out all the polyester stuffing and the squeaker.  This is a good time to throw the toy into the washing machine, because it’s probably been soaked in slobber several times over by now.  Stuff with sock pieces (see above).  Putting the squeaker back in is optional - if you leave it out the toy may not be as fun for your dog, but on the plus side it may last longer before getting torn open again and when it does there is less danger.  Either way, sew it closed and return the clean toy to the mouth of a happy dog.  Charlotte’s favorite toy was named Bear (did you notice our tendency to give dog toys the most uninspired of names) and I had to patch and sew that thing a couple dozen times.

2.  Treats

Dog treats are crazy expensive!  I buy kibble in a different flavor than the dogs eat for their meals and use it as treats for training.  You’ll likely need higher value treats when you’re training outside the house or with distractions, but it works well for me when we’re working in the living room.  I use Natural Balance original dry food.  Economical high value treats are Natural Balance food rolls, cheese, or cook some meat (any of these will require extra work to cut up into morsels).

3.  Random things

Both dogs wear Wonder Walker front-clip body halters, a local Seattle product that helps dogs walk nicely on leash instead of pulling.  It worked almost like a miracle for Sonny.  The first day we brought him home, he pulled so hard that it was very unpleasant to walk him, and cannot have been good for his poor neck.  The next day I bought him a Wonder Walker.  Within a couple days of training (stop and/or change directions the moment he pulls), he was walking very nicely.  Last week I took him for a short 2 mile run around the neighborhood, and he stayed right next to me the whole time.  It was like a dream.  Max requires a lot more work.  I’m trying to clicker train him to walk on a loose leash, and I really hope it will pay off.  So far we are successful in the living room, the yard is our next goal, and the street seems like a pipe dream right now.  We’ll get there.  Matt is using a non-treat method to teach Max to heel by doing a lot of unpredictable turns in both directions.  So far, Matt is doing a lot better than I am. 

Anyway, I made this quick fleece cover for Max’s harness.  I used an old fleece scarf I haven’t worn in a while.  I threw it together in a hurry, and it is not pretty, but it serves its utilitarian purpose.  Between his sensitive skin, his fur having been recently clipped short, and his rambunctious leash pulling on walks, we were concerned the harness was rubbing his skin too much.  I cut fleece triangles and sewed their points together over the triangle rings in the harness.  Around the straps, it was simple fleece rectangles, folded over and sewn to make tubes, but I left some gaps in the tubes so we can still access the rings to attach a leash or make sizing adjustments as needed.

They do make neoprene padding for the Wonder Walkers, but I 1) needed something right away, 2) didn’t want to pay for it (my solution was free since I used fabric I already had), and 3) think Max’s fur will grow out and then he won’t need the padding anymore.  Here’s a shot of Sonny in his au naturale harness and Max in his fleece encased one.

For our late Belgian Shepherd, Charlotte, I made several random things (and please note these were all to serve a utilitarian purpose) including:

  • a rain jacket/poncho type thing - she did not care if she got wet, but it was easier for us humans if her long fur didn’t get soaked on walks and then need extensive toweling off (we live in Seattle and we go for our daily walks rain or shine or any weather in which the postal service delivers)

  • modified some of my old tank tops into shirts for Char when her fur got really thin due to Cushing’s disease (and it didn’t help when the vet had to shave her entire belly for an ultrasound… and it was winter… and she was sick)
  • modified a couple of other old t-shirts into shorts-like-articles to keep her from licking her back when she had another skin problem - this was enough of a deterrent so she didn’t have to wear the dreaded cone collar [no photo]

4.  Leashes

Wonder Walker also sells coupling leashes, seat belt leashes for car safety, and long leashes for training.  They’re not unreasonably priced, but since I have a sewing machine, I can make all of these for much cheaper without spending a lot of time.  I’m planning to buy the nylon webbing and clips this weekend or next, and whenever I get around to making the leashes I’ll write about it.


My hubby even builds his own scaffolding

See those two wooden contraptions among the other building accoutrements in our back yard?  They’re part of Matt’s DIY scaffolding solution (while not in use, of course).  Build ‘em, use ‘em, then take ‘em apart and use the wood again for something else.  Cheap and zero waste.  I love it! 

When he uses them, there is additional bracing, as seen here:

As you can probably tell from the photos, ours is a single story house, so Matt was able to install the siding on the front and back of the house without needing anything more than a short ladder.  Both sides are finished now, which means that the siding project is almost completed!  Matt did the entire thing pretty much by himself.  I am so proud!

Now we will have to decide on a paint color.  And actually paint the house.  When one project ends, another begins.


Local Hands On skills workshops

I mentioned Sustainable NE Seattle’s day of Hands On Skills Workshops in my last post.  Matt and I attended on Saturday and so did a couple of our friends.  I was inspired with some new ideas about reusing/repurposing clothing and reviewed the basics of electricity and small appliances (my philosophy is you cannot review electricity too much if you’re working with it).  Lauren and I also learned (or in her case, reviewed) how to make cheese, got some great tips for container gardening, and learned some basic Tai Chi movements.  Matt learned how to install a water cistern and peeked into cheese class.  Lauren also made a delicious loaf of bread that we dug into before the day was done.  Her husband Barrett made a huge block of rosemary soap and then joined us for Tai Chi.  Matt wasn’t feeling well and went home early, but we all still had fun and learned some valuable skills. 

What a great event!  It was well organized and well attended.  Thanks so much to everyone who volunteered their time to organize the event and to share their skills and knowledge with their neighbors!  Does this exist in other cities?  Do you have something like Transition Seattle?


DIY energy independence?

Thomas Friedman’s NYTimes op-ed piece, This Time Is Different, gives us some food for thought on who’s to blame for the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  He quotes a friend’s letter to the editor suggesting that it’s up to each of us to make changes in our lives to reduce our use of fossil fuels - a sort of DIY energy independence philosophy.  Friedman goes on to talk about our responsibility as citizens to engage in the political process to create policies aimed at making our nation more sustainable.  Maybe we need both approaches: do-it-yourself and do-it-together, but I tend to think every big change starts with the individual.  I’m always amazed at the creative energy saving innovations people have come up with.  Mother Earth News and let people share their ideas, successes, and failures with creative DIY projects, many of which have a sustainability focus (even if in many cases, “green” is more a byproduct of saving money than a goal in itself).  This Old House and Danny Lipford also have some great tips for reducing energy consumption at home.