Raised Beds: Part I

I constructed two different types of raised beds for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers a few years back. One was out of the Ikea shelving unit Hejne

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Dimensions: 78cm x 50cm x 171cm

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I had this at home already and only had to modify the way it was built to turn it into a planter.

Construct the shelving unit by shifting 2 of the 4 long posts so that they sit just outside the frame of the shelving unit and not flush with the edge as shown in the picture. (This will give you more room at the top side of the planter for plants.)

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Arrange the shelves so that they line the outside of the frame like the top shelf shown in the first picture above. You will need 6 shelf pieces:
Two on each long side of the planter with a gap in the middle, which we’ll address in the next step, and one on each short side.

The set only comes with 4 shelves so you will need to buy the expansion pack which adds an additional 2 shelves…

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You won’t be needing the metal brace pieces that come with the shelf set, so set those aside. You will need two additional pieces of cut wood the same width as your gaps (or wider is also ok) cut to 47 cm long.

You can use two cut pieces of an old pallet, which is what I used, or other scrap wood planks that are cut to 47 cm long. Nail them to the inside of the frame to fill in the gaps between the two shelves on the long sides of the planter.

You should now have a raised bed that looks something like this…

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This planter was very easy to construct as the shelves are already assembled when you buy the kit and just need to be faced outward along the edge of the frame to form a top and bottomless rectangular planting frame. Normally if you buy a raised bed for plants at a garden store they can run hundreds of dollars each. This planter cost me:

Hejne Storage System          Cost: € 25

Hejne Additional Shelves    Cost: € 9

Scrap Wood                            Cost: € 1

Nails                                         Cost: € 0.60

Total                                     Cost: € 35.60

Anna’s Spring Cardigan

I started this Peachick Eyes Cardigan for Anna last spring. It was pretty much done by September but I didn’t have any buttons that I really liked for it so it was never really finished until just now and sat in her closet for the longest time. One of my friends (Kuschel und Kram) who makes and sells her own Waldorf dolls and stuffed animals here in Germany had made a pile of these buttons in rainbow colors and sent me some in the mail when I had admired them on her webpage. They ended up being the perfect fit for Anna’s cardigan and now it is finally done and being worn after almost a year of sitting in her closet! This knit was not hard but the lace “peacock eye” motifs need a little attention when you are following the chart. The length is perfect for my tall girl and this is a light weight sweater, knit with Drops Baby Alpaca Silk yarn, which is very soft and should be good as a spring or early fall piece for her to wear. I only used about 4 or 5 balls of yarn on this project and since I bought the yarn on sale during the Drops Alpaca party, where all of their alpaca yarns are 50% off, it was rather inexpensive to make. All in all this is a very lovely design for kids and has inspired me to make my own Peacock Eyes Cardigan!

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Second Hand Store Steals

While my brother Richard was still here, last month, we went to a second hand store near where I live, just outside of Cologne, Germany, to look for some small nicknacks for him to take back to the U.S. with him. He was looking in the glass and houseware section while my daughter Anna and I were busy browsing through the children’s toy section.  I was hastily sorting through a tall pile of used board games for kids that were all precariously perched and ready to come crashing down on me at any second, when I found a used puzzle set of four Maus und Elefant puzzles for Anna.

She has been all about puzzles lately and with her third birthday coming up at the end of this month I thought it would be nice to find her a 12 or 24 piece puzzle, one that would be a bit more challenging for her than the wooden cut out puzzles that she has at home right now and would be something that we could sit and work on together. I was tediously counting through what seemed like hundreds of puzzle pieces when I noticed that Anna was quite happily sitting on a little chair and playing with a toy next to a heaping pile of… well, junk that was covering something with white legs. This receptacle that was covered with a pile of dirty and broken, plastic toy rubbish was barely recognizable for what it was. Not until I noticed the three white wooden chairs surrounding it did I realize that there was something even under there at all. When I realized what it was and saw that there were no major flaws with it other than being extremely dirty and covered in junk I held my breath as I asked the sales lady “How much for the little kid’s table with ‘only’ three chairs?” (three chairs were no matter to me but I was hoping for a good deal). She looked me up and down with a stern gaze and said “With that puzzle you have in your hand how about ten euros?”. Trying to hide my excitement I quickly doled out the ten euros and immediately left with our purchase. Anna loves her “new” table and chair set and her puzzle box with four puzzles (all complete) and all I had to do when we got home was to wipe everything clean!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Knits

I knit these garter-stitch boots for a friend of mine who was having a baby last month and I was looking around for a hat to match them. I saw this really cute garter-stitch knit hat with a button on top at Gap.com and thought it would go perfectly with the boots I had just made. I did not, however, want to pay $16.95 for the hat plus shipping and handling on top of that and since I currently live in Germany the cost for shipping would have come to almost the same price as the hat! So I used the handy zoom feature on the product page and scrutinized the hat a little closer and thought, I can make this myself!  From the picture I was able to do a bit of row counting and stitch calculating and it wasn’t too hard to come up with this pattern for the mock “Gap garter-stitch knit hat”. I used the same yarn as for the boots and I think the pair would make a very nice gift for a new baby or mom to be. This hat is a cinch to make. I was a little nervous about making the boots when I first started, as I’ve never made any before, but they knit up extremely quickly and were no trouble to make at all. Yarn choice is key when making baby garments and I wanted something that was soft, organic and neutral in color since I didn’t know the sex of the baby yet. I had quite a bit of this extremely soft, organic, hand-spun lamb’s wool  in my stash, left over from some Christmas projects that I made last year, so I decided to use that. I used a button that came as an extra button from some clothing that I had bought for my daughter Anna, that was sitting in my stash of buttons, and it made a great accent to the hat. Altogether the hat and boots cost me nothing to make, just a little bit of my time.

Garter-Stitch Knit Hat

Inspired by the Baby Gap garter-stitch knit hat

Materials:

4 and 5 mm (40 cm long) circular needles (or set of double pointed needles)

5 mm double pointed needles

1 skein of 100% Organic Lambs Wool or Organic Cotton Yarn (worsted weight)

1 button a similar color as the yarn

Scissors

Tapestry needle and/or crochet hook (for weaving in the ends)

Gauge: On 5mm needles in garter stitch, 10 stitches and 18 rows = 5cm x 5cm

 

Cast on 80 stitches using  4 mm circular or double pointed needles (if using double pointed needles divide so that there are 20 stitches on each of 4 needles)

Row 1:  Knit 1, Purl 1 around and place a marking thread at the end of the round

Rows 2-5:  Repeat row 1

Row 6:  With size 5 mm circular or double pointed needles knit 6, knit 2 together, repeat around. (Total of 70 stitches)

Row 7:  Purl around

Row 8:  Knit around

Row 9:  Purl around

Rows 10- 35:  Repeat rows 8 and 9 (ending on a purl row)*

Row 36:  Knit 5, knit 2 together, repeat around (Total of 60 stitches)

Row 37: Purl around

Row 38: Knit 4, knit 2 together, repeat around (Total of 50 stitches)

Row 39:  Purl around

Row 40: Knit 3, knit 2 together, repeat around (total of 40 stitches)

Row 41: Purl around

Row 42: Knit 2, knit 2 together, repeat around (total of 30 stitches)

Row 43:  Purl around

Row 44: Knit 1, knit 2 together, repeat around (total of 20 stitches)

Row 45: Purl around

Row 46: Knit 2 together around (total of 10 stitches)

Row 47: Purl around

Row 48: Knit 2 together around (total of 5 stitches)

Cut the thread leaving a tail and thread the tail through the remaining stitches. Pull tight so there is no gap and weave the ends in. Sew a button of similar color on the top of the hat with the same yarn and a tapestry needle.

*Repeat rows 8 and 9 until the hat measures 9 cm or about 3 1/2 inches, that was row 35 for me, but make sure to end on a purl row before starting to decrease.

Upcycle: Making a Planter From Bed Frame Slats

When we purchased the twin sized bed frame from Ikea for our second bedroom, in anticipation of having my family come to visit us here in Germany, it came with a set of sturdy, inflexible, wooden slats.

These slats, which are commonly used to support beds here in Europe, are placed within the bed frame and the mattress goes on top. It’s rather uncomfortable to sleep on top of hard wooden slats, as you can imagine, so most people here opt to buy the “flexible” bed frame slats which are much pricier but a lot more comfortable to sleep on. A set of new “flexible” slats can run from at least a hundred euros and upwards depending on the style you buy. This is the system that’s commonplace throughout Europe and it’s what they use instead of the box-spring concept that we have in the United States. Since my brother was coming to stay with us for the entire summer this year, he’s staying with us from May through early October, we decided to buy a set of more comfortable and flexible slats for our guest bed. We looked around online for an affordable set of second hand slats and found a barely used set, on ebay, for a fraction of the cost that we would have paid for them new.

We then sent the Ikea planks straight down to retirement in our basement store room. It seemed like they might end up living there indefinitely if it hadn’t been for an idea I had earlier this summer to build another planter for our balcony. I needed some untreated, lightweight wood to do that and was also looking for a way to upcycle these wooden bed slats, so it worked out perfectly. I don’t have any plans because I just made up this planter as I went along but if you’re using wood that you already have on hand, fit the dimensions of your planter to the materials you have. I also in the end decided to make the planter a little bit larger than I had initially planned so that I could utilize all the wood from the slats. This meant, however, that I would be just shy of the amount of wood I would need to finish the planter and would need to purchase an additional small length of  similar wood. I figured it was better to have a larger planter and spend an extra euro or two on wood than to have a smaller one with left over wooden slats that I would have no use for.

So here’s what you’ll need:

Light wood like pine, about 16-18 meters (I had 16 slats that were 96 cm x 7 cm x  2cm)

Hand saw

Hammer

Nails

Level

Straight edge or Speed Square

Work Bench or Sawhorse (or some level surface where you can cut the wood)

Pencil

*I had everything I needed except for the saw.

The saw plus the the small amount of wood that I needed to buy cost me altogether around 10 euros.

 

I utilized the full length of the slats for the bottom and two long sides of the planter, using 4 slats evenly spaced for each of these three sides.

 

I cut the remaining 4 long slats that I had into thirds for a total of 12 shorter pieces (each 32 cm long).

 

 
I used these pieces to make the vertical sides on each end of the planter.

 

Using 4 pieces for each of the vertical sides, I now had only four short pieces left.

(this is where I needed to buy a little extra wood to finish, approx. 1.92 meters)

I needed a total of 10 of  these short pieces to brace the inside of the structure and hold all the pieces together.

 

To brace each side of the planter I used two short pieces each, one on each end, to hold the sides in place.

I nailed the inside bracing pieces flush with the top on each end. I did the same on the bottom to give the planter a little extra height.

 

For the two long sides I adjusted the spacing between the boards to make everything evenly match up and then nailed them in place.

And voila, a new planter for my balcony!

All you need to do now is staple some garden fabric to the inside of the planter and add some soil!

Saw                           Cost: € 6

Wood                        Cost: € 4

Garden Fabric         Cost: € 3

Soil                            Cost: € 6

Total                       Cost: € 19

DIY: Homemade Bread

Homemade bread doesn’t have to be daunting or even time consuming. The most time spent making a loaf of bread is the rising time, and it does that all by itself, provided that you give it a nice warm resting place that is.

Fresh, homemade bread right out of the oven is amazing  and well worth the effort you put into it. It’s generally better for you than store bought bread since it doesn’t have any preservatives or additives in it and it has a much much cheaper price tag than buying an artisan loaf from your local grocery store or bakery.

You can easily make bread with just these four  ingredients:

flour, yeast, salt, and water

There are plenty of recipes that add more to the mix than this but for an extremely simple, bare bones recipe that requires no kneading you can follow this recipe.

Or you can make bread from a store bought mix that already has leavening in it. You can find bread mixes made from a wide variety of different  flours, seeds, nuts and even have dried fruits in them and ones that use leavening agents such as sourdough starter or an active dry yeast.

 

The bread that I made here was from a store bought mix that cost me 99 cents and makes two loaves.

All I had to do was add warm water, stir it, knead it, let it rise and then bake it.

It was that simple and was done in about 2 hours.

I usually make bread from scratch but I was feeling a bit lazy this week since I’m just getting over being sick, I had a pretty bad cold that wiped me out last week, and I wanted to make a sourdough loaf without having to start my own sourdough starter. You can find tips on how to start your own sourdough starter here.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for bread, one that my mom developed and made all the time when I was a kid growing up. We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, with 6 kids in the house, but we always had plenty of fresh warm bread that my mom would make for us almost every day!

1 Bag of Bread Mix (makes two loaves)

Cost per loaf: €0.49

Time:  2 Hours

One Pot Meals

My brother is staying with me, my husband Thomas and our daughter Anna for the summer and we need to cook larger meals to accommodate all 4 of us. Here is an example of a cheap and quick one pot meal that I like to make. It’s tasty, easily changeable to feed more or less people and is a wholesome, vegetarian, one pot meal.

Pasta Fagioli (or pasta and beans)

Serves: 4-6 with leftovers

Completion time: About 2 1/2 hours

Total Cost: € 7.50

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 Cups (300 grams) of  dried White Beans (or Cannellini Beans)      Cost: € 1

  • 5 Cups (1,2 kilos) of Diced Tomatoes, Fresh or Canned work well            Cost: € 2.50

  • 2 Large or 3 Medium sized Onions Diced                                                                 Cost: € 1 

  •  5-6 Cloves of Garlic Minced                                                                                             Cost: € 0.40

  • 1 Pound (~500 grams) Elbow Noodles or other small pasta                        Cost: €1.50

  • Grated Parmesan Cheese  to taste                                                                               Cost: € 1.10

  •  3-4 Cups (~720 to 950 ml) Water

  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

  • Salt, Pepper, Oregano, Basil and other seasonings to taste

For under € 8 you can have a hearty, wholesome meal that will feed an army and won’t break your budget or your free time!

 

 

Step One:

Soak the beans. You can do this the night before or by using the quick soak method (from BonAppetit.com) :

“The quick-soak method is terrific when you don’t have time to let the beans soak overnight. Put the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by three inches.  Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue simmering for 2 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain.

If you are substituting canned beans for dried, 1 cup of dried beans produces 3 cups of cooked beans.”

Step Two:

While the beans are soaking peel and chop the onions and garlic. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions until translucent and then add the garlic and saute for one minute more.

Step Three:

Add the chopped tomatoes, water and drained beans, stir and then bring everything to a boil. When the soup comes to a boil reduce the heat to a simmer and season with salt, pepper and other seasonings of your choice. I used oregano, basil and garlic powder. You can also add some chili pepper flakes for a little added heat if you like.

Step Four:

Simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are soft, stirring occasionally. About half an hour before the soup is done heat water for the pasta and cook until al dente.

 

Serve the soup over pasta with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese and top with fresh parsley (optional).

Guten Appetit!