Category Archives: Do It Yourself Already

No time for long pickles? Go quick.

We found three cucumbers that missed the first round of pickling and wanted to try a method similar to when you get a bowl of the delicious quick pickles at Ted’s Montana Grill. Rather than try to replicate that recipe, we just did an online search for quick pickles and ended up trying Rachael Ray’s quick pickles.

Since we had grown dill this year, the only ingredient we had to pick up was mustard seed. (We’re planning on growing mustard greens starting in the fall so going forward, that deficiency will be remedied and we won’t need to rely on the store spice).

This recipe is very simple and the results are super tasty. Highly recommended for a bowl of yummy pickles to enjoy with BBQ or anything grilled!

Easy quick pickle recipe with cucumbers from first Sumter batch.
Easy quick pickle recipe with cucumbers from first Sumter batch.

What’s your favorite thing to pickle? Okra is on our list for next year…

Getting extra hands on with concrete

This garden has sparked us to try and do as much as we can ourselves including using a rain barrel, composting, building our own raised beds and trellis (trellises? trelli?) and even creating planters out of concrete. Everything you’ve read or seen online is true probably about making your own planters out of concrete — it’s really easy. Before it dries, concrete mixtures are quite forgiving and not really exact for the recipe so it becomes more of an issue of how far you let your creative mind flow.

We’ve used variants of a few recipes we found online but mainly this hypertufa recipe from Lowe’s. We went a bit overboard with materials and now have enough vermiculite and peat moss for the zombie apocalypse but hey, any time we want to make a pot, we’re ready for that too!

If you’ve never worked with concrete and are a bit leery of getting started with separate materials, just start with a bag of Quickcrete where all you have to add is water. You’ll get a different look but don’t have to worry about ratios and additional bags of stuff to be stored on the patio or garage.

Nerd note…cement and concrete aren’t the same things. Google defines cement: a powdery substance made with calcined lime and clay. It is mixed with water to form mortar or mixed with sand, gravel, and water to make concrete. And concrete: a heavy, rough building material made from a mixture of broken stone or gravel, sand, cement, and water, that can be spread or poured into molds and that forms a stonelike mass on hardening.

Project Photos

Small Buddha carving rests atop a concrete hand in a bowl filled with plants.
Wooden Buddha sits atop a homemade concrete hand in our repurposed fire bowl, now filled with red petunias.
Homemade concrete bowl resting on ground.
Hypertufa (concrete) bowl ready finally after curing, soaking, filing, sanding, and rinsing. Yes, I added drainage hole right after this shot…
Red spotted purple butterfly or Limenitis arthemis astyanax enjoying a cool day in the garden.
Red spotted purple butterfly or Limenitis arthemis astyanax enjoying a cool day in the garden, June 25. This was towards the end of the process when I had the pot sit in a spot in the garden that gets a lot of rain directly from the house.
Sempervivum and another unknown succulent started in hypertufa planter
Sempervivum (hens-n-chicks) buds repotted. This was the first bowl I did and the star shape was a glass candle holder for the inner mold. I had to break it to get it out — use plastic for molds!
hens and chicks succulent in concrete ball
Sempervivum (hens-n-chicks) replanted in DIY concrete ball. We used a flexible play ball for this shape, supported by sand for curing.

Some caveats we learned from the process:

  • Fully round shapes are difficult. The most precise mold we found was an 8-inch glass light fixture that we cracked off our finished globe. That’s not really kid friendly BUT if you don’t need exactly round, small flexible play balls will work just fine.
  • Almost anything can be used as a mold. For the hand we used a latex kitchen glove, turned inside out and sprayed with oil spray, and then supported it on a bed of sand while it cured.
  • If you don’t want to wear a particle mask, a well-secured bandanna around your mouth and nose will work just fine.
  • A 5-gallon bucket works well for mixing everything if you don’t have a flatter tub.
  • Glass inner shapes (like a candle holder) don’t come out easily. Stick to plastic unless you don’t care about destroying your inner shape.
  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities and want to make a billion things. Choose one simple pot to start with so you get a feel for the process.
  • Have a hose or additional rinsing water available in case you get wet concrete mixture on anything you didn’t intend to touch. You have a little bit of time before it’s super hard but if you get it on skin, it will itch or burn.
  • If you want to have a smoother surface, use less vermiculite/perlite and peat moss. So many different recipes that people have tried with success — just do an online search and see!

Additional Resources

Endless hours of critters

We’ve been having an inordinate amount of fun trying to capture (photographically) the critters coming into the garden. Of course we’ve named a fair number of them as well. If you heard us talking about “Sancho the chipmunk” or “Stinky the brown thrasher” you might chuckle and keep walking.

House wrens snacking in the bird feeder
House wrens snacking in the bird feeder. No, we didn’t name these guys because there are so many.

The shots of the birds were taken with an improvised tripod from a repurposed Renaissance festival spear and smartphone. This latest photo of Sancho was in combination of binoculars plus smartphone.

Ground squirrel or chipmunk at the bird feeder
Sancho the ground squirrel — chipmunk — at the bird feeder.

Do check out the Critters page for an ongoing list of the birds, mammals, and insects we’ve been able to identify.

Growing sweet potatoes from existing potatoes

Know how if you forget about a sweet potato (sometimes called yams here in the US depending on the variety) and it’s in a dark, humid spot it will start to sprout? If you give it more of that fun treatment, you can grow your own sweet potatoes from those existing potatoes.

We always start with an organic potato because we’ve heard conventionally grown tubers may have a sprout inhibitor. It’s easy to get them started in quart jars in water or we’ve seen some methods with shallow pans of dirt. Both will have you a ton of slips to work with in very short order. We had so many this year we planted 6 bags with two plants each so…we’ll see. These are garnet red yams (again, really sweet potatoes) and they should really start heavy vining growth this month.

red garnet yams from slips growing in plant bag
Red garnet yams about a month old (when planted).

Tech to make life easier

We’ve implemented a converted 50-gallon lidded trash can to catch rain, built PVC trellis and bamboo trellis, added levels to existing raised beds, and started making our own concrete planters. The compost tumblers are a longer work in progress. Oh yeah, soaker hose which we haven’t had to use a ton yet because it’s been so rainy.

rain barrel from converted 50-gallon lidded trash can
Rain barrel connected to gutter downspout (from a conversion kit). Used a lidded 50-gallon trash can. Floating thing is a mosquito dunk.
Patreece the sassafras tree with a solar LED light, composter tumblers in the background
Compost tumblers tucked near the hose station.