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Archive for the ‘DIY Projects’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Building a Cheap Greenhouse

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI can’t believe I haven’t written about our greenhouse. We’ve been using it for at least a year and a half now, and I’ve been oddly silent about it. I guess it’s probably because it’s not 100 percent complete. We have one small area that still needs a permanent covering, the windows need new glazing, and it is in desperate need of new paint. But it’s still functional and gets a lot of use. And it only cost us about $300.


That might sound like a lot of money until you consider that this greenhouse is 8 by 12 feet and uses glass glazing. Buying a glass greenhouse that size will generally run you around $5,000.

Why a glass greenhouse? Why not just make a hoop house to save money? Hoop houses are great, don’t get me wrong, but they just don’t stand the test of time. While they are cheaper to make upfront, there are some concerns you have to take into consideration. The material usually used for hoop houses is plastic sheeting, which doesn’t last more than a few years, even if it is UV-resistant greenhouse plastic film. I’d prefer not to have to add more plastic to the landfill or spend the money replacing it. Also, you have to give special consideration to the hoop structure. PVC pipe will degrade the plastic through chemical reaction faster than it normally would degrade (and most isn’t UV resistant), so you either have to wrap the pipe or use another material, like galvanized pipe, which increases the cost. Plus, we have a very windy site for most of the year, and plastic sheeting just wouldn’t hold up.

Polycarbonate greenhouses also degrade from UV but last substantially longer than poly film. Polycarbonate is a plastic, and even though it may hold up for 10 to 20 years when properly treated with UV stabilizers, it will discolor and become more opaque after time. It also becomes brittle. Double-walled polycarbonate adds the benefit of being more insulating than both glass and film. It can be quite pricey, though. Not as expensive as buying glass specifically for a greenhouse, but if you can do glass, which is superior to both film and polycarbonate, for less than either, why wouldn’t you?


It’s all about the windows. It is amazing how many people are trying to offload free windows. Craigslist is where we scored the majority of ours. We also scored a free door, which was half-window, from my best friend, who had just bought a house and wanted to replace her front door. We stockpiled old windows until we had what we felt was enough to begin building. Before starting, we laid out the panes on the ground so we could get the right configuration to fit the walls of the greenhouse. Do this carefully. We had a few casualties but fortunately had enough windows to make up the difference. We also made sure that we had some windows with frames so we could open them as needed when it got hot in the summer.


Next, we had to figure out where to site the greenhouse. We had a space on the north edge of our property that wasn’t shaded, and it wouldn’t shade out anything. We made the long 12-foot wall south facing to maximize sun exposure. We also decided that, since the north wall is facing a fence, we could just use plywood for it. We framed up the structure with new lumber, which is where a good portion of the money we spent went. The most costly part of this job, however, was the roofing material. We used some of the extra pavers we had on hand to level the structure, since our ground slopes. It was also imperative that we add extra bracing, as the weight of the windows can be quite substantial.

windows going in

The biggest score from our window search were these two 6-foot-long windows that someone had purchased and never bothered using. They easily spanned the whole lower half of our south-facing wall. It was a tight fit, but we got them in. From our next-door neighbor, we also got narrower windows that flank the door (seen in the first photo).


Once we got most of the windows in on the south-facing wall, we started framing the door and getting the roof joists up. Sexy, ain’t it? We decided to do a simple sloped roof rather than a gable so that the south side would get even more sun exposure, especially in the winter, when the sun angle is lower and when we need the greenhouse the most. One note: A door that comes with a jamb will make framing much easier.


Once the door was in, we were able to finish up adding windows and roofing. For that, we used clear corrugated plastic sheeting. It’s not a particularly pretty greenhouse and it does need a coat of paint, but it’s definitely functional.


Of course, you also have to think about the interior. Where are you going to put plants? And what about the floor? We scored some pea gravel off of Freecycle, enough to put down a nice 3-inch layer. We put down weed cloth first, though, so we won’t be fighting the never-ending onslaught of bindweed and Bermuda grass inside. Tom build a fantastic 8-foot-long potting bench out of scrap wood, and we bought some heavy duty utility baker’s racks for the plants. We’ll probably switch the locations of these, putting the potting bench on the east-facing wall and the racks on the south-facing wall, so we can add another rack. We’re also using an old compost bin (our chickens do all of our composting now) as soil storage.

Have you built your own cheap greenhouse out of scavenged materials? Do you have photos or tips to share? Post them below!

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


It’s Here! The 2013 HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


Is it just us, or did the holidays come out of nowhere this year? No worries. We’ve got you covered with the HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide, featuring a bushel of ideas that don’t require rush shipping or deep pockets. In true HOMEGROWN fashion, you can find what you need to make most of the presents below at your local winter farmers market—or maybe even in your own pantry or closet—because the most meaningful gifts come from our hearts and our hands. We’re also including a few stocking stuffers under $20, because even the most industrious elves need a break sometimes. Details below the photos!



• • • • • • • MAKE IT • • • • • • •


1. Got a t-shirt? A needle and thread? You’ve got what you need to craft Cynthia’s head-turning tote bag. It’s perfect for hauling kale—or whatever 2014’s veggie of the year turns out to be.

2. One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Give Grandma a gift that she couldn’t love more: notecards personalized using homemade potato stamps. (Bonus: Once you’re done crafting, your tools can go in the compost pile.)

3. Remember those friends who couldn’t stop raving about your backyard honey last summer? Chances are they’ll go gaga for Charlyn’s homemade beeswax candles. Learn how to make your own votives and light up a loved one’s winter nights.

4. Decking the halls with boughs of holly smells awfully good, but Maryanne’s coffee filter wreath has a longer lifespan and a smaller price tag than store-bought greenery. Plus, it’s equally appropriate for indoor winter wonderlands and springtime bridal showers.

5. Can’t you just picture a few of these babies wrapped up and tied with a bow? Nope, they’re not candy. They’re seedballs, one way to show those neglected patches of ground some love, and they’re as much fun to make and give as they are to toss.

• • • • • • • COOK IT • • • • • • •


6. So simple, it’s genius: homemade crackers, the perfect complement to all those jams and jellies and spreads in your giftee’s pantry. Get tips in Kari’s 101.

7. In the Southwest, this time of year means delicious tamales. Learn how to make your own to give away—or, better yet, round up a few friends for a tamalada and let everyone take home his or her handiwork.

8. We’re past the window of opportunity for steeping a batch of homemade Kahlúa before Christmas (where did the year go?), but you’ve still got time to make mead using Penny’s Finnish recipe.

9. Have a family member who can’t make it home for Christmas? Nothing says love like a big plate of noodles. Make your own pasta following’s Jannine’s instructions then mail the results to anyone in need of a care package.

10. Calling all candymakers: Looking for a tidbit beyond the usual peppermint bark/orange peel/peanut brittle triad? Give Jackie’s apple cider caramels a spin of the whisk.

• • • • • • • STUFF IT • • • • • • •


11. Paine’s miniature log cabins are crafted in Maine and burn incense made from balsam fir harvested by local woodsmen. Plus, they smell like winter itself for only $10.

12. You know what’s none of your giftee’s beeswax? Disposable plastic wrap. Ugh. Delight the thrifty and the eco-friendly alike with Beeswrap ($15–$19), a greener alternative.

13. If springtime feels too far away, give your favorite sweet tooth something to look forward to: her very own maple spile ($3.25) and a plan to go tree tapping.

14. Or maybe your sweetheart would rather fast forward to summer? Feed his garden daydreams with a 100-count bag of tomato trellis clips ($9.15) for the tamest plants ever.

15. Got another gardener in the family? Help her prepare her soil with a stash of biochar ($12) made from oak and tomato stakes on Pennsylvania’s Happy Cat Farm.

Want more ideas? You can find additional gift how-tos in Weeknight Wonders, updated weekdays through Christmas Eve. And just a note to you, our HOMEGROWN family: May your giving be heartfelt and your holidays be bright, and may your season be filled with delight!




HOMEGROWN Life: Cheap and Easy Thanksgiving Crafts

Monday, November 25th, 2013


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTA“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” —Thornton Wilder


I’ve always considered Thanksgiving the most family-oriented, homegrown holiday. If you’re lucky, your loved ones gather around the table and catch up, sharing what they’re grateful for, as well as the occasional embarrassing memory. In a world where everyone is glued to their phones and holding several conversations at once, taking a day to focus solely on those at the table is a very good thing.

In order to keep costs down and priorities straight, I don’t stress out over family visits or holiday décor at Thanksgiving. I keep my fridge and pantry stocked with go-to items that I can serve on the fly, and I decorate mostly with what I have around the house. And that suits Thanksgiving just fine. After all, it’s not as flashy as Halloween or Christmas, and especially compared to the commercial onslaught that follows, it deserves credit as a grounded and practical holiday. In keeping, below are a couple of my favorite cheap and easy Thanksgiving crafts.


HOMEGROWN-cheap-easy-thanksgiving-crafts-candle-suppliesAs you probably could guess from my last post, I consider candles one of the staples of holiday decorating. To be truthful, I burn so many on any given day that my boyfriend frequently asks if I’m expecting the electricity to go out!

For my first project, I hit the dollar store. My entire shopping list—three pillar candleholders, spray snow, candles, and green glass beads—came to about $10. You could also round up all those vases from flower deliveries you’ll never use again. To round out my supplies, I picked up some cranberries and corn (you can use deer feed, if you have it lying around; we just ran out) from the food store. Last but not least: spray glitter. A craft is not a craft without glitter.

HOMEGROWN-life-cheap-easy-thanksgiving-crafts-candlesI decided to leave one candleholder plain, flock one with the snow, and cover one with gold spray glitter. When using spray snow, it’s up to you how gung-ho you go. Me, I prefer heavy-handed snow for an ethereal glow.

I filled the snowy glass with cranberries and snuggled in a cranberry-colored candled from the dollar store. I filled the glittery gold one with alternating layers of cranberries and corn and topped it with a beige candle. I filled the clear one with cranberries and green glass beads and sprinkled in some red glitter for good measure. Not only did I love the results, but once the holidays have passed, I can toss the corn and berries into the yard for the deer, rinse the glitter and snow from the vases, and use them throughout the year. Well, I might keep the glitter.


HOMEGROWN-cheap-easy-thanksgiving-crafts-redneck-wine-glasses-suppliesMy second project is one I’ve made many, many times: as housewarming gifts, for large picnics, and when I get married, I’ll make them for my rustic reception. They’re commonly known as “redneck wine glasses.”

When I first bought my RV, my sister bought me a redneck wine glass as a joke. You know, a “This here’s an RV” type of a joke (gotta love National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). I promptly fell in love with the glass but not with its $15 price tag. I wasn’t about to spend $100-plus for a set of eight, so I got to thinking about how I could make my own.

I eventually spied glass candleholders at the dollar store and had an epiphany—or, at least, a small a-ha moment. I purchased a case of them, pulled out my Mason jars, picked up a tube of clear epoxy, and got to crafting. Here’s how to make your own.

HOMEGROWN-cheap-easy-thanksgiving-crafts-redneck-wine-glassesStart by cleaning all of the glass parts. Once dry, flip the Mason jars upside down on a flat surface. Make sure you have a damp cloth at the ready before you begin gluing. Trust me on this. I’m lucky to be able to type after my first epoxy disaster. Line the rim of each candleholder with a thick layer of epoxy. Don’t skimp: You want it fairly thick so the seal is firm and leaves no opening for water to get through. Then simply place the rimmed candleholder on the bottom of the Mason jar and align it so that it sits straight. Most epoxies require a considerable drying time, so have a few heavy objects handy to set on top of the candlestick bottoms, applying pressure. Then leave your glasses alone overnight. If any epoxy bubbles out of the seal, simply wipe it away with your wet cloth.

At most, these glasses are about $2.50 apiece in supplies, and they make excellent Thanksgiving hostess gifts. Pair them with a bottle of wine, tie a pretty ribbon around the stems, and voilà: a heartfelt, useful present. Remember to include the Mason jar lid; in the summertime, it comes in handy for keeping bees out of your beverage when sipping outside.


• Present Box: If you’re hosting, place a box at the front door with a sign asking people to drop their cell phones inside and to focus on being present for the holiday.

• Grateful Tree: Paint some large branches (or just leave them natural), put them in a vase, and leave some craft-paper leaf cutouts and a marker at the ready. Ask guests and family to write what they’re most thankful for and hang the leaves on the branches using twine, raffia, or fishing wire.

• Purposeful Pumpkins: Repurpose your leftover mini and decorative pumpkins by covering them in white or metallic paint. Use a metallic marker to write holiday phrases on them, such as “Give Thanks.” You could even use the minis as place cards on the Thanksgiving table.

• Craft Table: To keep little kids busy, set up a project area. (My favorite: pinecone birdfeeders. No scissors needed!) It’s also a chance to bust out the craft paper, stamps, crayons, and markers and have kids go crazy making holiday wrapping paper: recyclable and homemade.

• Feed Bin: If your chickens (goats, pigs, etc.) love table scraps, but not all of your kitchen helpers are familiar with animal diets, put out a small trash can with a list of food items that are animal-friendly. You can even put a pint-sized guest in charge of monitoring the scraping of plates and cutting boards, making sure the appropriate goods go in the feed bin instead of the garbage disposal.

Lastly, take your time: Take the opportunity to delegate, share the work, and share the joy. Put on your favorite tunes, hold hands with those you love, and be grateful for the moment. There’s something to be said for a good, old-fashioned turkey coma.

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleAlthough she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.