Brr! It’s Cowd.

Plant sprout in snow

[My poor little garlic shoots are snowed under, except for this one hardy fellow.]

Our birds and plants have absolutely no idea what’s going on. In early January, we were bathed in 70 degree temperatures and covered by clear, sunny skies: a warm blanket of Solar Love. Late February has been a whirling dervish of ice, wind, and gray: an iron maiden of Frigid Hate. I’m ready for Spring.

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Project: Large Wooden Planter for Green Onions

In my last post, I mentioned that while Heather was waiting for surgery over the late spring, I built her some planters and did a lot of gardening work so that she would have a nice place to rest and recover outside. I think those planters deserve a little more elaboration.  They were very simple and fairly inexpensive to build, since I made them out of 2×4’s and Western Cedar. There are a few things I would do differently now that I’ve made them, but it’s the kind of stuff I can add in later as a retrofit.
 
The basic idea was to make a simple but interesting planter to place on our driveway. We have a large concrete driveway that’s covered in potted plants. Our soil here at the house is almost solid clay and just doesn’t play well with a lot of vegetables. I wanted to make a large raised planter so that it would provide some screening that Heather could sit behind while also providing enough depth for the green onions to grow happily in.

This is the basic design I came up with.


Overview

The planter is made from just a few basic components.

  • The legs.
  • The top and bottom rails of the planter.
  • The vertical slats.
  • The bottom slats.
  • The decorative top moulding (OPTIONAL).

Part 1: Legs

The legs are made from 4×4 lumber stock. Use non pressure treated wood, since you’ll be growing things in this planter. If it’s just going to be used for decorative plants, then go ahead and get PT lumber since it will withstand rot more effectively. In my case, I used scraps of 2×4 lumber and secured them together using glue and screws. Either way works just fine. Cut four legs to size.
 

Part 2: Rails

The rails are made from 2×4 non pressure treated lumber. Get the straightest you can find, but if they’re a little cupped it’s not the end of the world. This planter is big enough and heavy enough that it’s pretty forgiving of minor imperfections in the wood, and since it’s an outdoor functional landscape piece, I didn’t worry too much about knots or nicks.
 
You will need 8 rails in total: 4 short ones for the sides and 4 long ones for the front and rear. My long rails were 48″ and my short ones were 18″.
 
Once you have the rails cut, you need to put a dado down the middle of it to accept the side slats. I used a 3/4″ straight cutting bit on my router table and cut the dado 1/2″ deep. If you have a dado blade on your table saw, that would be easier to use for this step.
 
I then took a cove bit and carved out a simple cove on the outside face of the rail. For the bottom rails, I coved the upper face. For the upper rails, I coved the lower face. This made the rails frame the slats nicely. This is a purely decorative step and can be skipped.
 
Once all the rails are cut, you can install the lower rails onto the legs. Don’t install the upper ones just yet. I secured my rails using 2 1/2″ pocket screws from below, but you can fasten them any way you would like. Using long lag screws would definitely be more secure, as would mortise and tenon joints, but I’m cheap and I’m not good enough with MT joinery yet to pull it off. Next time, I would do a MT joint, but 2 x 2 1/2″ pocket screws in each side of each rail is holding the planter very well so far. I expect those to begin to fail after 2 or 3 years however, due to rot of the wood from the moisture. A tenon joint would last a lot longer in these conditions.
 
With your lower rails installed to the legs, the carcass of your planter now looks like this:
 
Believe it or not, you’re already about half way done! Now it’s time for….

Part 3: Slats

You’re going to need a lot of slats, and this is the biggest expense for the project. You can cut this cost in half if you want to get standard 3/4″ stock and resaw it in half. I wanted to but I’m still working on tuning my band saw well enough to be a reliable resawing machine, so I just went for full thickness. Since this planter isn’t very tall, a 3/8″ thick slat will provide more than enough lateral strength to hold back the soil. If you do want to resaw your slats, make sure your dado in the rails is 3/8″ rather than 3/4″!
 
The bottom slats are made of western red cedar in order to better resist rot. I made mine 20 3/4″ x 3 1/2″.  I definitely do NOT recommend resawing these down as they will be bearing the full weight of the wet soil above them. In the case of my planter, that’s about 400 lbs.
 
You will need 2 slats with notches cut out of them to fit around the legs, and then 12 more without notches. I placed them with a 3/8″ gap between them for drainage.
 
Now you’re going to need slats for the side. There will be a total of 44 side slats, measuring 19″ x 3″ for this planter. The real one I built is a bit taller- the slats are 23 7/8″ tall each, since I could then get 4 exactly from each 8″ cedar board. In practice, I’ve found that makes my planter a little taller than I like when the plants are fully grown, since I do a lot of hand watering from rain barrels with a watering can, and I then have to lift and hold the can up at mid chest level for long periods. With 19 inch slats, you’ll get 5 slats out of each 8′ cedar board (or 10 if you resaw it). Adjust the measurements to come up with a height you like, but don’t forget to account for the height of the plants that will go into the planter!
 
Once you’ve cut the side slats, you can drop them into the bottom dadoes and place the lower bottom slats into position.
Then install the top rails the same way you installed the bottom rails.
 
At this point, your planter can accept soil and plants. I decided to make a decorative moulding for the top to spruce it up a little bit, and to provide more room to set smaller planters on it.

Part 4: Moulding/Trim

The final components are two pieces of moulding. I chose a compound moulding because I love the way cove and roundover looks, and I have the right sized bits already. You can choose any moulding you’d like, or you can omit this step entirely- it’s purely decorative.
 
The first (lower) piece of moulding is a simple cove moulding. We’ll be putting a roundover on top of that to create a classic compound profile.
 
These are the dimensions of the lower cove moulding.
… and these are the dimensions of the upper roundover moulding.
Cut out your pieces and miter them to fit as you’d like. This step is really open to modification- try using thinner stock to create steps on the inside of your planter for a cool shadow effect.
 
Secure the cove moulding with screws down through it into the legs.
 
Secure the roundover moulding with some longer screws from below.  Be prepared for this wood to swell a lot so your edges may not line up well over time. I went with a simple butt joint with a roundover on the first version of this planter for this reason, and it’s held up pretty well.  As always, tailor the design to your own aesthetics and desires.
 

Conclusion

Here’s the planter right after I built it and filled it with soil and transplanted a few onions into it.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to build a big planter with lots of room in it for tightly growing vertical plants like green onions, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. This planter cost me less than $100 to build in total.
  • 5 2″x4″x8′. 2 for the 4 legs (or 1 4×4) and 3 to make the rails.
  • 13 1″x4″x8′ western red cedar boards. 9 for the side slats and 4 for the bottom slats.
  • Fasteners of your choosing (I used pocket screws since I’ve been playing a lot with a Kreg Joiner lately.)
  • Trim for the top. This will vary depending on what you want to build. A simple, single-layer trim with butt joints will take 2 or 3 more cedar boards.
 
And here’s the same planter a few weeks later after the first crop of onions began to grow. The 2nd is just barely visible as seedlings between the big guys.
Have you made a simple planter for your home or garden?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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How to Find Out What You’re Made Of

MIA

I’ve been pretty much completely missing in action from the internet this year. I haven’t made a post on this blog in a very long time. I haven’t made a blog entry at www.myfitnesspal.com in something like 8 months either. I haven’t been tweeting, or plussing, or pinning, or even sharing much on Facebook.  I’ve never been a particularly active person in terms of writing content for others or sharing existing content across the internet, but to stop everything online for the better part of 8 months is unusual, even for me. So what was going on?
 
I was discovering what I was made of.

Some Context

Frank Herbert’s seminal work Dune had a profound impact on me when I read it at the tender age of 14. While I didn’t appreciate the full scope of the book’s (and later books’) meaning until adulthood, the book was key in shaping me into the person I am today. Early in the book, young Paul Atreides is being tested by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. His hand is placed in a pain-inducing box, and he will be killed if he removes it. He feels pain beyond anything imaginable; as though his hand is being burned off completely. He passes the test and is shocked to find his hand intact afterwards. “The pain,” he says, and is cut off by the woman who tested him. “A human can override any nerve in the body,” she tells him. Her lesson is that humans can elect what to feel and are not slaves to their biochemistry and instinct the same way animals are.
 
That lesson resonated strongly with me, and it’s something that I came to appreciate the truth of more than ever over the last 7 months.
 
Heather (aka H4rpy on myfitnesspal) and I have been changing our lives over the past two years. Her write-up of the past few months spells the tale out far better than I could. Do yourself a favor and read it (and marvel at the strength and courage of this incredible woman), then pick this post back up.
 
 
I’ll attempt to summarize, but she really tells it better than I ever could.
 
If you didn’t read Heather’s write-up, you should. If you don’t want to, here’s my version. Hers is better.

Trial By Fire

 Heather has been infertile her entire life. This isn’t an especially big deal for us as children have never really been something we felt we needed in our life together. Over the last couple of years, she’s changed her lifestyle (and I’ve changed mine at the same time) for the better. We both eat properly, exercise frequently, and have lost significant amounts of weight.
 
This January, I told Heather about my intention to ride in the Dehydrator, a bike ride with various ride lengths that’s hosted here in Duncan, OK every July. I wanted to ride at least the 25 mile course, but was hoping to do the 50 miler. I was surprised that Heather expressed interest in doing the ride with me as well. We decided the 25 mile course would be a good goal for us, since she doesn’t have as much riding time as I do and would need more conditioning to get ready.
 
In February, she noticed a big lump in her abdomen. Heather has always had a number of small uterine fibroid tumors so small lumps were nothing out of the ordinary. This wasn’t small, and more concerning, it moved from day to day; sometimes up to 12 inches. One morning it would be down near the top of her pelvis, then next morning, 3 inches above her belly button. We knew something new was wrong, so we scheduled an appointment as soon as possible, which was about a month away.
 
As the days turned into weeks, Heather’s condition began to deteriorate. She was in a significant amount of pain and was rapidly losing endurance. She had to stop going to the gym in late February. She couldn’t go to the store on her own in early March. By early April, she could barely work anymore because she couldn’t sit up long enough to accomplish anything meaningful at the computer.
 
We went to the appointment and were referred to another doctor, who saw us a week or two later. Heather had to undergo a battery of tests, including a CT scan. I looked over her CT scan when we got home since it was going to take a day or two to get all the results, and I immediately saw the cause of the problem. I have no medical training, but I do have a pretty solid understanding of basic human anatomy. None of her organs were in the right place. Where her spleen, stomach, intestines, and reproductive system should have been was a solid mass of grey matter. On a CT scan, that means solid tissue.  Heather had something in her somewhere between the size of a large bowling ball and a small tire. I could even see where one of the lobes of it was pressing on her spine in the exact place she had herniated one of her discs a couple of years before. The conclusion seemed obvious to me- immediate hysterectomy.
 
When we saw the doctor, everything she said backed up what we’d seen. Heather had to have a hysterectomy as soon as possible. The largest fibroid was 26 centimeters in diameter. It had numerous brothers and sisters nearly as large.
 
Heather underwent the next set of examinations and tests to rule out any complications before surgery- tests for cancer, infection, etc. The day after those tests, I was on an unscheduled trip out of town for work for the day (my job often carries me around to various parts of the state) when she got a panicked phone call from the doctor.
 
She was pregnant.

She was totally infertile, but she was pregnant. There are any number of possible reasons, but we both feel pretty strongly that her new, healthy lifestyle was the catalyst. The cause doesn’t matter. She was pregnant.

She drove to the hospital (I can’t put into words how I hate myself for not being there to take her) and I left the work site immediately to meet her there. The ultrasound confirmed that she was indeed pregnant, and also that she was hopelessly riddled with fibroids, all of which were growing in overdrive due to the increased blood and nutrient supply that were supposed to be nurturing our unexpected child.
 
Unfortunately, she was also bleeding.

Trial By Thermonuclear Fire

She started on the way to the hospital and it got worse each hour. The pain mounted until she could only sit with a glazed expression on her face, fighting to hold herself together. Heather and our child fought for life, but there was never any hope of going full term. A bit over a week later, our family of three was two again.
 
We were, of course, crushed. I can’t really express the feeling. I don’t think anyone can. I think trying to would fail to do it justice, so I won’t.
 
This is where Dune comes in. I wanted to scream and rage and kick and yell about the unjustness of it all. I wanted Heather to stop hurting, to be able to smile more, to be able to cry less. I knew that what I wanted didn’t enter into the equation, and that screaming, raging, kicking, yelling, and crying would do precisely nothing to make her feel better. My focus became laser pointed: I would do anything and everything I could to make it easier for her to endure what she was going through. Doing so would help me to keep the stress and grief at bay.
 
This was when I began to feel the strain. Work had been insanely busy for the first four months of the year and wasn’t winding down. The financial strain of making sure we were going to be okay with all of the medical expenses was daunting. The stress of watching and fearing for Heather was beginning to wear me down. One night I was thinking about all that had happened so far, and I remembered that section of Dune. I thought about the fact that there was a deeper lesson to be learned.
 
Animals react to what they are given, or to what is done to them. A true Human doesn’t choose to disregard their reaction. They choose how to react to what has happened.

I decided that I was going to see for myself what I was made of.

The Power of Choice

I had been doing most of the house duties already, but I endeavored to be more diligent with them. I tried to find things that needed doing so that I could do them before she asked. If she didn’t have to ask, she didn’t have to worry about it.  I spent every free moment on the weekends tearing apart our flower beds and building huge new raised beds and containers for her, then planted a multi-level flower display and a small but robust vegetable garden for her. It felt good to nurture things, and I’m sure it was a subconscious need on both our parts to watch something grow under our care, if only to reassure ourselves that we would have been good parents to our little bundle.
 
Her surgery was finally scheduled in mid-May, and it went off without a hitch. She followed her doctor’s orders to the letter, walked when she was supposed to, and we got to leave the hospital after only two days.
 
Heather spent the following weeks at home with me. I finally got to take off work for a bit to help her recover, so we both got to rest a little. We sat in her new garden, which had just started to bloom. We ate fresh tomatoes and green onions from the vegetable beds. We watched the birds raise their young and teach them to use the feeders we set up. I biked, and I spent time in the work shop, building and tinkering. Our love for one another, always strong, somehow grew stronger still.
 
Heather’s six week post-operative appointment came and went in June with flying colors. The doctor pronounced her fully recovered, and gave her the official blessing to carefully begin working out again. I knew our chances of riding together in the Dehydrator were slim to none. We had a month to go and she hadn’t ridden a bike in well over half a year. I hadn’t ridden more than ten miles at a time in five months.
 
The day after her release, we went to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, hiked up a hill with our bikes, and rode around one of the scenic loops of the park. Heather did this with a twelve-inch incision in her belly that was barely healed. She spoke cautiously of wanting to do the Dehydrator, even if only the 10 mile.
 
I bought her a new bike for her birthday a bit early, and we did a few training rides to see if it was possible.
 
On the 26th of July, Heather and I completed the 2014 Dehydrator. She was 11 weeks out of surgery. It had been a bit under four months since we found out she was pregnant, and then found out that she wasn’t pregnant.
 
So I got to spend the last six months or so finding out what I’m made of.

The Power of Fusion (Or When Two Become One)

 Heather tells me often how glad she is for my strength. She’s glad that I was there to do all the small things around the house. She’s glad I built a garden for her. She’s glad I pushed her to ride. She’s glad I went to every appointment with her. She’s glad I stayed in the hospital with her. She’s glad I stayed up all night to make sure she slept. She’s glad I cooked her what she wanted and took her out to eat when she wanted. She’s glad I was there, waiting on her hand and foot, watching and hovering like an overprotective mother hen.
 
She says these things as though they were hard for me. Not doing them would have been far harder. It would have been far harder to let her endure in silence, to know she was crying alone at night without an arm around her.
 
I found out what I’m made of.
 
I’m made silver and glass. The strength that Heather says she’s so proud of me for showing is just a reflection of the strength she’s shown me every single day of our life together.
 
 
To all of you who helped us through our tests this year, whether you knew you were helping us or not: thank you.
 
We love you.
 
–B
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