DIY: Build Your Own Raised Beds

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This year, I am embarking on another new adventure with my church’s new vegetable garden ministry! We aim to grow fruits and vegetables in our backyard to donate to local food banks and/or local needy families in the area. We are just getting started, but I am already learning a lot. Since we found out that the soil in the back has a high content of lead, we had to find a way to get or build raised beds to grow our veggies in.
I am so fortunate to know such a talented girl as Kaitlyn who helped me on a few construction projects last year. You might remember the front landscape and fence we installed for this client last summer? She designed and built that fence and again used her talents for us this spring, creating these beautiful raised beds!  She was kind enough to give instructions on creating your own. Keep reading below!
flower, veg boxes and pictures of jason as baby 085
Part A – 1″x6″x4′ Side Panel (6 per box)
Part B – 1″x6″x6′ Side Panel (6 per box)
Part C – 4″x4″x2′ Posts (8 per box)
Part D – 4″x4″x12″ Corner Posts (4 per box)
Part E – 1″x6″x56″ Trim Piece (2 per box)
Part F – 1″x6″x80″ Trim Piece (2 per box)
flower, veg boxes and pictures of jason as baby 086
Panels:
As you can see in the picture, the side panel pieces are off-set by 1″ so that all the sides fit together like a puzzle pieces. The way I made each side was to lay them down (good side face down), then using a scrap piece of 1×6 to offset the middle piece and drawing a line dividing the section into thirds (about every 24″ for the 6 foot section and 18″ for the 4 foot section). I then placed the boards on top of Part C (lines showing, lined up in the middle of the post). With the post and 1×6 flush at the top, I used two screws per 1×6 to attach to Part C, then picked a side (I chose the side were the middle piece stuck out) and put Part D on the inside of the panel flush with the two outside pieces of the panel. I put a screw in the middle of the outside pieces and two screws in the middle piece to attach Part A or B to Part D.
Note: For the 4X4 posts, usually only one corner is truly square, so for attaching Part D to the side panels, make sure that the square corner is the one touching the side panels, otherwise your box will not turn out square.
flower, veg boxes and pictures of jason as baby 087
Trim:
The long lengths are 80″ and 56″ with 45 degree miter cuts on either side. I used two screws to attach Part E or F to the posts (Part C) on each side. The hardest thing is lining up the corners. It’s easier if you lay everything out first, staple the corners using 1/2″ staples and then attach it to the box. Just make sure everything is square.
Leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions or get to try this out yourself!  We can’t wait to start growing our veggies in these beautiful beds!
Thank you Kaitlyn!

Recycled Painting Project: Repainting and Stenciling an Old Dresser

Every now and then, I like to give my creative muscle a little extra workout in designing or refinishing furniture, testing out new techniques or trying out different tools/products.  (Check out my new dining room chair covers here.)  Recently, we’ve landed upon some of our relatives’ old furniture and I’ve been dying to try something new with them.  (I’ve also been finding a lot of great furniture pieces at local Chicago Goodwill stores and other thrift shops that I can’t wait to get a little creative with!)  With the help of a few coats of paint and a few interesting techniques, I’ve really enjoyed turning these used pieces into custom designed furniture and am even more excited to start sharing them with you!

This dresser was one my MIL had no more use for, so I brought it home to try my hand at repainting and stenciling the front drawers.

Before I began actually painting, I mixed dry putty with water until it was a pudding-like consistency.  Trusted putty knife in hand, I filled all of the holes, nooks and crannies that are oh-so-common in used, thrifted furniture.  Be sure to use the putty as sparingly as possible!  Just keep in mind that once it hardens, you will have to manually sand off any extra to make the surface smooth once again.

Once you have sanded the puttied areas, the rest of the dresser needs to also be sanded.  If the surface is still smooth and shiny from the original stain/paint, the new coat of paint will not have anything to adhere to.  It’s grueling work, but an important step.

Wipe down the dresser to get rid of the dust, remove all hardware and you’re finally ready to start painting … or at least priming!  I have found it’s almost always a good idea to begin with a coat of primer.  It’s cheaper and saves you on coats of paint in the end.  I use a sponging sleeve (part of the roller) to apply primer, always with long strokes in straight lines, up and down for a nice, smooth finish.

(notice the straight lines)

Once the primer has dried, use the roller to apply one coat of paint at a time, making sure to let each coat dry fully before applying the next.  I use the same method for paint as with the primer, using long, straight, up and down strokes, rather than the criss-crossed pattern used for walls.

(and how the lines disappear nicely after the second coat)

Waiting for paint to dry is the perfect time to work on the hardware.  This dresser had brass hardware, which can be cleaned with a mixture of 1/2 C white vinegar and 1 tsp salt.  I used steel wool to scrub the mixture over each piece, rinsed them with water and buffed each one with a soft cloth.  If your hardware is made of a different material, cleaning directions can usually be found online with a simple search by material type (what I did).  Sorry I don’t have a picture!  I got so wrapped up in the process, it slipped my mind!

For this dresser, I wanted to put the stencil on the front face of the drawers.  To do this, reinstall the hardware and tape it off before stenciling so that you can get the exact aesthetic and positioning for your stencil that you want.  (If the hardware is on a part of the dresser that is not being stenciled, this step may not be necessary.)

I bought these stencils online at Cutting Edge Stencils, which I highly recommend.  They’re made of a hard, sturdy plastic, which is perfect for this type of work.  Measuring between the handles to find the middle of the dresser, I taped the stencil to the front of the drawers using blue painters tape on all four corners.  Using a stiff, circular brush, I dabbed the different areas of the stencil with the color I desired – stems green, poppies white.  In this case, only one coat was necessary, but you may need more.  Just make sure you get your paint as dark as you want it BEFORE you remove the stencil because it will be nearly impossible to get the stencil back in the same exact spot as before.

Finally, take off the painters tape and carefully peel back the stencil … Ta-da!  A custom-made piece of furniture designed by you!

4 Seasons Painting & Landscaping not only offers these custom services for your furniture, but can also use them to add a little flair to the walls of your home.  Contact Pam at 773-517-1198 for more information or to schedule a free estimate.

Starting Seeds

container gardencontainer garden for a client

It’s hard to start thinking about Spring with so much snow outside (but how can you not with the promise of such beautiful flowers as above). If you’re planting heirloom seeds (which take a little longer to germinate), it’s just about time. And if you’re using other seeds, it will be soon! Here are some instructions on getting your seeds started so they’ll be ready to plant outside once it’s warm enough.

seeds on a wet paper towel

Materials needed:

Seed soil
Seeds
Empty paper egg carton, or a seed starter container
Spray bottle, filled with water

Instructions:

1. To get ready for your vegetable garden, fill each section of the paper egg carton or seed starter with seed soil and about 2 seeds per section.  If you want to try sprouting flower seeds in your home, you can also try wrapping them in a wet paper towel and sealing them in a Ziploc bag, as shown in the pictures.

flower seed showing a little sprout

2.  Use the spray bottle to spray your seeds with water, rather than pouring water over them.  This is my recommended watering method for new growth.  Often, sprouts are too fragile to handle water being poured directly on them and may never sprout or die as a result.  A couple squirts of water is gentle enough (and just enough) to keep your seeds and sprouts growing strong until late Spring.

bib lettuce sprouting in repurposed strawberry container

3. Be careful to only place one type of seed in each section/Ziploc bag, and label where you have planted each type of plant/vegetable for future reference.  Different plants often have different care requirements and labeling them will make it that much easier for you.  You’ll also be able to tell what worked and what didn’t for each plant type as time goes on.

 spinach sprouting (L); spinach growing in bigger container(R)

4. As your seeds grow, you may need to move them to a bigger container – please do so.  Some lettuces are fast growers and enjoy the cooler temps (spinach and others), so you may even be able to harvest and eat some before it is time to plant it outside.  If you don’t have the room to grow everything indoors, you may want to wait to plant the fast-growers seeds until a little closer to Spring.  Or, you can just enjoy your harvest before you even bring it outdoors!

parsley on my windowsill

5. Young plants need plenty of sunlight, so try to keep them on a windowsill or somewhere that gets plenty of sunlight for them to grow.

Happy planting!

New Seat Covers in 3 Simple Steps

I bought this cute retro cloth off of Etsy because I just had to incorporate it into my home somewhere.  A little while later – new chair covers!  The material is perfect as it’s durable and won’t wear from frequent use.

I bought it from Jodi Walter Jones’s Etsy shop, Sew Fine Fabrics and she made it so easy!  I just sent her the dimensions of my seats and she calculated how much material I would need.  I had very little left over, so she did an excellent job and I couldn’t be happier.  The proof is in the pictures – a little new material can really transform an old chair!

To revamp your own chairs, follow these simple steps.

diy seat coversMaterials needed:
Some old chairs
Durable material
New/Good scissors for cutting material
Iron
Staple gun
Screwdriver

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.  Remove the seats from each chair and clean each one thoroughly, removing any screws from the seat if necessary.  Measure the dimensions of each seat and cut the fabric to the appropriate size, leaving about 3 inches extra all around to wrap around and secure to the underside of the seat.  Iron the material so it’s smooth and wrinkle-free.

2.  Lay the material over the seat and wrap around to the bottom.  Beginning with the front side, staple the material underneath the seat, enough so that it is secure.  (You can fill in the empty spaces later to make sure it’s really secure. 🙂  Move to the sides, stapling the material underneath, finishing with the back so that any creases will be hidden back there.  Fill in with staples all around to secure.

3.  Use a screwdriver to screw the screws back into the chair over the fabric, just slightly and cover with tape (we used      painter’s tape) so it doesn’t fall to the ground.  Place the cushion on top of the chair seat and screw back in.

Voila!  New dining room chairs at a fraction of the cost!  Initially, I wasn’t sure how the green material would look with the black metal of my chairs, but I love the sleek, modern look of it.  What do you think?

diy seat covers

Soon, we hope to repaint some bedroom furniture.  Stay tuned!

7 Great Reasons to Start Your Own Vegetable Garden

7 great reasonsHaving your own garden can give you much more than just a few extra tomatoes and cucumbers to share with your neighbors.  It can better MANY aspects of your life – including your finances, family relationships and of course, your health! Easy to say, but still wondering how this is possible?  Here you go!

Easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  The first is quite obvious.  With a bunch of growing veggies right there in your backyard, you will have easy access to fresh fruits and veggies – and they’ll be pesticide-free.  You’ll be cooking healthier meals for your family by incorporating more veggies on a regular basis.  For those who have a hard time planning meals, you won’t have to plan quite as much as everything will be right in your own backyard.

Saving money on your grocery bill.  The recent rise in taxes and the ever-rising cost of living combined with a stagnant or decreasing income in most American families today, the grocery budget has become one of the first places to make a few cuts.  What could be better than saving money and providing healthier food for your family??  Having your own garden does just that!  A packet of seeds usually costs about $1 or less and provides much more than that if you bought the same amount of produce in the grocery store.

Go greenIf we’re not talking about saving money, we’re talking about saving the environment.  Having your own garden not only saves our earth from the pesticides that would be used on the produce you would buy, but also saves it from the pollution that comes from the trucks and machinery that harvest and transport it.  It might seem miniscule, even microscopic, when you think about it on an individual family basis, but every little bit counts!  Who knows?  Seeing your garden may even convince your friends and neighbors to start a garden of their own and spread your impact in saving our environment that way.

Teach your children about the benefits of hard work, and get them active outside.  Has your child ever come home from school with a bean wrapped in a wet paper towel, so excited to watch it grow into a real, live plant?  Think about how much more excited they’ll be with a whole garden full of … real, live plants!  Not only will they feel the excitement watching the plants grow, they’ll also learn about the life cycle of a plant, the value of hard work and it’ll give them a reason to get away from the TV and outdoors, enjoying our beautiful world, without much of a fight!  As a parent myself, I know how difficult those fights can be some days – sometimes I just don’t have the energy to explain again why it’s not good to sit in front of the TV again.  If your children have a project outside, such as a garden, they’ll want to tend to it and make parenting just that much easier for you. 🙂

Fun, productive exercise for you too.  Not only will your children get more exercise, but you will too – and what better way to burn some calories than to do it while saving money, providing healthy food for you and your family, scaling down your carbon footprint, bonding with your children as you cooperate on a project, and enjoying our beautiful world.  Multi-tasking at its finest!

Safer food.  Who wants to worry if the produce you’re buying is going to make you sick or be recalled in a couple weeks?  Who wants to spend more for organic produce so you don’t have to worry about ingesting dangerous pesticides?  Not me, thank you!  Having your own garden rids you of these worries, providing you with safe, non-toxic food for you and your family at a fraction of the cost of buying organic.  You know where your veggies have been because you’ve watched them grow from seedlings.

Better taste and better for you.  As I’ve already mentioned a few times, one of the great benefits of having your own garden is easy access to pesticide-free produce.  Not only will your veggies be healthier for this reason, they’ll also be riper – and taste better too.  Because you’ll be picking them straight from your own yard, you will effectively cut the transportation time from days/weeks to just a few minutes!  Thus, your veggies will be able to fully ripen, will never be sprayed or waxed to look better, and will most certainly taste better too.

If you don’t have the space, you might want to think about joining a community garden in your area, or even starting one of your own!  The Peterson Garden Project is a community garden in Chicago where you can reserve a plot to grow your own veggies, or you can look into organizing a “block garden” with some of your neighbors in a communal spot closer to your home.  Click here to find a community garden in your area!

Ready to get started?  We’ll post again soon with some tips on how to actually start your own garden, so stay tuned!

Cooking with Kale

Photo Credit: http://i301.photobucket.com/albums/nn80/levi_spicoli/kale.jpg
If you want to sneak some vitamin-rich kale into your child’s diet without them knowing, this is the recipe for you!

Kale, known as the “Queen of Greens”, is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.  Just one cup of this stuff gives you 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 15% of your daily requirement of calcium, 180% of your vitamin A, 40% of magnesium, 200% vitamin C and 1,020% vitamin K.  It’s also a great source of iron and potassium!

Vitamins A, C and K are antioxidant vitamins associated with anti-cancer health benefits AND kale is associated with lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health.  Moreover, the fiber content of kale helps reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.  If this didn’t just convince you to add a little more kale to your diet, I don’t know what will!

Try out this recipe as a nice and easy introduction to this nutritionally-packed veggie:

1 medium onion , finely chopped
1 bunch of carrots
2-5 stalks of celery
3 sweet potatoes
1 large bunch of kale
salt and pepper
fresh parsley
1 lb red lentils
2-3 cartons chicken soup stock

Saute onion until golden brown.  Then add lentils to onions and cook for about 2 minutes, turning constantly until lentils slightly open.

Can be made in a slow cooker or in a regular pot on low for as long as necessary until lentils can no longer be seen.

Add chicken broth to onion and lentil mixture.  Add carrots, kale, celery and sweet potato (finely chopped) to onion and lentil mixture.

To thicken up the soup and to add texture, slice one small sweet potato lengthwise, about the thickness of a potato chip and add to the soup mixture.  It will melt and dissolve.  I make mine in a slow cooker so I can set it and forget it.  Hope you enjoy!  Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Preserving Herbs

Now that the cooler weather is approaching, you may be thinking more and more about preserving herbs that are growing in your garden so that you can continue to use them and those left on the stem won’t die and go to waste.

There are a few different methods for preserving herbs, the most common being freezing and drying.

To freeze your herbs, coarsely chop them and place into ice cube trays filled with water or olive oil, OR spread them on a cookie sheet or other flat surface to freeze and then seal in a plastic bag.

This is our personal preference for preserving herbs because it is so easy to do and even easier to pop a cube into a soup or sauce when you’re cooking, but there are other methods if you’re interested in trying one of them.
Drying is another, more common, method of herb preservation though slightly  more complex.  To do this, first remove any dead foliage from the stems and lay them out to dry after rinsing them.  Once they are thoroughly dry, tie them into loose bundles with string and hang them upside down to dry in a warm, dry place away from sunlight.  It’s important to make sure the bundles are loose, allowing for air to circulate around and through to dry each leaf.  UV rays can reduce the quality of the herbs, along with moisture from dew outside, so it is best to dry your herbs indoors away from the sun.

If you’re in more of a rush, microwaves, ovens and food dehydrators can be used to speed up the drying process.

Finally, if freezing or drying really isn’t for you, growing your herbs indoors may be your best option.  Start small containers for each herb, make sure they get enough sunlight in the colder months and you’ll be able to use fresh herbs in your cooking year round!

Visit The Herb Guide for even more tips and tutorials.

Beat the Heat!

Beat the Heat!

Tips to keep your plants looking good

in the hot, dry summer months

  • Make sure to water everyday!  Both new and old plants need water when it’s hot.
  • Water in the morning.  This is the best time of day – before the sun makes it all evaporate and before the worms and bugs come out at night.
  • Try to water your plants near the ground/roots and the surrounding ground.  It will keep cool long after being watered.
  • Lay tree mulch around your plants.  This cuts down your watering time.  You can find free tree mulch from many tree removing services and it will help hold the moisture in  the ground rather than letting it evaporate away in the heat of day.
  • Water tomatoes under the leaves.  This will improve growth and avoid yellow/moldy leaves.
  • Make sure to turn your indoor plants every time you water.  This ensures even sun exposure.  If they face a sunny window, give them extra water.

More Tips for Winter Lawn & Garden Care

It’s snowing!  Here are a few tips to take care of your lawn, trees and other outdoor plants when it snows.

  • Be careful to avoid spreading salt near shrubs or other plants.  Sand or sawdust are more environmentally-friendly options for curing those slick walkways, providing friction without the addition of chemicals into the ground.
  • If it does snow a lot, try to brush the snow off of any evergreen branches in your yard as the weight of the snow or ice may cause serious damage to your tree.
  • Make sure to brush the snow off of evergreen trees as soon as possible after a big snowstorm as the accumulating snow can cause serious damage to the branches. This can be done easily with a broom.

We hope that these little suggestions will help make taking care of your outdoors a little easier this winter.  Let us know if you have any questions and we’d be happy to help!