Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Egg-cellent Starts

So my campaign to get more containers for planting has been relatively unfruitful. I will pass on a big thank you to my mom who mailed me some along with a pound of home-roasted coffee! This weekend I got up to find that the peas we starting to sprout. I KNEW at that time that I really had to get this show on the road.

The garden plan this year is a pretty ambitious use of space. I think it will probably be too tight in a few places, particularly where the squash and broccoli are going, but we are going to play it by ear. I like planning out my garden from year to year, changing it up to match what actually happened. Doing this makes it possible to keep track of things like rotating nitrogen fixers, what needed more or less sun, or what liked/disliked being planted close to one another.

This was the plan to begin with. I did it in pencil, but then I lost the pencil (I am sooo awesome), so I am writing in what actually got planted in pen over the top of it.

I decided to take advantage of some of the egg cartons I had been saving to take back to our co-op. Some people LOVE using egg cartons because they are simple, small, and easy to move around. Also, if you use the cardboard ones they hold in moisture and you can just cut them up and plant them cups and all into the soil. Those who don't like them argue that there is not enough soil depth to really get good starts. I compromise on this issue by planting things in my egg cartons that I will transplant pretty quickly.

I also love that they are stackable and easy to carry around!

I planted spinach, kale, chard, and basil in my egg cartons. Most of them i put only one seed per unit, but with the basil I put two because I had some trouble last year with my basil seeds sprouting. I chose these plants because I will put them in the soil as soon as I am confident they won't be taken out by heavy least the kale, chard, and spinach. I may hold the basil inside a bit longer because it likes a little more heat than the others.

I am really loving the starts shelf I made. The one downer is that the screens have stretched a bit where the containers are so they don't sit totally level. Fortunately for me that does not affect the plants' growth, and only really causes issue if one is anal retentive enough to care that things are a bit lopsided (I am not).

Monday, March 28, 2011


Captured this fuzzy shot Saturday morning with my phone. Thought it was an amazing testament to nature, growth, spring, and why on earth I do what I do.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Shonnards

A couple of the wonderful women I get to work with at Oregon State University and I have formed a little support and information group around home gardening. Besides being fun (and giving us an excuse for extra coffee runs), it has been a great way to share ideas, troubleshoot, and generally share a love for semi-urban homesteading (love ya Stephanie and Kristi!). Recently our little crew too a field trip to a session on organic gardening put of by Corvallis gardening center Shonnards.

I will say that Shonnards is not a business that solely focuses on organic gardening, but they do provide products and advice that allow even the greenest (no pun intended) organic gardener to get started. The session was informative, and covered topics such as making raised beds, soil maintenance, what and when to plant, watering, pest control, and other general gardening topics. Even I, who have been playing with organic gardening on and off throughout my life, found that it was a great resource - especially topics that pertained to the local soils and ecology of the Willamette Valley. I was reminded that just as one needs to learn the culture into which he or she moves, one also has to relearn some gardening techniques.

I am not going to review Shonnards here - I did not go into the store because the event was held in a nearby conference room - but I did want to say thank you for putting on a great event that was free to the public. I will also say thanks for bringing my attention to an idea that I'd not thought about much - wall gardening. I know that this has been a common practice of late, but I had not seen much about it until the speaker brought in a planter box that can be mounted on the wall. I was inspired. With my interest in avoiding purchasing things I can make, I am resolute in trying this out some time over the summer. I will keep you posted.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hot to Rot

We are very excited this week to have received our first request for advice - we feel we are moving up in the world (nice that we don't really take ourselves that seriously). First off, we'd like to thank you for reading, and second, we'd like to thank Anna from Chicago for writing in about a particularly rotten topic - compost:

"I'm a regular reader of your blog, living in an extremely suburban suburb of Chicago. We do have a backyard and our own little garden, but what we REALLY want to do is start composting. I've been looking at a lot of commercial composting systems (mostly on but there has to be a cheaper way... right? One that won't have the neighbors smelling what we had for dinner last night?"

So...we have decided to answer this question with a two part series on small-space composting. First, let us say that our commitment to recycling and sustainability lead us away from commercially made products in general, and we feel that one can create a satisfactory composting system (or systems) using reclaimed materials. We are not saying that commercial composting systems are bad - just that we prefer not to use them.

The first rule of compost is that everything breaks down eventually (including that computer you are on, but we don't recommend composting that), but that the practice of using a compost system is a means of speeding up the process. What is the process you ask? The verb of composting is that microorganisms, bacteria, fungus, worms, and other various critters consume organic matter, breaking it down into simpler components. These components comprise the elements in soil (phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium and more) that plants need in addition to sunlight and water to survive and thrive.

So it would follow logically that if you engage in backyard gardening, that a great low-cost way to get nutrients for your plants is through composting. Today we are going to highlight one way to compost that takes up a small amount of space and works relatively quickly - worm composting (vermiculture - no pun intended).

You can engage in worm composting indoors or out, large scale or small. What it takes to get started are the following materials:

- A container (minimum 4 cubic feet). It can made out of just about anything, but needs an outlet in the bottom to drain liquid. In the past we've used a bathtub for an outdoor worm farm, but an old sink would work, or just a plastic bin with holes punched in it.
- Means to prop the container up off the ground or surface on which it is placed. This needs to be high enough to place the third element, a smaller container into which any liquid can drain.
- Newspaper or office paper. This should line the bottom of the container in a 'fluffy' way either through shredding or crumpling to a depth of 1-2". Once you have this in place, moisten it with water.
- WORMS!!! There is debate about what worms you need. Know that before you go digging up your backyard for nightcrawlers that you should probably do some research about what kinds of worms work best for your situation and climate. We recommend red wiggler worms because they are able to withstand the heat generated by the microbial activity in compost. Jason got his worms online through Uncle Jim's Worm Farm. The worms came in the mail ready to go! You can also check bait and tackle places for red wigglers. You don't need a lot of worms to start - they will reproduce to the size of the container you get.
- Put the worms in the container and start adding kitchen scraps, grass clippings etc. (no meat) Over time pay attention to what the worms do or do not eat and adjust what you add accordingly.

As you add food to the container, put it in one end and push what is already there down towards the other. This allow the worms to eat, leave castings, and move out toward the new food so that you can scoop out what is left and apply to your plants. It helps to tilt the container downward in the direction of the drain. What drains out is called 'worm pee' or 'compost tea' and also can be applied to plants for nutrients. Worm castings (what is left after the worms are eating) are higher in nutrients than other compost, so this a great way to generate high nutrient compost with a small amount of space.

Some people put their worm farms under their sinks. Others in garages, and still others outdoors. Our suggestion is to try out different ways of doing it to see what works best for you. If you put the worm farm in a place where there is light be sure to cover it. This will also cut down on any smell you might deal with. Check your worms to see that the material is moist but not saturated. If you find you are getting a very smelly worm farm it means you are putting in food faster than the worms can eat it, or you are giving them too much water. In this case back off on water and consider either starting a second composting system or expanding the worms to fit your needs.

Once you have it going, have fun. Use the castings, get rid of kitchen waste, and name your worms.

Next posting: bin systems and other small-scale composting.

FYI: We LOVE the book, Let it Rot, by Stu Campbell.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Start Me Up

I have been saving and saving my old plastic containers and FINALLY have amassed enough to get one crop started for spring...this is going to have to speed up A LOT!!!

Anyhow, I decided to start my peas tonight for a couple of reasons:
  1. Peas like cooler weather and can easily get burned when the sun gets intense. I know that they will do well in the early spring, but I have been assured by people who live here that summer gets quite hot and dry.
  2. Peas take a while to get going, and I want them to be significant plants before I transplant them. I am worrying about small animals that might want to snack on tender pea shoots (I don't blame them), so I want to have some solid plants before I put them out into the wilds of the backyard.
  3. Starting my peas now means that I have to get my butt in gear and build a place for them to climb.
  4. I happened to have my peas saved from last year, and have yet to purchase a lot of the seeds I am planting this year.
I am going to have two different kinds of peas this year - sugar snap peas, and Oregon Trail shell peas (not planned, but funny in a cheesy way nonetheless). Both varieties come from peas I saved from past plantings. Originally both were seeds I purchased through Seeds of Change. This year my goal is to have lots of peas to eat fresh, but I doubt I have enough space to grow peas to put up - we shall see how it goes.

I filled my containers with soil that we got from a local gardening center. Because we are planting into the sheet mulch that is currently composting in the raised beds, I want to make sure that the area around the roots of each plant is nutrient-rich soil so as to mitigate any issues with our little mulch experiment.

I planted two peas per container, 7 containers per pea type. In the end I should have enough plants to run along the full length of one of the raised beds in the back.

Now, here's something very cool that was a total accident. We had a tupperware bin sitting out in front of the house that no one bothered to put away. As the rains came down last week I slid it under a place where our gutter leaks a bit to catch water. I can't say that I have the know-how to fix the gutter at this point, so I figure why not try and turn a problem into a solution? The result is a nice reservoir of rainwater out front that I am using for watering the starts as well as the house plants.

A tupperware bin we never put away becomes a great cachment out front by the rosebush.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Regenerative Design Institute

This week we will be featuring the Regenerative Design Institute, a permaculture demonstration farm and experiential education center in Bolinas, CA. If you were paying attention to earlier posts (and we don't judge you if you were not), you would have noted that this is where Jason has trundled off to for a 6 month internship.

Founded in 2005 by Penny Livingston and James Stark on the property of Commonweal Garden, RDI is dedicated to showing people a better way to live on our planet. They believe that not only can people live sustainably, but they can improve the planet rather than keeping it as is. This is done through the principles of permaculture. For those of you who scratch your head every time we mention permaculture, let this be your basic primer. Permaculture is a design system for human interaction with the earth. This includes everything from agriculture to waste management, water systems to how humans relate to one another. In short, it is a way of life driven by an understanding of natural ecosystems that posits developing strong connectivity within a system makes it even stronger.

RDI offers a series of courses that include permaculture design, regenerative design and nature awareness, ecology of leadership, and reskilling (learning ancient and primitive technologies). They do this within the demonstrative context of their 7-acre farm which includes orchards, livestock, gardens, natural buildings, and a greenhouse. Participants in the courses are able to see first hand the principles of permaculture at work, while hearing lectures from some of the top permaculture experts in the world. For example, a lecture on livestock leads to observation of the ranging chickens providing pest control in the garden. This allows the chickens to gain nutrients for producing better eggs, while the plants are pest-free and get valuable nitrogen from chicken manure. Participants can watch the systems in action, and become inspired to create their own permaculture designs.

So where does Jason come in? As example of how permaculture stretches even into human interaction, RDI 'hires' groups of work traders (monikered 'farm homies') who offer farm labor in exchange for knowledge through permaculture immersion. In the short month that J has been at RDI he's milked goats, plastered buildings, hauled rocks, germinated seeds, planted crops, pruned trees, managed the gravity-fed water system, and learned to make cheese (whew!). He has found it a lot of fun with an amazing community, meaningful work, and great learning opportunities. He now understands how much it takes to run a farm, and the intricacies of permaculture require trial and error and a willingness to make mistakes. As Penny would say, "permaculture is not rocket science. It's a lot more complicated." One might argue this a fair assertion seeing as it's taken 3 billion years to develop natural ecosystems, and permaculture has been alive and kicking a short 30.

The next 5 months for J are full of promise, including remodeling the greenhouse, perfecting the composting systems, and waiting for the rains to cease so spring planting can commence (not to mention lots of yummy food to eat all summer). We hope to hear more about this great place and the things J is doing down on the farm with the homies.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Making Your Own Kombucha - Special Post from Guest Writer Brett Vandermolen

We had some wonderful responses to our posting about making kombucha culture from the bottle. There have been some amazing online conversations, mostly on Facebook, that have been educational and informative to all. Most of these conversations were led by our dear friend Brett Vandermolen who at this point has enough kombucha to send everybody who comes to this site a bottle! We asked him to write up a post for the blog, and he sent us this gem of an article. Totally puts my kombucha piece to shame! I especially enjoy the bit about how to bottle it for carbonation. Thanks Brett for sharing!!! - Clare

Before I delve too far into the subject, some of you might be wondering what is kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented tea with a unique taste and many health benefits. Making your own kombucha is relatively easy. Almost everything you need to make your kombucha can be bought at your local grocery store. There is however one thing you cannot get there, a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Some people call it the Kombucha Mother, or Mushroom. There are two ways to get a SCOBY, finding one already grown (getting it from a friend, getting one from craigslist, etc…), or growing one yourself. There are benefits to both. If you get one from another person you’re going to save a lot of time (it takes about a month to grow one yourself). If you grow one yourself you’ll know it is of good quality and not made from inferior ingredients or from a weak culture. The other things you’ll need are: A glass jar or bowl, a cloth, a rubber band, pure water, tea, sugar, and some already brewed kombucha.

There are actually a lot of variables that involve all of the ingredients you need to brew kombucha. I've already talked a bit about the SCOBY, and I’ll talk more about how to grow one later, so I’ll start with the container. The container you make your kombucha in needs to be glass or ceramic. In my opinion glass is the best choice. Ceramic containers can leach things into the kombucha and make it toxic. Unleaded Glass Jars or containers are a sure thing. Whatever you do, don’t use a metal or plastic container, they’ll leach things into your brew or completely prevent the culture from growing all together. A wide mouth glass jar is your best choice. The SCOBY grows on the surface of the liquid and needs to be a healthy width and circumference. If you use a bottle necked glass jar or a bowl that’s too wide, the SCOBY might turn out to be either not wide enough or too thin. You’ll also need some sort of a cloth to cover the top of the vessel you’re brewing your kombucha in. An exchange of gas needs to occur in the brewing process because of the fermentation that is going on, so the top of your container cannot be completely sealed off, but can’t be left completely open either. If left completely open unwanted bacteria can enter your brew and ruin it by growing mold. Above I mentioned a rubber band. It’s a good choice as a way to get a good seal around the cloth covering your container. Of course, if you have some extra string or something lying around, why not use something you have for free. The water you use needs to be pure. Tap water contains chlorine that will kill the kombucha, so obviously it’s a bad choice. I personally buy jugs of purified water from the store. The tea you use needs to be an oil free black or green tea. Traditionally it was made with black tea, and the tannic acid from black tea helps the kombucha to grow as well. I personally do a mixture of black and green teas. You’ll also need to decide if you want your tea to be organic or not, mine is. Sugar is needed to provide the “food” for your SCOBY to eat. There is actually a big debate on what kind of sugar to use. Some people use raw and organic sugars for good reason, and some people use cheap processed sugar because the kombucha can “eat” it more easily. I use organic turbinado sugar. It’s still organic, but slightly processed making it easier for the kombucha to use. When all of the above listed things are in place you’ll also need to add one or two cups of already brewed kombucha to the mixture to make it properly acidic. This will create an environment where the kombucha can thrive and mold cannot grow.

Growing your own SCOBY does take some time and delay the brewing process, but its fun. You get to watch the process from the very beginning and have an added feeling of self-sufficiency. Here is how it’s done… First you need to select a high quality bottle of plain kombucha that has a fair amount of the yeasty filaments and sediment inside. In a saucepan boil one cup of water and dissolve two tablespoons of sugar into it. Next you’ll add one tea bag or one tablespoon of loose-leaf tea and allow some time for it to steep. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature remove the tea bags or leaves. Add this sweetened tea and your bottle of kombucha to a quart jar and cover it with a cloth sealed with a rubber band or string. Place this in a warm dark space and allow it some time to grow. In just a couple of days you’ll notice a thin film beginning to grow on the surface of the liquid. This is the beginning of the SCOBY. When it reaches a thickness of about an eighth of an inch its time to give it a boost. Next you’ll need to boil four cups of water, dissolve one third of a cup of sugar into it, and steep two tea bags. When this cools to room temp add it to a one-gallon glass jar (this will be your typical vessel size for the recipe I give, so it’ll be good to have one on hand). Dump the first kombucha mixture with the SCOBY and all into it, cover it and place it in a warm dark place. Over the next two weeks the SCOBY will thicken considerably. When it reaches a thickness between one quarter to one half inches it’ll be ready to brew your first batch of kombucha. Keep in mind that if at any point during this process mold appears you’ll need to discard everything and start over from the beginning. Mold will be green or white. Brown spots are just the yeast. If the mixture is properly acidic this shouldn't even be possible. This process takes about one month. The warmer the temperature the kombucha is stored in, the faster the process will be. I have a friend who uses a small “kombucha greenhouse” that keeps it at about ninety degrees and speeds up the process considerably.

Once you have a SCOBY, brewing the kombucha is relatively easy. First you’ll need to boil three quarts (12 cups) of water and dissolve one cup of sugar into it. Then you’ll need to steep four tea bags or four tablespoons of loose-leaf tea in it. When this cools to room temperature remove the tea leafs, pour it into a one-gallon glass jar, add one or two cups of finished kombucha tea, and place the SCOBY on top. It is okay if it sinks. Add a cloth onto the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Place this in a warm dark place. After about one week to ten days it should be done brewing. You’ll notice a new SCOBY has grown on the surface of the liquid, so now you can brew two batches instead of just one. The new SCOBY may be stuck to the old one and you may need to separate them from each other in order to have two separate cultures. It’s important to keep in mind that everything needs to be sterile in this process, including your hands when touching the SCOBY. I wash every implement that’s involved in the brewing process and rinse it with boiling water, and wash my hands really well with soap and water. Don’t use hand sanitizer. This stays on your hands and will probably kill the kombucha and that would be really sad.

I would recommend when you’re starting to use a simple (not raw) sugar and black tea. This is what most major brands are made from and what your SCOBY will be used to. Once you’ve successfully made a batch or two you can begin experimenting with different teas, sugars, and flavors. Adding fruit juices, honey, or ginger are all popular and yummy ways to add the spice of life to your kombucha (variety) If you want your kombucha to have carbonation like the stuff you buy at the store, bottle it, cap it, and leave it at room temp for about three or five days. Since the liquid is still brewing when its left at room temp the gas exchange will still be happening. If you cap your bottles that gas is trapped inside and turns into your carbonation. After the three or five days you’ll want to put these bottles into your refrigerator to stop the carbonation process. If you leave them at room temp for too long when you go to open them they will explode and you and everything around you will smell like kombucha for a while. Some people store the finished product in quart glass jars and immediately place them in the refrigerator to keep them uncarbonated. I know some people who mix the kombucha with fruit juices at a 50/50 mixture and say its pretty tasty. Some people mix it with hot water and honey. Like I said earlier, EXPEREMENT, be creative, have fun, live, laugh, love, and share your kombucha with others. There are a lot of recipes for brewing kombucha other than the one I offered. There is also a lot of information out there on the health benefits of kombucha. I encourage you to go out there and research as much as you can. Good Luck.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Block 15

Apologies for being away this week. I assure you all that we are working on a couple of great projects - just did not finish any this week to highlight.

This week I went to Portland to see a show and spend some time with old friends (and make some new ones). During dinner with my friend Micheal (thanks for the sushi buddy!) I was talking about my time in Corvallis and how things were going. He mentioned a great number of lovely bars and restaurants in town, and I realized I had not really been to many of them. Usually I am adventure gal - I want new places, new foods, new experiences - but since arriving in the Willamette Valley I have been very regimented in my decision of where to dine out.

Block 15
sits on the intersection of Jefferson and 3rd St. in the downtown area. Until this week there was not a weekend that I had not found myself there at least once sipping on fine microbrews, playing cribbage, watching sports, or enjoying friends. So this week in lieu of going to my usual haunt I have decided to profile it.

Homebrew aside, I did not think 'sustainability' when I thought about beer. However our pals at Block 15 take it very seriously. In the brewery they seek to reduce the massive amounts of water waste that usually go along with commercial brewing. They use a glycol looped double heat exchange to cool the wort, and catch the excess water used in cooling to reuse for the next batch. Spent grains are given to local farmers for feed, and the grain bags are turned into recycled bags by an employee. They also search for locally sourced products to create their brews that sport delightful names like 'figgy pudding,' 'aboriginale,' and 'millennium falcon.' The beers are eclectic in flavor and style - I would describe them as inspired. Every time I go in there is something new to sample and it never disappoints.

One of the things I like about Block 15 is that they highlight local farmers and their products by writing their partners names on a blackboard hanging right in the restaurant. Any given day I can walk in and see that my favorite restaurant is supporting my favorite farms, wineries, and coffee roasters. I also feel glad to know that the spent fryer grease becomes biofuel, the to-go boxes are compostable, and the electricity comes through the Pacific Powers' Blue Sky Program.

Combine these great practices, wonderful staff (several of them I am lucky to call friends), and fantastic food and you can easily see why I find it hard to get outside the 'block' and go to another restaurant. Block 15 has not only impressed me, but it has also made me feel comfortable in a new town where I knew very few people. I think that one of the reasons I keep going back is that it helps me to feel like I am at home.

Thanks all! See you next weekend!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Denison Farms

As stated earlier in this blog, we've been aiming to eat local and seasonal foods. I wanted to highlight a business today that has made that possible without making us crazy on a diet of potatoes and onions - Denison Farms. Every Saturday I enjoy a walk through the winter market and purchase veggies at their farm stand.

Denison is a 20-acre operation North of Corvallis that grows over 100 varieties of organic fruits and vegetables. Currently I have purchased their leeks, carrots, kale, and beets, and find them reasonably priced and very tasty. Currently their farm stand offers other items such as braising greens, fennel, and chard as well as recipes suggesting ways to use the things they are growing.

They don't just sell through their farm stand. They also offer a 26-week CSA with a payment plan and multiple pickup locations. If you don't know what at CSA is, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Farms need a lot of capital to get running, and taking part in a CSA is a great way to help farmers get going while scoring large amounts of seasonal veggies every week. Denison also includes recipes in their CSA box to teach buyers how to use less familiar vegetables.

Denison is exactly the kind of business we love here at Semi-Urban Homesteader - local, family-owned, organic, sustainable, and high-quality. If you are in the area come by the winter market next week and see what I mean!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Start Shelf and Drying Rack

Happy weekend all!

With the sheet mulch out back doing its decomposing thing, I am turning my efforts to getting the starts ready to go in the ground. Despite the size of our duplex we are short on window space that works for getting plants going - not to mention that our window sills are already full of house plants, candles, and Jason's religious iconography.

One asset we do have is this wonderful set of sliding glass doors that face ESE. After a number of ideas around how to use the stationary side of these doors, I came up with an idea for a start shelf that could also be used in the summer as a drying rack.

Here are my very, very, very technical plans...

My plan was to create two 'ladders that were 2' wide that could be set up as a shelving unit, but when made with screws could be easily disassembled for travel or to use the 'ladders' as places for climbing plants. Because of the specific nature of the lumber, and the fact that we had just been up to Portland, we ended up getting the lumber at Home Depot (mild boo to us).

In my opinion the best part of all of this is that I designed the shelf, planned what lumber we needed, gave the plans to Jason, and he was able to get all the proper pieces and assemble it just as I had envisioned it. Yea me for learning how to communicate building projects! The start of the project left us with this frame that lacks the actual shelves. I was unsure what I wanted to do for the shelves, so I left them empty and looked at it in the dining room for about three weeks.

I finally began to feel edgy because I wanted to get my starts going. It is not at all usual for me to wait on a project for this long. Finally I decided to take a trip to the Benton Habitat for Humanity ReStore to gain some inspiration. In the back lot I found a shelf filled with window screens and decided that was what I would use.

What I like about it is that light can get through the screens, so there is less shade on the plants on the lower shelves. I also like that water will go through rather that sitting on a wooden plank and helping it to rot. I also realized that this would be the best way to use the shelf outdoors as a sun drying rack in the summer. What I don't like it is that the screens don't fit completely into the frame, so I lose some usable space. I am going to keep my eyes open in the future for screens that are larger.

I have been saving yogurt and other plastic containers to start my plants in. If you are in the Corvallis/Albany area and have any containers similar to ones pictured here please shoot me an email and I will come pick them up.

Tonight...I start putting seeds in soil!!!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trash (and Dirt) to Treasure

So when we moved to Corvallis we had not a stick of furniture. In our last place we picked up some cheap stuff at WabiSabi, but we decided from the get go here that anything we could build we were going to try a hand at it. Of course that went out the window once we realized it would mean we had to sit and sleep on the floor for a looooong time. Not to mention that the last place we were in was maybe 400 square feet. Now our place is 1100 - so big that to this day we have not even started to use one of the bedrooms.

So after a project where we made a bookcase by building a series of differently-sized boxes and stacking them, we decided to take on what Jason thought to be a nice, simple endeavor. Making a coffee table.

Yeah - not so easy!

The materials were mostly reclaimed. The top an old cupboard door, and legs old newel posts from The ReBuilding Center. Some of the other pieces were bought new. The plan was to build the table, and then put a cob mosaic in the top where the cupboard door is recessed.

Jason definitely struggled with putting it all together. A novice carpenter with poor tools, he came pretty close on a couple of occasions to pitching one part or another into the street. In a Facebook posting of the final product he stated "I am pretty proud of the final product. It came out quite well. I must say thanks again to Clare from preventing me from setting fire to the early process and they guy at Home Depot for the pointers."

The design is pretty basic, and he would be happy to send it to you if you were interested. Here's a pic of what it looked like after sanding, cutting, and assembling.

The next step was staining the wood. The making of the stains is in another blog posting. One thing I was surprised by was how pale the stain became once it dried.

The cob mosaic was the next step. We played with a bunch of ideas initially including broken pottery and recycled tiles, but eventually decided on river rock. Jason got the rocks while on a hike, and we set them on the table loose for day playing with design ideas until Jason came up with this one.

The cob was simple though we had to purchase the sand to make it. For those of you who don't know, cob is a mixture of clay, sand, and straw. The straw provides tensile strength, sand is used for an aggregate, and clay serves to bind it all together. It has been used to build homes and other structures for centuries. When Jason does natural building, he is most often using cob. Though the cob is poured around the stones, I will say that they were first glued down with wood glue.

Finally, I completed the project (Jason headed off to his new internship) by painting the whole thing with linseed oil to seal it. I did one coat on the wood, and two on the cob. The linseed oil strengthens and seals the cob. It also brought out the color of the stain again!

All in all it is a beautiful project!!!