31 March 2011

Backyard Garden: Box Construction

As I mentioned yesterday, I said I would be back to show you the construction of my garden boxes. Between building the boxes, and filling them with dirt it took less than 2 hours. There are many variations to these boxes. My goal was quick and easy and not necessarily pretty or well built. These instructions reflect that as this is what has worked for me. Feel free to get creative and come up with your own variation. Gardener's Supply Company carries a line of prefabricated boxes that require minimal assembly. You really can't go wrong with these boxes.

The number of boxes you build is up to you and how much food you need. 1 box = enough food for 1 person by producing just the basics. For a full range of produce count on 2-3 boxes a person if you have the space.


Boxes: 4 - 1”x12” pieces of untreated wood cut in 4’ lengths
12 eyelet screws
50+ feet of string
4-8 corner brackets
Nails or deck screws
Weed barrier – 4’ width

Soil: ~3 cubic feet peat moss (usually 1 large bag)
~3 cubic feet compost (2-3 bags of variety)
~3 cubic feet expanded shale (1 40lb. bag)

Tools: Hammer or cordless screw driver (depends on use of nails or screws)
Staples & staple gun (if you have one)
Ruler or yard stick
Optional: work gloves, shovel, tarp

Notes about the supplies:

1. If you don’t have a saw the 4’ lengths can typically be sawed in the store OR in some cases, may be sold in that length already.

2. Purchasing untreated wood is imperative. Treated wood will leach chemicals into the soil that will then end up in your produce.

3. The number of corner brackets varies. You want at least four for each corner if they are heavy duty or you can use eight smaller ones by utilizing two in each corner. There is not a particular bracket to use as long as it holds the boxes together. The boxes will not be moving once you put them in place so the main purpose is to keep the wood together so the dirt doesn’t fall out. Meaning: don’t over think it.

4. Creating a fresh soil bed is important because you want to provide a nutrient rich base as well as eliminate the possibility of weeds sprouting. The general rule of a green thumb when it comes to mixing your own soil is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, 1/3 expanded shale. This provides the best ratio of nutrients, fluffiness, and moisture retention. You can use premixed soil from a garden center, but I wouldn’t recommend it being your only ingredient. I actually used some in my mix because I needed the extra volume for plants such as tomatoes. I’ll talk more about the soil in the instructions section below.

5. Peat moss, expanded shale, and compost can be purchased from most garden centers. The key to buying compost is to get a variety. You don’t want it all from one source unless it’s your own. Check your local municipalities as well. Many times they have a compost/garden program and you can get these materials for free.


1. Find a flat surface to put your boxes together. It usually helps to have a second person when doing this. One person can concentrate on holding the bracket and using the tool, while the other person holds the wood in place. Hammer or screw your brackets by alternating each corner to ensure you end up with a square box. Placing the brackets on the inside or outside of the box is personal preference. Mine are on the inside.

2. Now that your boxes are together the next step is to secure the weed barrier to the bottom of the box. There is no right or wrong bottom so choose either side. Since you purchased the weed barrier with a 4’ width you won’t have to worry about layering it. It should fit nicely across the entire box. Cut the length to match the box. You can either staple this to the bottom of the box or use small wide-head nails. Be sure to pull it taut to minimize gapping.

3. Once your box is complete, move it to its end location. Be sure the location you choose has plenty of sunlight.

4. It’s time to mix the soil recipe. This can be done directly in the box (which is why it’s important to move it to the end location beforehand) or you can spread out a tarp to do the mixing. You want to fill the box at least half way up the 1”x12.” You should have purchased enough ingredients, however, if you feel you need more don’t hesitate to add more. Again, there is no right or wrong amount. If you plan on growing tomatoes, carrots, potatoes or any other vegetable that grows in size below the surface or has deep roots, you will want deeper soil. Remember, plants will not be able to root into the ground you’ve placed the box on because of the weed barrier. The purpose of the weed barrier is to obviously keep weeds and grass from growing in your box. So you have to create enough depth for the plants you want to grow. The key thing to remember is the ratio. You want a 1/3 of every ingredient. You may feel like you are using a lot (like the shale) but once you get it all mixed up it will be just right. Stick to the ratio. Once you have all the ingredients on the tarp or in the box mix them all together using a shovel or your hands. The peat moss has a tendency to be dusty. You can add a little water to help control this. If using the tarp, dump or shovel the new mix into your box.

5. Almost done. Now it’s time to lay out the grid for easy planting. I have seen wood slats used before but I went for a cheaper route (eyelets and string) that works just as well. Screw in three eyelets on the top of each side (see the picture above). The eyelets should be about 1 foot apart. Take the string and run it through each eyelet to create a 1’x1’ grid over the top of your box (see picture). Tie off each end.

Finished! Now it’s time to plan your garden so you can start planting. I’ll be back soon to show you how easy it is.

One final note. I have cats that love to be let out in the backyard. I also have rabbits in the neighborhood. I don't want either one to enjoy my boxes more than me. The easiest solution is a simple netting that can be purchased to cover the boxes. I picked up some netting used for fruit trees and cut it a few sizes larger than my boxes. I can water right over the top of it and it can be pulled back easily for planting. 


Square Foot Gardening
Gardener's Supply Company

PDF instructions here

images: indigo 26

30 March 2011

Backyard Garden: The Beginning

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.
-Hanna Rion

I absolutely love this quote. There are times when I'm stumped over the question, why do I have a garden. The words I choose just don't seem to acurately measure how I feel about the process. That is, until I found this quote. When so much of my life is spent at a desk or in front of a device, I do lose awareness. Sometimes I feel like I become a zombie just going through the motions. Gardening is more than growing something, although that is rewarding as well. When my hands are in the dirt, the sun is on my neck, and the birds are singing joyously I do feel restored. Restoration; the best word to describe it.

If you are a gardener, you know that it can be tough. Garden work can suck the life right out of you by taking every waking minute. Between watering, weeding, caring for seedlings, and the time it takes to decide what and where to plant you have zero time left.  Then you harvest.  At one point, we had a shared, large garden. I'm talking HUGE, and we spent most of our time, ok all of our time, in the garden. When the season was over, I was over gardening. Don't get me wrong, I'm an advocate for growing your own if it's possible, I'm just not sure if exahausting yourself in the process is worth it.

This year I promised to add more balance into my life. It's not only my word of the year, but my mantra. I have to meditate on it or I truly forget. Pathetic, I know. How does this fit into gardening? I want a vegetable garden, but one that doesn't require a lot of time, and believe it or not, it is possible. There is a method for gardening that will still provide balance in my life and restore my senses without exhaustion.

The first thing I did was move the garden to the backyard. We don't live on a gorgeous piece of property (yet) that can hold the previous mentioned large garden. That garden was 30 minutes from our house. Our backyard is tiny. There is just enough grass one could maybe mow it in three passes. The need for a garden in our backyard far outweighed the need for a small patch of grass and therefore the decision was made to take over the backyard with garden boxes. Two 4' x 4' boxes fit comfortably and I still have ample room to meander around them to plant.

I have not used raised beds for gardening before. This will be my first experience with them, but I can already tell you that this may be one of the best gardening decisions. To date, we have put very little time into them, and they are already starting to grow spring produce. I wanted to share this experience with you to show you how easy it really is to grow your own vegetables. I am not an expert builder or gardener. There are many resources available that make it possible for anyone willing to put in a little effort and I can't wait to share them with you.

I'll be back with the step by step process of how I built my boxes. Do you have any experience with raised beds?  Why do you garden? 

large collage image: Writing Program PTW's photostream
all small images: indigo 26

28 March 2011

5 Reasons to Line Dry Your Clothes

There is nothing like the smell of fresh laundry that has been dried on the line. It often makes me think of my childhood. We could not afford a dryer so all of our clothes were dried outside unless it was the dead of winter; then the clothes were hung in the furnace room to dry. The fresh smell in the clothes, towels, and sheets was carried in the house. To me, this smell represents clean. The kind of clean you get when you spend time in nature, and somehow that smell relates to comfort.

No matter what your reason for air drying your clothes, it's a good practice and I've listed 5 reasons to motivate you to step away from the dryer.

Energy Savings - the most obvious, but very true. By not drying your clothes in the dryer you can save up to $100 a year on your electric bill. Every little bit counts especially during the summer when the expense of air conditioning is high.

Wear and tear on clothes - A dryer not only fades colors, but can cause stress on the fibers causing them to breakdown quicker. The life of your clothes is shortened. Recently, the price of cotton has gone up. Manufacturers will soon be passing off that cost to the consumer. Making your clothes last longer will soon be a reality. Air drying them can increase their life span.

Natural Bleach - Use the power of the sun to bleach and disinfect your whites and light colors. (Hint: I also put my pillows out in the sun every so often to kill dust mites). I wouldn't recommend putting dark clothes directly in the sun, but they can still dry outdoors in the shade.

Noiseless - Dryers make a lot of noise. When you'd rather be listening to your children laugh, the birds outside, or the general peace and quiet, air drying your clothes provides this benefit.

Green Practice - Line drying is one more step in leading a
4(for) green acres lifestyle, and every little step counts.

image: via Amanda Wright on
The Wright Homestead

26 March 2011

Dreaming of a place like this today. I would be sitting in the chair down the hall with a great book.

Have a wonderful weekend.

image via
Topsider Homes

25 March 2011

One Pot Cauliflower Soup

I've been on a refined sugar detox for about two weeks now. What makes this difficult is the lack of things to eat.  There seems to be sugar in everything these days.  From pastas, to crackers, even bread claiming to be whole wheat can be packed with sugar.  Last night I wanted something hearty, flavorful, and not green.  I do have a salad breaking point. 

I have made this cauliflower soup in the past and knew it was the perfect bowl of goodness I was craving.  It's simple, quick, and nutritious. 

Cauliflower Soup
Adapted from a Cook's Illustrated
·         2 Tbsp unsalted butter or the same amount of vegetable or olive oil
·         1 medium onion, 3 medium shallots OR 1 medium leek chopped
·         1 medium head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), stems discarded and florets cut into bite-sized pieces (about 5 cups)
·         2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
·         1 tsp salt
·         Ground pepper
·         1 tsp ground coriander
·         ½ - ¾ cup whole milk
·         2 tsp minced fresh chives, or minced parsley (optional)
Instructions – using a Dutch oven (or other large pot):
1. Heat butter or oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower.
2. Add stock, salt, pepper to taste, and coriander to saucepan; bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cover and cook until cauliflower is tender, about 12 minutes.
3. Add 1/2 cup milk; blend until very smooth using a liquid hand blender.  If you do not have one, ladle soup into blender and then return soup to saucepan.  Cook over low heat until warmed through. If soup is too thick, stir in additional milk to thin consistency. Adjust seasonings. (Soup can be refrigerated for 3 days and reheated just before serving.)
4. Ladle soup into individual bowls. Garnish with minced chives and serve immediately.
PDF Version Here

image: Elise Bauer from Simple Recipes

24 March 2011

Honey: Superfood

Honey is a truly magical superfood. It aids with spring time allergies, it's an antiseptic, used to cure several ailments, and is a main ingredient in homemade beauty products.  It has been on my must have list for quite some time.

This pure, golden, sweet treat is a favorite of mine, but unfortunately honey bees are in danger.  Bee colonies are declining and the impacts are far reaching.  Devastation will follow if it continues.  This NY Times article provides a brief glance.  It's an older article but the information is still relevant.

Instead of swatting a bee next time you see one, thank it instead.  Not only do they do most of the pollination work, but they also gives us one of the best creations from mother nature.

image via Brittany Broas pinterest board

23 March 2011

Depression Era Rubber Stamps

I do love stamps, although this is a recent love.  I used to think that the stamp aisle at the craft store was only meant for scrapbookers, of which I am not.  Then, after a curious day at the store I became the new owner of several rubber stamps, including an alphabet set.  I was hooked.  I like to make my own greeting cards from vintage postcards and stamps work well for this purpose. 

I'm finding that I enjoy old stamps best, and I've picked up a few at estate sales, and antique stores.  So you can imagine my surprise when I came across this box of stamps at an antique store a couple of weekends ago.  The entire set of letters, numbers and symbols are accounted for.  The only thing missing is the ink bottle and pad. 

I brought them home and tried researching their history.   Why would anyone need stamps this size?  The big red box is not marked anywhere nor are the stamps themselves.  All I could find out is that they most likely date back to the depression era based on other examples I saw.  They were used in schoolhouses and general stores to make signs.  Two companies, Superior Type Company and Stamperkraft, manufcatured these types of stamps in the US and may have made mine.   Everything is done on a computer these days.  It didn't even cross my mind these would have been used for signage.  

I am happy to add them to my collection but I'd still like to know more information. 

21 March 2011

Spring Time Fun

I had a great weekend.  I hope you did as well.  I couldn't have asked for a better start to spring.  It all began on Friday when I received these awesome tulips at work.  Tulips happen to be my favorite flower.  To my surprise, my parents sent them to me to wish me happy spring.  Very thoughtful.  What I love about them even more is the fact that they are not just cut flowers, they're bulbs.  So when I'm finished enjoying them inside, I can take them outside to plant in the yard for next spring.  
Saturday was spent running errands.  This was the first weekend our farmers market was open.  I stopped by to see if my favorite vendors were back and they all were there!  I picked up a few woven grass baskets, hand spun and dyed alpaca yarn, lavender soap, native wildflower seed, and a just a bit of produce.  I can't wait to show you my finds. 

Then the remainder of the day was spent with two of my favorite little people and their family.  Did you happen to catch the full moon on Saturday night?  What a sight.  I could have sat outside under the stars the rest of the night just to watch it rise. 

Sunday was a full, productive day.  I was working on this project I told you about recently.  I was so excited to be out in the yard on a beautiful, sunny day that I forgot to put on sunscreen.  I was a little pink last night.  It's time to replace my lotion with sunscreen.

As tired as I am from all the activity, I feel really good about what's in store this season.  The creative juices are flowing!

How did you spend your spring weekend? 

18 March 2011

5 Recipes for Natural Spring Cleaning

Spring rolls around this Sunday and I hardly feel ready.  It's time to get into quick action clean mode so when the sun comes out I'm ready to hit the outdoors without worrying about cleaning the house.  There are always the tasks I typically forget about throughout the year.  For example, behind the refrigerator.  We had a debacle the other morning that included steamed milk rolling down the cupboard behind the refrigerator.  Pulling it out makes one realize it's time to start looking around the house for other overlooked areas that need cleaned.

At an estate sale last fall I came across a book called The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard edited by Dan Wallace.  Some of the best books can be found at estate sales and this one was no exception.  I'll be the first to admit that I don't always use natural cleaning products. I know.  Shock.  I am conscious about it though and try to use natural products when I can.  This book makes it so easy to concoct homemade cleaners that do just as well as the chemical stuff and you probably have most of these items at home already.

I've picked out the top five formulas for those not so regular jobs.   Hopefully you won't have a disaster like I did to propel you forward into spring cleaning action.  Cleaning for fun? Well, it helps to plug in the earphones, blast some 80's music, and dance while you're it.  

1.    Easy Fireplace Cleaner
Full-strength white vinegar brushed on vigorously will clean the tiling around the fireplace.  Sponge away the excess immediately.
I also used a shop vacuum to clean out the dust bunnies.
2.     Noncaustic Drain Opener
1 cup baking soda
1 cup salt
½ cup white vinegar
1 kettle boiling water
Pour baking soda, salt, and vinegar into drain.  Wait about 15 minutes, as these dissolve organic matter and grease.  Flush drain thoroughly with boiling water.

3.    Ammonia Grout Cleaner
1 tsp household ammonia
¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
¾ cup water
Blend ingredients in a small jar.  Saturate stained areas and scrub vigorously with stiff brush; let soak for several minutes. Rinse well and repeat if necessary.

4.     Washing Machine Cleaner
Fill the washer with warm water.  Add 1 cup of white vinegar and run through entire cycle.  Tip: use regular car wax on the outside to prevent rusting.

5.    Leather Cleaner/Polish
¾ cup isopropyl alcohol (70%)
½ cup white vinegar
1 ½ cups water
Mix ingredients together thoroughly.  To use, dampen cloth with mixture and rub into leather until clean.  Mixture can be stored in a clean jar.
Note: If you are anything like me you might worry about putting alcohol and vinegar on your leather.  I started with my ottoman because I figured if it didn't work I wouldn't have ruined the entire chair. It worked!  I couldn't believe it.  It did not get some of the deeper stains (someone sat on it with a wet bathing suit) but it got all of the stains closer to the surface.  I keep my jar handy for new stains.
TIP: When using these formulas it is best to wear gloves.  While I don't have a problem using just my hands, they do dry out the skin very quickly.

Download the PDF here.

What other natural spring cleaning tips do you have?

16 March 2011

Art With Purpose

I really do love Etsy. It seriously fits my 4(for) green acres habit and every time I peruse the pages I'm in awe at how many artisans there are in this world. I truly believe the etsy community belongs in the sustainable practices category for many reasons. But that topic is for another day. It was just my luck (as it usually is) that I came across Joe Wirtheim's work as I was shopping for a birthday present recently on Etsy.

This guy is the real deal!  Joe started a poster campaign called Victory Garden of Tomorrow.  He creates posters he coins as New American Propaganda that are "designed to inspire and educate" about our food culture in order to stimulate action across communities.  With a motto of "better food, better gardens, better cities" Joe is contributing to a movement contrived to spark a nation.  Of course I didn't know all this just by looking at the picture, but it's what lead me to purchase three of these fantastic posters. 

His message runs deeper than great design.  The posters are beautiful, original and share a concern I'm passionate about and I can't wait to display them in my kitchen.  To learn more about Joe and his work or If you want to purchase your own, head on over to his website or etsy store.

(images: Joe Wirtheim)

14 March 2011

Trash to Treasure

We are cleaning out some of the old buildings at work.  I am now the proud owner of another person's junk.  I'm actually quite happy about this.  A bag of goodies was delivered to my office instead of the trash bin.  Someone knew I would appreciate all of this.  Check out the contents.

Various Colors of Yarn

Crochet Needles

Rolls of Colored Tape

Labels and Other Bits

Scraps of Material (to make more of these)
And by far the best find...

Old Pictures
Some of them look like postcards on the back and some have a wonderful framed border.  Pictures like these can be pricey at antique stores. I can't wait to use them.  In September 2009 I took a class at Sqaum Art Workshops with Sarah Ahearn Bellemare, and have been a fan of her work since then.  She uses old photos such as these for image transfers in her collages.  For someone like me who does not have drawing talent, Sarah made me feel like I could be an artist in my own creative way.  Now I use old pictures for journal pages, collages, and greeting cards. 

I suppose to some it seems silly to get so excited about items other people would just throw away, but like so many things that get tossed aside, there is still a lot of life in them.  You just have to rethink their purpose.  If I were to go out and buy all of these items today it would be expensive.  I feel very lucky to be the second owner.  Now I just have to make a list of the projects I can make.

11 March 2011

Wanted: Console Table

I'm on the hunt this weekend for a console table. I have such wonderful cookbooks and they are all shoved in a cupboard. There are so many kitchen islands these days that have shelf space for books. Although I have an island, there are no shelves. I want to recreate the idea and I think a console would do the trick. There are two windows in my kitchen with a view of my neighbors house. Typically I wouldn't put furniture in front of a window but I figure I might as well look at something pretty instead of a large brick wall. If I can find one similar to the one shown above it will still let in a lot of light and it is relatively short. I'll be heading to some of the local antique stores hoping I can come up with something there. 

Have a great weekend.

(image from West Elm website)

09 March 2011

Hoe Your Rows

It's hard to believe that spring is almost here. It doesn't feel like all that long ago we were buried under ice and snow (some of you still are!).  Here in the south the trees have started to bud, and the process of playing in the dirt will soon commence.


The perennials have already given way in the last week or so to the sunshine and warmer temps.
I can't wait for the taste of crisp lettuce, fat and juicy tomatoes, and my favorite, the bush beans. I am attempting to bring the garden closer to home this year by converting my very small patch of grass into a square foot garden. This method was developed by Mel Bartholomew. My mom gave me his book awhile ago and I'm finally digging into it.  Why didn't I do this sooner?  As long as you have enough sunlight, a SFG is a practical solution for any urban gardener and Mel's book is full of information if you are new to gardening.  Your library might have it available. 

What I think I'll enjoy most about this garden is how easy it will be to maintain. Since I'm bringing in the dirt and not using the existing soil I can the gauge the ratio of organic matter just right and my weeding will be minimal. (I'm not using the existing soil because our house is a fairly new build and the landscapers merely laid sod over dirt.

As I progress I'll keep you posted!  What are your garden plans for the year?

02 March 2011

Inauguration Post

sign on my fence

Welcome to my web log. This is the first official post.  I hope you will settle in and over time find the information useful and inspiring.  I am starting this blog to reconnect with a more organic life.  I am always in search of ways to hold myself accountable and therefore I came up my 4(for) Green Acres concept.  This idea encapsulates my belief in the importance of leading a wholesome, natural life wherever I live.

Topics you can expect to find here:
  • handmade/homemade
  • sustainable practices
  • old things used for new purposes
  • artist/crafter highlights
  • gardening/food

This space is still under construction.  If you'd like updates you can follow me on twitter.  Just click the icon to the right.

See you soon.