Garden Crafts: Grapevine Baskets

I’ve been on a bit of a basket kick recently. I’ve been picking up all sorts of baskets from St. Vinney’s and Goodwill to organize our storage in the house. When my sister offered me some grapevines from her yard, I decided to try my hand at weaving a grapevine basket. It ended up a little wonky and a bit transparent, but I like the result. It reminds me of an egg basket and makes me think I should add a few chickens to the yard.

To make a grapevine basket, you are going to need a LOT of grapevines. This one took 6, 6′ long vines to form the base plus 15-20 shorter vines to weave the basket. As you can see, it is still pretty sparse and could use more (or thicker) vines to make it more solid.

  1. Choose 6, 6′ vines that are all straightish and of about the same thickness. These will be your base.
  2. Imagine a hashtag (#) made up of 3 lines on each side instead of 2. Weave the 6 base vines together to make this pattern at the center of the vines. When you are done, the hashtag pattern will be at the middle, and each vine will have just under half of its length sticking out on each side of the hashtag.
  3. Find a nice long vine and begin weaving it in a circle around the hashtag pattern. This is the start of your basket. When you are satisfied that the base of the basket is the side you want, you can begin creating the sides of the basket by pulling the weft vines upward as you to. I actually found that it helped to gather all of the weft vines together above the basket base and temporarily tie them together at the top. This made it easer to work the basket upwards.
  4. Continue weaving until you are content with the height of the sides. It is ok if the basket is a little uneven and open at this point. You can go back in later and add more vines to fill it in (or leave it open like I ended up doing).
  5. Once you’ve gotten to the top, weave or braid the remaining weft vines into a rim for the basket. If you want a handle,. you can bend both sides of one of the vines over to form a handle and wrap it with an additional vine.
  6. Turn the basket over and weave vines into the hashtag at the base to form the bottom of the basket.
  7. Use any additional vines you have to fill in the gaps.
  8. Remember that the vines have a mind of their own and will help choose the shape for you. Enjoy your new basket in whatever form it chose to take.

Garden Crafts: Bird Gourd Houses

Yet another garden project with found – or rather grown – materials.

This is, of course, a craft you will find at any local craft fair. They are birdhouses made of a special type of gourd called a “birdhouse gourd” I suspect that gourd #3 may be a different type of gourd that snuck in to my seed pack, but since they are open pollinated, it could very well have come from what the seed grower thought was 100% birdhouse gourd.

I’ve never purchased a gourd birdhouse from a craft fair, but wanted to try my hand at making them. It was not terribly hard (although I’m sure you’ll agree – mine are not ready for the craft fair circuit yet).

Last June, I planted several birdhouse gourd seeds next to giant sunflowers in my garden bed. As the vines grew, they climed the sunflowers. This was good for a gardener like myself who does not like to put in more work than she absolutely needs to – because the gourds were hanging, I never had to rotate them in the field to make sure that the did not end up with a flat side.

I left them up until the vines were completed dried in the fall and the first frosts were threatening. Then I moved them into my garage for the winter. Would it be too cold for them in the unheated garage? It can get down to -20F here. Things freeze. I wasn’t sure, but given that several sources warned that they would give off a terrible moldy smell as they cured, I decided to take my chances. I did have to save them from my husband, who tried to throw them away every time he found them. I can’t blame him. They did look strange and gross.

In the spring, I checked them. They were hard and dry. The seeds inside rattled when I shook them. They had a bit of mold and discoloration on the outside. Perfect!

Next I:

  1. Wiped them off with a bleach solution.
  2. Sanded the outside lightly.
  3. Drilled a 1″-1.25″ hole in each one.
  4. Removed as much of the seeds and dried innards as I could.
  5. Painted them with tempera paints I had on hand for painting Easter eggs.
  6. Hung them from branches in my yard with garden wire.

I did not seal them with poly. I meant to, but did not have any at home and in the spirit of using only materials on hand, I decided not to buy any. I suspect I will need to repaint them for next year, but since I enjoy painting and always have plenty of paint on hand, I’m ok with that.

I’ve also saved seeds for planting this year, so I won’t need to buy new seeds for next year. I took the seeds only from the 2 best gourds with the strudiest, most regular shells. Natural selection and all that.

Garden Projects: Bee House

When I made the new raised beds, I was left with a short (16″) segment of 4×4 left over. Not wanting it to go to waste, I decided to make a solitary bee house out of it. I’ve wanted one of these for a while, and this was my chance to have one for free out of only materials that would otherwise go to waste.

My new bee house, affixed to the side of the compost bin

A master craftsman I am not, but I don’t think the bees will mind, do you?

Here is how I made the house.

  1. Used a chop saw to angle one end of the 4×4 45 degrees.
  2. Found a scrap piece of 4″ wide board and cut one end at a 45 degree angle. This allows the roof and the back of the house to line up flush.
  3. Drilled holes in for the bees. Different types of solitary bees will use different sized holes ranging from 1/8″ to 1/2″. Holes 1/4″ and smaller can be made ~4″ deep. Holes over 1/4″ should be 6″ deep. Since my wood was only 4″ deep, I went with all 1/4″ holes, all approximately 4″ deep. By angling the holes upward slightly I was able to make them longer than I could have if they had been perpendicular to the ground and also ensure that when it rains the end of the tunnel stays dry for the bee.
  4. Screwed the roof onto the top of the house.
  5. Screwed the house into the side of the compost bin. You could really affix it to any sort of post or fence.

It isn’t perfect. I had some ripping when I drilled the holes. I’d like to try again and try to do better. Maybe some day soon I’ll find myself with another scrap of wood that looks like it would make a good hotel and will try again.

Garden Projects: Expanding the Raised Beds

Several years ago, my husband and two sons built 4 raised beds for me for my birthday. It was the absolute sweetest gift and I cherish the memories of spending a spring weekend out in the yard together on the project.

At some point, though, the guys decided they’d been too ambitious. Time was getting short. We were calculating the cost of filling these 2′ tall beds with garden soil (not a small expense!). We justified for ourselves that 2 tall beds and 2 short beds might give me more flexibility. That is what I ended up with and the extra lumber has been sitting next to the garage ever since.

Until this year. I had a few garden problems to contend with here:

  1. While the 4 beds were lovely, they never seem to be enough space for everything I need to grow.
  2. The area around the garden beds is really hard to mow. Really hard. The mower needs to go around not just 4 raised beds, but 3 trees and 2 birdfeeder poles. It is very slow going and may be one of the reasons my teenager balks at mowing the lawn, even when we offer to pay him twice as much an hour as he makes bussing tables at a local restaurant.
  3. I’ve spent the winter reading books on medicinal herbs and have no space in my current garden beds left to tuck them in.
  4. I had extra wood and garden edging burning a proverbial hole in my pocket.

So here’s what I’ve done:

  1. Created 2 garden beds from the leftover wood. Because of the existing trees, they could not be placed on a grid like the earlier beds. I tucked them in between the trees in a way that looked, to my eye at least, planned and pleasing.
  2. Used the leftover garden edging from an earlier project to encircle not just the garden beds, but also the trees, being careful to think about how the lawn mower will move around the edges and make it as easy as possible to get around this space when it is time to cut the grass.
  3. Planned out how to use the new garden space around the trees. The larger space will be a mix of medicinal herbs, carefully chosen to grow well under the trees and are safe to use in a home setting by someone who is not a trained herbalist. The smaller space will give me extra room for culinary herbs. While I have many tucked about in the flower gardens around the house (sage, thyme, oregano, chives, 3 types of mint, lemon balm, Vietnamese purple basil, etc.), I struggle to find room for basil, parsely, dill and cilantro, all of which we use heavily.

And here is what I still need to do:

  1. Collect a lot of cardboard to line the bottoms of all of the new gardens and smoother the grass. A lot. I will also be able to use paper bags from the grocery store, as we have a lot of these from during the pandemic when reusable bags were not allowed.
  2. Pick up pea gravel from the local hardware store to create the paths between the beds. The pea gravel keeps the paths nice and clean in our rainy summers and is actually quite nice to step on, even barefoot.
  3. Order a delivery of garden soil to fill the raised beds (2 cubic foot minimum, which should be just the right amount for 2 beds, and cedar mulch to fill the remaining garden space (5 cubic feet, becuase I can always find room for fresh mulch).

The entire project so far took me an afternoon. Moving the soil and mulch will take a bit longer – probably a full day with a wheelbarrow assuming I can’t rope the teenagers in to help. With any luck, though, the beds will last for years and mean that I will have fewer veggies on the did not grow;no space list this year.