Hummingbird Birthday

This year, my mother turned 88. Oh, and a couple months before the big day, she kindly mentioned that she would love something crocheted…and oh by the way, blue was her favorite color. Subtlety was never Mom’s strong suit.

So, what to do? I had been wanting to learn filet crochet for a while. An old-lady friend of mine (she’s 6 months younger than my mom and known in the Twitterverse as La Wrinkly Tres) has been doing filet crochet for years, although I didn’t know it. With a little guidance and inspiration from La Wrinkly Tres, and the great find of a book by Betty Barnden called Filet Crochet, I pressed on. Then there was this beautiful crochet thread by Isager that I found at Knit Purl on a trip to Portland, OR.

Things were starting to come together. It took several first tries to get the first row of mesh squares done correctly. To say that directions on a chart are scant is an understatement. You really have to know what you are doing to use them. The only directions on the chart I found (and yes, they are all like this) was:

This is 69 squares wide and 57 squares tall.
Chain 207, DC in 8th chain from hook.

What the charts don’t tell you is that you need to know whether you will make a small mesh, medium mesh (which seems to be the standard), or large mesh filet. That is what determines the number of chains to add after the designated chains for the image. Once I got that first row completed correctly, however, the rest of the work was a breeze. I say that coming from over 20 years as a cross-stitcher. If you are used to following a cross-stitch pattern, you can learn filet crochet in a heartbeat.

Here is the beautiful resulting picture after it has been blocked and just before shipping it out for Mom. She loved it, by the way.

Filet Crochet Hummingbird

Back By Popular Demand…

Building a Raised-Bed Vegetable Garden

(originally published January 2008)

Yes, we all know that we need to eat better. The problem, for me at least, lies with the availability of fresh produce. It isn’t just that I don’t want to eat lettuce that has been trucked into town from 1100 miles away (or shipped from overseas). The trouble at our house is consuming what we buy before it turns into quality compost material.

I want to be able to pick fresh produce out of my garden as I need it. If you have never tasted a carrot pulled straight from the ground moments before, you have never tasted a real carrot. Lettuce and herbs, heck anything really, that comes from your own garden is better for you and the environment. For one thing, you know how it grew and for another, you didn’t have to drive 5-20 miles to get it.

So, after coveting a home vegetable garden for 10 years, we finally put in a 10′ x 5′ raised bed over the 2007 holidays. It took exactly 3 days. Thursday to plan and prep. Friday to buy materials and haul them. Saturday to put in the garden.

After completing it, I couldn’t understand what took so long to decide to do it. I suppose I assumed it would be harder. So here you go. Step by step. See how easy it was.

Step 1: Plan it

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, as they say. The best way to burn out quickly is to start with too big a space to manage. You can always expand later if you like. We decided that 10′ x 5′ was a good size to start with. So, my friend Jackie (a Master Gardener) helped me get started.

We used our tape measure and some old bamboo sticks and kitchen twine to mark off the area. Make sure you pick a spot that gets full sun most of the day during the growing season. Once you’ve marked off the area, start removing sod or other plants. Be sure to dig down a couple of inches so you remove as many roots as possible. Jackie dug and cut and I removed and hauled off the sod. It took just two hours to complete this step.


We had a little assistant to supervise us and make sure we didn't miss any sod.

Once the sod was cut out (I used it to patch bald spots in other areas of the yard), we cleared the bed area of as many rocks and sticks as we could find.

Step 2: Get your materials in order

We determined what materials we would need to complete the bed.

  • 4×4 treated lumber (so called “yella wood”; see below)
  • top soil and compost (mix of 2:1, respectively)
  • 1/2″ diameter x 2′ long rebar to secure lumber
  • 2-1/2″ galvanized 8d box nails for toe nailing corners

Please note that the new “yella wood” or pressure treated lumber is environmentally friendly and can be used for vegetable gardens. It will last longer than untreated wood and resists rot like the old arsenate-treated lumber, but without the toxins. I had my local Depot cut six 10′ 4x4s and use three 12′ boards to cut six 4x4s measuring 5’8″ each. This allows you to butt the joints together without sacrificing any planting space–the interior of your bed is a true 10′ x 5′.

Bored already with all these measurements, Marlowe tries to figure out how the heck to get out of the wheelbarrow.

Step 3: Lay out and Secure the Boards

Our assistant ensures we didn't miss any sticks or rocks in the prep.

For the raised bed, we secured 3 4x4s stacked atop each other on all four sides. I used 6 1/2″ rebar of 2′ length to help secure the 4x4s. Two rebar for the long boards and one centered on the short boards. I used a 5/8 drill bit (borrowed from a neighbor–I only had a 1/2 bit and that made for too snug a fit) to drill the holes in the boards before setting them in place. Drilling the 18 holes only took about 1/2 an hour.

After the first layer of boards goes in, pound the rebar (through the holes in the first layer of boards) into the ground several inches to secure. We set all the end pieces in then realized that we should also toe nail the corners for added stability.

Here Tom pounds in one of the rebar before toe nailing the first layer. Fit the remaining boards onto the rebar through the pre-drilled holes. Toe nail each layer as you go.

Tom toe-nails the butt joints of the boards with each row we lay down using the 2-1/2″ galvanized 8d box nails I had left over from another project. Assembling the bed took about 2 hours total.

Step 4: Filling the Bed

Once the framing was complete, all that was left at this point was to finish pounding the rebar flush with the top of the boards and to fill the bed with dirt.

In our bed, we used a 2:1 combination of soil to compost. For this 10′ x 5′ bed, we purchased 40 bags of top soil and 20 bags of compost–roughly 2000 pounds of dirt!

To ease the job a bit, I worked in stages. In each stage, I filled a wheel barrow with one bag of top soil and 1/2 a bag of compost and mixed them before dumping the contents into the bed. That way, I could break up any big chunks of material before spreading it out.

Marlowe, of course, felt compelled to test the compost, pronouncing it "just right."

After about 2 hours with both of us mixing and filling the bed, we are almost done. Nearly ready to start planting, I rake over the bed to even it out.