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

Rodent Proof Raised Garden Box


We live in the mountains where there are numerous rodents which can make gardening very difficult. After sacrificing half or more of our gardening efforts for a few years to chipmunks, ground squirrels, moles, voles and mice we came up with a raised bed box that kept our vegetables protected. I had a personal wood mill so I milled out the lumber needed to make several boxes. Since we have been growing vegetables in the garden boxes we have not lost any of our efforts to rodents.

Flexible Size Boxes

Below is a description of the construction and design of the box. Dimensions can be changed from our 30” wide, 60” long and 18” high box to suit individual needs. The actual box itself is 6” high and 2” thick.  I built boxes that were higher to accommodate peas, zucchini and beans. Boxes like the one shown in the photo were designed for spinach, radishes, carrots and lettuce. What I also like about the raised garden box is that with the ½” hardware cloth I can water the plants without having to raise the lid. It also protects them from hail which is not unusual in the mountains and I can throw a tarp over it when we get a late season snow.

Tools Needed And Materials

The tools needed to build the box are: hammer, screwdriver for the ‘L’ brackets, tin snips, a hand saw (what I used), small square and a framing square to get good square tight fitting joints.


2 X 6’s for the box
2 X 3’s for the framing.
1 ¼ ”X 4” lumber for the lid
1/2-inch gardware cloth

Since my lumber was milled out it was true to size but nominal size from a lumber yard would do equally well. I personally chose not to use pressure treated lumber as the chemicals used to preserve it could slowly leach out over time and contaminate my garden. Instead I use a good quality wood preserver painted on and applied long before I use the box so it will soak into the wood and not into the soil.

Step 1, The Box

I start by cutting the pieces to length and height before assembly. It doesn’t make much difference what joint is used as long as it can be tight and strong. In this box pictured I used half lap joints on the upper pieces and on the actual box itself I used butt joints with ‘L’ brackets at each corner. I also used a waterproof glue on all these joints along with galvanized nails at each corner of the butt joints. Between the ‘L’ brackets, nails and waterproof glue each joint will stay strong for many years. I also cut ½” hardware cloth to fit the bottom of the box and attached it with ¾” galvanized staples to keep rodents from burrowing up from the bottom.

Step 2, The Frame

Next I cut cross supports for the three upright posts so they would firmly fit between the posts and nailed them into place with galvanized nails and glue to hold them secure. I then took the partially completed box outside and put it on our picnic table and applied a good coat of wood sealer to protect the box from repeated exposure to moisture.  When the sealer had fully dried I then stapled hardware cloth around the inside of the uprights making sure there were no gaps. that smaller rodents could access.

Step 3, The Top/s

The only part remaining was to make tops or lids for the box. I chose in this case to make two lids that came together in the middle and hinged at each end so I could plant one species of vegetable at each end. I could have used half lap joints but instead I chose to use a ¼” thick plywood gusset at each corner. I liberally applied waterproof glue to each gusset and also used decking screws to affix them in place. This made a very secure and square set of tops that will be strong. After an application of sealer to protect the tops I stapled hardware screen on each top and then put on sturdy hinges.To keep the tops from going too far back I used a ¼” rope affixed with screw eyes so the tops would stay open as seen in the photo. That completed the box and it was now ready. I had some foam insulation tape left from when we put a cap on the back of our pickup truck. I put that along the top rail to cushion the top if it falls or is dropped but it is not necessary.   

Strong, Durable, Flexible

These boxes have proved to be effective in keeping rodents out and they are also durable. We looked out the window once and saw a bear standing on top of one and all we needed to do (after it departed) was push the hardware screen up from the bottom giving it a slightly rounded crown and not a concave one caused by the bear. By using ½” hardware cloth it allows the sun to reach the plants and also air and water. Occasionally the sun gets hot at 9,800’ elevation and small seedlings will wither and die. In that case I put a piece of black 50% sun screening over the box to allow the tender seedlings a proper start.

Easy To Empty And Store

At the end of each growing season I remove the soil from the box and store the box where it is protected and out of the way. That way when I start the box again next year the soil is automatically turned and aerated and any weed roots that came up from the bottom are easily removed. The roots of the vegetables, depending on how much soil you put in the box, will grow through the bottom hardware cloth into the soil below.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their homesteading  lifestyle in the mountains with their three German Shepherd Dogs visit their blog site. They live fairly remote in their small cabin that they heat with a wood stove and in the summer grow their own vegetables. Their blog site

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Safety Tips for Dangerous Home Improvement Projects


You like to learn new things and come up with creative solutions, which is why you’d prefer to tackle a project yourself than delegate it to someone else — especially when it comes to home improvement tasks in your current living space.

So far, you’ve done well with this old house. You’ve given it a more modern feel, upgraded to energy-efficient appliances and hashed together a streamlined design using funky, up-cycled industrial-inspired materials.

Now it’s time to address a few of the more difficult, potentially dangerous tasks on your list. Read on to discover essential tips aimed at helping you approach three precarious projects safely and mitigate through a variety of challenging roadblocks with success.

Switching Out Electrical Fixtures

You’ve waited long enough to hang that salvaged retro chandelier, and it’s time for the faulty outlet that keeps your favorite chair in perpetual darkness to go. Before you break out your tools and head for the breaker box, take a minute to remember electrocution is one of the United States Department of Labor “fatal four” occupational hazards. People reported 67 deaths by electrocution in 2016, up more than 8 percent from the previous year.

Other risk factors associated with electrical repair include shock, burns, overheating wires, destruction of insulation, fires and explosions. You can minimize danger and maintain adequate safety caution by following these guidelines:

Always replace existing outlets with grounded alternatives. GFC — Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter — switches have built-in breakers that automatically disconnect the flow power in case of a short. You can install these circuits in the same manner as their traditional three-pronged predecessors.

Unplug all your appliances and remove all bulbs before you begin to work.

Turn off the breaker. If you will be in an isolated portion of the house, it’s not necessary to shut off the main — you may need power to run tools and affix spotlighting — but be sure breakers associated with the area in question are completely down.

Remove faceplates or fixtures, and keep the screws that held them in place.

Slowly pull wires out, leaving yourself enough space to move around comfortably.

Note black, white and bare or green copper wires.

Attach color-coded wires in precisely the same manner to new outlets or fixtures.

Wrap electrical tape around connection wires and nuts for added stability.

If you are hanging a heavy piece, consider recruiting a friend to help you hold it securely in place while you connect the wiring.

Fixing Your Roof

Another “fatal four” cited by the United States Department of Labor is falling. Roof falls accounted for 1,200 fatalities between 2003 and 2013 alone. You don’t have to become a tragic statistic, however, to efficiently undertake necessary roof repairs. You must employ essential safety requirements — and do so with diligence.

Study fall protection options and make sure appropriate solution plans are in place from the get-go. Viable examples include using sturdy covers for roof holes, guardrail systems, safety nets with harnesses and lanyard lines with a deceleration device.

Practice secure ladder and scaffold safety techniques. Ladder locations should be level, stable and clear of high traffic areas.

Always maintain at least three points of contact when climbing a ladder — such as two feet and one hand, or one hand and both feet. Also, do not carry items up or down with you — use a bucket pulley system for necessary tools and supplies.

Maintain safe access to connective scaffolding with secure ramps, walkways, portable ladders or stair powers. Finally, do not skimp on protective equipment such as safety glasses, work gloves, treaded boots and a visored hat, preferably a hard hat.

Removing Walls

The streamlined design you’re ultimately shooting for requires a more open floor plan than the one you’ve got now. Older structures tend to include several small rooms partitioned off with non-load bearing walls — yours is no exception. If you open up one or two of the internal walls, you might find additional flexible, multi-use common space.

However, wall removal carries a significant potential risk of exposure to toxic substances.  All too often, homeowners discover previous tenants masked the presence of harmful materials by building directly over them. It’s not unusual to find asbestos hidden behind a double wall, or lead paint underneath layers of non-lead varieties.

The good news is hiring an environmental expert and arranging for pricey testing is not your only option. If you uncover something concerning — like exposed pipes with white or grey insulation remnants, or paint that breaks off in a tell-tale scaly, geometric pattern — head to your nearest home center or hardware store and buy some DIY testing kits.

While asbestos results boast an average of 2-3 weeks turnaround time, you can confirm the presence of lead-paint in minutes. Of course, taking any amount of time to assure safety will always be the best precaution — regardless of project scope.

After all, avoiding problems in the first place is the ultimate creative solution!   

Photos Credit: Image by Pixabay

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.

Woodburning on Gourds

Woodburned gournaments

In past posts, I’ve shared how I grow my gourds, my method for cleaning them, and  how I greenscrape smaller gourds so they have a more pristine working surface for my arting. Now it’s time to describe one of my favorite arting tools—a pyrographic system with variable temperature and precise heads for detail work. My Detail Master is easily 15 years old but I wouldn’t want to play nearly as much with my gourds without it. Though it can be used on other surfaces such as wood and leather, I have yet to wander from my gourds.

I’ve created a video to show a bit about how I work—you can view it by clicking the link at the end of this post. I encourage you to play on scraps before attempting a final piece so that you can become accustomed to each burning head. As you’ll see in the video, I have two heads for my Dagger but mostly use just one. I like the way that particular tip allows me to draw as if I were using a pen. However, this head cuts into the surface of the gourd so it can weaken a piece by creating an easy breaking point. Practicing with your tips will allow you to learn their pluses and minuses.

I don’t require many tools for this process, though the wood burning piece is a tad expensive. All that’s needed are a gourd, a pencil, an eraser, a metal scrubber, and a pyrographic system. You can add inks or dyes to that list for coloring.

Woodburning tools

I generally have an idea in mind of the design I want to create but also work on the fly simply working patterns as I go along the surface of the gourd. An important thing to keep in mind is to remain flexible. Sometimes the gourd will present you with blemishes that can change the design in the middle of your creating. There is often an unevenness in the texture of the gourd that can slow down the tip if it’s cutting the surface. This can result in variances of line width.

My usual method is to combine following my pencil drawing with some freehand work. Where I know I want to add a dimensional feel, with some bits appearing to overlap others, I will draw in pencil ahead of time. When I’m simply adding lines or texture, precise planning isn’t as important to me. Because the pencil will rub off on your hands or your clothing as you work, it’s best if you don’t spend a lot of time drawing the whole design on your gourd before you begin.

There are many ways to achieve stunning final results. I encourage you to find your own method and places of comfort. Whether you prefer to draw out your design on a flat surface first and then replicate it on your rounded gourd, create stencils to work directly on the surface, or use the combination I describe above, I’m sure that with experimentation and practice you’ll find a way to have fun adorning your gourds.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her 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.

Cure Your Cat’s Cabin Fever with a Flutter Wand

I created my first Flutter Wands years ago for a series of interactive artwork. I decided to alter the design slightly to come up with a fun toy for our cats. Back then, wire hangers were very easy to come by. Hopefully you will be able to find one without too much trouble so you can create your own Flutter Wand.

Materials needed

Materials you’ll need:

1 wire clothes hanger
1 piece of strong fabric approximately 14” x 7”
14” strands of yarn (optional)
14” of nylon webbing, twill tape, or other binding material
1 piece of fabric approximately 5” square (remnants or repurposed fabric is perfect here)
stuffing material (fiberfill works, but I love reusing cotton stuffing from vitamin bottles)
needle and thread
scissors and/or rotary cutter

Steps Compilation

How to make your Cat Flutter Wand:

1. Cut 7 strips of sturdy fabric in 1-inch x 14-inch pieces. I use a fabric similar to upholstery polypropylene cambric. Experiment. This fabric needs to withstand claws and teeth but remain safe for your cats if accidentally ingested. You can also use odd-sized remnants if desired.

2. Cut a few 14-inch strands of yarn and knot each end near the ends (optional)

3. Layer the strips of fabric with the yarn lengthwise and stitch down the center (across the short width) several times to form the flutter pack. This can be accomplished quickly with a machine if preferred. Set aside.

4. Untwist hanger. Bend the hook back on itself at the angle of the neck and wrap the end around as shown. Create a double circle from the other end (also as shown).

5. Wrap and sew binding tape around the circles.

6. Tuck the flutter pack in-between the the tape-covered circles and stitch in place by running thread through pack and tape several times. Test for sturdiness by tugging on the pack—trying to remove it. Trust me, your cats will play tug o’ war every single time you play with them. It’s best to be sturdy from the outset.

7. Cut a piece of fabric for the handle. I took this opportunity to repurpose a pair of my husband’s discarded boxers—they’re both soft and stretchy. Sew, right sides together, along the bottom and up most of the side. Leave enough unsewn to be able to easily slip the fabric around the wire handle and stuff it. You can choose to wrap stuffing around the wire and then slip it into the handle fabric, or you can slip it into the pocket and then stuff. Either way, once in place, complete stitching until the handle is fully enclosed.

8. Straighten the other angles of hanger so you have a straight wand with a handle for you at one end and a flutter pack for the kitties at the other.

Your Flutter Wand is now ready for play!

If you prefer to follow pictorial step-by-step instructions, visit this page. Below you will find a link to some of our kitties in action with the Flutter Wand created in this blog. Watch the video to see the comparison between their newest and oldest wands.

Remember to be kind to your cats. They are attracted to the flutter noise. Don’t whack them with the wand. Mind their teeth and nails as they grab the wand—don’t pull it away too quickly. Don’t get them too dizzy while chasing. Take care if they are perched precariously on the edge of a table. Be sure to let them catch their prey every so often. Most cats like the flight movement while others prefer to play on the ground as though with a mouse. You might want to remove breakables and spillables from nearby in case anybody gets out of hand with your play.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her 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 a Bicycle Dash Cam with an Old Cell Phone


According to All Green Recycling, 57 million phones are thrown out by Americans every year. About 75% of all used phones go to the landfill. Phones release toxic substances into the environment, so they should be recycled or reused whenever possible. The report revealed that 9.4 million tons of e-waste are produced by the United States every year, and only 13% of electronics in the country are recycled. When we throw out electronics, we are getting rid of materials that are valuable. When a million cell phones are thrown out, we throw away 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, 33 pounds of palladium, and 35,000 pounds of copper. In other words, every year, U.S. residents are throwing away over $60 million in gold and silver.

The average American replaces his or her cell phone on an annual basis, making phones the most commonly replaced electronic item in use. After you get a new phone, you can put your old phone to good use, which in turn will reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment by reducing the harmful chemicals and materials that are released by a phone being thrown into the trash. A smartphone can effectively be used as a dash cam.

Upcycled Bicycle Dash Cam

While there are a few ways to make use of your old smartphone, one of the better ways is to convert into a dash cam that you can use on your bicycle. With the camera, you can record your rides, which is especially helpful if you are involved in a crash with another vehicle.

With recorded video detailing an accident, you can avoid those arguments that are basically “he said, she said" and you can show officers exactly what happened. A video is more reliable and acceptable than any verbal statements from witnesses.

Getting Your Dash Cam Set Up

You’ll need the following to mount your old cellphone to your bike:

• 2 strips of heavy-duty Velcro
• 1 flat angle bracket
• 2 1 ¾’ pipe clamps
• a section of Inner tube (optional)
• an old cellphone
• A dashcam app of your choosing

To use your smartphone as a dash cam on your bike, you will need to make sure it is properly secured to your bike. To do this correctly, you must take two strips of heavy-duty Velcro along with two pipe clamps and a flat corner brace to properly attach it. You will start by attaching the corner brace to your smartphone.

Next, attach a sturdy Velcro strip to your phone's back. You will put the second strip on the end of the brace corner and trim any extra Velcro off and away from the brace. By using heavy-duty Velcro, you shouldn't have to worry about the camera coming loose. The corner brace must be attached to the bicycle directly.

Take two pipe clamps so you can attach the part of the corner brace that is untouched so the phone can be held up and used. The pipe clamps must be positioned near the center of the handlebar, which will enable you to get a better picture when videotaping. The corner brace needs to be tightened under the clamps.

Take a small inner tube section and place it over the area where the clamps are going to be attached so you don't damage your bike's finish.

To run a dash cam app on your old phone, you will not need cellular service or WiFi. You will just need to download a dash cam app onto the old phone. You will then just start the app at any time you head out on the road. There is always the chance of flaws or malfunctions, but you will be giving yourself a way to protect yourself in a friendly, eco-friendly manner that is much less expensive than purchasing a dash cam.

A dash cam can make a significant difference in whether you have an ongoing dispute after filing an insurance claim following a cycling crash. While you cannot expect a smartphone being used as a dash cam to be foolproof, you can expect greater protection. You need to remember to turn the app on and start when you go for a ride, so it will be working.

This article was created by Personal Injury Help, an organization dedicated to providing the public with information about personal injury and safety information. Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice or opinion, and is intended for informational use only.

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.

Redesigning Holidays to Fit Your Lifestyle


As an inventive and flexible artist, I am used to repurposing and redesigning things to fit my individual needs. Doing so in my arting and my gardening comes quite naturally. However, redesigning the holidays took a bit longer for me to achieve due to habit and tradition.

Our most recent redesign was a shift several years ago from celebrating Thanksgiving to honoring ThanksGaia. For the past 15 years or so, I have become more and more dissonant with this holiday tradition due to the growing divide I felt between what Thanksgiving has traditionally represented and how that narrative doesn’t square with accurate history.

However, I love gathering on that Thursday and sharing a meal of abundance with close friends (intentional family) and relatives. A dear friend felt a similar discomfort and suggested the renaming to ThanksGaia (Gaia—Greek Goddess of the Earth). As soon as I heard Eric’s suggestion, I was in. This name more fully affirms my beliefs and practices as our table is resplendent with food from our garden, both fresh and preserved.

Winter Solstice

Our ThanksGaia dinner includes the staples of a fresh, local or organic turkey; mashed potatoes (often from our garden); sweet potatoes (from our garden); the three sisters of squash (homegrown pumpkin), corn (cornbread with our own dried corn ground into meal), and beans (green beans sauteed in garlic from our garden); applesauce (made from the apples from our trees); mead (also from our fruit); and added this year, krautchi (fermented from our cabbage and other veggies). This helps create a meal that truly shows the abundance our Mother Earth has gifted us.

This celebration, as depicted above, is perfect for us. It may work for you as well, or it may not. The point of redesigning any holiday is to create one that befits your personal desires and needs. You’ll want to keep the traditions that you hold dear, replacing those that don’t work for you.

About 20 years ago, our family remodeled another holiday in an even larger way. Our children were younger, still enjoying Christmas and all the excitement that comes with that time of year. They were also questioning why we observed some of the traditions when they didn’t necessarily line up with our own beliefs.

Since we were homeschooling at the time, we decided to research other traditions. We ended up not only redesigning the way we celebrated but also moved the date. Since then, we have celebrated on the Winter Solstice which lines up more directly with our love of the earth rather than with the birth of Jesus.

An interesting thing happened once we made this shift. The stress levels lessened for us all. We were also able to more easily celebrate the Christian aspects of the holiday with our in-laws without feeling the discord. This allowed us to more fully embrace the meaning of the day as they celebrated it.

Before it crosses your mind, this is not an attempt at “killing Christmas.” In fact, for me, it helps resurrect it by keeping it separate and maintaining a sort of purity. We were able to move the traditions that we hold dear to our day of celebration while separating out the religious aspects of the holy day that our relatives glorify.

How to Redesign Your Holiday

Get together with the impacted group of people so you create a holiday everyone feels connected to and each individual feels involved in the new tradition. This can be a detailed process that involves weeks or months, or it can be a brief afternoon discussion. It also might be driven by one person’s need for a change with others going along. For those celebrating alone, I believe this is still a vital process. Why not look at how to change a holiday or time of year to reclaim it and make it something more personally enjoyable?

You might ask these questions:

Do you want to change the date?

What do you like about the holiday as you currently celebrate it?

What do you want to leave behind because it bothers you?

Are there foods that embody this holiday for you?

Are there people you wish to include or avoid?

What is sacred about the holiday and would be missing if you didn’t include it?

Can you include practices that more nearly align with your beliefs?

Do you want to research your ancestry and incorporate some related traditions?

Do you want to make your day more holy or fun?

What aspects will create the desired atmosphere and outcome?

Find the process and motivation that speaks to you and yours, then follow it and design away. If changing the name will suffice (as it did for us with ThanksGaia), then go for it. If you need a more major overhaul (as with our Solstice shift), you may have to try different things and alter bit by bit until it feels right.

Walk in the garden

I’ll leave you with my long-practiced birthday celebration practice: Celebrate the day of your birth for as many days as you are years old. This year I turned 60, that earns me 60 days of revelry. This means that I choose one small special thing each day for 60 days that makes me smile. This could be anything from a walk in my garden to a meal with friends. The key is focusing on happiness and fulfillment. Be happy!

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.

How to Make a Christmas Holiday Wreath


Photo by Getty Images/FatCamera

For this project, you’ll need a wire wreath frame, some florists’ or paddle wire, and some pruners. You’ll also need some festive-looking plant material gathered from your garden, such as berry-bearing holly, ivy, and conifer sprigs. You may like to add a bow or ribbon as a festive finishing.

Making a Holiday Wreath Step-by-Step

• Cut your materials to size. (Make sure they’re in proportion to the wreath frame.)
• Fix the end of the florists’ wire to the wreath frame by wrapping it around the frame three or four times. Pull it tight to lock it in place.
• Choose a piece of each material for your first bundle. Position the largest pieces at the base and anything with berries toward the top.
• Place the bundle on the frame where you’ve fixed the florists’ wire. Wrap the wire around the bundle three times. Pull it tight.
• Repeat with each additional bundle until you’ve nearly filled the frame. Overlap each bundle with the next to hide the wire.
• Make a smaller bundle to finish with. Tuck this under the first bundle. Fix it in place with the florists’ wire.
• Turn the wreath over. Cut the florists’ wire and secure it into the wreath frame.

Learn more about making your own wreath in this video.

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