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Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

How to Use Citrus Peels


We eat a lot of citrus in my household, however citrus peels are on the “do not feed” list for the worms in our vermicomposting system. I used to just toss the peels into our outdoor compost bin, but then I had a hunch that with a little creative thinking I could make my citrus peels stretch even further.

After doing a bit of research, I was pleasantly surprised at the myriad of ways I can use and preserve citrus peels to add a little zest to my daily routine.

 

 orange on tree
Flickr/Rafael Castillo

Dehydrated Citrus Zest

Citrus zest brightens up many dishes and can easily be made ahead of time. Take a few moments to zest your citrus before juicing or peeling. To do this, use a sharp vegetable peeler to cut away strips of the peel – try not to get too much of the white pith because it tastes bitter and won’t dry properly. Next, chop the peels up into small pieces. If you own a dehydrator, then dehydrate the pieces for 4 to 6 hours.  Otherwise, lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then pop them in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. When dry, either grind the citrus peels and store them in a spice shaker, or keep the chopped citrus bits in an airtight container in your refrigerator.

An even better option — although it may require a specialty purchase — is to use an inexpensive microplane zester.  The microplane will allow you to grate your zest into super-fine flakes, which you can then pop directly into the freezer — no dehydrating necessary!

With ready-made citrus zest on hand, you’ll start dreaming up excuses to sprinkle it on everything from lemony pasta and key lime pie to homemade spice rubs and warming tea blends.

zested citrus
Flickr/Christopher Smith

A Digestive Aid

Just a drop or two of any bitter herb on the tongue will help stimulate healthy digestion before or after a meal. Orange peels are often included in homemade bitters recipes, along with dandelion root, gentian, and fennel.

This Dandy Tummy Bitters Recipe originally appeared in the Winter 2016/2017 issue of Heirloom Gardener.

The experts at The Herbal Academy also classify bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) as a fantastic herb to support digestion. Check out their excellent post Three Herbs to Support Digestion After a Long Winter to learn about bitter orange’s healing properties as a carminative, digestive aid, and liver tonic to help the body metabolize the heavier and fattier foods consumed during winter.

A Twist on Limoncello

Limoncello is an Italian lemon-flavored liqueur that’s traditionally served straight and chilled. It’s delicious mixed into cold lemonades, and you can definitely get away with substituting orange, grapefruit, lime, or any other citrus fruit for the lemons. It’s extremely easy to make, and you only need a few ingredients.

This is a particularly fun project to start in late October or early November so that it’s ready in time for the holiday season as inexpensive presents or hostess gifts.

10 organic lemons or limes or 5 organic oranges or grapefruits
Vodka (100 proof is preferred, but 80-proof will work)
1 cup sugar

Peel the citrus, avoiding as much of the bitter pith as possible. Add the citrus peels to a sterilized glass jar and cover with vodka. Cover and let sit for 4 to 6 weeks before straining. Make simple syrup by bringing 1 cup of water to a simmer and then stirring in the sugar until it dissolves; combine the simple syrup with the citrus-infused vodka.  If the end product isn’t sweet enough for you, then experiment with adding more simple syrup until it tastes the way you like.

Limoncello should be kept refrigerated and will store for 1 year.

Limoncello
Flickr/Pernilla Rydmark

 

Citrus-Scented Cleaning Products

I love the smell of citrus, and when used in cleaning products it makes the room feel bright and refreshed. Consider infusing distilled white vinegar with citrus peels – either fresh or dehydrated – to use as a citrusy countertop spray. Follow the same instructions as the limoncello recipe, above, but substitute distilled white vinegar for the vodka and don’t bother adding the simple syrup at the end. To use, add the citrus-infused vinegar to a spray bottle with equal parts water. You could also add 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil for an additional punch.

Try using a leftover citrus wedge to wipe down your sink at the end of a day. First, sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda into your sink and then scrub it down with your citrus wedge. As an added bonus, the citrus wedge can go down your garbage disposal to freshen it, too.

Lightly salted citrus wedges can also help remove tea stains. Not only do they make the tea stains easer to remove, but from my experience they also seem to prevent new stains from forming quite as quickly.

For additional cleaning recipes that use homegrown herbs and citrus peels, check out the blog post How to Make an All-Purpose Herbal Cleaning Spray for Spring Cleaning by The Herbal Academy or check out Kami McBride’s excellent book, The Herbal Kitchen.

Homemade Potpourri

Making dried potpourri is a fun winter project, plus it makes great holiday or hostess gifts.

Dry your citrus peels by putting them in a dehydrator for 4 to 6 hours or in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. (You can also use entire citrus slices, which look nice but take longer to dry.) Mix dried peels with other naturally scented, dried plant material, such as pine needles, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cranberries, pine cones, lemon balm, rosebuds, or lavender.  Keep your dried potpourri blend in a decorative bowl or package it into individual linen baggies to store in dresser drawers or storage trunks.

If you want to whip up a potpourri instantly without going through the hassle of drying your materials, then try a simmering potpourri.  To make a simmering potpourri, simply toss your plant material into a stockpot, cover with water, bring to a low simmer, and then enjoy the scent that’s released as steam. Experiment with different citrus peels; I imagine orange would smell the best, but grapefruit, lime, and even lemon could be interesting. Toss in some cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, peppermint, or anything else that suits your fancy.

You can also try tossing dried citrus peels into your fireplace, where they’ll burn easily while releasing their warming scent

Have you discovered any other ways to use citrus peels around the home? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment on this article or to send me a personal message at Hkincaid@MotherEarthNews.com.


Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener and senior editor for Mother Earth News.

 

Recycling or Upcycling

sweaterdress

Upcycled sweater “dress” Kara helped me make from thrift store finds.  Photo by Steve Barnes.

I grew up learning the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” for making an environmental impact in the home.  We carefully cleaned and sorted glass, aluminum, plastics of certain numbers, and saved up paper and cardboard so it could magically have a new life beyond our home.  As a kid, we still had to take the labels off all the jars too!  It’s certainly much simpler to recycle most consumer products today…except Styrofoam, no one seems to know how to reuse that one yet.

Because of products like Styrofoam (which will still be kicking around millennia from now), another item was added to the mantra—refuse.  Not only could you reduce your waste, reuse items more than once, and recycle others, but you could purposefully “refuse” to purchase items that couldn’t be reused or recycled. 

At Farmstead, all our takeout containers are either made from pressed sugarcane pulp (which easily composts) or post-consumer recycled plastic (which can be recycled again), which means no Styrofoam.  We simply refuse to buy it and stock it.  The more people who refuse to buy environmentally non-friendly products, the less market demand that product will have, and eventually companies will respond by producing less of it.  Why make it if people won’t buy it!

Upcycling Trend

But there is yet even another trendy term being added to the growing list of things you can do to make a difference.  It doesn’t start with “re” though.  The new word of the day is “upcycle.”  In its verb form, upcycling means taking something that is no longer wanted in its original form and transforming it into something new and useful.  It’s distinct from “reuse” in that it changes form, but it’s not the whole energy-intense process that plastics or paper undergoes in order to be “recycled.”

Here’s a literary example.  Scarlet O’Hara needs a new gown, but the post-war economy is in a horrible state and she had no money.  Instead, she upcycles her curtains to make a lovely ball gown.  Velvet is still velvet—whether or not it came straight off a bolt or was a curtain for a while in between.  She still had to cut and sew the fabric to make the gown, but it was already a “post-consumer” product and something she had on hand.

Another interesting upcycling trend in our current time period is to take unwanted sweaters (thrift stores usually have plenty on hand) and turn them into new and interesting creations.  This might be patchwork handbags, fun hats, stuffed doggie beds, or any number of things.  If you cut out all the seams in the sweater, you’re left with pieces of knitted fabric of varying shapes and sizes (sleeves, fronts, backs).  These pieces can even be used to make new and creative clothing.

On average, Americans throw away 80 pounds of clothing a year per person.  That does not include clothing donated to thrift stores either!  I certainly don’t fit that number (you know farm families, it’s tough to throw anything away, even when it’s worn out), so someone out there is making up for my trickle of holy jeans and exhausted socks.  But still, considering those figures, in 10 years, that’s 800 pounds of clothing for one person!  That’s a bit crazy.

With upcycling, some of those throw-away clothes are intercepted and don’t end up in the landfill.  Kara’s been especially interested in the upcycled sweater project, resurrecting Grandma’s serger sewing machine.  She’s been making hats, coats, hooded capes, and even a fairy-like performance costume I wore at our St. Patty’s dinner and concert. 

“Red Riding Hood,” a red shoulder cape with hood and black trim recently sold in the shop (made from pieces of seven sweaters), and she just recently finished a children’s version in blues and teals.  The creations are fun and spontaneous, whimsical, and comfortable because the knitted fabrics retain their sweatery comfort and stretchiness.

Upcycling can take many forms—whatever turns something that has served its original purpose into something else with a whole new purpose is part of the upcycling movement. 

Great Grandma would take all her leftover scraps from making the family clothes and cut them into geometric pieces to make quilts, which is upcycling.  She could have bought new fabric to make those quilts, but she was old-fashioned thrifty and didn’t want to see those fabric scraps going to waste.

When I teach my wreathmaking classes, we start by re-bending two wire coat-hangers to form the base of the wreath, which is upcycling.  Yes, I could buy special-made wreath bases with fancy crimp and a special hanging clip, but the coat-hangers are readily available and help to empower students to realize that they have all the materials they need to do this on their own at home.

bookcover

Needle felted journal cover with antique lace and cast-off jewelry. 

My latest project is making journal covers using my new needle felting skills.  Starting with a base of scrap polar fleece (left over from sewing projects, like Great Grandma’s quilt fabrics) and quilt batting, I’m also layer on bits of antique lace, cast-off jewelry, old buttons, beads, and ribbon.  The creations are unique, fun to make, and texturally rich in your hands.  Hopefully these journals will find their way into the hands of writers who will also enjoy these textures and layerings as old objects find new, creative life.

 You may already be upcycling and don’t even know it!  So don’t feel bad if you have that stash of “can’t throw it away” stuff—find a way to upcycle it.  Be creative, invent something new with these old bits, and see how their stories and memories live on in a new form.  You just might catch the upcycling bug.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

​Make New Candles from Old Wax

home made candles 

From Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

I love beeswax candles and, given the choice, this is the only kind I would make, but beeswax is pricey and, like many other things, out of my budget. So the candles I most often make consist of melted paraffin drippings and candle stubs. I collect these whenever I get the chance, sort them by color and, when I have a good quantity, get to candle-making.

To make homemade candles you will need, besides beeswax or paraffin:

Wicks. These can be bought very cheaply, or you can make your own by melting some wax, soaking a bit of cotton string in it and letting it cool until it sets. 

Molds. I love silicone molds (like the kind used for small cupcakes), but I’ve also used empty yogurt containers. The tricky bit with using a plastic container is that it can melt, and therefore you must take care to pour the melted wax at just the right moment – after it cools off a bit but before it re-solidifies. Another option is to use small glass jars, like those used for baby food, to make a candle in a jar.

Make New Candles from Old Wax

1. Melt some wax or paraffin in a small pot or container, one that you set apart for this purpose, because scrubbing out wax traces is labor-intensive and annoying. I simply use an empty tin can for this purpose.

Do not overheat — the wax or paraffin should just melt. If it’s boiling hot, you might get bubbles trapped in your candle. You may blend colors and/or add a few drops of scented oils.

2. Affix your wick so that it’s right in the middle of the mold. I do this by the simple method of placing a pencil across the top of the mold and attaching the top bit of the wick to it with a small piece of Cellotape.

3. Carefully pour wax into mold. Don’t hurry, or you might make the wick sink, and then you’ll have to begin all over again. If you want the effect of color layering, don’t fill the mold to the top, but instead wait until the wax has set and then add a layer of a different color.

4. Let your candle cool completely before attempting to unmold it. If you hurry, you might ruin its shape.

These pretty, colorful homemade candles are wonderful as decorative pieces or gifts.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

 


 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Herb-Infused Vinegars for Cooking and Cleaning

Spring is right around the corner, and with it comes the desire to clean out the old to make space for the new. My pantry contains an abundance of last year’s dried herbs hanging in bundles and shedding little herb flakes all over the floor. My dried herb bundles supply me with an endless amount of seasonings and tea, plus they make me feel witchy and resourceful. However, by this point in the year I’m ready to use them up, vacuum the floor of my panty, and clear space for a new year’s worth of herbal harvests.

 Kami McBride’s book The Herbal Kitchen is absolutely brimming with smart and inexpensive ways to use and preserve extra herbs. I’m particularly smitten with her ideas for making herb-infused vinegars, which can be used as a base in everything from salad dressings to homemade cleaning products.

 You can use any kind of vinegar. I prefer to use inexpensive, distilled white vinegar for cleaning products, and then I use raw, organic apple cider vinegar for anything that I’ll eat or put on my body.

 How to Make Herb-Infused Vinegars

 Chop your plant material finely or use a mortar and pestle to grind it up. The amount of plant material — leaves, flowers, berries, spices, etc. — that you use will vary depending on whether you’re using fresh or dried material. If using dried plant material, fill a clean glass jar ¼ of the way. If using fresh plant material, then fill your jar ¾ of the way. This is because fresh herbs and fruits have higher water content than dried material.

Sage with mortar and pestle

Fill your glass jar with the vinegar of your choice and then stir to make sure all the plant material is submerged. If you’re using a metal lid, then place a few layers of wax paper between the lid and the jar to prevent corrosion. Set your jar in a cool, dark place and let infuse for about one month before straining through a cheesecloth-lined colander and bottling.

Homemade Salad Dressing with Infused Vinegar

 Use your infused vinegars to make simple and healthy homemade salad dressings, which can double as delicious marinades. This recipe will keep for about 1 week in the fridge, and I recommend doubling it if you eat a lot of salad. Yield: ½ cup.

¼ cup infused apple cider vinegar (follow directions above for how to make an infused vinegar. Good herbal options include sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, or a combination of all.)
1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp stone-ground mustard

1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 Combine all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake until thoroughly combined. Drizzle over a fresh salad or use a marinade for homegrown veggies or pasture-raised meat.

infused vinegars

 Garden-Fresh Countertop Spray

 I’m all about simple recipes when it comes to cleaning. I want a clean home, but I’d rather be working in my garden or studying medicinal herbs than fussing over dust. I’ve noticed that 95 percent of the cleaning that happens around my home is done with a combination of baking soda, distilled white vinegar, and essential oils. I use sage-infused vinegar for my countertop spray because it’s antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral; plus, I like the smell of sage and have an abundance of dried sage to use up!

 1 part infused, distilled white vinegar (follow directions at beginning of post)
1 part distilled water

10 to 20 drops essential oil of your choice (citrus scents are nice in the kitchen, and I also enjoy tea tree, eucalyptus, and cedar)

Combine these ingredients in a spray bottle and give it a gentle shake before using on dirty surfaces. If you need a bit of an abrasive grit for a tough patch, then sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda on first, and then spray with the infused vinegar solution. I use this technique to clean my countertops, sinks, showers, bathtub, and even toilet bowls. It’s natural, inexpensive, and works great!

 Herb and Vinegar Hair Rinse

 If you’re reading this — particularly if you’re a woman with medium to long hair — and you’ve never rinsed your hair with vinegar before, then you may need to drop what you’re doing and try this out ASAP. I was actually shocked at how shiny and clean my hair felt the first time after using a vinegar rinse, and it’s now something that  I do as part of my regular body care routine.

 Rosemary is traditionally recommended for herbal hair tonics because it helps with dandruff, stimulates circulation to the scalp, and results in shiny, healthy-looking hair. Sage is said to help darken grey hair and chamomile will help lighten fair hair.

 3/4 jar chopped fresh rosemary or ¼ jar dried rosemary
Raw apple cider vinegar, to fill

 Follow the directions under “How to Make Herb-Infused Vinegars” at the beginning of this post. Pour the finished infusion into a plastic spray bottle and keep it in your shower with your other body care products. After washing your hair, spray this infusion generously all over your scalp and the ends of your hair, and then let sit for a few minutes before rinsing. (I don’t also use conditioner on days that I use a vinegar rinse.)

 Your hair may smell slightly vinegary after this rinse, but the smell fades as your hair dries and the scent has never been strong enough to deter me from using it. (Read more about herbal vinegar hair rinses in The Herbal Academy’s excellent online post, here.)

If you have particularly dry hair, then after your shower you may want to consider rubbing a few drops of almond oil between your palms and then running your hands through your hair while giving special attention to your ends. Be careful though, it’s easy to apply too much oil and then your hair will look greasy; just a few drops will be plenty.

 Going forward, I plan on infusing citrus peels in distilled white vinegar, which I’ll use for my homemade cleaning products. I’d also like to experiment with vinegar infusions made in balsamic or red wine vinegar for extra-special salad dressings.  Have you made herb-infused vinegars before? If so, I’d love to hear about your herbal experiments — and how you used them — at Hkincaid@motherearthnews.com.

 


 Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is senior editor of Mother Earth News and managing editor of Heirloom Gardener

The Pros and Cons of Building Your Own Home

building

Building your own home takes a big investment of time and money. If you’re trying to decide whether it’s the right choice for you, this list of pros and cons is a good place to start.

Advantages of Building Your Own Home

Get the home you want. When you buy an existing home, you get what someone else wanted. Even if you have a home built for you, you’re often using someone else’s plans and preferred fixtures.

When you build your own home, you get exactly what you want. You pick the design, select the materials and put everything you desire between the four walls. If you have a clear vision for how you want your home to look and feel, there’s no better way to achieve that vision than to build it yourself.

More control over the process. Let’s say you decide to build a portion of your own home and leave the rest to a professional. Even with a partial DIY home, you still have more control over the building process than you would with a typical contractor-built home. You work in partnership with your building team to create the home on your timeline and to your specifications. This can be a great compromise for some people – it’s not quite as much work, and you still have the joy of knowing you participating in creating your dream home.

Know exactly what materials are in the house. This can be particularly important for people with allergies or chemical sensitivities. After all, the materials used in your home can mean the difference between sickness and health. But knowing what building materials go into your home is also important to people who want green or high-performance buildings – or even people who are meticulous about getting what they want. If you hire a builder, you may always wonder if they really used the no-VOC carpet glue or eco-friendly paint you wanted. When you build your own home, you don’t have to worry.

Save money (maybe). “Maybe” is the operative word here, because DIY homes can be extravagant mansions. But for many people, building their own home may be the only way they’re going to achieve the American dream of homeownership. When you build your own home, you cut out all of the middlemen. That can mean big savings in the homebuilding process.

Achieve personal fulfillment. Just as there’s great pride in homeownership, there’s also great pride in building your own home. No matter how small your dwelling is, building a house from the ground up is a big and lasting accomplishment. Your home is something you’ll be proud of for decades to come.

Disadvantages of Building Your Own Home

Time-consuming. One of the major drawbacks to building your own home is that it’s very time-consuming. The construction labor itself can take months or years. And if you’re acting as the general contractor, you also have to schedule subcontractors, apply for building permits, order materials and carry out every other task associated with building the house.

If you can’t take a few weeks off from work during key time periods to focus on your project, you might have to dial back your homebuilding expectations. Maybe you’ll need to hire a general contractor or do only a portion of the building yourself. Some of our clients also choose to build their own homes after they retire or when they’re between jobs.

Risk of building a poor-quality product. There’s a reason people hire professionals to build homes. Houses are complex buildings that can develop major problems if they aren’t built properly. If you’re a novice builder, there’s a higher risk that you’ll make an expensive mistakes. There’s also a higher risk that you or someone else may get injured while building the home due to lack of experience.

One good way to mitigate this problem is to hire a contractor or other professional to help you through the process. There are also a number of books, classes, videos and other resources available to coach DIY homebuilders through common problems and processes.

Harder to find land, acquire permits. When you buy an existing home, someone has already done the work of finding land for you. If you’re going to build your own home, you have to find your own land, and that’s getting increasingly difficult in urban and suburban North America. Even if you can find it, it may be subject to zoning or building restrictions that don’t fit within your vision for your home. Many homebuilders build in rural areas, where land can be easier to find and regulations can seem less onerous.

Keep in mind, too, that one of the challenges for homebuilders is understanding building codes and learning how to apply for permits. Get to know the folks at your city or county planning office; their job is to act as a resource to you, and having a friend there can make a big difference. 

Can be hard on relationships. Building your own home places a lot of stress on your budget, time, even your living situation. That can put a huge amount of strain on your relationship with your partner, children or housemates.

It’s vital to keep communication lines open before and during the homebuilding process. Ask the people who live with you what they want to see in the home. Be clear about timelines and expectations, and let others be involved as little or as much as they want. That will keep the homebuilding process fun for everyone involved.

Paul Wood is has more than 30 years experience in the construction industry. He spent over a decade with Habitat for Humanity International, building homes across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. For the past 10 years, Paul has been the co-owner of ShelterWorks, maker of Faswall blocks, an insulated concrete form (ICF) that can be used to build extremely green homes. Connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Paul’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Create Your Own Living Art with a Succulent Vertical Garden

Hanging Succelent Wall Art

Liven up your walls with something that has vibrant colors, unique textures, and grows over time. Create your own vertical succulent garden - Living Art - as a lovely focal point for your home.

Assembling your own vertical garden only requires a few basic construction and gardening skills. There are countless options for wood and dimensions. It all depends on what is available and/or your personal taste.

Materials Needed

Planter Box:

 *In this example, we used scrap ¾-inch thick pieces of cedar for the planter box, and ¾-inch thick reclaimed barnwood for the picture frame. We recommend using ¾-inch to reduce the weight of the piece.

• ¾-inch thick piece of wood or ¾-inch thick plywood for the back of the planter box (The length and width determines the size of your garden box.)
• ¾-inch thick wood cut to correct lengths for the sides of of the box. (We used rough cedar ripped to ¾-inch by 3 inches)

Cedar has a natural ability to handle moisture without warping or molding. Unless you are using cedar, we recommend treating the planter box wood with a non-toxic wood sealant of your desired color to prevent moisture absorption.

Picture Frame:

• ¾-inch thick reclaimed barnwood for the picture frame (the width depends on your desired look); OR repurpose a wooden picture frame

Hardware:

Fasteners: 1½-inchscrews and 1½-inch-to-2-inch finishing nails

Soil Mix:

• pea pebbles
• sand
• organic potting soil
• peat moss
OR purchased premixed cactus potting soil

Other Materials

• Window Screen or Hardware Cloth

• Succulents - Size and amount dependent on the size of your art piece and your own personal design – have fun!!

• Tools - Standard home gardening and construction tools

Directions

Step 1 - Cut the back to your desired dimensions. Safety first! Cut the cedar sides to fit the back. Note: Our widths extend ¾-inch on each side beyond the width of the base in order to cover and be screwed into the edges of the box’s length pieces.

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Step 2 - Assemble the planting box with 1 ½" screws.

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Step 3 - Cut the picture frame pieces at 45 degree angles to match the size of the box. You need the inside of the picture frame to be the same size as the soil box. Assemble the picture frame with finish nails.

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Step 4 - Gather the sand, potting soil and pea pebbles and mix together in a bucket. Succulents and cactus prefer a soil medium that is partially sand or grit, and a bit of peat moss.

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We used a ratio of 2 parts potting soil to 1 part sand to 1 part pebbles to 1 small handful of moss (torn up into small pieces).

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Step 5 - Cut the screen to cover the entire soil box.

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Step 6 - Fill the box with the soil mixture. TIGHTLY staple the screen over the top of the box.

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Step 7 - Determine your plant layout and use a box cutter to begin making cross slits barely big enough to plant each succulent.

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Step 8 - While lifting the screen flaps up, push the plant into the soil. Fold the screen back down over the base of the plant to help secure it.

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Step 9 - Continue cutting the window screen and planting the succulents. Once finished with the planting, add moss to cover the open areas.

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Step 10 - Carefully place the picture frame on top of the soil box and use finish nails to attach. Make sure the plants are not pinched between the frame and the box. It may help to have another set of hands.

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Step 11 - Lightly water and admire your new living art piece. We recommend letting your piece sit flat for a couple weeks to allow the roots to establish.

If you wish to hang your piece we recommend picture hanging hardware for heavy art. Contact your local hardware store for advice on what would work best for you. For more information about succulent care or if you are interested in purchasing your own complete Living Art piece, please go to BuildSowGrow.com/living-art.

Kara Holzmiller is the founder of Build.Sow.Grow., a company built on her desire to design and build the most healthy, low impact, efficient living spaces and the production of nutritious food grown locally through all seasons. For the last two years, she has also been a builder, project manager, designer and office manager of SmithWorks Natural Homes, a green building company in Crested Butte, CO. Find Kara on Facebook and her website. Read all of Kara’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Build Your Own Water-Wise Toolkit

IMG_6801 copy

Photo by Tony Wodarck

Water-wise living is about halving our water footprint through our everyday decisions.

One simple way to reduce your water footprint is to choose reusable products. The plastic industry uses a lot of water to make the many disposable bags and bottles that we consume in the course of a day. And more often than not, those disposables end up polluting our precious waterways and contaminating our oceans.

We can do better by our water! These six smart tools for change will help you conserve water during your daily activities.

Reusable Utensils. Stash a set of our reusable to-go ware in your day bag to use instead of disposable plastic cutlery.

Reusable Water Bottle. It takes 3 times as much water to create a petroleum-based plastic bottle as it does to fill it! So ditch the plastic bottle for an insulated water bottle that you can use for everything from camping trips to taking coffee to-go from your neighborhood cafe.

Cloth Tote Bag. Next time you shop at your local farmers’ market, swap out a plastic bag for a reusable cloth tote. Saves water and looks nice!

Bee’s Wrap. Plastic wrap is not only messy to use, but producing it consumes a lot of water! Biodegradable Bee’s Wrap is a beautiful food storage alternative that you can use for picnic lunches, storing sandwiches, cheese, fruit, and nuts, and covering bread as it rises.

Stainless Steel Tiffin. Going out? A stainless steel tiffin is a simple way to bring a nourishing meal or stack of snacks with you. You can also use a tiffin to take home leftovers instead of the styrofoam boxes that many restaurants provide.

Tubtrug. A sturdy Tubtrug is useful for collecting water as your shower warms up, storing freshly harvested fruit and veg, and more.

Evan Marks is founder of the The Ecology Center, a non-profit eco-education center focused on creative solutions for thriving on Planet Earth. The Center works to inspire communities around simple solutions that empower individuals everywhere to be part of the solution. Follow The Ecology Center on Instagram and Facebook to learn about what you can do to build a thriving world. Read all of Evan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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