Monday, May 24, 2010

Frugal Home Decor: Add seating and color to your patio with a DIY recycled patio bench

We have pretty magnificent sunsets here. And there's nothing like relaxing on the porch and having a couple drinks in the evening. All we used to have for seating, though, were a couple of ugly plastic chairs, and those finally cracked and broke. So I set about gathering materials to build some deck furniture. I'm no expert carpenter, mind you, so I kept it simple for my first project: a wooden bench (cushions to come as soon as I can get by the fabric store). This is about the most simple bench you can build and it requires very few tools. It's a super quick, super easy, and super cheap, afternoon or weekend project.

All the materials used to build this bench were recycled, except the paint, and we got that on sale because it was already mixed. Even if you had to buy the wood, too, you'd spend less than $15.


4 2x4s, the desired length of your bench (we got these from a neighbor who had them left over)
hammer and nails
a hand saw or circular saw
1/2 quart of indoor/outdoor wood paint (if you have some leftover from another project, all the better)
a paintbrush
concrete cinderblocks or other support (leveled tree stumps, upside-down metal buckets, etc.)

  1. Take one of your 2x4s and cut from it 2 11" lengths. These are the pieces that will hold the your bench seat together. Scrap the rest of that plank and keep it for another project.

  2. Using an electric sander (unless you want really sore hands and arms), sand one side of the 3 long 2x4s until very smooth. Don't forget the edges and corners.

  3. Prop all 3 planks, smooth side down, atop your supports (or two sawhorses, etc.) and align them carefully. Place the two shorter pieces across them at either side, 5-6 inches from the edges, and mark around them with a pencil. If you have C clamps, you can skip the pencil marking and just clamp them together.

  4. Flip everything over, realign, and place one nail in the center of each long plank, aligned with the center of the short support pieces. (See image below.)

  5. Flip everything back over and hammer the sharp ends of the nails sideways so that they're flat against the wood.

  6. Paint! Follow the directions on the can as to how long to wait between coats; you'll probably want at least 2.
Et voila! Your new patio bench.

Tip: Use leftover paint to color other accent pieces on the porch or around the yard for a unified look. I used mine on some upcycled flower pots.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Decorating/Gardening on the Cheap: Pineapple Top into Interesting Houseplant

Looking for something to spice up your office or home interior? Add a little green (and sometimes pink) to your environment with a new, free houseplant. Pineapples make great houseplants; they don't attract bugs, they don't require much care, and they're incredibly easy to grow. Have a cat that chews on every plant or flower you bring into the house? No worries, the pointy, thick leaves of a pineapple plant won't interest them. And, if you treat your pineapple plant well, you may even be rewarded with a cute little (edible) baby pineapple.

Here how you do it:

Next time you buy a pineapple at your local grocery or farmer's market, make sure it has a nice green top. The leaves shouldn't pull out easily, and the bottom of the pineapple should smell strong and sweet. If your pineapple is still a bit green, no problem, just perch it upside down (to help it ripen evenly) in a windowsill when you get home and wait a few days for it to turn yellow. If it's just a tiny bit green, it's probably just fine to eat. An overripe pineapple is not a pretty, or tasty, thing.

When you're ready to eat it, use a towel or garden glove to grab the whole green top and twist is gently off. Don't pull, just twist. If you're lucky, your pineapple top will already have some rootage going on, like in the photo below, or at least a row or two of root nubs.

Then, cut off the little bit of fruit left on the stump with a knife and, starting with the lowest set of leaves (usually brown and dried), rip off the several bottommost rows of leaves until your pineapple plant will sit nicely in a jar of water with the stump immersed. Set your new plant and its jar in a window (it doesn't have to be very sunny) and wait. In a week or two, your new little friend should have enough roots to plant in a pot, or even directly in the ground.

Pineapple #1 after a few days in water on the windowsill.

Pineapple #2 after a few days in water on the windowsill.

If you live in a tropical or near-tropical locale, and you can plant your pineapple in the ground rather than in a pot—just be aware that these plants get extremely large when allowed to do so, and will take up a lot of space in your yard. They do, however, take kindly to being trimmed, but in my opinion they don't look as nice that way.

We eat a lot of fresh pineapple around here.

Once your little friend has established an inch or so of roots all around, he's ready to be planted. You can use potting soil, but mine did fine in just regular dirt. You can start with a little 6" pot, like I have and repot as it grows, or you can put it directly in a larger pot (20" or so ought to do it) so you won't have to move it.

Newly potted pineapple (along with newly potted orange and lime trees).

Pineapple plants like full sun to partial shade, warm weather, and moderate watering. Keep the soil moist, but don't overwater. If you live in an area that gets cool, bring your potted pineapple inside when it starts to get cold, way before any danger of frost. Pineapples are hardy, but they are tropical plants.

First pineapple in the ground, just planted.

First pineapple (front) still doing well, now accompanied by four others (along with some rosemary and wild chayote).

I now have one pineapple plant in a little pot and six lining the fence in my backyard. I have to choose wisely what I plant along this fence because there are often cows grazing on the other side of it. I'm fairly confident they won't want to chomp on sharp, slightly serrated pineapple leaves, and tiny, needle-like rosemary leaves, but the chayote I'm not sure about. But it just popped up there, so there's no point in pulling it out.

Pineapple plants take at least a year, usually two, to bear fruit, so be patient. In the meantime, your living space will benefit from your pretty new houseplant and some extra, freshly created oxygen.

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