Archive for the ‘Crafts’ Category

How to Make a Garden Gazing Ball

I used to think garden orbs were a little kitschy until I decided to make one myself. Every gardener personalizes their garden in their own way and it seemed like it was time for a garden orb in mine.

My gazing ball

My gazing ball

Gazing balls, garden orbs, gazing globes, and garden balls are all names for a shiny sphere that adds an element of color or reflection to a garden space. They can be made from a number of different materials in a variety of sizes, but for mine I used a bowling ball that I purchased from a local secondhand store.

The first step is cleaning the ball. I used isopropyl alcohol to remove years of bowling alley oil and palm sweat from the ball.

Cleaning the ball

Cleaning the ball

Second, the finger holes and engraved letters need to be filled. I used wood putty. Not all wood putties are the same; some aren’t intended for large holes and will crack when dry. I used a wood putty formulated for filling gaps with minimal shrinking and cracking. You can also use plaster or caulk.

Using putty

Using putty

You want to leave one hole open for mounting the ball in your garden. I left the thumb hole open because it’s larger than the others and gives more options for mounting.

To reduce the amount of putty I needed, I filled each finger hole with rolled newspaper first. This left a depth of about 1/4 inch to fill rather than the original two-inch hole. You may need to do this in a couple steps. Fill most of the hole, let it dry and then add a final fill.

Filling space with newspaper

Filling space with newspaper

After the putty dried I sanded it. The idea is to have the filled hole flush with the exterior curve.

Sanding the dry putty

Sanding the dry putty

After driving a length of rebar into the ground I set the thumb hole on it and began painting the ball. Be sure to choose an exterior paint because the orb will probably be exposed to weather outside. For this ball I selected a metallic gold paint.

Using spray paint

Using spray paint

For extra weather protection you can cover the ball with polyurethane after the paint dries. You need to use spar varnish that is specifically formulated for exterior use. Simply brush it on the entire ball.

Spar varnish for exterior applications

Spar varnish for exterior applications

At this point you can consider the project finished and display your shiny, colored ball. My problem is that many used bowling balls have gouges and scrapes that detract from the smooth, shiny surface I desired. For this gazing ball I opted to add color and texture with the addition of colored glass stones from a craft store.

Using a clear, exterior grade caulk, glue the glass stones to the ball. It just takes a dollop of caulk. Press the stone to the ball firmly. The weight of the glass will cause it to slide down the curved surface if you don’t hold it in place for many minutes. I found that a large rubber band placed around the middle of the ball not only marked a straight line, but also helped hold the stones, reduced their slide, and didn’t require me to waste time applying continual pressure.

Placing the first stones

Placing the first stones

You’ll need to let the first layer set up and dry before moving on. The weight of more than one row will be too much for the rubber band and many pieces will drop off, but with the first row intact it provides an anchor for successive layers. After a few hours of allowing the caulk to set it should be strong enough.

Continue adding rows of stones. I found it best to do two or three rows at a time and let the caulk set before moving on with more rows. After the upper half is dry, turn the ball over and finish the second hemisphere. I used an egg carton to support the ball while I was working but a large bowl, pan, or wood template would work too.

Covering the ball with glass

Covering the ball with glass

This project took about four days to complete with me completing layers periodically through the day.

When the entire ball has had a few days to dry completely it’s ready to place outside. Rebar is an easy mounting rod. Galvanized pipes can be used and can be painted to match the ball. Copper pipe adds a nice touch and brings an eclectic look when is develops a patina.

Their is no limit to the colors and designs that you can use to make gazing balls. After the gold ball with colored glass I made a silver one with clear glass stones.

My silver gazing ball

My silver gazing ball

Next I’ll break up an old mirror and grout the edges after mounting the pieces to the ball. It will be a truly reflective orb.

With a little imagination, a bowling ball, and minimal crafting skill, you can have a gazing ball of your own.

Advertisements

Build a Bird House

Like restless people spending a nice spring day looking for a new apartment, many active birds are searching for a new abode in the warming sun. With a little effort you can play landlord and make their search easier. Build a birdhouse.

A store-bought birdhouse my wife painted

I understand that not every gardener relishes the idea of encouraging more birds to invade their planting beds. One of the nice things about making a birdhouse is that you can design it for specific birds. You get to choose which birds move into your neighborhood and which ones have to look elsewhere.

Every bird has unique requirements when it comes to their housing. The entrance hole needs to be a certain size, the inner cavern can’t be too big or too small, it has to be a certain height above the ground, the proximity to trees or grass or buildings matters. Vary any of these factors and you change the appeal of the house for different birds. By focusing on combining these attributes you can encourage favorite birds to move in.

I’ll use the House Wren as an example. Wrens are pretty little song birds common to all of the Americas and can be a great benefit to gardeners. Unlike my nemesis the Magpies which seem to enjoy eating the seeds, berries, and fruit in my garden, wrens primarily eat insects, slugs, and snails. Attracting more wrens improves my pest control plan.

Wrens have very basic housing requirements. A nest made up of twigs, hair, bark, and moss, in a cavity a few meters above the ground is all they need. Building a wooden box and placing it where they can find it is all that’s necessary to promote their arrival. So I made some wren bird houses.

I started with a standard wooden fence board that can be found at most big box home and garden centers. A one inch by six inch cedar plank, four feet long (1″ x 6″ x 4′) is enough to make one house. This board will be cut into six pieces, one for each side of the box that becomes the bird house.

There are no fancy cuts or designs. The birds don’t care if it matches your home decor or if it has won a design contest. They’re just looking for a hole where they can make their nest. This bird house is just a wood box. You can decorate and paint it if you like, but it’s not necessary.

The back of the house is 11 inches long; this is the longest piece and provides extra space to secure the bird house to a fencepost or tree. The front and two sides are eight inches long. The floor is four inches deep. The roof is 8 1/2 inches long and provides an overhang to help keep rain out. Lay out the board and mark lines at 11″, 8″, 8″, 8″, 4″, and 8 1/2″ for straight cuts.

On one of the wall pieces a hole is drilled about six inches from the bottom. This is the most important part of building a wren house, or any bird house. The hole needs to be 1 1/8 inch to 1 1/4 inch in diameter and it needs to be a specific height above the floor. Change the size and you change the occupant. If you cut the hole 1 1/2 inches wide you’re inviting sparrows, swallows, and bluebirds. Believe it or not, 1/8 of an inch can make a big difference.

At this point you put all the pieces together to form a box. I start by nailing together the floor and one side wall. A pneumatic finish nailer makes the job faster, but finish nails and a hammer will work fine too.

One side attached to the floor piece

Turn the piece over and connect the other side. Using exterior wood glue at the joints will make the house stronger.

Glue the joints before connecting for extra strength

With the two sides and floor together, attach the front piece, being sure to line up and square all edges.

The front piece squares the sides

Attach the back piece allowing for an inch to 1 1/2 inch overlap at both the top and bottom. Holes drilled in this overlap is what you’ll use to attach the bird house to a post or tree.

The back piece has holes for mounting the house

To prevent water and moisture buildup inside the house, drill some drainage holes in the bottom. A 1/4 inch drill bit works well.

Drill holes for drainage

For extra ventilation, drill a few holes at the top of each side. After drilling the holes shake out extra sawdust from the inside of the house.

Drill holes for ventilation

The top piece is not nailed into position. One side or the top needs to be removable so the house can be cleaned out at the end of the season and readied for new occupants the next spring. You can make a pivoting side piece where you put pivot nails at the top of each edge and use a screw to secure the bottom. I find it easier to drill holes in the top and connect the top piece with screws so it can be removed as needed.

The top piece is attached by screws

The birdhouse is complete. Mount it in a tree, under the eaves, or on a fence or wall about two to three meters high and hang out a rental sign for wrens.

The finished birdhouse

Bird houses can be made with just about any wood. Pine is cheap and available, but it tends to have sanded surfaces and the rough wood of the cedar I use actually helps baby birds get a grip and climb from the nest. If you use smooth pine, rough up the interior walls.

You don’t need to put a perch at the entrance of the house. Most birds can land on the edge of the hole and climb inside without assistance.

Predators are a definite concern with bird houses. If you mount it on a pole or post you might want to attach a metal guard to prevent squirrels, raccoons, or cats from climbing up. You can also buy predator guards that fit around the entrance hole to keep the same animals from reaching in the nest; attaching another piece of wood with the same hole dimensions to double the entrance depth can work too.

You can find many guidelines and plans for birdhouses online and at the library. I found great information and plans at www. 50birds.com. Enter “how to make bird houses” on google and you’ll get millions of suggestions.

If you like birds in your garden and want to attract more, consider building a bird house. It’s easy, inexpensive, and encourages wildlife in your garden.

Go to www.50birds.com

How to Make Seed Balls From Recycled Paper

Making seed balls is a great garden project for gardeners of all ages. A seed ball is a small object that packs seeds together with a growing medium for planting. The concept is accredited to Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese farmer and philosopher who developed the basic formula of mixing clay with humus or compost, and seeds. The balls can be sown in a “natural farming” method where soil tilling isn’t necessary. The seed balls are thrown or laid on the soil and nature’s rains dissolve them to reveal and germinate the seeds.

Last week I wrote about “seed bombs” and how to make them. Seed bombs are essentially seed balls with a sometimes nefarious purpose. The clay and compost balls are tossed into vacant city lots or barren fields and flowers and grasses sprout depending on the seed in the seed bomb.

For a more aesthetic seed ball, a family gardening project, and a fun gift idea, consider making seed balls from recycled paper. Instead of clay and compost, paper holds the seeds together in the ball.

Paper seed balls

When water is added to paper it can be pulverized to a pulp. Seed is mixed with the paper pulp and turned into seed balls. These seed balls can be formed into many different shapes and made in many different colors.

To make the pulp you’ll need a blender or food processor. I recommend using one that is old and not regularly used for your meals. Inks in the paper will be transferred to the plastic and are hard to clean. I purchased a used food processor from Goodwill for a few dollars. It’s now dedicated to the task of making seed balls.

The paper needs to be torn or shredded before adding to the blender. If you pack in a wad of paper and then add water you’ll probably burn up the motor pretty quickly. Smaller paper pieces work better.

I began with four full sheets (four pages each) of newspaper and ran the newspaper through my paper shredder. I’ve also used shredded bills and junk mail to make seed balls. The shredded paper breaks apart easily in the blender when water is added.

Working in batches, put the torn or shredded paper in the blender and add water. I’ve found that soaking the paper in a tub of water before adding it to the blender helps it break apart easier. Even if it was soaked beforehand you’ll still need to add water to the blender.

Shredded paper in the food processor

We’re talking about a lot of water. The four sheets of newspaper required cups and cups of water. I tried measuring to develop a precise recipe but stopped after the first batch. A couple handfuls of shredded paper required more than two cups of water.

The paper needs to turn into a mushy mash. The blades of the blender or food processor will rip the paper into shreds only when it is overly saturated. If you don’t use enough water you’ll get a clump that just bounces around the blender or stays in one place, not breaking apart. Add more water as the blender is blending until you get the paper thoroughly disintegrated and a mushy pulp develops.

Processed pulp

Remove the pulp and set it in a bowl or put it into a colander to allow some of the water to drip out. Continue blending all your paper and water in small batches until all of it is pulp.

At this point try to remove a good part of the water by pressing or squeezing the pulp with your hands. Discard the water or save it for another batch. With the pulp very damp, but not dripping water, transfer it to your mixing bowl.

Moist pulp

I added 1/4 cup of wildflower seeds to the entire pulpy mass that four sheets of newspaper produced. Using my hands I kneaded it all together like making bread dough. You want the seeds to be fully mixed into the paper pulp.

Adding seeds

When it’s all incorporated, takes small pieces of the mix and press them into molds, into cookie cutters, or form them with your hands into balls. I find that using small cookie cutters give you a greater variety of shapes to choose from. Keep adding the pulp and seed mixture until the mold is filled.

Pressing pulp into the mold

The seed balls will need to dry so removing as much water as you can at this point will accelerate the entire process. Begin by compacting the paper as much as you can to force water out and then soak up the water with paper towels or newspaper. These blotting materials can be turned into more seed balls later on.

Blotting excess water

Gently remove the seed balls from your mold and let them dry for a few days. Removing them allows you to use the mold for the next batch and also give the seed balls exposed surface area for drying. They’ll expand slightly in the process.

By using water tinted with a few drops of food coloring you can get seed balls of any color you like. You can also try shredding colored paper and mixing that with water. Varying the shapes and colors provides wonderful gift opportunities.

Tinted paper seed balls drying

While seed balls made with clay and compost can be thrown on the soil surface and will sprout, seed balls made with recycled paper work best when planted in pots beneath a thin layer of potting soil. The decorative shapes and colors make the planting a fun activity for kids.

Making seed balls with recycled paper works well on many levels. You reuse waste materials while adding fun to planting. It’s not as messy as the clay seed balls can be and the finished products look better. The entire project takes just a few minutes and the paper seed balls can be stored for months before giving away or being planted.

If you’re looking for a fun gardening project, try making recycled paper seed balls.

Thanks to Erin from Gardening in the Lines for some consultation on making seed balls.

How to Make Seed Bombs

As landscape armaments go, seed bombs are my weapon of choice. A popular tool in guerrilla gardening, they allow seeds to be sown in difficult-to-reach locations like vacant city lots and other barren, urban locations. While popularized on the internet as a method of adding life to blighted areas, seed bombs can also be a fun and interesting way to add plants to home gardens.

My homemade seed bombs

Seed bombs are nothing more than clay and another growing medium like compost or worm castings mixed together with seeds and water. Formed into a ball and dried, they can be tossed anywhere the thrower’s arm can reach. Rain or irrigation cause the clay-based ball to dissolve into a blob where the seeds can germinate amid the compost and grow into vibrant plants.

Recipes vary but the most common one found on the web is:

Five parts clay
Three parts compost
One part seed
One to two parts water

My garden already has too much clay and my region is quite arid so I prefer a recipe that has more compost and less clay, closer to a 50-50 mix. Dry clay powder is combined with the compost and seed and water is added. Clay is the binder and as long as you use enough of it to hold the ball together just about any combination will work.

The choice of seed is completely personal. Wildflower mixes are popular but check the specific seed mix to make sure you’re not introducing noxious weeds or invasive plants. Lettuce and salad seed mixes are a nice option, as are bombs concentrating on sunflowers or peas and beans.

The biggest problem I encountered in making seed bombs was finding the clay. Dry, powder, ceramic clay is preferred. You’ll see “dry, red clay” mentioned often in recipes, but the color really doesn’t matter. The problem comes in that few hobby stores and retail stores sell dry clay. Surprisingly, few ceramic supply stores sell it as well. My city of half a million people only has one ceramic outlet that offers it and a 50-pound bag is the smallest size available. For about twenty dollars I thought it was worth the price.

Moist clay can be purchased from nearly all hobby and ceramic stores. You can use this pre-mixed wet clay to make seed bombs but incorporating the compost and seeds thoroughly is more difficult. You also have to be careful because some of the hobby blends are designed to harden permanently when dry and they may not dissolve in the rain as desired. Use the powder if you can find it.

If you’re making seed bombs for your own garden and your soil has a propensity for clay, you can use your own soil in the mix. No need to buy clay if you have your own already. I wouldn’t recommend using your soil if you plan to share your seed bombs because you may inadvertently transfer your soil problems to another gardener.

Begin by measuring out the ingredients per your recipe. For these photos I used the 5-3-1 ratio mentioned above:  1 1/4 cups clay, 3/4 cup sifted compost, and 1/4 cup wildflower seeds.

The dry ingredients

Mix the dry ingredients completely to get the best and most even distribution of seed. Then add the water. I used two parts or 1/2 cup. Combine well with a spoon or your fingers.

The moist mixture

The easiest thing to do at this point is to roll the mixture into small balls between your hands. This can get messy. The size doesn’t matter, though bigger balls will concentrate more seeds in a small area and the plants will have to compete with each other upon germination. This recipe made a baker’s dozen of 1 1/2-inch wildflower seed bombs.

Forming balls

I like to flatten the balls to make little disks. The flatter shape helps keep the seed bombs from rolling away down my hilly landscape and I think a flat piece will dissolve easier and more evenly than a ball when placed on open soil; with our limited rain every drop needs to count and a disk will catch more drops than a sphere. You can press the mixture into a mold if you want a certain shape.

Pressing into a disk

Place the newly-formed, wet seed bombs in a safe place to dry. You can put them on a sheet of newspaper and it will absorb some of the moisture but I don’t find that this accelerates drying much. After two days the seed bombs will be dry and ready to use. There’s no need to use an oven. Just let them air dry.

Dry in two days

If you want to practice a little guerrilla gardening, take the seed bombs and toss them where you want new plants. Be aware that trespassing or littering laws may apply if you throw them on public land or property that isn’t yours.

I suggest you take the seed bombs and toss them in areas of your own landscape where you want a random growth of new plants. For children, it’s a fun game to toss the little marbles around. Left where they land they’ll sprout when the water falls, either rain or from your sprinkler.

For a more controlled process the seed bombs become seed balls that can be placed in pots or specific garden rows. Planted just below the soil surface they’ll germinate with normal garden watering. Like seed tape the seed balls help you control where your seeds go.

The entire process of making seed bombs is a good one for schools and gardening clubs. Make it a group activity. If you use a light-colored clay, add food coloring to color the balls. Package them and give as gifts. Have a bomb party and let your friends and family help plant a new garden bed.

Have fun with the whole thing. In gardening, bomb doesn’t have to mean a dangerous weapon.