Garden, Play and Custom Sheds
When you’re 9 years old, a playhouse made of recycled lumber can become a castle, fort, or anything else you can imagine.
A Place for Imagination
Having been in the construction business, I’ve accumulated used plywood, 2x4s, and other miscellaneous wood. One day, my 9-year-old great-grandson, Aiden, asked me if we could build a playhouse, so off we went, spending many days of his summer and school vacations on this project. As you can imagine, we had a special time bonding while learning things such as measuring, woodcutting, roofing, and planning usage to maximize the available material. In Aiden’s opinion, the most important lesson was to not hit your thumb with the hammer.
The playhouse ended up being 8 feet wide by 8 feet deep by 61⁄2 feet high. It also has a window, a hinged door, a tar paper roof, and a plywood floor. When we finished the playhouse, Aiden said, “Papa, this is the best project we’ve ever done!” When you’re 9 years old, a playhouse made of recycled lumber can become a castle, fort, or anything else you can imagine.
I’m a retired railroad engineer with a lifelong interest in gardening. I always find MOTHER EARTH NEWS full of helpful info. My garden shed is at the back of my 2-acre property, where I have free-range chickens and maintain three hives of honeybees. My friends all seem to enjoy the free eggs and honey I always have on hand. My shed stores lots of antiques and whatever tools I need for gardening, as well as feed for my critters.
Great Garden Shed Showoff Winners
Readers, in our February/March 2021 issue, we invited you to enter our Great Garden Shed Showoff. We’ve chosen the winners, and we’d like to thank every person who submitted an entry. We received so many wonderful photos and stories about your sheds, and we’ll continue to share them with you in future issues. We hope you enjoy seeing these sheds as much as we have! — Mother
Most Colorful or Decorative
My husband and I built my potting shed around seven used windows and a pretty door we found at a demolition yard. We used clear roof panels to let in natural light from above. A vent window on the west wall lets heat out. I start all my flower and vegetable seeds in this shed, and it’s where I store all my potting supplies and tools.
Best Use of Repurposed Materials or Most Versatile
Our garden shed is one of our favorite and most versatile buildings on our property.
The shed measures 8 feet by 8 feet, with a total roof area of 8 feet by 12 feet. The design is my own. I built the frame completely from recycled 2x4s from a neighbor’s homemade scaffolding project. I located the shed over our main 750-gallon underground rainwater catchment cistern. Rainwater is the sole water source on our homestead, making this shed and its network of pumps and plumbing a vital piece of our infrastructure. The shed’s floor space houses garden and potting essentials as well as bulk seed, a small chipper, and a small riding lawn mower. The open-air overhang protects long-handled tools from the sun and rain while keeping them easily accessible.
Mighty Oak Farm
New Uses for Old Cards
After many years of throwing out old Christmas cards, I came up with an idea. Every Christmas, I like to display the cards I receive from friends and relatives. I write their addresses on the backs of the cards, and when Christmas is over, I keep the cards until the next year so I can remember whom I need to send a card to. When the time comes, I have the addresses readily available, and I use the fronts of the cards to cut out festive gift tags. This system works well, and repurposing is always a good idea.
Garden Bed Creativity
We recently decided to build raised garden beds. We didn’t know what we should use to raise the beds, so we came up with the idea of using plastic window wells that we purchased at a local building supply store. We put ¾-inch green-treated plywood on top of the window wells, and then we drilled ½-inch holes through the plywood for drainage. We placed our planters on top of the plywood, and then we added ¾ inch of stones inside the planters and filled the whole thing with dirt. We’re looking forward to spring, when we won’t have to bend down to do our gardening!
Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for all of your great articles over the years!
Kurt and Lisa Van Weele
This year, my husband turned a local Amish-built kid’s playhouse into my dream goat barn and milking parlor. We have two Nigerian Dwarf goats — Blackberry Cobbler and Nutmeg — that are our family’s dairy source. We have our own fresh milk, and we make goat’s milk soaps, lotions, and problems. We have a 14-year-old miniature Dachshund whose allergies were so bad this year that she developed sores on her hindquarters and paws. She was licking and scratching a lot, which contributed to infections in those areas, and she ended up with bacterial and fungal problems. Eventually, she lost the hair on her hindquarters and her skin turned dark. Her nail beds got swollen and oozed, so she had trouble walking. She was treated by a vet, but she was still having problems. The treatment was conservative because of her age. To help remedy the situation, I started wiping her down twice a day with organic apple cider vinegar (containing the mother) that was diluted 50 percent with water. After a couple of months of diligent treatment, everything is almost healed!
Custom ‘She Shed’
My husband custom-built this amazing “she shed” for me in 2019 and 2020. He collected and refurbished the windows, tin roofing, and wood-siding window boxes. He added an old door that incorporates three glass mosaics, and he hung a solar lamp from the ceiling with a repurposed shade. I keep tools and treasures inside.
Copper Pipe Shelving
I used copper piping to create shelving supports, which allowed me to have whatever size of shelves I needed, as opposed to the store-bought shelving that comes in 1- or 2-foot options. For the shelves themselves, I used old fence boards that people were throwing out in the neighborhood. I love recycling materials when possible.
Making Garden Markers
I have a friend who’s an avid vegetable gardener. Her garden is huge and produces an abundance of crops — far more than what’s needed by her small family. Of course, one of the joys of gardening is freely sharing the bounty, and she does with anybody and everybody!
Like most gardeners, after planting nice long rows of seeds, she puts a stake at the end of each row identifying what’s in the ground. She says, “There’s something satisfying about that little ceremony that goes beyond a simple reminder of what’s where; it’s a statement of faith in what’s about to take place.”
Her stakes were just ink marker on wooden paint sticks. They were functional but unattractive. In my mind, they weren’t befitting of her beautiful garden. Being avid about 3D printing, I offered to design and produce custom stakes. After several prototypes and evaluations of color combinations, we came up with a final version that’s 13 inches tall, 4 inches wide, and over 1⁄8 inch thick. The fun for me was personalizing each stake for her garden. Unfortunately, after being in the ground for only a few hours in direct sunlight on a warm day, the stakes wilted and sagged to the ground! My mistake was making them out of polylactic acid, which is a type of bioplastic. After some further testing, I made new stakes out of PETG, which is a variant of PET — think water bottles — that’s more heat-tolerant and UV-resistant. As an added measure, I encased a 2-millimeter stainless steel rod in the stem of each stake. No more wilting, even at 106 degrees Fahrenheit! Her garden now boasts beautiful stakes for 19 different vegetables. The stakes won’t rot or rust, and they can be reused for many years.
We built our garden shed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The best part is that we were able to use repurposed windows, glass blocks, and clear polycarbonate sheeting for the roof. It has plenty of natural lighting.
Delighted with the Digital Version
Thank you for making available the digital version of Mother Earth News. It’ll be helpful to my wife and me. We don’t understand English well, but we’ll be able to easily translate the digital version by using Google.
When we were in Arizona two years ago, my wife bought a copy of Mother Earth News in a hardware store. She’s been browsing ever since, and sometimes I help her translate the articles. By now, the magazine is worn but highly regarded.
Made with Meaning
My garden shed is finally becoming a reality! It’s made from repurposed materials, some of which hold special meaning.
The brick on the front belonged to a dear friend whom I lost in 2013. The birds on the door are in honor of my 96-year-old mother. Thank you for letting me share my treasure!
Write to Us!
Started in 1970 to raise awareness of environmental concerns and to provide information and support for a simpler lifestyle, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has made it this far because of continuous interest from you, the readers.
Your dedication to living more sustainable lives has kept this magazine afloat through five decades and an increasingly digital world, and we’d love to hear from you. Send photos of your farm, your garden, and any projects you’ve undertaken over the past five decades to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com. Or, mail a letter to Dear MOTHER, 1503 SW 42nd St, Topeka, KS 66609. Please send your full name, address, and phone number. We may edit for clarity and length.
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