Carrots can be tricky to grow. We have failed quite a few times. Our soil is full of stones and on top of that we have raised beds made up mostly of well rotted cow manure. This combination is great for most of our crops but the carrots do not like it one bit.
As we have been busy building, tiling, gardening and painting for the last year or so, it was a very exciting time this week when we finally had a chance to get the sewing machine out.
Two of our teenage daughters are sharing a room and they had a wish for some bunting to decorate their curtains and windows.
It was finally time to finish off work on our bottle wall sections this week. We have written a few posts about bottle wall construction over the last few months, and now it was time to add the finishing touches to our largest project. We found a lovely arched sash window as a second in a local joinery and decided to add a bottle wall arch to each side of it for a beautiful composition and also to add more light into our extension.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that we like to recycle and reuse as many items as possible. When our newly adopted puppy needed a bed we wanted to make it ourselves. We had an old suitcase in the shed that came with the house when we bought it and up until now had been used to store tiles in for mosaics.
We started the transformation from suitcase to bed by washing it thoroughly and zipping and buckling it up. Then we turned it over and cut a cross from the four corners and glued the flaps down securely. We cut a piece of plywood to fit inside the suitcase and glued it down.
After that it was time to attach the legs. We made them from a piece of round wood cut into 10 cm sections. The legs were attached to the underside by screws from the inside of the suitcase, through the plywood and suitcase material. Now the bed has five very sturdy and heavy legs that make it stay in place when our dog climbs in and out.
We gave the inside of the bed two coats of washable matt emulsion, adding filler around the plywood bottom after the first layer and ended up with a practical, easy to clean bed.
We used an old foam mattress, cut it into shape and made a washable, detachable cover for it. After that all the bed needed was a fluffy dog blanket and it was ready for Dubh. We adopted her today and although she has only been in the house for about 9 hours she already loves her bed and has dozed off in it a couple of times in between all the excitement of a new home, a garden to explore and new country lanes to go for walks down. We are hoping she will sleep soundly in it tonight. As she is only about five months old we expect her to grow quite a lot bigger and maybe we need to look for a larger old suitcase in the months to come.
You could adapt this method to any size suitcase and use it for cats and dogs. If you have a different type of suitcase with a hard shell you can leave the lid open and secure it in some way so the pet won’t get bitten…
You will be preventing the old suitcase from going into landfill and by not buying a new pet bed you are doing the Earth a favour in the process. It is a quirky addition to your home and you can adapt it using colours and fabrics to suit your own taste and style. Have fun if you decide to try this out for your dog or cat.
We have come to the stage of our build when it is time to connect the extension to the house. We will knock a hole in the back wall of the cottage but first we are building the walls on the little connection part. We wanted the space to be as light as possible so decided to put in another bottle wall. Two days were spent recently cleaning; fitting and taping our glass bottle and jar bricks. It takes a lot of glass bricks to build a wall so if you are planning a build like this, start collecting jars and bottles at once. Duct tape is best we find, but in a pinch brown parcel tape will do. We have been collecting a lot of decorative small glass bowls on our charity shop rambles, and they are a nice addition to the walls. To make bricks out of them we use big soft drink PET- bottles. This wall will not get a lot of direct sunlight so the bottles should be strong enough. It is only the very thick bottom part that is exposed to the elements anyway.
Yesterday we built the frames for the walls. A friend gave us some lovely hawthorn trees and we decided to incorporate them in one of the walls. The bottom bit will accommodate a radiator and the top section will be built out of glass bricks. The other wall will be built entirely out of bottle sections.
It is important to add lots of nails for the mortar to grip onto. We try to aim for a rather stiff mortar mix, a bit like mashed potatoes. You can experiment a bit with this. If the mix is too stiff it is difficult to make it reach all the crevices in between the bottles but if it is too loose it will not hold the bricks securely in place and bulge out between them.
It is advisable to make a lot of small sections out of wood as this makes for a stable and sturdy wall. We put nine sections in this wall and at the top middle section we will add a nice big bowl with a sunburst design.
We managed to fill about half the wall with glass bricks today and are planning to do the rest tomorrow. It is a quick building technique once you get used to it. We always put the mortar at each end of the bricks and add insulation to the middle, this also cuts down on the amount of cement used.
It is rewarding to see the wall go up, knowing that you are building mainly with materials that are free and readily available. We are planning to use a bit of grout later on the inside of the wall for a smooth finish.
We have been hard at work for over a month and finally we are starting to see the results of our efforts. One of the main reasons for our bathroom renovation was to raise the ceiling. It was so low that an adult was unable to stand up in the bath to take a shower. It always had a slightly claustrophobic feel to it. So the old leaking, low roof had to go.
Along with a raised ceiling we wanted more light and our choice fell on a wall made out of old wine bottles and jars. Recycled glass is an environmentally friendly, free, beautiful resource. It is easy to come by and easy to use. What is not to like about it. We drank the odd bottle of wine, collected bottles from friends and ate a lot of pasta sauce and mayonnaise for a while. The walls in our bathroom are very thick so we only needed to pop a jar on top of each bottle and tape to secure. It is good to have a similar height to your glass bottle bricks as it makes the building a lot easier. You will need to play around with the different bottles and jars to get them to an equal height. Make sure all bottles are clean and dry before taping them together.
After removing all the layers of the old ceiling and roof, we built up next to the window and on each corner with cement blocks that could easily take the weight of the new roof and filled in the sections in between with our made up bottle- bricks.
To save on cement we put insulation on the middle of the block in the same way we did on our bottle wall in our extension. You can read about all our construction techniques in the building category. The bottle bricks acts as double glazing in themselves so makes for a very well insulated wall.
We filled in between the bottles with cement and smoothed it out on the inside and out. After that all that we needed to do was put on a 50/50 mix of PVA and emulsion for two layers followed by two layers of emulsion. We went for white and added some sand to the paint in the ceiling to get a similar look to the bottle sections and the ceiling. We added mosaics to the pillars and are very happy with the results. The result is a bright, personal and very cheap bathroom. About 80% of our tiles came from a skip so the main cost for our walls was for the few concrete blocks, cement, the tile adhesive and grout. But the best feeling comes from knowing we have impacted as little as possible on the environment by using mainly bottles and other recycled materials. It takes more time than tiling and building in a conventional way, but if you decide to do something similar, we think you will be very happy with the results. Please post pictures in the comments if you make something inspired by this post. We would love to see it.
What better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day than to plant potatoes? We have asked a few of the neighbours if it is a good time to plant them this time of year in our part of Ireland (the west) and they have all said we should be alright to put them in. For the last two weeks we have been keeping them in our porch, a cold and bright place and now the potatoes have good little shoots growing. We have not grown potatoes here before but we have opted for the tyre method where the potatoes are grown in a tyre and as they grow more tyres and soil are added to earth them up and produce a large crop. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.
In between the tyres we put fluffed up sheeps wool to avoid creating a slug hotel where the slugs could hang out and go on nightly raids to the nearby just sown rows of carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips. To avoid potato blight we are planning to make a strong nettle and comfrey tea that can be watered down and used at every watering. A friend told us about this method and he has grown healthy potatoes this way. As we are growing everything organically we would like to avoid chemicals and if anyone has other tips on how to avoid blight, please write about them in the comment section.
We also planted a lot of things today that need to be grown in pots to get off to a good start. As we have a tiny cottage and not much room inside, we invented a way last year to grow as much as possible under our circumstances. All through the year we save our toilet rolls and along with free newspapers, free plastic boxes from the supermarket and a bit of plastic wrap we create a practical, slug-proof and hygienic environment for our little seedlings. They can be planted straight in the ground in their rolls, or into a larger pot for growing on with no root disturbance.
We wanted to grow peas, beans, sunflowers and a variety of gourds and squashes so opted for a mix of multi-purpose and seed compost with added perlite as our growing medium. The toilet rolls can be stuffed quite full and placed on newspaper, tightly packed together for stability. We watered the full boxes and let them stand for a few hours to saturate the cardboard and let excess water run away.
Planting all the seeds was great fun, with one person using the dibber to the correct depth, one person planting the seeds and one person writing down all the varieties for the different rows in the box. We then watered the boxes again to set the seeds in, let them drain off for a further couple of hours and wound the plastic wrap around the whole box a few times. Last year we let the seeds stay sealed up like this for about a month, with no water or air added. The box became a perfect micro climate and all the seedlings came out strong and healthy.
We keep the boxes in our gazebo and the seedlings do not seem to mind the frost, even when the ground is white and frozen in the mornings. The boxes and the gazebo keep them snug and they get enough light to not grow weak and straggly.