Crafting in small spaces

We have a bit of an unusual life, Wadly and I. We live on twelve south-facing acres backed up to forty square miles of Weyerhaeuser on a dead end road off a dead end road mere minutes from the freeway. As locations go, it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s quiet and private here. From the top of our property we can look out over Shoestring Valley and see Mount St. Helens in the distance.

4×6 cutting/crafting table

Once our mortgage was paid off we decided living small was better than bigger fancier accommodations with its accompanying debt. Because our living space is small, engaging in crafts like quilting takes some innovating and good organizational skills. Having a table that will fold up out of the way when not needed is a crafty thing indeed. When it comes to crafting in a small space, it’s all about maximizing use of space!

Unless you have a family whose members require personal space, bedrooms are a waste. They’re one-use rooms not used for most of the day. I’ve always though Murphy beds were a really smart idea. They allow the bedroom to be more than one thing.

Table tilted up out of the way

Our bed is not a Murphy bed. It’s a metal frame that sits up high enough that storage bins can be placed beneath. To further maximize the space, I’ve mounted a 4×6 layout/cutting table on the footboard. The plywood base is covered by an Omnigrid mat I purchased from the factory on a Guild field trip. The mat is held to the table by tiny brass nails to keep it in place when the table is tilted up out of the way.

Color me crying

I’m had to update my theme and it makes me sad . . . very sad. I’d had the parchment/fall colors theme from my site’s beginning in 2008. The beautiful rich colors and feather-edged layout were perfect for what I like . . . but it had to go. The last time the theme was updated by it’s author was years ago. I been treating it tenderly and coaxed it along, but those days are over. I have to have more function and it can no longer rise to the task.

Color me crying.

Burger Bowl!

In my continual search for really good food I can eat, I’ve discovered . . . Hamburger Bowl!

I have two version (with or without avocado) and they’re both wonderful. Those of you who eat carbs and bread/buns/etc. won’t think it’s so great, but for me . . . few carbs and no grains . . . it’s awesome!

On medium low, cook diced mushrooms and diced bacon in a 6″ skillet with a teaspoon of butter.

While that’s cooking dice a roma tomato and a slice of onion (choose the one you like, I’m using the basic yellow). Add two heaping teaspoonfuls of Farman’s Dill Pickle Relish in a bowl, add the diced onion and tomato and warm it in the microwave. Don’t COOK it, just get it warm so it doesn’t chill the hot ingredients. For my puny little microwave I use 55 seconds on cook, stir, then back in for another 15 seconds.

When the bacon and ‘shrooms are done or nearly done add the raw hamburger. The shape isn’t important, it’s getting chopped up when it’s done cooking. (I buy hamburger in bulk and package it in snack bags in the freezer for easy use. I get the amount of hamburger I need when I need it at a lower cost.)

When the hamburger is nearly done, dice up the hamburger and add 3/4 cup of black beans (drained and rinsed). Stir the beans into the mix. once it’s all heated up lift out the goodies (leave all the fat in the pan) and add them to your bowl of warmed and diced goodness.

Stir it all together and eat it with a soup spoon. OMGosh good! Heads up, this is more than will fit in a regular soup bowl.

When doing the avocado version I wait until everything’s mixed together and add the diced avocado to the top. Yummy stuff!

Awesome Chocolate Waffles/Pancakes

This recipe uses zucchini from my aquaponic bed. I’m getting enough zucchini to be able to eat a whole one a day, sometimes two a day. Woot!


These are SO awesome!  Fresh zucchini, coconut flour, eggs, cacao powder, medjool dates, butter and baking soda.

2 eggs, 2 medjool dates, 2 tbsp melted butter, 1/2 cup grated fresh zucchini
2 eggs, 2 medjool dates, 2 tbsp melted butter, 1/2 cup grated fresh zucchini

In a pint jar add 1/2 grated fresh zucchini, 2 large organic eggs (warmed in hot tap water before opening), 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 medjool dates (pit removed).  Spin on the blender attachment and run on lowest setting until everything is chopped and mixed.

After blending
After blending

Cacao powder, coconut flour and baking soda added and blended.
Cacao powder, coconut flour and baking soda added and blended.

Spin the top off and add 1 tbsp coconut flour, 1 tbsp cacao powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Spin the top back on and blend until the powdered ingredients are integrated.

Cook and serve with butter. Mmmmm.

Portable crisper

Portable crisper
Portable crisper

I eat a lot of vegetables. Because I am a fuss-less person I’ve come up with a way to get my veges out of the fridge without spending forever pulling them out of a drawer, stacking them on the counter, whack off what I need only to stick them back in the fridge again every time I cook. This portable crisper sits on top the glass shelf that is the cover for the existing crisper in my fridge and, with the handy handle molded into the front of the drawer, allows me to pull it out of the fridge with one hand.  It contains most if not all of the veges I need.

This crisper is the drawer and glass shelf from a small portable fridge. With the addition of a brass piano hinge and some aquarium sealer, a piece of washable non-skid shelf liner for the inside and very little effort, I have streamlined and shortened my prep time.  The lid fits flush against the top preserving the moisture in the veges.

The paper sack is cut down from a large grocery sack and holds mushrooms at the perfect humidity to keep them fresh.  Strong smelling veges like onion are zipped in plastic but everything else is pre-cleaned, unwrapped and ready to use.  A cut-to-fit non-skid shelf liner keeps the veges up off the plastic bottom to avoid accumulation of moisture where veg and plastic meet.

Current content of the crisper include zucchini, yellow squash, onion, celery, mushroom, red and green pepper.  The larger build-in crisper contains overflow and backup stock.

Testing the molding

Molding clay with silicone mix pasted on.

End result after about 2 hours.

Let the games begin!  I’m testing molding.  After lots of research, I’m actually testing!  Woohoo!

  • Modeling clay (doesn’t dry out)
  • Something to use as a base (glossy scrap cardboard)
  • Pure silicone caulk
  • Xylene
  • Corn starch
  • Stir sticks (old plastic spatulas)
  • Mixing container

I used the modeling clay to make something to mold against.  I cut a piece, stuck it down to the glossy card stock, mixed equal parts corn starch and silicone caulk, then added xylene to get a spreadable consistency.

I then plastered the silicone mix onto the clay.  Not pretty, but pretty really isnt’ necessary.

The third picture is the result after two hours.  The silicone was largely set.  I didn’t do a good enough job getting the silicone into the register holes.  I’ll know to watch for that when starting the actual mold making.

Neat stuff!

Second sock, done except for the ribbed cuff.

I’m about 2/3 of the way done with my second 6″ crew sock.  It’s going very nicely.  My heel-turn technique is improving (fewer holes) and my work is nicely even.  I love the cast-on technique for toe-up knitting.  The heel turn method is easy and easy to adapt to fit my specific heel.  Getting a good fitting sock with no pattern is easy, after the fifth heel tear-out on the first sock.  Go me. <grin>  The next pair I’ll do differently still and they will be even better . . . and faster!

I’ve got a couple yards left in the first skein of yarn which isn’t going to be enough to finish this sock.  The second skein will let me finish this sock and should leave me with enough to make another pair with short cuffs.    I couldn’t buy quality socks for the price I paid for the yarn so color me happy.  I guess that’s one of the blessing of having small feet . . . more sock per yard.

At this point, I need to solve my needle problem.  I’ve ordered another brand of needle AND some fix-it stuff.  If one won’t work, the other should.

The top needle is straight from the package as-built by the manufacturer. The bottom needle has been altered to remove the hip which causes the yarn to get stuck on the cable.

The fix-it stuff is for the problem I have with the join between the tip and cable for the square needles.  They really are a good concept, but the design/execution could really use some work.  Let me explain.

The socks I’m making are worked in super-fine yarn.  Other than crochet thread for doilies, that’s the finest yarn sold in skeins for hand knitters.  The yarn manufacturer recommends a size 3 needle but I like tightly knitted socks so I’m using a size 1 needle.

For the stitch transfer to go smoothly for finer yarns, the join between the cable and the needle really has to be flawless.  Add together the fine yarn, small needle size and tight knitting and getting the yarn back on the tip from the cable becomes tricky in the best of situations.  As you can see, the join on the top needle in the above picture is a far cry from ideal.

When I got the square needles, I was appalled at the price (easily twice the price of needles the same length and size at but I really liked with the squared off shaft which reduces hand strain and the slightly shortener tip which fits my hand better.

The total limpness of the cable is a true wonder.  When you make socks using two 16″ cable needles, stiffness in the cable prevents even tension in the stitches where the needle change occurs.  This is magnified for tight knitters.  That forced unevenness drives me nuts.  The limpness of the cable on these needles solved that problem.  The difference in appearance between the first sock (done largely with stiff cable needles) and the second (completely knit on limp-cable needles) is graphic.

To fix the hip-join problem between the tip and the needles I used my brass hammer and cobbler’s jack and reshaped the butt of the tip.  This worked really well right up until the altered shape of the butt impacted the integrity of the cable sheath.  Click the needle image and you’ll see what I mean.  The extra sharpness at the butt over time caused the sheath of the cable to separate and peel back giving an additional place for the cable to snag the yarn, though it’s still an improvement in moving yarn back onto the tip over the original shape.  Unfortunately, in one needle it caused complete separation between the tip and the cable.

I’ve got some neat stuff coming that I hope will allow me to solve the tip/cable join problem and let me continue to use these too expensive but wonderfully shaped needles.

Check out Sugru.  It’s an air curable silicone rubber which bonds to aluminum.  When my multi-color 8-pack arrives, I should be able to reshape the join to a smooth ramp AND take the stress off the cable sheath at the join.   If it doesn’t work as well as I think it might, I might be able to use it instead of cork for the heel seat in my shoes!  The uses for this stuff have got to be endless!

I have decided I need a purple pair . . . I just need to find the right purple.  Every girl should have at least one pair of purple socks.  The Patron Stretch Sock yarn is so awesome I am hesitant to try another type yarn.  I’ll have to see what kind of purple they make.

Winter wonderland

Our winter wonderland from the deck
Boopy Girl all dressed in winter white
The arrow marks the spot - that's 1/3 of the way to the county road. The drive goes to the left around the south-east pasture and along the barely visible tree line to the arrow where the pasture meets the trees. It then hangs a left and goes another 400 feet down a hill and around a sharp corner before hitting the maybe-plowed county road.

I think we can safely say winter is here, don’t you?

I had plans for today but with the depth of the snow, the length of our driveway, the fact that it’s still snowing and projected to continue snowing all day, I think those plans are officially toast.

If anybody in the neighborhood is going to the store, I need some stuff.  Call me.  <grin>

Let there be light

I got a florescent fixture mounted for the grow wall this morning.  It’s got daylight bulbs in it.  That should help keep the wall growing and healthy.

I had an epiphany.  I’ve been fussing about what to do for a gutter and I haven’t been making a lot of mental headway until yesterday.  My latest effort to find a gutter for the wall involved an internet search for gutter 12″.  I found a place in CA that custom makes gutters as well as carries all sorts of beautiful fittings for people with lots of discretionary income (aka people NOT like me).  They had copper gutters, galvanized gutters . . . and stainless gutters!

A light finally flicked on inside my head.  We’ve got a sheet metal place local to us where they can custom build me the gutter I need!  They’ve done specialty stuff for me before in stainless.  It won’t be cheap, but it will both look good AND perform good.  What’s not to like with that?  I asked Wadly to pay for my new gutter for Christmas.  He’s game so now I just need to design it.

The beauty of water kefir

Brew, ferment, drink

I have a jar of water kefir grains brewing on my counter.  It’s one of the few natural things that will help right my system when I eat something I shouldn’t.  It will also chase off a cold if I drink it as soon as my throat start to tickle.

Water kefir grains are supposed to multiply, though mine don’t seem to do so at any visible rate.  That doesn’t seem to alter the effectiveness of the result so I’m not going to fuss about it.

I brew my water kefir with maple syrup and dissolved minerals in filtered 7.2PH water.  I sliced a chunk of unsulfered candied ginger into the water kefir grains mix and cover it with a piece of paper towel, stirring it twice a day while it’s brewing.  I can tell when it’s ready by the way it smells, though I suppose I could measure the brix.  Smell seems to work for me.  The speed of the initial fermentation is a product of sugar content and warmth.

After the grains have fed for a couple days I strain the liquid into a sealable bottle.  I add a few chunks of dried pineapple to the bottle of water kefir and set the cap on without tightening it down.  When all the fruit is floating (usually a couple days) I seal the cap.  Sometimes the fruit stays at the top, sometimes it sinks to the bottom, sometimes it does both and sometimes it hangs in the middle like little fruit jewels.

When I need a water kefir I uncap it over the sink (if properly sealed it WILL fizz as it is a fermented drink) and strain it into a glass.  It’s a lite pineapple/ginger beer filled with good-for-you enzymes and digestive bacteria.  What’s not to like?

Biofilter update

Upper tank with hydroton

It’s still too cold to put out any of the biofilter plants I’ve tried to winter over but it is time to get the tanks in and circulating.  This upper tank is foam.  I got it at a year end sale two years ago for $10, a great buy.

Last year I used a tee-less fitting and a piece of rubber hose for the upper tank outlet.  All last summer I had issues with the upper tank overflowing due to a too small outlet with penny royal root blocking the flow.  I’m hoping I’ve solved some of that with this year’s setup.

I pulled the tee-less connector and inserted a tapering vacuum cleaner wand extension pipe into the hole.  After determining I would get a good seal, I pulled it out, trimmed it accordingly and reinserted it into the hole.  No sealant was required to give a good water tight fit.

This change allows better outlet flow and the mean level inside the tank is lower decreasing the chance of overflow.

What you can’t see (I’ll drop the water level and get a snapshot before I put the plants in) is the 3″ PVC pipe that keeps the hydroton out of the outlet and inside the tank.  The pipe is one foot long with a 45° angled end.  This angle fits over the outlet and is fastened to the tank with a 2½” screw.  The other end of the pipe is a straight cut which is covered with a piece of 30% sun shade cloth.  The length of the pipe has saw kerfs to increase the ability of water to enter the pipe.

Growbed Updates

The new and updated dump bucket
The roller assembly gizmo hanging on the side of the bucket. Note the notch in the bucket collar to accommodate the gizmo.
The outboard end of the gizmo assembly. Note the notch in the lid to allow the lid to (mostly) set down on the bucket.
The back side. Note the notch in the bucket collar.
Stainless long necked bolt.


Yesterday was a  beautiful day, mild, sunny and quiet.  Wadly was off visiting family and I had the peace to putter to my heart’s content.

I managed to get the dump bucket for my grow bed rebuilt.  This time I added a genius gizmo for the flush counter-weight assembly.  This crafty  gizmo was the happy confluence of circumstance and available parts and it all started with the proximity of the flush valve to the edge of the bucket.

Because my 5 gallon buckets have a lot of ridges and raised lettering at the center I mounted the flush assembly against the side of the bucket.  This gave me a smoother flatter surface for sealing the toilet flush valve to the bucket and, by mounting the toilet fill assembly next to the side of the bucket, I was able to reduce the distance between the rollers that lift the toilet flush flap and support the flush valve counter-weight.  I saw the lock assembly for a sliding window sitting on the bench ready to be taken out to the aluminum pile to recycle.   That started the mental wheels turning and I was able to scrounge the remaining parts to pull this gizmo together.

The new roller carrier is small, requiring one small notch in the bucket collar for installation and support.

The rollers are from the bottom of a sliding glass door.

The bolts holding the rollers are stainless.  I have no idea where they came from.  Whenever we disassemble something for recycling, we take any potentially interesting small hardware and stick it in one of our multiple cabinets with plastic drawers.  We had this particular bolt type in two lengths.  The shorter was twice the length I needed but they do a perfect job.  The additional bolt sticking out is more of a design statement than a flaw.

The holes in the center of the rollers was just a bit smaller than the circumference of the bolt which allowed the bolt to be pressed into the roller assembly.  A bit of judicious encouragement from my rubber mallet did the trick and the rollers are now pressed onto the bolts.

The holes in the aluminum slider window lock handle were just slightly smaller than the threads on the bolts.  Because the piece to receive threads was aluminum and the bolts were stainless,I was able to force screw the bolts into the holes to create the necessary threads in the aluminum carrier.  You see what I mean about a confluence of circumstance?  The bolts were the right size to press into the rollers and the holes were the right size to accept threading from the bolts.  Kismet.

Each bolt has a fiber or teflon washer and a stainless washer to ensure proper spacing for the roller.

The rollers aren’t stainless and aren’t designed to be out in the rain.  Terry painted them for me to help keep the rust at bay.  As to the bearings, an occasional squirt of WD-40 (water displacement 40th formula tested) keeps rust in check and the rollers turning smoothly.  the arrangement allows the cord to be lifted off the rollers and the roller assembly to be taken away from the tank/growbed assembly for maintenance.  At some point I’ll make a plastic cover for the roller assembly to keep the rollers drier.

If you’re wondering what I used to extend the overflow tube on the flush valve . . . it’s a vacuum cleaner hand wand extension pipe.  We’ve got a shelf under one of the benches that gets all the plastic pipe chunks we might need for a later project.  Wand extension pipe is just plastic pipe and the taper makes them perfect for fitting onto other pipe or into openings of not exactly the right size.



Aquaponics Startup

Yesterday I rebuilt my aquaponic system to accommodate an additional grow bed.  The single tray I used last year was just not enough.  I have switched out the gravel I used last year for hydroton (expanded clay balls) so (theoretically) the beds will be light enough to move inside when the weather grows too cold to sustain growing.  A single bed filled with gravel would require four muscle men, a pygmy goat and some special equipment.  That so won’t work for portable beds.  With hydroton I should be able to lift the bed onto a rolling cart for transport indoors.

Now that I’ve got two beds to flood, last year’s system won’t work as is.   Two beds means at least twice the water volume.  I will gang together two 5-gallon buckets to make up the required flush volume.  By ganging buckets together using a short length of 1½ pipe and tee-less connectors, I can supply the volume for both beds using my existing fill and drain system bucket.

So far I’ve got one tray filled and water cycling through but I have more to do before I’m ready to consider planting. I need to cut new piping for the drain system.  I want the system to flash-fill the beds so I don’t have to rely on an auto-siphon for drainage.  That reduces the complexity of the system and reduces the parts needed to get additional beds attached to the system.

The tank’s water temperature is still below 55° [brrr] but if I’m going to get a head start on the season, I need to get my beds functioning mechanically now.  To get the beds up to temperature a little more quickly, I’m thinking of installing a solar water heating system for the tank.  We’ll see if I manage to get it done before the tank gets up to temp.

Not graded for size

Guess which is the store bought egg

As the weather gets colder I seem to cook more breakfasts.  My favorite is a not-omelet with whatever ingredients I have at hand.  Sometimes it’s scallops and shrimp, other times it’s sausage.  At some point I’ll get pictures of the non-omelet process to share.

Chickens go through a laying/setting cycle that contributes to our very occasional lack of eggs.  Part of the derth is related to having free range chickens and dogs who love eggs . . . when they can find them.  Because smart hens hide their eggs where dogs and people can’t find them, we have a fairly consistent supply of new chicks to offset those lost to old age and/or picked off by scavengers when the dogs get inattentive.

The eggs we get range in size, shape and color because our flock is a real mix of breeds.  We have medium to small hens that are part barred rock, australorp, banty and something with feathered feet.  We now have a silky rooster who was added to our flock by a family member.  The one baby we’ve been able to identify as his looks more like a grouse than a chicken.  Very cute.

The difference between our eggs and those that come from the store is really obvious when they are cracked into the same bowl.  The store bought egg is yellow.  The free range chicken egg yolks ranges in color depending on the age of the chicken and what they’ve been eating.  The richer the color, the higher the nutrition.

The store bought egg in the bowl was a grade A large brown egg.   You can see one of  our eggs is slightly smaller and one is quite a bit bigger.

Casting for lasts

Box for foot mold

I’ve finally got all my ducks in a row and have cast one of my feet in pursuit of lasts for making my own shoes.

I zipped together a box for the mold, using scrap pieces of 6″ plastic pipe to fill in corners so I don’t waste molding material.  I sealed the seams with some caulk I had on hand (butyl silicone).  I think just about anything would work as a sealer.  One pound of alginate fills the mold to my ankle.  How great is that?!

Foot impression filled with plaster

I taped my anti-arch support in the bottom of the mold before adding the alginate, then stood in the alginate until it set up.  Getting my foot out was pretty easy, just a little wiggling and I was free.

It takes 4 cups of plaster of Paris to fill the mold to the ankle.

The alginate is a nice molding medium.  It’s pretty easy to tear apart to remove the plaster of Paris positive and it faithfully reproduces whatever is molded.

Lorr, cleaning up the positive

I went up to our son’s to get a part for my table saw repaired.  While I was there he cleaned up the positive, a necessary step in getting it ready to mold.

The final shape, just needs a final clean-up and smoothing

And there you have it, a semi-ready form to cast for my left foot last.  I still need to skim-coat it with Bondo before a final sand to make sure it’s smooth, smooth, smooth.  I’ll get the right foot done this week.  Hopefully we can get the lasts cast this coming weekend.

Making shoes will be a good bad-weather project.  I really need shoes that will support my rotten ankle and keep my feet dry while running around outside.

Footie Stuff

Mold just slightly larger than my foot . . . yeah, I know, I have small feet.

I managed to get a mold made of one of my feet.  I used warm water to mix the first batch of alginate and it set up before I could get it out of the bowl and into the mold.  The second time around I mixed using cold water, poured the mix into the mold and stepped into it.  That worked great.

Alginate set up and filled with plaster.

I mixed plaster of paris and filled the mold.  I have to wait until it sets to unmold it.

It’s the turns that make life interesting

ComeQuiltWithMe's coffin quilt pattern, a very large version (3"x4½") of the block I'm contemplating using

I’m working on a new quilt idea.  I’ve discussed it before, the koi pond repeat in some sort of watercolor technique similar to the sunset quilt.

I originally flirted with using the 2″ square dance block but have since veered toward a stretched hex (coffin, not honeycomb).  I’ve ordered some coffin shaped English paper pieces. They’re gonna take a while to get here because the shape isn’t a standard one for so they’ll have to draft it before sending it to the laser cutter computer.  Hopefully it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg.

This morning I had a flash . . . what if I created a stamp the size and shape I want.  I could stamp the image on the back of the material, do some pin matching and sew the seams by machine.  Y seams don’t bother me and I think I can pin and sew accurately enough to do the job by machine.  I wouldn’t have to trim super accurately, wouldn’t have to use a template, wouldn’t have to sew the blocks together by hand (English paper piecing).  Hmmm . . . You KNOW I’m gonna have to try . . .

So, ever the research queen, I’ve been looking at rubber stamps.  I found this really plain Jane website with rubber stamp construction info.  Next time I head into town I’ll pick up a blank stamp and see if I can carve what I need.  Before I do that I’ll draw a couple and try sewing and see what I get.

Growbed update

This is the cobbled together frame. Three legs are pressure treated, one is cedar.
Frame set into the ground (~4" holes) with mortar tray in place
Flush tank in place, flush drain in place
Tank side of the bed showing loop siphon and fill tubing

The drain as the flood tank flushes

Wadly and I got all the bits put together and I’ve taken pics to share.

This system is designed to be built out of 55 gallon barrels (see the barrelponics group on yahoo) but I’m having a hard time finding clean free barrels in my area.  Instead, I opted for the $4.96 option . . . a mortar mixing tray from Home Depot.  The gas to go to where I can get 55 gallon drums is more than the cost of the tray.  Add to that the cost of purchasing barrels (current best price is $15 ea.) and I’m way ahead.

Wadly built the frame to support the mortar tray.  I think it’s clever.  All the wood is recycled bits and pieces assembled with torx screws.

I had originally planned for additional posts to hold up the dump tank until I got a clue <shaking head at self> and had Wadly cut me some 2×6 angled pieces to hold a 2×8 shelf.  I drilled a notch on one side of the shelf to accept the bottom of the toilet fill kit installed in the dump bucket.

The 5 gallon dump bucket is recycled and the  drain plumbing parts cost about $10.  I didn’t have any of the adapters and connectors for 1½” pipe though I did have some 2″ and a 2″ elbow all glued together which I used.  Everything is dry fitted so it can be disassembled and adjusted or cleaned.

All along the length of the drain pipe are skill saw cuts ¾” apart.  They are cut across the length of the pipe and go through 1/3 the thickness.  The next time I take it apart I’ll get pictures.  The end cap had six holes drilled in it.

When I build the next bed I will run one drain down the center and see how that works.  Or maybe use 1″ pipe instead of 1½”.

I have three tomato plans (SunGold, Beefsteak and yellow cherry) and 4 green pepper.  I will add red pepper as well when I can get some plants.

Wadly has cut a cover for the tank but the edges need routered and it needs waxed to keep the rain from soaking in.  It’s in the shop waiting for me to get out there and do the task.

New growbed

Wadly and I got the new growbed up and running.  I am using the same Rubbermaid 100 gallon stock tank for the fish and bought a new (spent a whole $4.96) mortar mixing tray for the growbed.  It’s about 20″ x 30″ and about 7″ deep.  It doubles the grow area from the old bed.

I’ve got the dump tank (recycled 5 gallon bucket) set up and working, though a little more fine tuning will no doubt be required.  I’ve got to address the water into bed distribution line as the dump does two things that it shouldn’t, it spills water over the side of the bed from the rush of water and it digs a big hole in the gravel.  I need to moderate that and will pick up the parts today to make that happen.  Wadly and I jury-rigged what we’ve got.  It works but badly and I can’t fix it without a few more parts.

I also need to get a petcock valve for the tank side of the tee to regulate the flow to the dump tank.  For now I’ve bent the tubing and have a knee-high nylon (my favorite filter medium) around it to pinch the flow a bit.  That will work in the short term but in the long term I’d like to have a little finer control.

Wadly’s going to build a cover for the tank to keep the sun out and the algae growth (causes a big PH rise) down.   I had the tank covered with a piece of white tarp last year, but he’d like something with better eye appeal.

If you’re interested in a growbed of your own, visit the barrelponics yahoo group for like minded folk.

Aphid control

I’m still researching how to permanently rid my wall of aphids while doing no damage to the attached aquarium.  I pick them off morning and night.  Sometimes I don’t find any or just one, other times I’ll find five or six.  I’m obviously not clearing them out so will have to find a way to eradicate them permanently.

I ran into this prep in my search.

Several years ago I came across a homemade remedy for aphids that is the best I have found. The recipe is quite simple and safe.

Put a pinch of Chewing Tobacco in a pint of warm water and let set overnight. Do not cover.

Mix 2 Tablespoons tobacco juice and 1 Tablespoon Listerine in 32 ounce spray bottle and fill with water. Add 2 drops of dish washing soap. Be sure and add soap last.

Spray on any of your pond plants as needed. This has never hurt any of my fish or plants.

This was posted on by “Sharon from Oklahoma”.

I don’t have chewing tobacco or Listerine, but it sounds like an interesting prep.

These boots are made for . . .

I still haven’t gotten around to sending my boots back to be resized for my fat little feet.  I admit to being slow . . . not just in getting them packaged up and sent back but also in connecting the dots on how to fix the problem.

My boots went to town to Sunshine Shoe Repair (Korean guy and his wife, really nice people) and he put them on stretchers for four days.  I got them back and they were better but not enough so I planned to take them back and have them stretched some more.  Then something I watched months and months ago finally clicked.  Duh.  I’d seen a video wherein a young lady showed how to use ice to stretch shoes.  She was stretching peep-toe heels, but why wouldn’t the same concept work for my boots?

I put water in a couple of sandwich bags, stuck them into my boots and put them in the freezer.  Yup, that was better but still not enough so I did it again.  MUCH better on the right, but the left is still tight.  I’ve got my thinnest wool socks on (lime green with white and pink polka dots) and I’ve been out in the snow!  How cool is that!?

Felted Wool Boots

Felted wool boots

I don’t know if you can really call these “boots”.  They won’t keep moisture out but they’re really comfy and healthy for me feet.  I wear them ALL the time.

The uppers are the tops of a pair of felted wool slippers made especially for me by Cindy Gleason.  I wore those slippers until I wore the bottoms out.  No, I don’t hoard things but I also don’t throw out something I might be able to use in another way.  Cindy went to a lot of work to make these for me and the only worn out spots were the parts I walked on.

At some point the light came on and I harvested the soles from a pair of kids’ slippers I got max cheap at Target (cardboard between the foam sole and felted top was a dead giveaway) and had worn until the uppers fell apart.

I pulled everything off  the soles, trimmed them to more closely match my feet, attached my anti-arch supports (I need support on the outside of my foot, not at the arch) and covered the works with a layer of leather.  Then I  trimmed the worn out bottoms off the felted wool slippers, serged the cut edge and hand stitched the felted wool uppers to my prepared soles.

I wear them with Smartwool socks and stay out of puddles and wet grass.


Wadly made a town run before the holiday and picked up an 8’x6′ piece of carpet padding felt and a spool of cord (structural netting).  Except for the backing I have all the bits I need for the new 5’x5′ plant wall.  Oh, minus the stainless staples . . . I don’t have those yet.  Oh, and minus the tubing . . . I have to pick that up as well.  And minus the stainless screws and fender washers.  <sigh>  Okay, I’m not quite as ready as I thought.  But I’m getting closer!

I promise to give step by step instruction with pictures this time.  I’m going to do it just a bit different . . . oh, you guessed that, did you?  <grin>   I want to see if I can find a piece of plexiglass to use as the gutter.  I need a piece that’s about 10″ wide by 5′ long with a bit of a bend down it’s length.  I’ll have to see what I can find.

Wadly got the felt for $10 total because the business is closing up shop.  I’m going to have to go by and see if I can snag the rest of the roll.  I may not get it at that good of a price but I gotta try.

Wadly got me a gorgeous magenta moth orchid for Christmas.  Isn’t that sweet?!  I’m gonna stick it in the new plant wall.

Lasts at last?

I’m still working on the finding/getting/making-lasts-that-match-my-feet thing.  The three pair of lasts I got through Ebay don’t in any way resemble the feet I have.  I think they could be split and pieced to make a pair my size, though I suspect that would be an awful lot of work for little reward.  I’m really ambivalent about that. Part of my problem with that is I don’t have all the tools I need.

There’s a guy online who cut his own lasts out of blocks of wood.  I remember the photos being on one of the online photo galleries, you know the ones where you can sign up for an account and they host your pictures.  He used all sorts of hand and power tools and ended up with decent looking lasts that pretty much matched his feet.

In talking to our son, it appears he may have the perfect solution.  He has an epoxy that cures to the consistency of spruce, light, strong and workable with hand tools.  How cool is that!?  I just need to make mold of my feet with added room around the toes.

Did you know you can buy plaster impregnated socks?  I ran across them in my search for casting material.  They’re unreasonably pricey but isn’t that an interesting idea?  The plaster socks came with a plastic strip to stick to your leg.  Once the plaster is set they used bandage scissors to cut it off using the plastic strip as the guide.  Because the sock/plaster layer isn’t very thick it didn’t get as hot as sticking your foot in a plaster bucket.  That’s a plus.

There has to be a fairly simple method for making molds using socks and plaster of paris.  I wonder if it’s possible to rub dry plaster of paris into a sock and end up with something that could be used as a mold.  You know I’m gonna have to try it . . . I have a whole sack of cotton socks (white and tan) I don’t wear and a 3 gallon bucket of plaster of paris.  Perfect testing material.

What if I split a pair of socks down the back to the top of the heel and sewed in something that would allow me to . . . hmm . . .  I can see I have something here . . . I’m just not sure what.  I only need them to come up to the bottom of the ankle bone.  Maybe material flanges that I can clamp closed at the back of my foot.  I have plenty of socks to test on.  We’ll see how it goes.

At some point I’ve got to get started on this project.  I have the pattern, I have the material and tools for making shoes but before I can start I have to have lasts that resemble my feet.  I thought I was going to be able to get lasts made.  I contacted Bill at Global Footwear Solutions and had my feet scanned but never heard back from him.  I talked to him, sent emails . . . no joy, no lasts.  <sigh>  It was a bit frustrating but not a total waste of time.  I learned stuff.  That’s always good.

New Biofilter

Click to enlarge

I wanted to give you a shot of the new biofilter. Originally I’d planned for the biofilter to be layers of gravel and filter medium over which would float a raft of nitrate sucking plants . . . but it’s funny how things work. I discovered the roots of the plants are an awesome biofilter all on their own.  The amount of debris that is released when the plants are disturbed is amazing.

Click to enlarge

The pump injects the water across the front side of the filter tank. You can see the connection to the left of the drain plug. I used a threaded rubber bulkhead fitting (tee eliminator) into which I screwed the pump hose fitting. I got the rubber bulkhead fitting here.

The flow of water travels over a small bed of crushed oyster shell (ph moderation) and swirls around the bricks that hold up the corkscrew reed and iris pot before reaching the roots of the various water plants.

To keep the roots out of the overflow I’ve got a temporary gizmo rigged.  I bent a piece of pvc and connected it between the back side of the outflow bulkhead (regular plastic type) and a piece of 4″ pvc set vertically in the tank.  You can see it in the upper picture.  The vertical pvc has holes around the bottom to let water in.  The water enters the holes and rises to flow through the bent pvc and out of the biofilter into the fish tank.  This arrangement isn’t ideal, but it will work for this season.  The pressure from the rigid pvc causes the bulkhead fitting to leak slightly.  Next season I’ll run a piece of  90º plastic conduit from the bulkhead fitting to a hole drilled in a halved section of drain pipe which will sit on the bottom of the tank.  This will be a much more attractive (and functional) arrangement than what I have now.

I don’t know if this method of filtering will hold up to a full summer of use but before I delve into rocks and filter medium, I’m gonna give it a try.  And the plus side of this is, the roots are not where the fish can eat them.  How great is that?!