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my first raised vegetable garden: the materials

I spent most of my life in Ohio, so moving to the Pacific Northwest was a shock for this laissez-faire gardener, who used to just throw tomato seeds on the ground, then sit back and harvest all summer long, thanks to the hot weather and frequent storms. Our first summer in Seattle, I got a reality check: it was in the 60s most of the time, so my tomato plants just kind of did…nothing. Silly me. The disappointment put me off vegetable gardening for five years, with last summer moot as I wasn’t living here at all.

This year, I decided to finally learn to vegetable garden in Seattle. I knew this would take a lot of planning, and it seemed that raised beds were the key. Not only are they better in a cooler climate because the soil warms up faster above ground, they are easier to weed and, in my case, easier to keep out of range of two big, nosy dogs.

Cement Block It Is

After doing some reseplace, I realized that I didn’t have to go all spendy on (admittedly nice looking) wooden raised beds. Instead, I could simply use concrete blocks to put a bed together. I’ve been using this SHTF blog tutorial on building a concrete block raised bed as my guide. I love the idea of cement block because they’re heavy (so there’s not as much digging required, as “Ranger Man” at SHTF points out), they’re inexpensive, and you can even plant inside the holes in the bricks. We’re putting our beds in a section of yard that’s oddly shaped and not visible from our house, so it didn’t matter to me that the cement block wasn’t quite as pretty.

How Much Will Blocks Cost?

After measuring the space where our beds will go, I calculated what I might spend, figuring that prices at the Home Depot site were probably a good standard to follow. The typical 16″x8″x8″ blocks cost $1.32 each at Home Depot. If each bed was three blocks high, three blocks wide, and seven blocks long (exactly the same as the SHTF post, basically), for a total of 60 blocks, I would be spending about $80 a bed. That was more expensive than I had hoped, so I went to plan B:

Craigslist

I posted that I was looking for concrete blocks, and got two responses in less than a week: one from a man dismantling his old retaining wall (those are his aged blocks above) and one from a woman whose blocks were just a few years old — and all for free!

Scaling Back

I ended up with 60 blocks total, and we decided to try to break these into two smaller beds rather than keep trying to find more blocks for two bigger beds. Partially this is because I don’t want to burn myself out by taking on too much garden since it’s still a learning experience for me. Partially this is because, well, remember how I like the idea of concrete blocks because they’re heavy? Yeah, they’re heavy! Which means, they take some effort to transport. Our van just could not handle more than 30 blocks at a time — we really didn’t want to see how low we could make it sink onto the tires and still move forward. So we decided to call off the block seplace for now until we get what we have in some semblance of order. More to come!

From our partners

ready for take off: mod new air enhancers

Here at Shelterrific, we’re always on the lookout for beautiful design solutions to traditionally ugly things, like humidifiers or water filters. When we spotted this futuristic air purifier at Designer Pages, we immediately fell in love. Made by AirMineral, this ingenious little device is called The Island, and it distributes a “a natural marine bio spray.” No, that’s not a fishy smell that gets squirted into your home, but rather a “mineral serum” that contains micro particles that help your body retain moisture and fight off toxins, reinforcing your whole immune system. We haven’t tested it so we can say whether that’s true or not, but anything looks this good and helps you breath smarter, cleaner air can’t be a bad thing, right? So new it’s not yet for sale online, but you can read more information about it at airmineral.com

From our partners

method’s new ocean plastic bottle takes recycling to a whole new level

Lets face we it: We don’t think about where our plastic comes from — or where it goes when we’re done with it — nearly enough. Sure we clean things out and toss it in the appropriate bin, but then what? Even the best intentions can end up in a landfill — or worse, washed up on a distant shore of a far away beach. No one knows this better than employees of Method, like creative director Sally Clark, who spent time over the past year and half literally picking up bits of plastic waste from the beaches of Hawaii.

Method partnered with Envision Plastics, an innovative recycling company, to develop a way to turn rigid, opaque plastics recovered from the ocean into high quality recycled plastic. The slate gray color is the material’s natural state, and is the result of the chopping, washing and blending undergoes during recycling. Slightly resembling a sea urchin with small ridges running its length, the bottle contains a super clean smelling 2-and-1 hand and dish soap, that will freshen up even the worst-onion-chopping hands. The limited-edition product is available at Whole Foods and at methodhome.com for $5. A portion of the proceeds will go to Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i and the Kōkua Hawai’i Foundation so more beaches can become plastic-free.

From our partners

do you compost? novice needs advice

When it comes to being green, I try my darnest to be smart about not wasting things: LED lightbulbs? Check. Reusable grocery bags? Check. Eco-friendly cleaners? Check… Compost bin? … Um, compost bin? Okay, I confess. This is one green thing that I know we should be doing but I just haven’t yet made plunge to saving our organic scraps and making better soil for our garden. I know it’s easy and makes sense, but somehow changing our “everything goes in the garbage” habit has been a tough one.

This new Eco-Bin Composter might be the thing to push me towards productivity. It seems insanely easy. Its collapsible, spring-loaded design means that when it’s not use it won’t take up a ton of space in our garage or basement. It has an open bottom so worms can get up in there and do their thing. The sturdy mesh allows air in for faster decomposition, but it’s puncture proof. It comes with a lid and you can tie it down to an anchoring stake so it won’t blow away. Best of all, it’s only $40.

But here are some of my concerns; maybe some of you compost aficionados can alleviate them for me?
1. Won’t it smell? Our back yard is small and I’m worried about stinking up a corner.
2. Won’t it attract critters? We have raccoons, groundhogs, possum.. not to mention our dog!
3. It is only accessible from the top, how do you get to the good stuff down at the bottom, without making a mess?
4. Do I need counter-top container for gathering kitchen scraps?

Are you a backyard composter? Please let me know what lessons you’ve learned and what products you recommend for getting started. Soon we’ll be gathering piles of fallen leaves in our yard, so I figure it’s a good time to get started. Thanks!

Related:
Zero-Waste Kitchen: Could You Live Like This?

From our partners

post revisit: how to fix a fruit fly problem

There’s a battle waging in our kitchens right now: The Fruit Fly war is in full summer swing. We figured since it was on our minds, it was probably on yours. Here’s a way that has worked for Megan in the past. What about you? got any good tips on how to eliminate the pesky gnats?

I admit it: I had a fruit fly problem. Fruit flies seem to go hand in hand with summertime, delicious ripe fruit, and a busy kitchen. This summer, though, I’ve taken control, and my fruit fly problem is now more like a minor annoyance. The first step is to remove the source of food. This means, for me, keeping my ripening nectarines and tomatoes wrapped securely in plastic bags until I’m ready to use them. My onions (apparently, they love onions) are now being stored in the fridge. Second step: sanitation. I clean my drains daily with baking soda and white vinegar — those pesky little buggers like to lay their eggs in the goop that resides in drains (barf). The third step — and this one’s the most rewarding — is to build a trap. I’ve tried funnels and plastic wrap over jars of overripe fruit, but I’ve found the best trap is plain old apple cider vinegar in a dish with a few drops of liquid dish soap. The soap apparently breaks the surface tension of the vinegar, causing the fruit flies to fall in and drown rather than sip and fly away. After a few days of changing the traps, you’ll notice the numbers dwindling. Does anyone else have more fruit fly solutions?

From our partners