Constructing My First, But Definitely Not Last, Keyhole Garden

You don’t have to live in the desert to benefit from a drought-tolerant composting garden.  Constructing a  “Keyhole Garden” is a great way to bring a creative, sustainable garden into your life, no matter where you live.

A keyhole garden is, essentially, another type of raised-bed planter. It is especially designed to work well in places that have poor soil and bad weather, namely scorching heat and elusive rainfall.  The method was “developed by a humanitarian aid organization in southern Africa, where resources are scarce and the climate unforgiving” (

With this year shaping up to be one of the worst on record for rainfall here in Central California, I’ve been taking advantage of my winter gardening “down time” to look into gardening methods that will help me conserve water and still be able to raise bountiful crops, this summer.  The keyhole garden looks very promising for helping me to do just that.

Take a look at how I constructed this drought-hardy garden…

First, I measured a 6-foot diameter circle to define the inside wall of my garden, and constructed the exterior wall using cut up timbers from dead trees that we had lying around the property.  I also cut out a small notch in the circle so that I can access the wire basket that I am going to place in the center.  (One of the principles of permaculture and sustainable agriculture is that you make use of available, recycled materials that you have on hand, rather than purchasing items from an outside source.  If you don’t have access to timbers, you could use rocks, metal, bricks, or any other material that can support the weight of wet soil).  By the way, keyhole gardens do not have to be round.  Here is an example of a 10′ x 10′ keyhole garden that I found on the web.  It even comes with a planting guide! timber exterior wall Next, I created a one-foot diameter tube out of chicken wire that is going to be filled with compostable material, like kitchen scraps, that will be placed in the middle of the garden and provide it with moisture and nutrients.  The garden will also be watered from this juncture.  Watering from the middle of the garden is supposed to force the plants to send their roots down deep and over to the tube, conserving water in the process. chicken wire tube Following that, since we have so many problems with gophers around here, I lined the entire bed with chicken wire… 100_4396 Then, I lined the bed with pieces of cardboard.  These will decompose as the garden matures, helping to nourish the soil and bring in lots of beneficial worms and insects.  I also set the wire tube in place at this point… 100_4399 Then, I followed this with a thick layer of dead leaves, which are abounding around our property at this time of year.  (When I make my next keyhole garden, I will lay down a “green mulch” layer first, though, following the lasagna garden method of alternating green and brown layers.  Green layers consist of things like herbaceous weeds, grass clippings, and animal manure; brown layers consist of things like dead leaves, straw hay, wood chips, and newspaper)… 100_4400 I thoroughly watered the cardboard and leaves, and then I added a layer of hummus (a mix of compostable materials that has not yet reached the finished compost stage) on top… 100_4402 Finally, I added a layer of top soil (taken from gopher mounds around the property, which are actually a great source of top soil because the dirt is really clean and typically weed seed-free, since it’s coming up from a couple of feet underground – who knew those guys could be so useful???) gopher holes

100_4403 Well, that’s it.  Pretty simple, huh?  All that’s left, now, is to build a ton more and figure out what I want to plant inside of them.  Any suggestions?


Giving a Piece of Myself at Christmas

When it comes to Christmas, do you prefer to give store-bought, or homemade gifts? I’ll reveal my preference a little later, but, first, I thought I’d go through, what I think, are some of the advantages of each…

Advantages of store-bought:

  • convenient
  • time saving
  • get exactly what the person wants (there’s no way I’m putting together a homemade LOL Elmo. 😉 )
  • doesn’t require very much creativity
  • doesn’t require any special tools, or talent
  • doesn’t require much planning
  • can save you money (especially if you do your shopping the day after Christmas to stock up on next year’s gifts)

Advantages of homemade:

  • uniqueness of the gift
  • usually highly valued by the recipient
  • can make use of items already lying around the house
  • can save you money
  • satisfaction of gifting something that you, personally, have invested time and effort into

When it comes to giving at Christmas, I really prefer to give homemade gifts.  In reality, I probably give about half store-bought and half homemade.  This year, with my husband out of work, it’s going to be a 100% homemade Christmas, though — and I’m glad!

There’s just something special about giving a gift that I’ve created all by myself.  I enjoy the entire process, from conception to finished product.  I think a lot about the person who I am making it for while I am making it, and what the gift will mean to them.  I sometimes hesitate, wondering if they are going to  like it  (especially when it comes to men and children), but, then, that worry comes with store-bought gifts, too.

My homemade gifts are, typically, very simple, and reflect my sense of style, which is rustic, country, shabby chic, and industrial.  I typically make items that I would like to receive, myself  — which often makes giving them away very difficult (actually, our homestead is full of gifts that I, at one point made for others, but ended up keeping for myself) – don’t worry, though, I still managed to craft another, similar, one for the original recipient!

I’m actually not a very creative person, but I’m a pretty good at copying something that I like.  Most of the inspiration for my gifts comes from magazines that I subscribe to and the internet:  Pinterest is a dream site for me, and so is Google images.

My favorite homemade gifts to give at Christmas time are baked or canned goods and re-purposed and up-cycled crafts.  I like putting together gift baskets full of home-baked cookies, breads, jams, and jellies, and crafting items that people can decorate their homes with.


One of my all-time favorite gifts to give are Christmas ornaments.   You just can’t go wrong with these things. They are one of the simplest gifts to make, and they are always so adored!   This year, with the help of my husband, I’m crafting some simple, wooden ornaments that are made from eucalyptus trees on our property.  I’m hand-painting different Christmas-related words on them, and adding a simple bow and metal hanger – easy peasy!

Wooden Christmas ornament

I also love gifting hand-painted signs.    They are so trendy, right now!  I am, by no means, a fine artist, but graphics I find quite doable.   I like to use wood and canvas for my mediums.  I often search second hand stores for existing items that I can simply paint over.  I sometimes put my oldest son (a graphic design major) to work on the lettering, and my husband to work, constructing a sign, if I want a particular size or material.  I choose Bible verses, or uplifting song lyrics, words,  and quotes for my signs.  Here is what some of my signs look like…

be joyful




These signs are really not as difficult to make as they look.  Here is the tutorial I used to learn the process.

Finally – and these are the gifts I find the most difficult to give away because they tend to be “one-of-a-kind” items – I just love making and giving crafty-type Christmas gifts that I construct using already existing objects.

 Sometimes that means simply giving a piece of furniture a new coat of paint, like this magazine rack, that used to be a dull, outdated-looking wood piece…

magazine rack

Or, re-purposing familiar items into something a bit more functional and useful, like these Christmas cookie tins that I’ve re-purposed into a fancy, little organizer (design instructions found here).  As you can see, I’ve already found a place for most of my current crafting supplies (and we all know what that means)…

cookie tin organizer

Or, even taking it a step further and up-cycling old pieces of wooden fence posts, blocks, metal wire, and such  into something cute, like these!…

fence post sign

joy blocks

I just love making homemade gifts.  I love everything about it!

Well, okay, come to think of it, there is one, little downside… in the end, I must find the strength to give my little precious’s away.

In Acts 20:35, in the Bible, we learn that, “the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'”.

Ultimately, I think, that’s why I actually prefer giving homemade gifts over store-bought, though, because when I give a homemade gift, I am blessed to be giving away a little piece of myself.

How about you?  What type of gifts do you prefer to give?  What homemade gifts have you given in the past?  What homemade gifts might you try your hand at making, this year?

Tomato Crib

I ran out of tomato cages.  Well, I didn’t actually run out.  I confess.  I just didn’t feel like making another one out of grape stakes.  So,  I just left one of my tomatoes in the ground, thinking, “I’ve got plenty of time, before this one gets too big.”  “I’ll just come back and cage it later.”

Well, later turned into a lot later.  The next thing I knew, that tomato was sprawling all over the ground and outside of it’s bed boundaries, like a wild vine!

Well, today I finally did something about it.

Using an old crib that I won, for less than a dollar, at a local auction, my husband and I re-purposed it into nice, little trellis.

First, we took the whole thing apart.  Then, we positioned the two, longer sides,  vertically, on each side of the plant, and tilted them in at an angle towards each other.  After that, we re-attached one of the crib’s sides at the top,  and we were pretty much done.

We decided to place some heavy duty metal stakes inside the trellis, just in case it tried to tip itself over.

The toughest part of the project was all of the untangling and tying we had to do.

But the time spent was well worth it.  I absolutely love the look!  (I think the tomatoes are much happier in their new crib, too!)

Time to Re-Purpose a Painting

Last weekend, my husband and I attended our first live auction, and came home with a great painting that I knew would be the perfect background for this project.

Before getting to the graphic design work, I knew I had to do something with that gilded frame.  It just would not go with the modern typography I was planning on using.  So, I painted it a buttery white with some left-over cabinet paint I had lying around in my pantry.

Next, using vinyl stickers that I found at a local office supply store, I created a layout for the Bible verse that I chose for this painting (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This was the most time consuming aspect of this project.  I placed, removed, and replaced stickers quite a few times before I settled in on a design that I liked, was properly spaced, and (for the most part) aligned.

Then, I painted over the top of the stickers with a black, oil-based paint.  I painted in an outward direction, away from each sticker, to help reduce the amount of paint bleed underneath the stickers.  This was a highly textured print, making it difficult to produce crisp edges.  I’m going to have to remember this, the next time I select a painting for this type of project.  My daughter actually loves the look of the “blurry” lettering, and says I shouldn’t try to touch it up.  I’m still debating that one, but I may just take her advice.

I removed the stickers with tweezers fairly quickly after I painted the letters.  They came off really easily and didn’t pull off any of the original paint underneath them, which is one of the things I was a little worried about when I got started.  Yes, I probably should have practiced on something smaller and less expensive before I jumped in, but leaping before I look is pretty much my M.O., and why change that now?

Lastly, I went back and finished painting in the remainder of the picture black.  In some ways, I felt like I was desecrating the picture.  I would never do this with a Picasso or Rembrandt, but, as the verse says, there really IS a season, time, and purpose for everything under heaven.  It just happened that today was the perfect season and time for re-purposing this painting!

Do you have any old paintings lying around that are screaming for a makeover?  Why not get some stickers and paint a favorite Bible or motivational verse over it today?

DIY Picket Fence Planter

It’s true.  Almost anything can be used to make a creative planter for the garden.  All it takes is a few, simple, every day objects that you have lying around the house and your imagination to create an interesting, one-of-a-kind container.

This weekend, Matt and I designed and constructed a simple, rustic, picket fence planter that is unique, creative, and I absolutely love!

My inspiration came from these reclaimed wood barrel planters at Pottery Barn.

We started with a simple, utilitarian, black, plastic, 5-gallon pot — the kind almost everyone has lying around their house, somewhere (if you don’t, you can probably pick one up, cheap, at a local garden center).

For the wood planks, we enlisted some old, picket fencing  (I always knew I’d find some way to use that old, beat up fence!)

We measured and marked all of the fence pieces to our desired height…

Next, Matt cut them all down to size…

Then, he attached all of the fence pieces to the plastic pot by drilling a hole through the plank and pot, then fastening the picket fencing to the pot using screws and bolts…

(this is the inside of the pot)

Finally, I attached rope to the outside of the fencing, both to hold the fence pieces in place and for a decorative touch.

This is how the finished planter turned out…

…every bit as good as the Pottery Barn planter, I think (and for a fraction of a fraction of the cost!)

I was so impressed by how it turned out that I had Matt make me a second one, built around a 3-gallon pot.

How’s that for inspiration going to work?

Now, all I have to decide is what to plant in it.

Any suggestions?

What do you have lying around the house that is just waiting for some inspiration so that it can be turned into something unique and wonderful?

Yet Another Tomato Cage Project

So, I accidentally put the cart before the horse.  I planted some of  my tomatoes in the ground without giving them any support.  Now, they are flopping and sprawling all over the ground — not good.

No matter.  I found a solution.

As my husband was trimming all of the dead tree limbs off of some of the trees on our property, last week, I asked him to save them for me so that I could fashion more tomato cages out of them.

Cages are my favorite way to support indeterminate tomatoes (the vining type that continue to grow until the first frost).  They are easy to construct,  provide a lot of room for the plants to grow, give sturdy support, make it easy to harvest the fruits when they come into season, and can be used again and again, saving our family a lot of money over the long haul.

I fashioned these in the same way that I made my grape stake cages, using four – six-foot long tree limb, and twelve  – two and a half foot long branch sections.  The cross bars are wired to the uprights, and the bottoms are buried about three inches in the ground.

I was debating whether to prune the tomatoes, once they get to the top of the cages, or let them sprawl over the tops.  After reading a Fine Gardening article , I think I have my answer.  According to the author, Frank Ferrandino, “About 30 days before the first frost…the plants must be topped. The fruit that has set must be given every opportunity to mature.”  Why?  He says that, “Removing all the growing tips directs all sugar produced by the plant to the fruit.”  Yet,  he admits (and I heartily agree), “This can be hard to do, as every gardener is reluctant to admit the season is coming to an end.” (Uh, yeah!)  He fully captured my attention, though, with his final statement, when he said, “This final pruning can make all the difference between hard, green fruits, hurriedly picked before frost, which later rot in a paper bag, and ripe, home-grown tomatoes in your Thanksgiving salad” — Oh, man!  I know exactly what he’s talking about — been there, done that!  So, I guess I will heed his admonishment, “Be tough, fight [my] nurturing instincts, and top those plants” this year!

How about you?  Do you grow determinate or indeterminate tomato varieties?  What system do you use for support?  Do you top your tomatoes at the end of the season, or let them continue to grow?

How I Made a Simple, Charming Front Door Picture Frame Wreath

I have a simple, country home.  It’s very informal and laid back.   It’s also a work in progress (and will be for the next ten years, or so, I predict).  I’m always looking for simple, inexpensive, and creative ways to bring more beauty and charm to it.

This past weekend, I spent a little time updating a wire frame wreath that is hanging on our front door.  Using just a few artificial floral stems that I found (dirt cheap) at a local second hand store,  I was able to effortlessly create a delightful, seasonal wreath that will grace our front door for the remainder of  spring and summer seasons (at least I think it’ll last that long).

It was an easy way to bring instant charm and beauty to our home!

Here’s how I did it:

I started with a re-purposed picture frame that I put together a while back…

And some artificial flowers and greenery that I found at a local second hand store…

First,  I fastened a wooden “W” to the frame with a piece of sheer, white ribbon.  (I found the unfinished wood cut-out letter at a local craft store, and painted it a pretty, pale blue).

Next, I separated the wire stems from all of the flowers and greenery, leaving only a little bit of plastic on the end.

Then, I spent some time situating the largest flowers on the frame, in different positions, until they settled into a composition that I liked.

After that, I secured each of the flowers to the wire, using the leftover stem wires that I had previously removed. Using wire cutters, I cut off a small piece (about an inch long) from the wire stem.  Then, I poked the wire through the back, center side of the flower, until it came through to the front.  From there, I made a little loop in the wire, and pulled it back down through the center so that it was hidden from site, but would not pull back out of the flower.  Then, I simply bent the wire around the chicken wire to fasten it to the frame.

… I repeated the steps with the next largest flowers…

And, again, with the greenery…

…And it was done!

Here is the finished product, hanging on our front door…

I love the simplicity, charm, and beauty it brings to our homestead.

Why not make one for your own front door?