Welcome Spring

Welcome Spring Series: My Straw Bale Garden (on the patio) Experiment & How-to

There’s nothing quite like picking fresh, homegrown veggies and herbs right from your backyard garden. Last year…  I finally started (a very small) veggie garden. The best spot for me to put it (i.e. the sunniest spot) was on our concrete patio, which meant engineering raised beds. So… I opted to take what I had on hand and converted an old bookcase into a raised bed that actually worked out pretty well! I had success with tomatoes, basil and kale. Not bad for a first attempt.

THIS year…  I’m adding a couple of straw bales to the mix! Straw bales you ask? Yes! I discovered this concept one evening as I was surfing down the ol “rabbit hole” of the Internet…  apparently there’s quite a resurgence of this ancient, time tested gardening technique. I picked up a great book (which I highly recommend) called “Straw Bale Gardens” by Joel Karsten. I’ve learned there’s a bit of a process to “conditioning” the straw, so I’m following Joel’s recipe step by step. It’s not complicated, but it’s still a 12-day process of watering and fertilizing in order to get the straw “cooking” – or composting effectively.

First things first though…  I needed to find some straw bales. Lucky for me…  there’s a lot of urban farmers and gardeners in the Seattle area so I didn’t have to go far to find a few bales. Just so happens…  we have a feed store right in the neighborhood and long behold, next to the seed potatoes and live chicks, they had straw bales!

The whole idea of using straw bales is they act as their own raised bed and slowly compost over time (a season or two). Because I wanted to put these on our patio,  I didn’t want them composting and falling apart allover the place – so I decided to build open, raised “crates”.  This would ensure enough airflow…  and (in theory) keep things on the neat side. I also didn’t want to spend a lot on wood – because this is an experiment after all, so I used inexpensive 1”x4” utility boards for the sides, and premium quality wood for the 2”x2”s (to better hold the screws in place). I’ll use cedar next time if this test proves successful! The cost for each crate (including the straw bale) came to about $50.00. You can probably do this cheaper by using recycled pallet boards, but I haven’t used a skill saw yet (and really want to keep my fingers) so opted to have the wood cut at the hardware store. 

How to Build a Crate for Your Straw Bale

Here’s what you’ll need to build a single 19.5” x 52” crate*
*Note: The straw bales I purchased are roughly 17"x50." Be sure to pre-measure any bale you plan on using to confirm this plan will work for you as you'll want to provide enough wiggle room around the sides to the bales just slide right in.

Also, safety first! This project is not recommended for anyone not familiar with using basic power tools or for kids without close adult supervision. 

Wood:

  • 1”x4” – cut 6 measuring 18” (for short ends of crate)
  • 1”x4” – cut 6 measuring 52” (for long sides of crate)
  • 2”x2”(premium wood) – cut 4 measuring 18” (for vertical corners)
  • 2”x2”(premium wood) – cut 3 measuring 19.5” (use on the bottom as risers)
  • 1”x2”(premium wood) – cut 5 measuring 19.5” (to support the hardware cloth on bottom of the crate)
  • ¼” Mesh Hardware Cloth: 19.5” x 52”

Screws: 2” and 2 ½” wood screws
Power Drill and wood drill bits
Sturdy Wire Cutter
Staple Gun and staples
Tape Measure
Pen (or pencil) for marking
Work gloves

Step 1. Start by the short ends of the crate. Layout two of the 18” 2x2’s. Take three of the 18” 1x4’s and evenly space them on top of the 2x2’s (flush at corners and edges of the 2x2’s). Screw the 1x4’s firmly to the 2x2’s. Repeat to make the other short end. Tip: I marked and drilled holes using a small drill bit before drilling in the bigger screws. It’s much easier to drill the screws in this way.

Step 2. Prop up each of the short ends you just made in step one and position three of the long 52” 1x4’s on top of the short sides (again matching up corners and edges). Screw these into the corner support 2x2’s. Repeat for the other long side. 

Step 3 - Add mesh hardware cloth to bottom. Decide which side will be the bottom of your crate. If needed, use your wire cutter to cut your ¼” mesh hardware cloth to just shy of 19 ½” x 52”. Take out your staple gun and staple the mesh securely all the way around the bottom of your crate. 

Step 4 - Add wood support slats to bottom. Add the five19 ½” 1x2s (evenly spaced) across the bottom of the crate. This will sandwich the mesh hardware cloth between two pieces of wood and (in theory) support the weight of the straw bale). Screw these into the bottom edge of the crate. 

Step 5 - Add risers to bottom. Place the three 19 ½” 2x2’s over the middle and each short end of the crate. Screw these to the 1x2’s you placed in step 4. (Oops…  you’ll probably notice my middle riser was cut a bit short. Still worked fine though)

The risers lift the crate a couple inches off the ground giving it some airflow.

Step 6 - Add your straw bale. Flip the crate over so the opening is on top and drop in your straw bale. There you go…  simple as that!

If you are interested in learning more about creating your own straw bale garden, check out this book. And, if you're after many more ideas and images for straw bale gardening, top of the check out my “Urban Farm” Pinterest board. I’ll share updates as I get the garden planted… and let you know how it’s working out! 

Welcome Spring Series: Happy “Scandinavian” Easter

What’s that you say? Happy “Scandinavian” Easter?

As a 3rd generation Swedish American who grew up in the cultural mecca of San Francisco (the land of killer dim sum and tacos), I didn’t experience a lot of Scandinavian culture outside of my family Christmas traditions and a few other tidbits here and there. We celebrated Easter pretty much like most American kids – with egg hunts, Easter baskets and matching Sunday Easter dresses (between my mom, my sister and I).  I was surprised to discover a few ScandinavianEaster traditions I knew nothing about (till now).

For starters, I was surprised to discover that kids in Scandinavia dress up like witches (or “Easter hags” of all things) – and go around asking for treats in exchange for handmade Easter cards. Not at all like the black witches of Halloween, Easter witches are totally cute and happy! That being said, there is often a darker - religious root to these things, but I’m choosing to stay in the “happy place” with this blog post. If you want to read up on the religious history of these traditions…  You’ll find some links at the end of the blog (go for it).

The Easter Bunny apparently isn’t a big deal in Scandinavia, but eggs, of course are! Painted Easter eggs were actually first recorded in Sweden (circa 1700’s).  Who knew?

In Finland (and all over Scandinavia in general) - bringing in some fresh cut twigs (especially birch twigs) that are just beginning to bud are commonplace. Growing rye grass indoors is another common part of Finnish Easter festivities – right along with all the other typical Easter activities like coloring eggs and card making. Finnish kids also dress up like Easter Hags! Notice the tablecloth…  circa 1950’s with witches and rabbits! Finding this at a thrift store here in the US would be totally confusing (lol)! 

Teaser letters (also called Secret snowdrop letters) are a uniquely Danish Easter tradition.  These cards consist of a “cut out” letter (kind of like a paper snowflake) sent out around Valentines Day where the sender writes a secret poem, includes a snowdrop flower and then signs it only by a mysterious…. If the recipient can guess who sent it, they get an egg on Easter! 

Chickens and eggs (and especially the color yellow) are symbols of Easter in Norway. Chickens are a symbol of fertility while eggs are a symbol of rebirth. Needless to say - yellow chicks, yellow candles, daffodils and tulips are all staples of Easter for Norwegians. After the cold, dark winters in Norway…  what could be better than that? 

In Iceland, Easter is celebrated by hiding big chocolate eggs filled with candy and a piece of paper with an Icelandic proverb written on it. I think of it like an extra big, chocolate fortune cookie! A few popular Icelandic proverbs added to Easter eggs are “A bad rower blames the oar” - “All that glitters is not gold” - “A good child sings good songs” – and “Never is a good verse too often said”. 

Photo via  Icelandic Roots

Photo via Icelandic Roots

One additional item I discovered while researching Scandinavian Easter celebrations was lots and lots of feathered branches. Okay…  so what’s THAT about? My first inclination was it must be some kind of chicken and egg metaphor, but alas - there is a more somber, religious significance to this seemingly playful modern day tradition. (Again, feel free to read up on the religious history via the links I provided below). At any rate, you will find bright-feathered twigs decorating homes and shops everywhere in Scandinavia at Easter time - a welcome symbol of seasonal change and new beginnings! Happy indeed. 

Photo via  Pine Tribe

Photo via Pine Tribe

Do you have Easter traditions unique to your family heritage? Please share! Above all - HAPPY spring, and HAPPY Easter to YOU!! 

 

YOU CAN READ A BIT MORE ABOUT SCANDINAVIAN EASTER TRADITIONS AT THESE LINKS: 

Nordic Style Sweden

Pine Tribe

Nordic Recipe Archive

CHRI Family Radio

Thanks For The Food

Icelandic Roots

Welcome Spring Series: Simple Spring Sewing Projects

Happy Spring! After the long winter most folks (in the US anyway) endured this year…  I’m willing to guess many of you are REALLY happy spring has begun to sprout! I love this time of year in Seattle – it’s the little things…  tulips, green grass (and dandelions) popping up, birds are beginning to build nests and neighbors are coming out of hibernation – starting to get their yards cleaned up - all signs of new beginnings. Welcoming a new season is always a cause for celebration for Scandinavians (any excuse to party), so I thought it would be fun to do a bit of spring celebrating here on the blog. Starting today – and for the next few weeks I'll post a spattering of simple ways to welcome spring - with a bit of urban Scandinavian flare to boot! 

What better way to spruce up your space and welcome in spring than with a few simple sewing (and even no-sew) projects! Sewing something new for the season doesn’t have to be complicated - just like a lot of other little things in our lives!

So…  keep things simple, including your sewing and enjoy spring!

Springy Quilted Coasters

Photo via  Very Shannon

Photo via Very Shannon

Quilted coasters are fabulous ANY time of year…  and oh so practical. Here’s a great tutorial for you – makes a happy hostess gift for any spring occasion - or no occasion at all other than it’s fun to have some new springy coasters for the coffee table!

Reversed Cloth Napkins

Photo via  Kojo Designs

Photo via Kojo Designs

Why not whip up some new springtime cloth napkins to go with those new quilted coasters you just made? I love the idea of taking quilting weight cotton and doubling it up to make the napkins feel that much more “substantial”. Such a simple, fun and dare I say, even sophisticated sewing project.

Hop to it! No-Sew Rabbit Rug 

Ok...  it’s almost Easter - what a great excuse to make a faux fur rabbit rug? This is a super easy and FUN no-sew DIY pattern from Ines Melo.

Easy Spring Table Runner

Photo via  Aesthetic Nest

Photo via Aesthetic Nest

It would be pretty easy to whip enough of these table runners out to have a different one for every day of the week! Love (as always) the simplicity of this project - and the great picnic table images...  just makes me want to get outside and celebrate spring with friends and family. That’s what a great table setting (and a great tutorial from the Aesthetic Nest) can do for ya! 

Single Fabric Envelope Pillow Covers

Photo via  Delia Creates

Photo via Delia Creates

Nothing signals a change of season for me quite like changing the throw pillows on the couch or bed. This simple envelope pillow cover from Delia Creates is made from a single piece of fabric and can be sewn together in a jiffy. It’s a great small project that has BIG impact. 

If you are interested in more inspiration for simple sewing projects to welcome spring, visit my Celebrate Spring Pinterest board and follow along.  

What are your go-to projects to welcome Spring? I'd love to hear them.