Monday, April 16, 2018

Hugelkultur at The Shack

H├╝gelkultur - Zilker Botanical Garden - Austin, Texas
What is Hugelkultur? It is a type of no-till, raised bed gardening that I've only recently learned about.  I am NOT an expert gardener and I know next-to-nothing about Hugelkulture (pronounced HOO-gul-culture). But it is something that seems like it would make sense to use up at The Shack. Frankly, I'm mostly writing this so I can keep track of the name of the technique and when/where/how I'm trying to use it. And to spread the word to others who have not heard of this raised-bed gardening technique.


I belong to a homesteading group and on that group I was sharing that due to my very steep slope at The Shack, the raised bed I had been planning for berries was not going to work out quite like I had envisioned.  I asked for advice.

One person mentioned Hugelkultur. I had never heard of it. So I "Google'd" and "youtubed" that term for days. This is the summary of what I've learned so far:

  • Hugelkultur is German for "mound culture" or "hill mound"
  • A garden mound (biomass) is created using a pile of wood covered by soil
  • The resulting biomass retains warmth and water
  • The slowly decaying wood creates a richer soil via all of the processes that happen during composting

insert from photo above
Oh man, oh man... Hugelkultur, or using some of the aspects of it, might be just the thing for my rocky, compacted, DRY, ridge-top future homestead. 

The Land at The Shack

Half of my land is open "yard" and half is wooded area. My land was previously an apple orchard. So I know that it can grow fruit trees. The wooded section seems to have far better "soil" than the yard section. But there's not even really rich soil in the woods. 

There are MANY things that make my land an unlikely choice for gardening.  The lack of an onsite water source, the extremely rocky/gravel terrain, steep slope, and the herds of deer that immediately try to eat every plant I put out are just a few of the things stacked against me at growing any of my own food.

Sufficient water is one of my main concerns. While camping at The Shack, I sit on my deck and look across the valley, watching it rain below. But it seems that little of the rain falls on my yard. For that reason alone, Hugelkultur was a very exciting idea.

Rain clouds moving across the valley

It will be years until I live up there full-time, and I intend to retire up there and happily putter around my yard and gardens rather than raise huge amounts of food. So I've got some time to start several small gardens, try a variety of plants and ways to plant them.  

The Berry Patch

Using a combination of Hugelkulture and Back-to-Eden gardening, I started a berry patch during my last visit to The Shack.  Later, I will write a separate post about the berries and the berry patch; how it came to be and how it's growing.  Right now I will share that I used "green" wood (sticks and chunks of green firewood) that I had gathered around the yard. I filled the hole first with cardboard (from Back-to-Eden gardening). I covered the cardboard with the sticks and firewood chunks (Hugelkultur) and made a mound. Then I covered the wood with hardwood mulch (Back-to-Eden gardening).  

My little berry patch is not as raised as other Hugelkultur beds are. Frankly, I started in a hole... filling a low spot in the yard. But I am optimistic about the decaying wood that is going to be composting and retaining moisture in my horribly rocky and dry "soil". I have seen some videos in which people claim that Hugelkultur was not helpful.  But I noted that it seemed those folks used a combination of what looked like dried/old barn timbers and very poor soil.  I made sure to start with very green wood from recently fallen trees.  

The photo below is my little Hugelkultur-esque berry bed in process.  I know, it looks a mess but it is at that point in the process that you can see the layers.

black berry patch at The Shack in process

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you. 

Photo Attribution: Hugelkultur - Zilker Botanical Garden - Austin, Texas - public domain CC.0

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bird Journal: Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing with red tips
The Shack is a wonderful place to watch birds. There are many different species to watch. It is just a matter of me becoming more adept at identifying them. This past weekend, a large flock of birds was watching me while I worked in the yard, trying to make a berry patch and plant some thornless blackberries. I was nearly certain they were Cedar Waxwings. I snapped some photos and looked closely at the photos after I returned home. Yes indeed, they were Cedar Waxwings. And I was very excited about that sighting.

Cedar Waxwings

I am familiar with Cedar Waxwings from growing up in Indiana. I would see them in the woods, near small lakes. Then in Maryland, I would find them along river banks. I cannot describe their calls, but their sound catches my attention. When I hear them, I know there is a familiar bird in the area and I should look closely. That was what caught my attention this weekend - the familiar chirping sounds. As soon as I looked, a flash of narrow yellow stripe at the end of a tail caught my eye.

I was surprised to see a large flock of them at The Shack - not along a river but atop a ridge. They were sitting in the trees watching me work in the yard. My photos aren't the best quality, but they were good enough to verify that they were indeed Cedar Waxwings.

click to enlarge

Now that I know they are there, I want to continue to attract them to my yard. So I looked up their habitat information.

FoodAll About Birds advises planting of native, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs to attract Cedar Waxwings. This list of plants includes: dogwood, serviceberry, juniper, cedar, hawthorn, and winterberry. I'd imagine that the birds will be very pleased when the blackberries I planted bear fruit!

Note to self: buy some bird netting for the berry patch. 

According to Project Feeder Watch, they prefer platform feeders and fruit.

Nest BoxesSo far, it doesn't look as though bird nest boxes are helpful. Waxwings tend to build their nest in the crooks of trees.

Birdbaths. My research indicates that Cedar Waxwings enjoy birdbaths. That is good news since a really nice birdbath is on my wish list (I love the Stone Creation granite birdbaths and included a link to one below). 

Bohemian Waxwing (Cedar Waxwing Look-alike) 

I have trouble with "similar" birds and identification so I am trying to pay more attention to birds that could confuse me. The Bohemian Waxwing is very similar in appearance to the Cedar Waxwing.  The Bohemian Waxwing lives further north than my place in West Virginia. On the maps, it would be a "rare" sighting at my place.  But just in case, I want to be informed. 

The Bohemian Waxwing has a "rust" colored underside - under it's tail. And a bit of white on the wing. Otherwise, it is very similar in appearance to the Cedar Waxwing.

Bohemian Waxwing
*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Photograph attribution:
Intro photo - from Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 - Dawn Huczek
Bohemian Waxwing photo - courtesy Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 - Randen Pedersen

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Small Home Plans on Foundations

Small home plans
The Big Book of Small Home Plans was delivered to my doorstep recently and I can't stop looking at it. If you are planning on building a small home, or looking at house plans is one of your favorite pastimes, you might like this book as much as I do. With 360 home plans under 1200 square foot you are likely to find something that suits your needs.

The Big Book of Small Home Plans

I really like having 360 house plans under 1200 sq feet at my fingertips. In this book, each page is on glossy, thick pages. No flimsy newspaper print in black and white, and hard-to-read fonts. 

Each house plan includes the foot print dimensions and the heated square feet. Each major room has the dimensions listed. I have purchased house plan books and magazines that do not include that information - which defeats the entire purpose of looking at the plans, in my opinion. If you look at the The Big Book of Small Home Plans on Amazon, the "look inside" feature is very helpful.

The book is 288 pages. The vast majority of pages are the house plans. There are a smattering of pages with helpful design and organizing ideas.  Topics such as:

  • Dream Big While Living Small
  • No Excuses...It's Time to Get Organized
  • Bathroom Storage Solved
  • Banish Kitchen Clutter Forever
  • Pantry Organization 101
  • and more

The helpful tips pages are not distracting from the amount of home plan pages and are helpful in thinking about how small I can truly go (or not).  

Also, on page 142 there is a user's guide for downloading and using the 3D app they offer. With that app, you can view the home from all sides on your piece of land. This is available through Apple and Android app stores. I have not yet tried this app but I can imagine it would be very helpful to people who are app-savvy.

Why Small Home Plans Appeal to Me

After years of daydreaming and searching real estate websites, I purchased my land a couple of years ago. Now my daydreaming, planning, and researching has turned to house plans. I have very specific needs (passive solar, suitable for a steep lot, etc) and I want to stay small due to my plan to be debt-free in retirement. 

Searching the internet for house plans yields many house plan sites with many house plans. Although, after a bit it becomes cumbersome and overwhelming searching for a small home that is not on wheels and is under 1200 sq ft. 

Honestly, I'm looking to stay in the range of 600 - 900 square feet. With this book I can compare some of the layouts, exteriors, and orientations with just the flip of a page or two. 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Reviewing Flowers by the Dozen Crochet Pattern

I can crochet but only at an easy to moderate pattern level. I often want to crochet something that is beyond my ability (at this point) and become frustrated at my failures. My item often does not end up looking like the item in the pattern photo. It was exactly this problem that led me to this easy and adorable flower crochet pattern.

Yarnspirations - Flowers by the Dozen

I had tried multiple crochet flower patterns that were epic fails. And I was very close to giving up on the idea of crocheting a flower. But I really, really wanted to add a flower applique to the little hat that I had loom knitted for my granddaughter.  She would look adorable in a hat with a flower. So I tried "just one more time".

Yarnspirations has some really good patterns. Most of them free and downloadable with no tricks or gimmicks. It is their Flowers by the Dozen pattern that finally worked for me. 

(Click the photo to enlarge in order to see most of the crochet version pattern. Click this link for the Flowers by the Dozen knit and crochet instructions in it's entirety)

Their instructions are clear. The pattern is easy - with just 5 rounds of easy crochet to make the two layers of flower petals. You do have to know how to chain, single crochet, half double crochet, double crochet, and slip stitch. But if you are familiar with those basic stitches, you'll be able to make these flowers.

I like that I can choose to finish a flower with just one layer of petals or go on to finish with the two layers of petals. And clearly, this pattern works with a variety of sizes of yarn and of crochet hooks.

A single layer of petals - Peaches & Cream cotton yarn

I also like that the little flowers would look fine without any embellishment in the middle. For my granddaughter I chose a really big button (due to her young age and my concern about toddlers and choking hazards). However, I have also looked at a wide variety of stones, beads, and broaches that would look great sewn into the middle of these little flowers.

Related Link:

I only recently discovered round loom knitting and wrote about it immediately. See Creating Treasures with Round Loom Knitting - Hats to read about how I learned to create the little yellow hat in the photo above.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Using Prayer Beads, Meditation, and Prayer

I am a worrier. I have an exceedingly difficult time calming my mind. And what results is a grumpy, impatient, and judgemental attitude. Fortunately, people say they can't see it on the outside but I feel it on the inside. And it bothers me. I admire people who are calm and happy - who can let things go. As I continue to try to learn to let things go I have found that meditation, prayer, and prayer beads have helped me be more relaxed and more forgiving.

Why I Have Begun Using Prayer Beads, Meditation, and Prayer

I have known that being outside, being quiet, and meditating make me feel better. Yoga - both the physical aspect and the meditative aspect - leave me feeling great. Yoga classes are costly and cause me to arrive home much later than normal. Which creates a different kind of stress (I worry about the dogs). So I am again missing Yoga classes. And prayer... well, I've never really been the type to pray. Despite parts of my conservative religious childhood, I never felt I could pray right. 
Black onyx Mala Beads

I know that I benefit from guided meditation. I needed to find some way to move toward the quiet, calm, happy person I want to be.  When I dropped the yoga classes, I noted the huge impact losing that meditation time had on me. 

I bought Tibetan Prayer Beads (Mala Necklace) and have found them to be extremely helpful. Having the beads in my hand helps to keep my mind more "focused".  Focused isn't the best description, as what I am trying to do is relax and keep my mind from wandering to all of my worries. Chanting and moving one bead at a time with my fingers really helps keep my mind from thinking about other things.

Chants and Prayers

I have always loved things like Gregorian chants, Buddhist chants, and so forth. As soon as I received the beads, I found a meditative chant that fits me. OM SO HUM translates to something along the lines of "I am that". That I am a part of the universe. That I am a part of all of creation.  I feel best when I am feeling connected to the world (the earth, the weather, nature, etc) so I thought this would be a good chant to begin with.

However, worries stemming from some of my conservative religious childhood memories cropped up. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Was I violating that commandment by praying OM? Did I care?  Whether I cared or not, it made me worried (see why I need to relax?!).  As a result, I looked for a Christian prayer/mediation.

I found a simple Jesus prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me".

the prayer starts at 3:03

As I sit with my mala necklace, and alternate between OM SO HUM and the Jesus Prayer, I am able to relax and let go of many of the constant worries and negative thoughts I carry with me constantly. I absolutely feel a difference when I mediate, calm myself, and connect myself with the good things. The two different prayers have two different impacts on me. How can I be impatient and judgemental when I am asking for mercy for myself? And praying "I am that" is celebratory; I feel good and connected with the movements of the natural world and others. 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Treasures: Mala Necklace by Tam Lyn Concepts

Black Onyx Mala.
I recently purchased Tibetan prayer beads (Mala necklace) made by Tam Lyn Concepts. I love the quality of these beads and wanted to share my find with you. I have many reasons I looked for and purchased this particular string of prayer beads. The disclaimer is that my journey into mediation is fairly new and I am learning as I go. My sharing of the information below is somewhat like prayer beads for dummies by dummies.  My focus is on how much I like this Mala.

What are Mala necklaces?

Tibetan prayer beads, 108 necklaces, and Mala necklaces seem to be basically the same thing. These necklaces are very similar to a Catholic Rosary. The beads are meant to focus and to count the number of prayers or chants.

108 is a number that is important in Tibetan Buddhism. Malas come in 108 beads or double that amount (216) or half that amount (54).  In addition to the 108 beads, there is a larger Guru bead. That bead symbolizes different things, but for me it is the beginning and stopping point of the mediation. And it's beautiful.

Black Onyx 108 Knotted Prayer Beads by Tam Lyn Concepts

I chose black onyx because I like black onyx a lot and because a black necklace can be worn with anything.

I chose a 108 bead necklace because of the length. No fasteners to open and close. It just slips over my head and hangs at a good length (over or under my shirt).

I chose the Tam Lyn Tibetan black onyx prayer beads because of the quality. The string is knotted. The beads are stones and not plastic beads. The tassel is nicely done. When the Mala arrived, it also came in a small bag, with a card of information about the beads, and the tassel was wrapped in a plastic covering to protect it during shipping.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Tam Lyn Concepts offers several different Malas on Amazon. 

If Etsy is your online shopping preference, there are MANY handmade Malas to choose from.

Search Etsy Shops for 108 Malas (Malas featured in the photo below are by Madaboutmint, GrdnEarthlyDelights, TheMalaTheMission, and AwakenYourKundalini):

click photo to enlarge for details

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Creating Treasures with Round Loom Knitting - Hats

I have just discovered a new passion and an easy way to create family heirlooms and treasures. Okay, that's a little overly dramatic. But I am really excited about my new hobby. I have just discovered that I can knit using round looms. It is an easy and fun way to be creative. I have been able to knit hats and am passing along the information about the inexpensive little gadget that allows me to knit.

Round Looms

Round looms are small rings of durable plastic with pegs. Using yarn wrapped around the pegs and pulling one loop of yarn over the other with a small hook results in a knitted item.

Anchor yarn. Wrap around loom twice. Use hook to pull one loop over another.

I can crochet (easy - medium patterns) and have crocheted for years. But I have never been able to master the art of knitting. Holding a knitting needle in each hand and convincing my hands to cooperate and work together is beyond my ability.

With a loom, a hook, yarn, and a wonderful video tutorial by Denise at Loomahat, I made a hat for my grandson in a matter of an afternoon. I will add Denise's wonderful tutorial below.

Complete hat for my grandson

My next attempt will be a hat for my granddaughter with a crochet flower applique. And at some point, I hope to knit some thick, comfy socks for myself.  If you have always wanted to knit, but couldn't quite figure out how, this might be your answer. I know it is the solution for me.

Related Links:

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

That wonderful round loom tutorial by Denise at Loomahat: