When it rains, is stores!

As with most of my projects, the search for the right materials without resorting to a visit to the local hardware store results in some time passing before I have everything I need to finish a job.

Recently I was fortunate enough to get together the final bits and pieces (and a helping hand from my sister’s boyfriend) I needed to build a stand for my water tank and connect it to my shed.

I already had the tank and had given it a good rinse, bought second hand from a local. I’d been given a heavy duty plastic pallet which could handle the weight of a full tank of water. And recently I sourced some sleepers from the in-laws property, and some plumbing supplies from the local tip shop.

And alas, the tank is now set up and, after some decent rain, is full and being put to good use.

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The tank is set up from the ground so that my watering can can fit under the tap, and to also use gravity to force the water out at a reasonable rate without using a pump. The faucet has a hose connector attached to it to make for easy watering.

The bottom level of the stand is made up with the three sleepers making up the border, with sleepers screwed in inside the box to support the plastic pallet and the tank. The pallet is sitting on top of the enclosed bottom level sleepers, with another three sleepers screwed together to make a border around the pallet to keep it in place.

The resulting stand, I think, looks pretty good and a does a great job!

Plumbing the tank wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might. I pulled the down pipe which connects the gutters to the drain out and using some existing pipe elbows and some found at the tip shop, re-routed the rainwater out from behind the shed, along the side of the shed and into the inlet hole.

All it takes is some good measurements, and the simple understanding that water can’t run up – you can see from the pipe attached along the side of the shed that it is on a slight angle down to ensure that the water runs properly down into the tank.

Finally, I’ve added another pipe to the overflow outlet, which currently runs into a big old pot. The idea will be to find another container for this overflow to run into, possibly an old wheelie bin which can then be adapted with a tap to allow this to be used as a portable water source.

The project wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be, and would encourage anyone to have a go at it. Even if it isn’t with recycled materials, hardware stores carry equipment to divert rainwater from downpipes so that it can stored and used when needed. And of course it adds a further degree of sustainability to your garden and, in my case, to my growing veggies. Even a small roof area can collect a usable amount of water.

I am blessed by the fact that the gutters installed on the shed roof are constructed in a way to stop leaves and other objects from flowing down into the downpipes. For a normal gutter, it would be best to put some shade cloth or other gauze like material to trap leaves and dirt from running into the tank.

Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m planning on adding something to the pipes to catch smaller object from falling into the tank, with the idea of being able to use the tank water (after testing it properly of course) as drinking water.

I’d love to hear any stories or suggestions from people who have done the same thing, or are planning on doing so.

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You say tomato, I grow tomato!

Welcome to the first article for the year.

Over the small break from work and blogging, I spent some more time than I usually find for digging up the garden and turning these evolving green thumbs a nicer shade of soil brown. I will post another article looking at all the activities I undertook, including digging a new patch and planting in pots (including an old washing machine cylinder).

But, the purpose of this post is one particular veggie I planted, the beloved tomato. Whether cooked as part of a hot breakfast, cold in a salad or between bread as part of a toasted sandwich, how could I not want to have a go at growing them?

I gathered some seedlings from friends and family, and had a collection of 10 of varying ages. The largest plants were planted at the southern end of the new veggie patch, so that they couldn’t block out the smaller plants. The same principle applies to all plants in a patch, as can be seen with the eggplants and capsicum plants I’ve put in with the tomatoes.

Like always, a well prepared soil with plenty of compost dug into it greatly enhances the prospect of a successful crop. Further, tomato plants start to droop pretty quickly in hot weather, even though they are a summer fruit, and a good watering at the time of planting and during their life is essential.

There are some extra tips with tomato growing. One, is that the plants need to be staked once they grow to height where they start to flop due to the weight they are carrying. The stakes don’t need to be anything special, I grabbed some long thing pieces of wood from the local tip shop (which the attendant thought was nothing but trash and refused to charge me for) and I’ve tied he plants to them using elastic from some old singlets and some old shoelaces.

The second tip is to pull off any branches that begin growing in the fork where two other branches already exists. This forces the plant to focus on growing the fruit, as opposed to growing more branches, and will see your crop grow immensely. The following two photos show what to look for:

Here is the branch growing in the fork….

And now its gone!

Some of the more mature plants started fruiting within 2 to 3 weeks from the time they were transferred into the garden using these two tips. The smaller plants are well established and have few small flowers, sure signs that there will be more to come.

Finally, in order to be truly sustainable, leave aside some tomatoes to take the seeds from which can then be planted the next spring/early summer for your next crop. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Either using a sieve with running water or on a paper towel, remove the tomato flesh from around the seeds. The seeds need to be left for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once dried, simply store them (using old glass jars is great for storage so long as they are clean and dry) until needed.

Enjoy the process, learning is half the fun. If anyone has any comments or further tips, please feel free to comment.

Cheers.

Portable, Recycled, Greenhouse!

This article also appears on the ACF Greenhome website.

There are a number of vegetables that, when grown from seed, need (or very much appreciate) a bit of a helping hand when germinating. The most recommended method is to plant your seeds into a seed bed until the plant sprouts, and then to transfer the seedling into your veggie patch.

A great advantage of doing this is that it enables a gardener to begin growing the next crop of veggies before harvesting the current crop, giving you a good head start for the next season.

The trouble with planting seeds earlier in the season is that it is usually too cold for the seeds to germinate. This is where a greenhouse comes into its own. By trapping the infrared heat produced when sunlight bounces back off the earth, the greenhouse creates the warmer climate (the greenhouse effect) to help these seeds germinate earlier.

If you’re stuck for room to build a full size greenhouse, or want to use the greenhouse only for seeds and not for growing any other plants, there are a number of alternatives that can be found both on the internet and in gardening books.

Like my other projects on this site, I’ve looked to build something using only materials that I’ve found or bought second hand. To this end, I found an old window, a wooden gate and a piece of discarded 4×2.

It took a bit of time to remove the palings from the gate (and remove a litany of nails) but once done, it didn’t take long to cut the pieces to size and fix the window to it. And the result is this:

As you can see, the window is mounted to the box on hinges so that the seed trays can be easily accessed for watering. The seed box isn’t too big or too heavy, so it can be moved from place to place or put away when not in use.

The window is on an angle when closed so that it can face north (depending on where you are located) and let in as much light as possible.

The only thing left to add is a handle for ease of use!

This is just an example of a really simple design, built with common tools and something that doesn’t take long to build, that you can use or adapt given the materials you find to help your practical, green action.

Please feel free to comment on this design or with any of your own thoughts or designs.

Sent to the Cat House? Make it a recycled one!

My wife some time ago desired to get a cat.

We ended up getting two of them.

Apart from the predictable concerns such as de-sexing, registering, getting collars with bells, vaccinations and all related phenomena which come with pet ownership, the issue of getting some sort of shelter for them to use also arose.

You don’t have to look too hard to find cat and dog houses for sale. Usually plastic or preassembled timber of unknown origin, it is easy to find yourself making a purchase without much thought.

Although it would take some time to do, I decided to try to make my own from recycled materials, particularly from found materials that would otherwise be destined for the tip.

And the magic of hard rubbish day and improperly discarded materials suddenly surrounded me.

Everywhere I looked, there I found useable materials on the side of the road.

And the (almost) end result is this:

The base of the cat house is a pallet with a particle board on top. The structure is some 4 by 2 wooden planks I pulled out of a rubbish skip, and was simply built by making two rectangles (which is partially viewable in the photo below of the cat house with the roof open) and screwing this to the pallet.

What appeared to be some type of skirting board found in the same skip was used for the walls, and some corrugated iron secured to a very basic angled structure made the roof.

The local tip shop had some old rubber-backed carpet squares that I used to line the floor and the inside of the walls, and which are all removable so they can be cleaned. Some hinges were used to attach the roof to the main structure so that it could be easily accessed.

Finally, some disused exterior paint was used to give the cat house some colour and to protect it from the elements.

Initially, I used the old fashioned manual saw to cut the materials to size. That was until I found a power saw being sold at a garage sale. This elderly man and his saw have their own history and now it has a new life (and has been used a number of times since).

A cordless drill was used for screw the materials together, an angle grinder (used quite cautiously) cut the roof to size, and a wood chisel created the grooves for the hinges to be attached in.

The only thing left to find? Some small diameter pipes. One of these will be cut in half and fixed to the side of the cat house as a gutter to collect water draining off the roof, which will force the water down another pipe to be used as a down pipe, and into a drinking bowl.

And, alas, an environmentally built, water saving cat house will soon be finalised!

This project has, and still is, taking some time to complete, purely due to the time taken to source the materials. But old pallets, discarded furniture, rubbish skips, are all great sources of materials that can used. It only takes a keen eye to find them!

I’d like to stress that ‘green’ pet ownership goes beyond the products you buy for it. As I said above, the cats have been de-sexed, registered, and have bells on their collars to reduce the likelihood they will attack wildlife. They are also locked in my shed each night as night time, for cats, is apparently the time when that are most likely to ‘hunt’ and cause damage to native, wild, fauna.