Embracing a Funky Old Tool Shed

Siding: Cedar Shakes, Trim: Cedar Shakes/White, Door: Red, Roof: Light Brown/Metal - This is a custom building.

Photo by Sheds Unlimited

When we moved here ten years ago, I was very grateful that our house had a tool shed in the back yard. It’s a luxury to have storage space for garden tools, pots, soil, the wheelbarrow and other various outdoor odds and ends.

Since I’ve written for home magazines for many years, I’m often exposed to fabulous, high-end homes and landscapes. Most home design writers will agree with me that this is both a blessing and occasionally, a challenge.

It’s endlessly fascinating to hear about people’s crazy remodels and sloping lots and zoning issues and architects and builders and interior designers. It’s a rare privilege to see their incredible, perfect homes. On the other hand, sometimes I return home with a critical eye instead of a grateful heart for all that we have.

I recently wrote about a beautiful lakefront home in Montana’s  Whitefish  Lake for Mountain Living magazine. The homeowners Orlan and Debra Sorensen built the most fabulous stone garden shed you’ve ever seen, complete with a sitting area and porch overlooking the lake. You can peek at it here, and the shed is the last photo at the end of the story.

Dreams vs. Reality

If I were going to splurge on a new potting shed, perhaps I’d consider one like the custom structure by Sheds Unlimited posted above. Something charming, with windows to let in the sunlight, and maybe even with a little table inside where I could escape and read fine literature and sip something like…oh, I don’t know… a sparkling drink with fresh mint and lavender syrup.

But the reality is that our shed is of a slightly… different architectural style. Our shed, in fact, looks like this:

 

Tool shed covered with reclaimed fencing | Happy Simple Living blog

It’s rectangular with a flat roof, and the exterior is covered with old, reclaimed cedar fencing. Because it is so wonderfully utilitarian and because we’re trying to live sustainably with what we have, I’ve given up trying to class up the shed and have decided, instead, to celebrate its unique flair.

I added a few metal signs to the front of it to celebrate its funky siding, and nailed the warped boards back in place.

 

Funky old tool shed | Happy Simple Living blog

The shed is topped with a lovely faux owl that is supposed to scare the flickers away from our siding but which, in fact, does not fool fowl or the rabbits who visit the garden.

I had the structure re-roofed, and Pop kindly added vents to keep it cooler in the summer. It may not be a magazine-worthy shed, but it’s functional and fun and I am grateful for it.

How About You?

Do you have an area in or around your house where you’ve decided to simply go with what’s there? Have you decided to keep your rare pink bathroom fixtures or sturdy Formica counters and let them become part of your home’s charm? I’d love to hear your stories in the Comments section below.

Here’s to making the best of what we have, and embracing the funky!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Rabbits Enjoy Nice Salad Bar in Our Garden

Rabbit ate plants at Happy Simple Living blog

If you’re a pea plant trying to grow in our garden this summer, you’ve had your share of challenges. First, you had to endure two snowstorms with hard freezes. Then, just as you were beginning to thrive and feel good about life, a rabbit snuck in the garden and ate most of your foliage and tender shoots. What’s a pea plant to do?

Because I’m trying to be a frugal gardener this year, after surveying the damage this morning I was determined to try and solve the rabbit problem without spending any cash. So I rummaged around in the shed and found some bamboo stakes that I drove between the openings in the wire fence, about four inches in the ground.

Deterring rabbits at Happy Simple Living blog

Bamboo stake fencing at Happy Simple Living blog

Then I placed a fierce looking owl (or tacky plastic owl, depending on your point of view) to guard the plants.

Fake owl to scare off rabbits at Happy Simple Living blog

Finally, I sprinkled some black pepper on and around the nibbled plants.

Black Pepper to deter rabbits at Happy Simple Living blog

I got this tip from the Rutgers website, which also recommended bone meal or, um, blood as rabbit deterrents. (They don’t say where one might obtain this blood, and I really don’t want to know.) I’ve also heard that cayenne pepper will do the trick. Other rabbit deterrents I’ve read about–but have no experience with–include spraying hot pepper sauce around the garden, planting marigolds or cilantro around the border, and scattering dog hair (something we always have plenty of around here) near the plants. Seems kind of unsightly, but it just might work!

I love seeing the bunnies in the back yard, I really do, so I hope these measures deter them from eating our peas and other garden plants.

Rabbit on Happy Simple Living blog

How about you? Are you dealing with critters in your garden, and if so, have you found any solutions that work?

Enjoy the weekend and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Frugal Gardening, or How To Avoid $100 Tomatoes

heirloom tomatoes on Happy Simple Living blog

Heirloom tomatoes – photo by mrsdkrebs

Last summer was a tough year for growing tomatoes here in our Colorado garden. After buying six large tomato plants for the garden and lovingly planting them in soil I had enriched with store-bought compost, a hail storm on June 7 destroyed all the plants – along with our cedar shake roof.

After replacing all the plants (and the roof), the summer of 2012 broke all our previous records for heat, with more than 70 days of temperatures over 90 degrees. I tried mulching, drip lines and shade fabric, but all of the tomato plants in that full-sun garden were droopy and produced only a few smaller fruits. I also later learned that the commercial compost I bought was probably contaminated. We probably spent about a hundred dollars between all the plants, compost, water and more – for about a dozen garden tomatoes.

A new gardening year is upon us, and I’ve been thinking about how to maximize our output without spending so much cash. One of the best money-saving strategies, of course, is to grow your own plants from seed. Alas, I wasn’t that organized this year but here are some other thoughts:

1. Has your gardening zone changed? Climate change has caused a general warming trend, and you may want to consult the latest U.S. hardiness zones from the Arbor Day Foundation. Choosing the best plants for your particular zone is a whole lot easier than trying to force things to grow where it’s too hot, cold, dry or humid.

2. Watch for sales on less-than-perfect plants. Dig a nice deep hole, add plenty of good soil, give the plants regular water to establish them, and cut off any dead leaves or blooms. I bought a full flat of bedraggled fuchsia petunias last week for just $2.34, and they perked right up with a little TLC.

3. Got old seeds that didn’t get planted last year? Try planting ’em now and they might just sprout. Scientists planted centuries-old Anasazi beans and – surprise! They sprouted just fine.

4. Swap plants and seeds with friends. Or ask for a slip of a plant you admire and try establishing it with rooting powder.

5. Evaluate what’s thriving and what’s not. Keep notes in a gardening notebook, so you can move plants around next spring.

6. Get creative about adding edible garden plants to your landscape. If you’re going to spend time and money on water and upkeep, the area might as well be producing food, right? We’ve got rhubarb, strawberries, herbs and currants tucked in the front yard landscaping.

7. Install rain barrels to save money on water. Or save “gray water” (like the water used to rinse dishes) to water your garden plants.

8. Make your own compost. You’ll reduce waste, save money and have complete control over the soil-enriching product.

9. Visit a botanical garden. Our beloved Denver Botanic Gardens is always a feast for the eyes and soul, and a great place to stroll around and see what native plants thrive in our particular region.

10. Explore other nearby neighborhoods and find gardens that appeal to you. See what the professional landscapers are planting. Observe the combinations of colors, textures and heights, and make notes about what you like.

11. No new plants in the budget this summer? Maximize what you have. Prune your bushes and tidy up the spaces. Perhaps you can divide some of your perennials and help them produce more. Dig out unwanted weeds. Edge the garden paths. Sketch and plan your dream garden.

What money-saving strategies are you taking in your garden this summer? I always love hearing from you. In the mean time, here’s to a happy Memorial Day. We are deeply grateful for the men and women who sacrificially serve our country.

xo,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Spring Gardening and How To Protect Plants From Freezing

Springtime in Colorado is always an adventure, but this spring has been a doozy for gardeners. After record-making snowfall of 20.7 inches here in Denver during April, I was pleased to see the pea shoots finally emerging, somewhat timidly, on April 30:

PeaShoots

But the forecast called for snow and a very hard frost, so that night I pulled the cages out of the ground and covered the pea shoots with a lovely pink knit fabric remnant. I chose this fabric because it’s soft and also 100% polyester, which I hoped would help insulate the plants.

Cover plants to protect from frost

It’s a good thing the peas were covered with their polyester blanket, because this is how our back yard looked when we woke up yesterday, which happened to be May Day:

Spring snow at Happy Simple Living blog

Happy May Day!

Here’s the garden where the peas are planted:

Peas covered with snow at Happy Simple Living blog

We had record-breaking low temperatures last night of 19 degrees F, which smashed the old record of 22 degrees set in 1954. But today? The snow’s melting fast. Here’s the same scene 24 hours later:

Spring snow at Happy Simple Living blog

Happy May 2!

Once the sun had warmed the ground and most of the snow had melted, I pulled back the pink polyester fabric to check on the peas and was relieved to see that they had survived another hard frost:

Peas emerge from the snow at Happy Simple Living blog

Have you planted seeds or plants yet in your garden? If so, are you having to deal with wild weather? I’d love to hear how you’re coping, and here’s to hardiness and resilience—not only for our plants, but for those of us trying to help them grow!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Planting Peas on a Spring Afternoon

Digging in the dirt at Happy Simple Living blog

“To dig one’s own spade into one’s own earth! Has life anything better to offer than this?”– Beverley Nichols

Here in Colorado, it’s tricky to know exactly when spring planting season begins. We’ve been known to get snow into late May, but last year we broke a record on April 24 with a high of 87 degrees. I’m probably a little late planting the peas, but we’ve had snow the last two weeks. After a nice rain Tuesday night, yesterday seemed like the perfect day to get the seeds in the ground.

If your yard has heavy clay soils like ours, take heart! As they say on the commercial, “It gets better.” After seven years of working our homemade compost into the dirt, never stepping on it and sifting out rocks and clay clumps, I really noticed a difference in the kitchen garden soil this year. You can see in the photo above that the spade easily turns the dirt.

The pea seeds soaked in filtered water all day, which will hopefully help them sprout a little faster.

peas soak before planting at Happy Simple Living blog

I only planted a third of the seeds in the package yesterday. I’ll plant another third in a week, and another third a week after that. Who knows if they will all make it or if the weather will be too hot, but if we’re lucky the harvest will be staggered and we’ll have tender peas for several weeks.

Gardening is such an act of faith, isn’t it? We have to trust that these little seeds:

planting pea seeds at Happy Simple Living blog

…will eventually look like this:

Pea plants at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Penelope Waits

The seeds we planted are Seeds of Change organic Sugar Pod 2 Snow Peas, a bush variety, but I added some old tomato cages near the seeds so they’ll have something to hang onto if they want to.

Peas planted at Happy Simple Living blog

Have you started planting yet? What’s growing in your garden? We’d all love to know.

Happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Have you entered the giveaway for a free copy of The Mini Farm Guide to Composting book yet? The drawing closes next Monday, April 8, at midnight MST.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Free Book Giveaway – The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture

Permaculture

I’ve learned much about permaculture after reading a very interesting book. Permaculture is a method of growing food and building homes in a manner that works with nature instead of against it.

Author Nicole Faires has written a hands-on guide that takes the reader through every step of the permaculture process. The book is divided into nine sections:

  • Overview
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Homes and shelter
  • Gardens
  • Cooking and preserving
  • Zones
  • Community
  • Plants

Faires lays out a common-sense approach for sustainable living, and while some of the ideas aren’t applicable to those of us who live in urban areas (how to build an underground house or breed cattle, for example), the ideas are nonetheless fascinating and interesting to read.

Maybe because it snowed again in Colorado yesterday I’ve been in full-out garden dreaming mode, so the gardening sections in this book were especially interesting to me. Faires includes an extensive list of plants to consider for your own homestead, from perennial food crops to interesting edibles like JuJuBe and quinoa.

She also includes a very useful 16-page chart of companion planting ideas. The idea is to group plants in communities or guilds, taking advantage of their growing tendencies and the way they use nutrients, so that the plants support each other. It’s a concept that seems so simple and smart – but one which, admittedly, I’ve rarely considered other than in terms of aesthetics.

If you’re interested in learning more about self-reliance and living off the land, the book is packed with ideas, illustrations, photos and tips for topics like worm farming, designing a greenhouse, conserving water, extending the growing season, cold storage, building a chicken coop, composting, preserving food, finding your right career and much more.

The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture is 330 pages and retails for $16.95 USD. Skyhorse Publishing has generously provided a complimentary copy for one lucky HappySimpleLiving.com reader.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below and answer the question “What is one step you would like to take towards sustainability or self-sufficiency in the next 18 months?” The giveaway closes next Tuesday March 12 at midnight MST, and is open to US residents.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Free Book Giveaway – Rocks, Dirt, Worms and Weeds

Rocks Dirt Worms Weeds at Happy Simple Living blog

If you love to garden and are looking for ways to share the joy with the kids in your life, you will love this book! Rocks, Dirt, Worms & Weeds by Jeff Hutton is packed with fun vegetable and flower gardening ideas for kids and adults.

Hutton is a writer and master gardener, and he clearly knows his stuff. The book has easy-to-follow directions and photos for kid-friendly projects like starting garden seeds indoors, transplanting seedlings, creating a strawberry pot, planting a sunflower maze, composting, attracting beneficial bugs, and keeping the garden free of weeds.

He also shares directions for fun crafts like pressing flowers, keeping a garden journal, creating a butterfly garden, painting ladybug rocks and making stepping stones.

Rocks, Dirt, Worms and Weeds is 136 pages and retails for $14.95. Skyhorse Publishing has generously provided a complimentary copy for one lucky HappySimpleLiving.com reader. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below and answer the question “What are you looking forward to growing in your garden this summer?” The giveaway will close this Wednesday evening February 27 at midnight MST, and is open to US residents.

It’s snowing here in Colorado today – a perfect day to daydream about digging in the dirt. Good luck, and I look forward to hearing your gardening plans.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 28 of the January Money Diet – Reduce Food Waste

“The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” ~Calvin Trillin

It just kills me to discard spoiled food that we didn’t eat. One of my goals this year is to make better use of leftovers. The whole concept of “zero waste” appeals to me on so many levels, and utilizing food efficiently is so important.

If you feel the same way, you might enjoy the Leftover Chef site where you can input whatever strange ingredients are lurking in your refrigerator for recipe ideas. Enter ‘turkey, ‘cranberries,’ and ‘onions,’ for instance, and you’ll find an appealing recipe for Turkey Cutlets with Cranberry – Pear Relish.

Do you have stale crackers and chips lurking in the pantry? Refresh them by spreading them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and baking at 300 degrees F for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool and then seal in an airtight container.

What about those stray veggies in the vegetable crisper? Use them in salads or on pizza, or freeze them for your next batch of soup.

Leftover tortillas can be used to make homemade tortilla chips, like this healthy baked version from Savory Sweet Life.

Homework assignment #28: What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? We’d love to hear your ideas!

P.S. In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 16 of the January Money Diet – Learn a New Skill

Tile a shower at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: emdot

We’ve officially passed the halfway mark of the January Money Diet! With 15 days to go, we’re on the downhill side of a month without spending. Congratulations to all of you who have risen to the task and are approaching these 31 days with creativity and resolve. Thanks to all who have left comments, too; you’ve inspired and motivated all of us!

Today’s challenge is to explore learning a new skill. What have you always wanted to learn? January is a great month to acquire a new skill, and it doesn’t need to cost a penny.  Have you always wished you could lay your own tile? Your local home improvement store may offer a free workshop. Jewelry making? The library is full of illustrated books, and instructions abound on the internet. (I’m reading several books on this very topic this week!) Cooking? Ask a friend to teach you how to bake bread, or watch a cooking show and learn how to make homemade pasta.

Take an online tutorial and learn a new computer skill. Pull out the instruction manual and learn about all those mysterious settings on your camera. Research your genealogical roots. Try your hand at calligraphy. Read about furniture refinishing. Or simply spend an afternoon browsing the nonfiction shelves at the library, and see what new topic catches your fancy.

Homework assignment #16: Learn something new this month – and be sure to leave a comment and tell us about it!

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift box chock-full of home and garden goodies plus a signed copy of my new book 101 Things To Do With Bacon. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.