A Bit of Green in a White World

Despite loving the freedom of a few gardening-free months, there is something to be said for having a little life in the house. A piece of green to brighten up a room. I have one small houseplant in my tiny house — a Christmas cactus my parents hauled out from California when they helped me move. It must still be in a bit of shock, because while usually by this time it’s overflowing with pink, so far this year there isn’t even a hint of bud or bloom. Still, the green is dark and glossy and quite nice atop the wide bookcase against the back wall of the room. The thing is, I want more.

There is an empty pot in the bathroom waiting for a Sansevieria, for starters. I just haven’t found the right plant yet. And then this morning, I saw this:

And I love it.

Now, living in ~ 300 square feet, I don’t exactly have room for a 28 gallon fish tank filled to the brim with skulls and horses and plants, but I could certainly find space at the edge of my desk for something smaller… say, something like one of these:

Here’s what I love about terraria:

– They’re easy to make from stuff you may already have lying around the house, or can find cheap at thrift stores or yard sales

– They can be big or small — whatever fits your space

– They are low maintenance because they are largely self-containted (especially good in water-poor areas like the desert)

– The sky’s the limit in terms of design — create a mini tropical rain forest, a sparse, cactus-inhabited desert, a green mossy hill, or a kitchen herb garden in jars; add marbles or dinosaurs or tiny farmers with shovels and hoes

A few things to keep in mind:

– Choose plants that won’t outgrow the container too quickly

– Keep them in a place where they won’t get direct light

– Water only as needed — there’s no hole in the bottom so excess water won’t drain out

– Remember, the bigger the container, the more plant variety and creativity there’s room for

Check out some of these simple DIY terrarium tutorials (no reason for me to reinvent the wheel when these folks did such a good job with theirs). And as for me… I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the perfect tank or jar and will post progress as I make it.

Fish Tank Terrarium

Apothecary Jar Terrarium

Lightbulb Terrarium


Build a Raised Gardening Bed

There are many reasons to build a raised bed for your vegetable garden. Inhospitable soil, a gardener’s special needs and digging pets are just a few. Recently my mother decided to build a raised vegetable bed against the back wall of her house, so we spent Mother’s Day doing just that. The bed she designed was 16 feet long by 27 inches long by 16 inches high.

We used:

  • Cement blocks (24)
  • Half blocks (4)
  • Cap stones (13)
  • Sand (10 – 60 lb. bags)
  • Rebar (30 – 24″ bars)
  • Concrete adhesive


  • Level
  • Rubber mallet
  • Sledge hammer
  • Stakes and string

Begin by deciding where you’d like to place your raised bed and how big you’d like it to be. Measure carefully then use those measurements to calculate how many blocks, half-blocks and cap-stones you will need. We used approximately 1 60 lb. bag of sand for every 3 blocks. Rebar should be at least 6″ longer than the height of your wall. The longer it is, the more sturdy it will be. Make sure there are no pipes or drains directly below where your wall will be so you don’t risk damaging them when you install the rebar.

Once you’ve done the math and picked up your supplies, you can get to work. First, clear away all weeds and debris. It also helps to loosen the soil approximately 6 inches below the surface. Once that’s done, level the bed — especially the area where you will be building your walls. The more level you can get it now, the quicker the wall building will go later.

If you are building your bed against a wall or fence, you will need to install some sort of water barrier to protect the structure from rot and/or pests (dirt against exposed wood is a termite’s dream). For easiest installation, use a water barrier with an adhesive on one side. It costs a little more, but the time savings and ease of installation are worth it.

If weeds are a problem in your garden-to-be, cover the bed with weed blocking fabric. Newspaper is another way to suppress weeds, but because it breaks down over time you may want to use something more permanent under the wall itself. If you are growing vegetables with deep root systems, leave the center of the bed free of weed block so the roots can pass freely. This is especially important for root vegetables.

Once the fabric is down, pour a layer of sand on top of it. This will make it easier to level the blocks as you install them. Install one block at a time working from one corner to another, leveling as you go. Tapping the blocks with a rubber mallet can help. For best results, tie a string between two stakes as a guide to keep the wall straight.

Fill holes in cement blocks with sand to help stabilize them. Insert rebar (rebar should be at least 6 inches longer than the height of your wall) into the outside corners of each hole along the side closest to where the dirt will be. This will help support the weight of the dirt and make sure the wall does get pushed outward over time.

Hammer rebar down into the blocks using a sledge or other heavy hammer. Note that the rebar may stop when it hits the weed cloth, but another hit or two should push it through. If that doesn’t work, you may have hit a rock. Reposition the rebar and try again. For maximum strength, make sure you always place the rebar along the side of the block that will be supporting the dirt.

Once the wall is complete, and the blocks are filled, wet the sand thoroughly. This will help the sand settle down into the blocks and stabilize the wall. When it dries, add cement cap-stones to the top the wall using a cement adhesive to keep them in place. Once the wall is complete, cement blocks can be painted or brushed with white-wash for a more professional (or more colorful) look.

Once your walls are finished, just add soil and plant. The number of blocks and quantity of other materials you’ll need will depend on the size and height of your bed and the materials you choose. Be sure to do the math ahead of time to avoid installation problems and multiple trips to the store.

Plant a Hanging Salad Basket

Here’s a quick, easy way to have fresh greens all summer long (or year-round if you live in a mild-winter area). All you need are a few simple, inexpensive items:

  • Hanging planter
  • Potting soil or soiless potting mix
  • Lettuce or mixed greens seeds
  • A shady location to hang your basket
  • Wire screen (optional)

I selected a plastic self-watering container because it needs to be watered less often than other hanging baskets, but just about any hanging container with good drainage will do. Once you select your container, just:

  • Add soil
  • Sprinkle the seeds on top
  • Water gently so the seeds don’t get washed away
  • Hang the basket in a lightly shaded spot — tree branches work great because they allow some sun to pass through their leaves while protecting the tender lettuce from the worst afternoon heat

If you have birds or squirrels in your area, you may want to cover the basket with wire screen to protect the seedlings from getting snapped up before they are big enough for your plate.

After that, just keep the soil evenly moist and you’re on your way to delicious gourmet greens at a fraction of their store-bought price. For best results and to keep the goodness coming:

  • Snip only a few leaves from each plant at a time
  • When a plant is done producing, pull it out and sprinkle in more seeds


Do-It-Yourself Gutter Garden

Looking for more space in a small garden? Consider this clever idea: Create a vertical garden using low-cost or salvaged rain gutters.

Suzanne Forsling of Juneau, Alaska attached gutters to the side of her house creating not only additional space, but a planting area that helped alleviate some of the problems associated with the difficult Alaska climate (cold ground, low light levels, etc.).

Of course because the gutters are relatively shallow, you’ll need to choose carefully what you’ll plant there. Salad greens are a great choice, but Suzanne also had good luck with radishes.

One Garden tip: If you don’t have a wall or fence available, consider mounting the gutters to free-standing posts. Add locking casters to create a movable living wall that can be used to divide your outdoor space into separate rooms.

Dig deeper:

Create a “Greenhouse” Window

Here is a great project from blogger Kelly Tirman. Originally built to hide an unsightly view, it’s also a perfect way to maximize sun exposure for indoor plants. Imagine each pot filled with a different herb, perched right above the kitchen sink. It would make cooking with the freshest ingredients a breeze.

Here are Kelly’s instructions.

Here is what you will need:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdriver
  • L brackets (four brackets for each shelf)
  • 1/4 inch thick glass cut to fix your window (one for each shelf)
  • Small potted plants and/or collectibles

Prep: Measure your window to determine the size of your shelves and how many shelves you would like in your window. Consult your local glass company for the pieces of glass (I use Theisen Glass).

Installation: Secure your L brackets in place with a screwdriver and place your pieces of glass on top. Once the shelves are in place add your potted plants and/or collectibles.

I love this idea, especially for apartment dwellers who want to maximize their planting space. One note, if you rent you may want to check your rental agreement or talk to your landlord to make sure you won’t be charged for removal when you move out.

For more great money-saving ideas visit KellyTirman.com.

Create a Self-Watering Container

One simple way to save  water, time and sometimes even your plants is with a self-watering container, but commercial versions can cost a ton of money. California gardener Ray Newstead has a solution for that: build your own.

Ray’s innovative EarthTainer(TM) design uses rubber storage bins, a plastic aquatic plant basket, and PVC pipe to create the perfect solution for growing great heirloom tomatoes, but could be used for other vegetables as well.

Visit EarthTainer.Tomatofest.com for complete instructions on how to create your own (he even has videos to help you along).

If you’re not in love with the way the bins out on your patio or in your garden, you can easily camoflage them with other plants.

Build Your Own Compost Bin

Compost is garden gold. You start with kitchen scraps and yard clippings, add time and a little turning, and you wind up with gorgeous, nutrient-rich stuff that will help your plants grow strong — all from things that might have otherwise wound up in our ever-growing landfills.

You don’t have to have a huge yard with multiple bins to compost in your own backyard or patio area. Using a few simple items you probably already have on hand, you can make your own compost bin with very little effort.

You’ll need:

  • 18 gallon plastic storage tub with lid (go for the more rubbery kind if you can, they are easier to work with)
  • Knife, drill or awl

You may also want:

  • A second lid (if you plan to keep it on a patio)
  • Decorative planter feet, bricks or small stones to elevate the bin slightly off the ground
  • Outdoor paint or colored duct tape to decorate the outside

How to:


1. Mark where you want the holes with a Sharpie marker–holes should be approximately 1/4″ across and 1 1/2 to 2″ apart


2. Punch, cut or drill  holes in the top and bottom of the storage bin; make sure the bottom holes are at the lowest part of the bin so it can drain easily

3. Decorate if desired

4. Place the bin in it’s new home–ideally somewhere easy to access, otherwise you are less likely to use it

5. Start composting!


A few other considerations:

  • If you have a big yard and a lot of scraps and clippings, consider using a larger tub or even a trash can (plastic or metal will work)
  • If you have a lot of wildlife in your neighborhood, consider getting a tub with a locking lid to keep the animals out
  • The juice created by the compost can be very acidic, do not place the bin directly on a patio as it could mar the finish
  • If you live in an apartment, be sure to check their rules about what you can and cannot have on a patio or balcony, some do not allow storage bins in public sight


Make Your Own Compost

Composting is a simple, inexpensive way to improve your soil, save water, and give your plants the nutrients they need to grow and produce.

What You Need

  • A place to compost–a compost bin or an unused area of your yard where you can build a pile
  • An assortment of compostable materials
  • Water

How To

  • Decide where you will compost–if you need a lot of space, you can create a simple, open pile in an unused area of your yard or build a wood and wire cage to contain it, if you have less space or live in an urban environment, an enclosed bin is probably your best bet (you can either purchase one or build your own)
  • Combine compost materials in your bin or pile, many people prefer to alternate layers of browns and greens—for best results use approximately 1/3 greens to 2/3 browns
  • Add just enough water to dampen the pile, you want it to be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge
  • Turn the pile by mixing the contents of your bin regularly for quicker composting

Compost Ingredients

  • Kitchen scraps including fruit and vegetable trimmings and peels, stale or moldy bread, eggshells (rinse first)
  • Coffee grounds and used tea bags
  • Fresh yard and grass clippings



  • Dead leaves
  • Dried grass clippings
  • Shredded newspaper (many use inks that may be toxic—use only those that print with soy-based inks, for example the San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Used paper towels
  • Vacuum cleaner bag contents

Do Not Compost

  • Meat or dairy products
  • Diseased plant materials
  • Weeds with seeds or viable roots
  • Pet waste

Learn what else you can compost at WebEcoist.com.

Problem: Slimy and smelly
Cause: Too much green material or too wet
Solution: Add more dry browns and mix well

Problem: Not breaking down
Cause: Too much brown material or not enough water
Solution: Check dampness of pile, add more greens and/or water and mix well

Problem: Inconsistent break down
Cause: Scraps are too big
Solution: Make sure all pieces are 2 inches or less in diameter, the smaller you chop your scraps and shred your paper, the quicker and more consistently your compost will break down

Problem: Pests
Cause: Exposed, rotting kitchen scraps
Solution: Bury scraps below a layer of browns; omit all meat, dairy and other fat-containing kitchen scraps

Problem: Seedlings
Cause: Seeds from fruit and vegetable scraps root in compost
Solution: Gently remove seedlings, plant in pots and see what grows

For more information visit: