109. Garden Fail – Birdhouse Gourds

On Thanksgiving Day, our (very) local neighbourhood gardeners and friends/family get together for the annual vegetable contest.

Now, I am not competitive at all, but I am a gardener, and I like a challenge and a deadline to jumpstart my creativity.

So in the spring I signed up to receive the little 3-seed packet for this year’s vegetable. We usually are challenged to grow something that matures near Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving, about 6 weeks before American Thanksgiving). This year’s vegetable was a birdhouse gourd.

All three of my seeds germinated. I planted two of them in pots, and one in the herb bed in the rooftop garden. These five gourds were all I could grow, and they are too small to dry out and use as bird houses. Our best gardener was able to grow a bunch that were big enough (about 14″ – 16″ tall.)

So I had to fake the birdhouse, by painting a black hole on each. Then, I faked actual (is that an oxymoron?) birds, too, by painting five of our favourite local birds right onto the gourds.

I have a bird colouring book the right scale for the gourds, so I traced the bird onto the gourd using a ball-point pen and tracing paper.

Then I painted them using the acrylic craft paint I had on hand. 

Of course, I needed a display box. I made one just the right length using scrap wood. The two sides are the last bit of what, in this family, we call “Grandpa’s Post.” Grandpa’s Post was salvaged from his workshop before the house that he built 60 years ago was torn down. It was a gorgeous piece of 4×4 fir, that I sanded down and intended to use for our bannister, but it wasn’t long enough.

The post sat protected in our crawl space, until our favourite daughter was making her bed, and she was able to use it for both footboard posts. There were two beautiful thin wedges left over, placed into the burn pile for kindling. I just couldn’t burn them – they were too precious to my heart. I trimmed them down to use in the box.

Sanded, then whitewashed the box. Inserted the gourds. Went to the contest. There were a bunch of clever and humourous entries, some done by children.

Won the prize. Obviously not for biggest gourd. The prize is re-awarded every year, thank heavens, because it is the ultimate in tacky. Witness yourself:

I have to keep it for a whole year, taking it out of hiding if any of our neighbours should pay a visit.

What’s green about this post?

  1. the gourds
  2. the gardening
  3. the recycling
  4. and the neighbours, who are green with envy that I have this fish-like thing in my house for a year




103. Live-edge Slab Bed Construction

This I cannot claim responsibility for (well, I do have some responsibility for giving birth to the person):

But, Tess, the genius behind the bed, has given me permission to share her bed-making process.

And, she did use our tools and reuse some of our collected materials, so I guess you could say we had a small, small hand in it. She used wood and tools that have personal memories and meaning wound through them.bed-labelled copy

At the Christmas holiday, Tess and her partner picked up some well-cured maple slabs at a local supplier, Steve Willgoose Woodworking

Here they are after a bit of cleaning up – debarking, digging out soft areas, some sanding.

Tess’s first order of design was to size and position her bowties. They stabilize the major cracks.

She cut them, mostly on the bandsaw, out of shim wood scavenged from the beach on Haida Gwaii, where she was fortunate to spend a university semester.

Using a drill and Grandpa’s chisels, T routed out the bowtie shapes. When one of the bowties was too small for its setting, she had just enough of the wood left to make another one. Next step was applying copious amounts of wood glue – those little suckers will stay there – and pounding them in with a wood block.

She sanded them down to flush, and sanded the whole slabs to a beautiful smooth surface that we can’t stop stroking. Between the first and second sandings, she raised the grain and the wood fibre with a water-soaked rag, and then let it dry. That made a much smoother surface possible.

T filled the long teardrop-shaped hole with stones collected from Ucluelet and Iceland. She taped them in place from the front with a combination of duct tape and painter’s tape, then turned the slab over to fill the hole with 2-part clear epoxy. A sheet of plastic covered the work table. When she poured in the epoxy, it looked pretty good, but soon we could see that the dam had burst (or should I say “Damn! Burst!”) and the epoxy was leaking out as fast as water. It covered the plastic, and spread onto the front surface of the maple, even started dripping onto the floor.

This turned out to be the most frustrating lesson learned, and she just had to let it cure for a while until it was hard enough to clean up. You don’t want the epoxy all over your hands and clothing – it’s impossible to clean, even with paint thinner. She mopped up with rags as best she could, and then faced the problem again after a sleep.

Once it was firm enough to sand, T sanded the epoxy and the imbedded (NPI – no pun intended) tape off the surface of the wood and stones She had to resort to digging some of it out with sharp instruments, like my 1/2″ belt sander.

I think Tess consulted her brother, who has considerably more experience working with epoxy and wood slabs. He tapes off the hole, then clamps wood tightly against the tape so the epoxy has nowhere to leak. The second pouring of epoxy went better. Here’s a view of it from the back of the headboard, so you can see the light shining through:

She shaped and sanded the elegant bedposts – the headboard posts from a 4 x 4 clear cedar post, and the footboard posts from a beautiful salvaged fir porch post of her grandfather’s.

Using hardwood dowels and glue, T attached the head/footboards to the posts. I didn’t take photos of this step.

The bed rails are made from purchased S4S fir 2x8s with a 1×2 slat ledge screwed to the inside edge. The rails are attached to the posts with hardware from Lee Valley Tools. Here, the assembly crew is checking the bed for square:measure bed for square

The fir slats I salvaged from a former film studio warehouse have hardened with age – they may be 50 years old or more. Tess was commanded to lie down on them to make sure they’re strong enough, but I knew they were, because we used the same ones in our pull-out wall bed in the studio.live edge maple bed

I will transport the bed components to the city, where T will apply the finish and will update with another photo of this beautiful/meaningful project.

I learned so much from watching Tess work. This chronicle leaves out much of the design process and constant figuring and measuring. I am full of admiration for Tess’s skills, and I know she has learned a whole whack of new ones.


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102. Easter Egg Dyes From the Garden

Years ago, we took the kids on an RV road trip at Easter. Before we left, I planted four plastic veggie packs with grass seed, so that there would be grass for the Easter Bunny to deposit eggs and other goodies into on Easter morning. We have always had real eggs for the outdoor Easter egg hunts. I still get angry when l remember the one horrible Easter morning that spruce budworm pesticides were sprayed over the whole region – our area was sprayed at 5 a.m. But that anger is balanced by the amusement I felt when the eggs were hidden in 30 inches of snow one year. Where did the Easter Bunny find stashing places in snow? I bet some of them weren’t found until the spring thaw.

We love to colour Easter eggs with plant dyes from the garden – such a fun craft to do with children. The time-honoured dye has got to be onion skins, but there are several other lovely, sometimes subtle dyes to be obtained by taking a walk in the garden or forest.

Because I grow a dye garden for my fibre art, I even have the luxury of having real dye plants like madder and dyer’s camomile. In the fall I harvest and dry these dyestuffs.

I pack them around the white or brown eggs, and wrap with netting and elastics or string.

I place them into water and boil until the eggs are hard-cooked.

Lift out with a spoon and plunge into ice water – helps prevent the grey colour around the yolk.

Then, we get to unwrap them.

dyeing easter eggs collage

Aren’t they a delightful surprise?

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101. How To Make a Bee Cake

Our friend, a beekeeper, had his 16th birthday on February 29. We thought this rare occasion, occurring once every 4 years, deserved celebration. His bees, by the thousands, pollinate our plants here at This Green House.

Without any real plan, I said I would make a bee cake. Here’s how it went down:

  1. I baked 3 round cakes, an 8″ gluten-free chocolate quinoa cake, and a 4″ and 8″ sunshine carrot cake, chosen for its golden colour.
  2. Cut the two 8″ cakes in equal quarters, and cut the points off:
  3. Using chocolate icing to stick them together, line up dark-light-dark-light cake pieces on the serving platter. Prop up the 4″ head cake with some off-cuts.
  4. Using chocolate off-cuts, add a stinger at the tail end. Ice the head and underside with chocolate icing. Add eyes and wings (recipe below.)
  5. To make wings: Grease an aluminum foil mould, shaped into wing shapes (two about 9″ long, and two about 5″ long.) Mix 1 3/4 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 3/4 cup light corn syrup in a heavy pot. Heat on high, stirring constantly, until it boils. Continue to let it boil until it reaches 310˚ F, then remove from stove. Immediately pour into the moulds to a depth of about 1/4″. Let cool, and place against the bee body. 

I asked the birthday boy not to inspect the anatomy of the bee too closely – I’m sure it’s not correct for any of the 20,000 bee types in the world.

bee cake construction

Also on the pot-luck menu were these cute bee appetizers, made with olives by Lissa:

I had fun with the decor. 

And, I thank the bees for the inspiration!

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100. Chocolate Soap and Massage Butter Recipes

Tomorrow is our “Death By Chocolate” murder mystery night with the ladies of our ‘hood. I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t crush on anything chocolate.

But, I love the smell of it. And I AM crushing on making soap these days.

So, I made chocolate soap and chocolate massage butter to give to the 13 participants.

Following are the recipes. But, first a caveat: cold process soap has safety requirements and processes that I won’t go into here – there are plenty of YouTubes and online instructions. See my first post about soap.

Chocolate Peppermint Soap (makes 12 bars)

Melt and cool to 110˚: 16 oz soybean oil (Crisco), 7 oz coconut oil, 3 oz cocoa butter, 2 oz shea butter, 4 oz olive oil

Using mask and protective clothing and rubber gloves, and avoiding breathing the fumes, slowly pour and stir 5 oz lye into 2 cups distilled water. Let cool to 110˚.

Add lye to oils, and blend with a stick blender.

Add at trace: 2 tsp peppermint essence, 2 Tbsp cocoa powder

(To get two-toned soap, I added the peppermint to the mix, poured about 1/3 into another cup, then added the cocoa to the other 2/3 before pouring it into the molds.)

After 24 hours, remove from molds, cut into bars, and let it cure for 4 weeks.

Chocolate Massage Butter, on the other hand, doesn’t use lye and it’s quick and easy to make. It makes a wonderful gardener’s hand cream and cuticle cream, too, because of the nourishing, healing oils.

  • 4 oz olive oil
  • 4 oz cocoa butter
  • 4 oz shea butter
  • 4 oz coconut oil
  • 1 oz beeswax (pellets or grated)
  • 2 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 1 cup distilled water (at room temperature)
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • Melt the oils (except vitamin E oil) with the beeswax, and cool them until they just start to harden. While cooling, whisk the cocoa powder into the water, then slowly add it to the oils as you blend thoroughly with the stick blender.Stir in the vitamin E oil. Pour into 4 oz jars. Let cool, cover, and store in the fridge for up to a year.

Makes 8 x 4oz jars.

Smells good enough to eat. And you could, as long as you don’t mind a bit of beeswax!


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