Insect Hotel

This is old news, but we thought it worth repeating in light of last week’s review of Attracting Native Pollinators.

Above is a picture of the winning design of a native pollinator habitat built by Arup Associates in response to the Beyond the Hive competition put on by the City of London.  The Core77 post we’re linking to has more views and also some pics of the runners up. It might give you some ideas for building your own habitats at home.

How to Make a Mosaic Stepping Stone

Not liking the pre-fab stepping stone options out there, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make one with glass mosaic tile. It’s easy to do using what’s called the “indirect method” in which you press the tiles onto a piece of contact paper. You then use that sheet of tile to cast your new, custom stepping stone.

The first step is to come up with a design, either hand drawn or printed out from the computer. Since you’ll be working in reverse, you flip your design left-right. I chose the mercury, the symbol of transformation (it seemed like a good metaphor for a garden). No need to flip this particular image, of course. When sizing the design I like to keep in mind the size of the tiles I’ll be using so that any lines are about one tile wide.

I transferred the design to a piece of clear contact paper. Next, I taped the contact paper, with the sticky side up. to a piece of melamine coated fiberboard. Melamine is a good material to use because it helps it has a very smooth, even surface and is unlikely to warp. In addition, using melamine for the sides of the mold helps it release more easily. I built this mold out a piece of a discarded Ikea bookshelf.

While I was cutting the bottom piece, I cut four additional small pieces of the bookshelf to form the sides of the mold.The dimensions of these pieces determine the size of your stepping stone. I made a simple box by joining the pieces with screws at the corners. If you wish, you can spray the sides of the mold with WD-40 to help release the mold later. I forgot to do this, but it released fine anyway

For the mosaic itself, I used glass mosaic tile leftover from an old project. The glass picks up reflections and shimmers on a sunny day. The drawback is that it’s pretty expensive. The brand we’ve used in the past is Bisazza. You can also, of course, use broken plates, pebbles, pieces of metal or tile left over from other jobs.

To cut glass tile I use a pair of tile nippers. I like to break the square tiles into four small pieces to simulate the irregular look of ancient mosaics. I wear a pair of safety glasses and do the cutting in a box to keep shards of glass from flying around. I also do this outside or in the garage so little shards of glass don’t end up in our house. Once cut, I press the little tile pieces against the sticky side of the contact paper–face down, or “good side” down.  The sticky paper holds them in place.

When you’re finished sticking all the tiles down, it’s time to mix up some concrete. I used one part Portland cement to three parts builder’s sand. I poured my concrete into the mold and used some chicken wire as reinforcement. I just cut the wire into a rough square that would fit in the mold, poured half the concrete, placed the wire in the mold, then finished the pour. 

Once cast, I put the stepping stone in a garbage bag to slow down the curing process. After a couple of days I carefully removed the mold. One advantage of this technique is that it’s “self-grouting”: the concrete should flow between the tiles during the pour. It worked well, but I will have to do a small amount of grouting to fix a few spots the concrete did not reach.  

You could also use this same reverse method to make designs that could be pressed into a mortar bed when tiling, say, a kitchen or bathroom.

For more garden mosaic ideas see a previous post we did on the subject that includes a link to the stunning pebble mosaic work of Jeffery Bale.

Easy To Make Furniture: Sunset DIY Manual From the 1970s

PVC pipe and an avocado colored cushion? Instant outdoor furniture, or so this campy 1970s furniture manual, Easy-to-Make Furniture,from the editors of Sunset Magazine, would have you believe.

While I think DIY furniture books from this period are somewhat horrifying, I have a respect for their can-do attitude in the face of the era’s declining wood shop skills. Then, WHAM, the global economy and Ikea came along and wiped out the last remaining economic reasons to try to make your own furniture.

That being said, I think some clever folks with time on their hands and an eye for discarded materials could make use of some of the concepts in this book.

So start dumpster diving! Let’s take those scavenged materials and revisit the bean bag. Easy-to-Make furniture has its own unique twist on the concept. Say hello to the “Multiposition Tube Seat”:


And yes you can have a particle board chair:

With a built-in magazine rack:

Scope out this book in its entirety here.

Make a Brigid’s Cross

A little cross hanging on our chicken coop

Spring is here. In LA, it’s definitely in full swing, but I suspect even in more northerly places folks may notice a slight change in the air, or find early flowers like snowdrops or crocuses pushing their way through the snow. Spring is stirring.

To celebrate spring this year, I made a few Brigid’s crosses to hang in the house and out on the chicken coop. They’re protective symbols, intended to ward off both evil and fire. Who doesn’t need that, I ask you? And it’s fun to put some fresh decorations up to counterbalance the post-holiday doldrums.

These symbols can be interpreted as Christian crosses, but they also have a definite pagan sun-wheel feel to them (energy circling around and around). Brigid herself did double-duty as a pagan goddess of smiths, poets and healers and later as a patron saint of…smiths, poets and healers.

Wikipedia says the symbol was unrecorded before the 17th century, so who really knows where it came from. (Shades of Spinal Tap!: No one knew who they were or what they were doing…)

But what the hay. St. Brigid’s day is February 1st, and the cross-quarter holiday of Imbolc, which marks the coming of spring, is celebrated around the 2nd. I think this weekend would be excellent time to make a few Brigid’s crosses for fun and luck.

A proper reed cross

They’re super-easy to make. Just go the Fish Eaters site for very clear weaving directions. Traditionally they are made out of reeds or long pieces of straw. I had neither, so I used some broom corn*, which didn’t result in a symmetrical effect that reeds give, but is sort of cute in its own way.  (FYI for you southerners: I tried palm fronds first, but they were too slippery. And seeing me trying to weave with them gave Erik flashbacks to Sunday school!)

*No, I haven’t made my broom yet! I’m hung-up on getting some nylon cordage in a decent color. For some reason our hardware store only stocks it in florescent shades.

The Chinese Wheelbarrow

From the very cool Low-tech Magazine, the Chinese wheelbarrow:

The Chinese wheelbarrow – which was driven by human labour, beasts of burden and wind power – was of a different design than its European counterpart. By placing a large wheel in the middle of the vehicle instead of a smaller wheel in front, one could easily carry three to six times as much weight than if using a European wheelbarrow.

 Read the rest here. So who will be the first to make one of these with an old bicycle wheel?

Gingerbread Geodesic Dome


Scout Regalia Reel 02: Gingerbread Geodesic Dome from Scout Regalia on Vimeo.

Now you can bake your own version of Drop City without getting “baked” yourself! Some local designers, Scout Regalia, have cooked up a gingerbread geodesic dome and offer a kit for making one.

Now when it comes to geodesic domes as shelter I’m with former dome builder Lloyd Kahn who concluded that “Domes weren’t practical, economical or aesthetically tolerable.”

But when it comes to gingerbread domes, I’m all for it!

Via the Eastsider.

Michael Reynold’s Beer Can Houses

Construction of One of Three Experimental Houses Built from Empty Beer and Soft Drink Cans.

The National Archive just put thousands of 1970s era images from the Environmental Protection Agency online. One of the photographers working for the EPA, David Hiser, captured New Mexico architect Michael Reynolds building houses out of adobe and aluminum cans. See a selection of these photos after the jump . . .

Detail of a Wall in an Experimental Home Built of Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Cans near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Detail of a wall in an experimental home built of aluminum beer and soft drink cans near Taos, New Mexico. for this wall the cans were laid horizontally in two thicknesses which are separated by a vertical sheet of foam insulation. The exterior will be a combination of glass, exposed can ends and unpainted concrete. Unskilled labor and the cheapness of materials will allow the structure to be built as much as 20% less than conventional housing.”

Exterior of an Experimental All Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Can House Under Construction near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Exterior of an experimental all aluminum beer and soft drink can house under construction near Taos, New Mexico. This shot was taken two months after the foundation was laid. the wood forms on the top will be used to pour concrete beams.”

Interior View of the All Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Can Experimental House near Taos, New Mexico.

Interior view of the all aluminum beer and soft drink can experimental house near Taos, New Mexico. the owners report the house seems to work well so far and gives the feeling of being very solid. the south facing windows capture heat from the sun, a good feature because the winters of the southwest are severe.”

Bottle Window in the Entranceway to an Experimental Home Built with Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Bottle window in the entranceway to an experimental home
built with empty steel beer and soft drink cans near Taos, New Mexico. the ends
of the cans used in a non-load bearing wall are seen around the window.”

Another Experimental House Made of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Can Construction near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Another experimental house made of empty steel beer and soft drink can construction near Taos, New Mexico. This house will be plastered with adobe like the other homes in the area, but will have cost up to 20% less, according to architect Michael Reynolds”

A View of the Experimental House Made of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans after Completion with Adobe Exterior.

The same house, above, with an exterior coat of adobe.

Lawyer Steve Natelson, Who Lives near Taos, New Mexico Relaxes on the Bed of His Experimental Home Built of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans.

Caption: “Lawyer Steve Natelson, who lives near Taos, New Mexico, relaxes on the bed of his experimental home built of empty steel beer and soft drink cans. On the wall is a mural of cans left exposed. It was the first such house built by the architect Michael Reynolds who believes this type of housing can be built for as much as 20% less than the conventional method. The Federal Housing Administration has shown interest in issuing loans on this type of housing. The cost is $25,000 to $30,000 for a two-bedroom home.”

See more of David Hiser’s photos of New Mexico here.

For more about this EPA photo collection read an article in the Atlantic, “Documerica Images of America in Crisis in the 1970s“.

Earthquake Proofing the Pantry

So I finally got around to earthquake proofing the pantry. All it took was a bunch of four foot bungee cords which seemed to have just about the right amount of stretch to span our seven foot shelves. You could probably use the same four foot bungee cords to span an even longer shelf. I used eye hooks to anchor the ends of the cords.

Looking at the picture, the height of the cords on some of the shelves might not be optimal (looks like some of the jars could slip under in a good shaking). But, all in all, I’m pleased with the results.