‘Bootifully’ Easy Boot Projects

The wet winter months usually mean a return to more sturdy footwear for gardening, and quite often a return to not-so-stylish muddy platform heels!

I wouldn’t describe ourselves as being particularly house proud, in fact with the number of children, chickens and a messy collie dog, its like shovelling snow in a snowstorm trying to keep the place tidy. We do however try to avoid traipsing in half the garden on the bottom of wellies and the like and this is where these two for the projects come into play.

Both are very simple, very easy to make and cost pratically nothing! The boot scraper is a pleasantly rustic design built of a log from the wood pile and a roof slate, both appearing for free in the garden following the recent high winds blasting in from the Berwyns. The boot pull, or boot jack is an age old idea yet one that is seldom seen in a average porchway, surprising considering its efficiency in not only removing a wellie boot but the fact its completely hands free.

Both the projects can be completed in a spare hour at the weekend, and need very little in the way of DIY skills. The simplicity of the build also means you can go to town decorating them if that’s your thing, alternatively you leave them with the rough rustic look.

20 Complete

What you will need

Boot Scraper
• Saw or chainsaw
• Chisel and mallet
• Glue
Boot pull
• Power drill
• Jigsaw
• Countersink drill bit
• Screwdriver
• Sandpaper or electric sander

Materials
Boot Scraper
• A reasonable sized log
• A old roof slate
Boot pull
• A short length of board or plywood
• A couple of screws

Boot Scraper
Step 1
Using the saw or a chainsaw remove one third of the diameter of the log in order to create a flat surface

Step 2
Using a saw make two cuts a couple of millimetres apart along the length of the log and chisel out the waste. Alternative make a single cut with a chainsaw.

20 Step 2

Step 3
Slot the roof slate into the gap leaving about 10cm to stand out from the log. Use small chips of wood to pad the gap if the slate wobbles at all.

Boot Pull
Step 2-1
Using the cutting template, mark out the design and cut it out using a jigsaw. Cut the rest section out also, allowing for the slight angle.

20 diagram

Step 2-2
Using sandpaper or an electric sander smooth the edges down, pay particular attention to the mouth of the pull.

Step 2-3
Drill and counter sink the main pull just below the mouth. Attach the rest using a couple of 40mm wood screws

 

Job done. No need for mud or muddy hands thanks to a couple of chunks of wood and a bit of roof slate 🙂

Are things a bit late this year?

Its a question asked quite frequently when it comes to gardening or the flora and fauna of the countryside but for me I can’t say I can always provide evidence to support my answer. Ok I know the date when the swallows return or the first chiff chaff call but thats based on whether I’m paying attention and could, for all I know, be out by a few days or even weeks.

I was out taking some photo’s the other day and that was when some real evidence landed in my lap…. there are precisely 2yrs and 22minutes between these two pictures of the same oak tree… I guess that answers my question for this year at least!

May 12th 2010

 

May 12th 2012

 

Green Roof for the Chicken Coop

Every now and then I’m given a chicken house to put through some field trials and as a consequence I can end up with quite a few ‘buildings’ covering the field. It was on one such coop I figured I try a different kind of field trial by sticking a green roof on it. Why not, after all it’s a roof like any other so it would provide “the environmental benefits of having a living, breathing space where once there was nothing, transform an otherwise dull space into something aesthetically pleasing AND provide you with more growing space.”

This project will take you through how to go about constructing a simple and effective green roof on your chicken coop. There are options to buy ready-made matting that can be rolled out and attached to a roof but at over £20 a metre this can prove a little prohibitive, especially as this whole project costs less than £20 if you sow or propagate your own plants. Better instead to build your own, that way you can decide the planting plan and over the years it will pad out and provide the same effect as the matting. It also enables you to create your own personal blend of weather-hardy plants such as sedums, alpines, mosses, grasses, seasonal herbs, and house leeks.

In fact you could apply the same design principles to a shed, log store, over even a bird box!

What You Will Need:

  • An offcut of pond liner or damp proof liner
  • Geotextile membrane or some old blankets
  • Sufficient Yorkshire board to go around the perimeter of the roof
  • Screws
  • A sack of 10mm gravel
  • Peat free compost mixed with sharp sand
  • Drill
  • Saw
  • Screwdriver

Step 1

Identify a suitable roof structure ideally with a 9-10 degree pitch on it. Check it’s strong enough to take the weight of a saturated green roof and add supporting framework (crossbeams attached to the side supports & roof will help) if necessary.

Step 2

Attach the section of pond liner or damp proof membrane and make sure it overlaps the edges so water will run off and not seep into the roof. Staple into position and trim off any excess with a knife or pair of scissors

Step 3

Cut lengths of board to ‘box in’ the roof. This will stop the planting medium from simply washing off. Allow a 5mm gap between the board and the roof on the lower edge. This will help with water drainage.

Step 4

Staple the geotextile member (or old blanket) to the box sides. This layer will help retain moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering.

Step 5

Add a 2cm layer of the gravel to the roof. This layer will aid water dispersal and drainage.

Step 6

Finally add about 5cms of the compost and sharp sand mix and level it out. You are now ready for planting it up.

Fine weather for ducks….

….but perhaps not for chickens. The last week or so it’s been pretty much persisting it down, which whilst it’s no bad thing for the garden or the ducks in the garden, it can have its pluses and minuses on the chicken front.

A gold brahma cockerel (not quite) singing in the rain

 

 

Chickens don’t mind a bit of rain, in fact it’s fairly safe to say that they do seem to welcome a bit of a wash down and don’t mind getting wet, having a good preen afterwards. Despite looking like drown rats they do actually dry out quite quickly given the right sort of shelter.

 

Things to watch out for are ventilation in the chicken coop. Don’t be tempted to seal the house up against the elements in an attempt to stop the birds ‘getting a chill’ by going to bed wet. Poultry generate an amazing amount of heat when roosting and if you’ve sealed the house up the birds won’t dry out at all, instead the coop will become a warm damp environment – an ideal breeding ground for disease. So keep the ventilation clear and let the birds air dry overnight.

 

Boggy ground can be another problem for chickens in wet weather, not only will they potentially be standing in a mass of mud, but they could well be traipsing the mud into their living quarters. Whilst not quite a designer look, putting old wooden pallets down in the run and near to the pophole will help get the chickens out of the mud. If possible you could also add a porch to the pophole. Ok, they are unlikely to wipe their feet before entering the house but it will at least keep the mud down a bit.

 

If pallets aren’t your thing and you prefer something a bit more pleasant looking then a good thick layer of hardwood chips will be help lift the ground level and aid the water drainage. Don’t be tempted to put ornamental bark chippings down though, these will begin to rot down quickly and the resulting fungal growth will mean the chickens are at risk of inhaling large quantities of spores. These spores are bad for the birds health and can in turn cause respiratory problems for them. The classic example is aspergillus which thrives on bark, if ingested by poultry it can cause aspergillosis which is difficult to treat successfully and will cause the slow death of the infected bird. Hardwood chips can often be source cheaply from a local tree surgeon and if that’s not possible then consider putting down sand instead.

 

As for the ducks…. leave them to it, the saying goes “as happy as a pig in muck” well there’s nothing much happier than a duck in rain & muck too!

Fence Pole Table (to go with the Fence Pole Bench)

A bit ago on this blog I showed you how to knock together a cheap but very weather resistant garden bench using fence poles and some yorkshire board using nothing much more than a chainsaw, a hammer and some nails. Well heres another simple DIY job with more fence poles & board, again using little else then a hammer and nails, and also incorporating a bit of green wood.

 

If, like me, you try to make a habit of actually getting to sit down and enjoy your garden, but equally, like me, you are outside in all weathers, then there is a need for something to put your gear on, or your cuppa, that can cope with the elements. This simple table design provides a good all year round solution, and because of the simplicity of its build, it can be more or less scaled and adapted to fit whatever space requirements you have.

 

Like the garden bench it requires limited woodworking skills and can be built in under an hour and costs around £10 if you have to buy in the materials. If you have more wood available then you can make a larger table if you want, the same basic concepts apply.

 

One of the great things about creating rustic looking garden furniture like this is that even a novices work can provide a sturdy and satisfying result which can be very easily personalised. You never know, you may even find friends and family placing orders!

 

What you will need

Tools

  • Chainsaw or Bow saw
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • Tape measure

 

Materials

  • 125mm nails
  • 30mm nails
  • 70mm wood screws
  • 20mm wood screws
  • Fence poles cut as follows:
    4 x 450mm (Legs)
    2 x 750mm (long cross piece)
    2 x 600mm (short cross piece)
  • Green wood cut to same lengths as cross pieces above
  • 2 x 500mm baton
  • 4 x (150mm x 800mm) board (reclaimed pallet or floorboards work well)

Step 1

Using a chainsaw or bow saw, cut the fence poles to the required lengths.

 

Step 2

Construct the two end sections by first drilling and then nailing the legs to the short cross pieces. The legs should be positioned 5cm in from the end of the cross piece and its top should be flush with the edge of the cross piece

 

Step 3

Position the short green wood sections 10cm from the base of the leg and with a 5cm overlap. Drill and nail into position

 

 

Step 4

Tie the two end sections into place using the long cross pieces and long green wood sections. Drill and nail into position as above, again using a 5cm overlap and butt up to the end cross sections.

 

Step 5

Line up board sections, ensuring they are square and secure together by screwing the batons in to position 15cm in from the ends and 5cm in from each edge

 

Step 6

Attach the table top to the table frame by drilling and screwing into position through the short cross pieces. For a better finish do this from the underside of the table.

 

Job done, now you have somewhere to put those killer courgettes!

....the 'forgotten ones.."

 

 

 

Apple Tree Recovery – Pruning & how to revive an old tree

When we moved here some years back we were presented with quite a wilderness. The house was just about to reach at least its second dereliction in as many decades and the garden was in need of some serious help to try and bring it back to some semblance of order. A previous owner had planted up some wonderful fruit trees included a variety of Shropshire prune, plus a number of apple, cherry and pear trees however these had been abandoned for a number of years and its taken sometime to gradually bring as many as we could back into productivity. Ok, some people would advocate starting over with new stock plants but I really hate cutting trees down unless there is a very good reason such as disease or safety, besides theres something wonderful about a knarled old Bramley bursting into life again.

By the end of February is essential you have most of your fruit tree pruning complete before the plant begins to grow so heres a step by step guide to recovering a neglected spur bearing apple tree.

 

This particular tree has been pruned over previous years as it was in a terrible state so if you have one that really is a congested mess then execute this process over a 3 year period in order to control the regrowth and achieve a level of productivity without stressing the tree and exposing it to potential infection or disease.

As a basic rule of thumb the first pruning activity should be the 3D’s, this is to prune out the diseased, dead or damaged branches, but by the same measure you should look to shape the tree into a bowl structure. This will let light and air through into the canopy which will not only mean healthy growth but quality productive growth. As my grandfather told me once ‘aim to create a bowl shape with enough space for a pigeon to fly through and it’ll see you right’. The old fella’s tips have never failed me yet!

 

What you will need

Tools

  • Pruning saw/Bow saw
  • Secateurs
  • Long handled loppers

 

Step 1

No action in this step, just observation. Take a good long look at the tree structure, try to visualise a bowl like shape. It’s always good to take step back and observe throughout the process also.

 

Step 2

Using a pruning saw remove all dead or diseased wood, cutting back to the main branch or trunk

 

Step 3

Look for any crossing branches, they will usually show rubbing on the bark as this one does. Remove them, they will cause a wound for disease in the long run.

 

Step 4

Prune out any whips growing on the main trunks, these will be unproductive and reduce the light and air in the tree if left to grow.

 

Step 5

Using a bow saw or pruning saw remove any central trunks that may sprout whips and interfere with the bowl structure you are looking for.

 

Step 6

Cut out two out of every three of the remaining new growth whips. Long handled loppers make this job quicker than ladders

 

Step 7

Prune the remaining new growth down to three buds from the main branch cutting about an inch beyond the terminal bud.

 

Step 8

Apply a good mulch of well rotted compost to keep the weeds down and give the tree a boost after its ‘surgery’

 

Step 9

Stand back, have a cup of tea, and survey the shape. Identify if there is any remaining pruning required in order to achieve that desired bowl shape

 

Fruits of your labours

Wheelbarrow compost riddle & drying tray

With having a fairly large productive garden and more chickens than you can shake a stick at, we create quite a bit of garden waste, though far from ‘waste’ it is, as we compost just about everything we can. We do this not only to supplement the vegetable plot but also to create our own potting medium.

 

We’ve found that mixing our home-made compost along with some of the composted PAS 100 green waste we buy in, and a bit of loam, creates a great recycled growing medium for a number of the pot plants we grow. The problem is though that whilst the green waste is screened, our own compost can be a bit lumpy, and needs riddling. The trouble is though that with the quantities the small hand-held riddles aren’t quite up to the job hence this simple device, a large scale compost riddle.

 

This design means I can riddle large quantities of compost directly from the compost bins and into the wheelbarrow.  I can also put the larger bits of compost that didn’t pass through the riddle straight back on to the cooking heap for further decomposition. You’ll be surprised at the quality of the riddled product.

 

The other useful element of this large scale sieve is that when it’s not in use it doubles up as an excellent tray for drying out onions and garlics, or ‘hardening’ pumpkins and squashes before storage. And when it’s not doing anything at all, it can be easily stashed away in the potting shed. The project will take no more than 30 minutes to produce and costs a few pounds

 

As a riddler...

 

...and now a drying frame

 

What you will need

Tools

  • Saw
  • Screwdriver
  • Drill
  • Tape measure
  • Wire cutters/Pliers
  • Staple gun

 

Materials

  •  Approximately 6metres of 25mm x 50mm treated timber batons
  • 1m x 0.5m sheet of weld mesh with 1cm holes
  • Wood screws

 

Step 1

Measure the width and length of your wheelbarrow to get the dimensions for the compost riddle. Ideally you will need either (or both) the sides or top and bottom of the frame in contact with the edges of the barrow.

 

Step 2

Using a handsaw or table saw cut the baton lengths according to the required measurements to make two frames. Sand off any rough edges.

 

Step 3

Drill and screw together each of the two frames using 2.5 inch wood screws. The joint need only be strong enough to hold the frame roughly in shape so a single screw will be sufficient.

 

 

Step 4

Using the wire cutters or pliers, cut the weld mesh to fit the frame. Make it a couple of centimetres smaller than the outside edge of the frame so as to avoid any sharp ends protruding.

 

Step 5

Lay the weld mesh over one of the frames and staple into position. If you don’t have a staple gun powerful enough then small U nails can be used but be sure to hammer them fully into the wood. 

 

Step 6

Place the second frame over the top of the frame with the weld mesh attached and sandwich the mesh. Drill and screw the second frame into place.

 

Job done, have a sit down and a brew now

 

 

Build a bird box!

This is a part of an old article I wrote some years back but on the request of a twitter friend Heather Wilde of @KidsNorthWest I’m uploading it here as she’s holding a bird box building party soon so hopefully she’ll find this timely and useful 🙂

Birds are an integral part of any garden, be it an urban one or one out in the sticks. More and more people are feeding birds (click for a novel bird feeder idea) and enjoying this doorstep wildlife spectacle, and what better way to further enhance it than to provide some simple accommodation for them to raise young in.

 

I’ve been a keen bird watcher since I was a child when my mother gave me a collection of children’s “Things to Do” cards she had received by collecting Batchelor’s soups labels. Within the pack was a card about bird watching and how to start a field note book, and I thought I would give it a go. We only had a small back garden on an estate in a village near Leeds, but having spent many an hour at the kitchen window I’d recorded in excess of 30 species of birds there in my first year of ‘watching’. I was hooked and still am to this day, be it rarity turning up locally, the first swallow of the year or a house sparrow feeding her brood on the window ledge.

 

Over the years I’ve lived in both urban and rural settings, and for some reason that escapes me I’ve developed a habit of making and putting up a bird box at the beginning of each year. Winter is a good time of year too, it gives the box a chance to weather and settle before the breeding season starts in earnest. It’s an extremely simple and cheap thing to do. It requires minimal woodworking skills and is perfect for getting the kids involved in something that might just have the same impact as the cards my mum gave me all those years back.

On top of that it’s a great idea for new and unestablished gardens that may not have the natural nest sites for birds. Of course you could just buy one ready made however different birds have different housing requirements just like people.

 

This design alone can be modified to attract around 7 different species of bird by simply changing the size of the entrance hole – 25mm for coal, blue and marsh tit, 28mm for great tits and tree sparrows, or 32mm for house sparrow and nuthatches.

 

Many garden bird species are declining in numbers year on year, yet they are an essential element for the success of our garden ecosystem, so why not spend a couple of pounds and a winter hour knocking up some accommodation for them, you’ll be repaid by the bucket load when you see the first young appearing at the entrance hole.

 

And just to prove I’ts not beyond anyone’s reach to build, my youngest son (with some assistance from his older brother) performed almost the entire build himself. I built one myself at the same time and I have to declare, his was better!

 

 

What you will need

Tools:

  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Galvanised nails (3cm)
  • Drill
  • Hole saw or large drill bit
  • Bored teenager or enthusiastic youngster ‘optional’

Materials

  • 15cm x 2cm x 142cm tanalised plank
  • 15cm x 5cm rubber strip (car inner tube, pond liner etc)
  • Small hook and eye fitting

 

 

Step 1

Using the template below, measure out the cuts to be made on the plank. Most hand saws have 90 and 45 degree guides built into the handle these days, or alternative use a set square. Then cut the sections out.

 

 

Step 2

Having decided on the entrance hole size, drill the entrance hole. It needs to be at least 125mm from the base. This means the nest will be low enough within the box to minimise the possibility of predation by cats.

 

Step 3

Attach the side panels to the back piece using the hammer and nails. Be sure to check the sides are positioned directly opposite each other or the rest of the build will be out of line!

 

Step 4

Side the base into position between the two side pieces and nail it to the sides. Drill a few small drain holes in the base. This is precautionary measure as the completed box should remain dry inside.

 

Step 5

Making sure that you have the entrance hole nearest the top, place the front section on and nail it to the sides and base.

 

 

Step 6

Nail the rubber strip to the roof section first,  and then nail the flap to the back section. Hinging the lid in this way means you can easily access the box to clean it out at the end of the season should it be required.

 

 

Step 7

As a further precaution against predation, add the hook and eye to the lid. It will also stop any gusts of wind flipping the lid up.

 

Step 8

Decide on the location for your new nest box choosing a sheltered spot 2 metres or more above the ground. Face it between northeast and southeast so it avoids the worst of the weather and is not exposed to too much sun.

 

Wine Bottle Bird Feeder

I’ve always had a bit of a passion for birdwatching which stems from my childhood sitting by the kitchen window recording and drawing all the bird species that visited our little semi detached garden. One of the best ways to attract birds into the garden is to feed them, and feeding them is equally essential during the harsh winter months.

These days the interest in feeding garden birds has expanded significantly since my younger years and there are a plethora of feeds and feeders available on the market but there’s no need to spend too much when this simple project can be put together for a fraction of the price. On top of that this particular project not only indulges my love of wildlife but also my love of wine, soI have to say that this is a favorite build project, though quite possibly fuelled by the fact I have an excuse to empty a bottle of wine in order to make it!

One plank and one plonk (emptied first of course) is all you need to create this bird feeder. The precise dimensions of some of the cuts, such as the neck hole, will be dictated by the size of the bottle used but the principle is fairly straight forward to follow and modify.

As a handy hint don’t fix the bottle holder permanently to a wall because when you come to refill the bottle it will be easier if you can insert the bottle into the holder in an upright position and then tip it over as you re-hang the holder. Also should the bottle become grubby then simply recycle it and replace it with a new one, obviously enjoying emptying the new bottle first.

One plank, one plonk bird feeder

(By the way, the Great Tit in the picture arrived to feed within 10minutes of hanging the feeder up, so there’s one happy customer.)

What you will need

Tools

  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Drill with hole saw fitting
  • Tape measure
  • Rasp
  • Sandpaper

Materials

  • One wine bottle, enjoy emptying it the night before
  • One 1 metre 20cm thick plank, 40cm wider than your wine bottle
  • Screws and panel pins

Step 1

Measure out and cut the backboard (150mm longer than your bottle), table and neck supports (10mm wider than your bottle).

 

Step 2

Using a hole saw cut the neck hole in the centre of the neck support section. Smooth the neck hole for a snug fit using a rasp or sandpaper.

Step 3

Screw the table section to the bottom end of the back support

Step 4

Using 10mm wide lengths of plank (or some spare beading) pin three edges to the table. This will reduce the seed spillage.

Step 5

Insert the bottle into the neck support and position it approximately 20mm from the table. Mark the position and then screw the neck support to the backboard

Step 6

Cut 20mm wide lengths of plank, 20mm longer than the bottle width. Position these as the bottle base support and screw into position.

Step 7

Cut another 20mm length to act as the cross beam. Make sure the bottle fits snugly in place with a bit of give but not so it rattles.

Step 8

Screw the cross beam in place attaching it the two side supports to complete your base support

Step 9

Find a suitable location. Drill and attach the unit to the wall, shed or other relatively flat surface. Fill the bottle with seed and slot it into position.

Make more of your chicken ark

Theres quite a wealth of chicken houses out on the market and if you are reading this then you’ll know thats quite probably because keeping poultry at home is a booming hobby/ lifestyle choice. The thing is, it’s also rather an addictive thing is poultry keeping. I know, I started with a flock of half a dozen spent Black Rocks that a friend gave me and now have somewhere in the region of 200 breeding head of stock, not to mention the growing stock and chicks that are produced each year.

And so the inevitable happens, the flock expands and so does the housing requirements and this can be quite an expense. Here however is a simple method of hugely increasing the space available for your poultry by simply modifying an ark.

This ark would probably cost around £150 to buy, a little less if homemade, and would house a trio of bantams fairly comfortably.

Bantam Ark

As with a lot of arks though it’s missing a trick. Ok the ark concept (eg not being a square box) came into being to stop lambs or sheep climbing on top of the house and damaging the roof, hence its triangular shape, but it there is still scope to add at least £100 more in price tag to it by spending a few pounds on timber and weld mesh, whilst at the same time doubling the ground space AND creating an outdoor shelther for the birds which is also ideal for putting feeders and/or a dustbath…. which ultimately means it can accomodate a few more chickens.

Stilting the ark up is simple enough to do. Don’t think angles, think flat panels, simply measure up and build two panels that can be attached to the side of the ark and then look to box the ends in which can be done with either wood fence panels, scrap ply or more weld mesh, or any combination. Next add a ramp for the birds to be able to get in and out and in the end you end up with a far more functional ark.

Stilt it up - making more of your poultry ark