Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spontaneous Construction 2012 Recap

What another great year at Spontaneous Construction (SponCon)- Home ReSource's signature event.  This is a day-long building contest using materials found at Home ReSource. SponCon has been dubbed a "celebration of creative re-invention."  It is a unique and wonderful event and many of us look forward to it every year.

Here is a link to our Facebook album with photos and captions from the day.
Same team- 2011 SponCon Project, a mobile garden cloche
Again this year, our garden coaching business Butterfly Properties had a team and like last year, we built something for the garden.  Team members retained our roles from last year:
me- field marshal, woodworker;
Barry Cummings- metal working specialist, fabrication wizard;
Marilyn Marler- custodial engineer and  field logistical support.
The team and the completed project- re-purposed garden tool garden table and chairs
If you have been following my blog, you will probably recognize the theme- repurposed garden tools.  I love them.  Old tools are special to us. Tools are pieces of art and represent years of embodied work & energy.

This project was part 4 in a 6 part series; it started with the trellisgate arbor, and there are a couple of projects still to come.
Here is what we started with- old tools and recycled cedar 2x4 fence rails.  Reusing these old tools & immortalizing them is a way to add interest to a landscape, and is a tribute to the service the tools have performed.
we are all business
The chairs are made from old grain scoops, manure forks & coal shovels (part of Missoula history since most houses burned coal at some point). Tool handles are welded to the seats, and the back spindles are made from tines of manure forks.

The chair top rails are steam bent white oak tool handles, and the stretchers (horizontal pieces connecting the legs) are tools handles, too. We created tenons on the spindles that we inserted into mortises in the legs for strength.
Checking the handles in the steam box

Bending a handle fresh out of the steam box
The table top is made from reused cedar 2 x 4 fence rails which were destined for the dumpster (they were cutoffs from other projects, & being less than 24” long, their use is limited). All the hardware (screws, carriage bolts, etc) in the project is reused. All of our scraps from this project (like unused tool handles or grain scoops) will be put to use for similar projects.
The potato fork garden table- designed to be inserted into the ground
It is incredible what people can make in 6 hours at SponCon.  There are some fantastic teams filled with skilled work workers  metal workers, an artists.
A bad start to the day- Barry plugs his 110v welder into a 250v outlet
The top 13 or so pieces (there were over 30 contestants), will be auctioned off at the Benefit auction on October 19 at the Double Tree in Missoula.  This auction raises money for the charitable and educational programs Home ReSource provides in the community.  It will be a great event and a chance to bid on these and other works of art (and function).
Another happy family enjoying SponCon!
This was the best SponCon event yet. It is growing and getting more professional and established in the community every year, and like anything of this sort it takes a lot of dedicated people. This year, volunteers like board treasurer Nicole Marshall and Marilyn Marler were co-chairs of the SponCon Planning Committee, and a lot of staff helped organize and implement SponCon. Thanks everyone!

Below is a time-lapse video we took of the event- the whole day in 1:54!.  Pay particular attention to Adapt Design + Build's team in the lower right hand side of the screen as the build a English phone booth inspired greenhouse!

I am already looking forward to SponCon in 2013! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A new project: buy nothing made in China for 1 year

This might not sound too much like a garden blog post, but it most certainly is.  Our garden- the landscaping and vegetables we grow is our attempt at living lightly.  The goal of trying to buy things more locally is an extension of that attempt.  There are many reasons for not buying things made in China, ranging from human rights concerns, to the distance the items have to travel, to supporting local businesses, and I'm not going to elaborate on them here- others have said it better.

This project of mine started a month or so ago when I needed to get a new angle grinder (a tool for the shop).  Normally, I try to buy tools used (for cost reasons, because many things have a longer life than people think, and also for the fun of it), but angle grinders are one tool that just wear out and are not a good investment used.  I started looking at the usual American brands: Milwaukee, DeWalt, Porter Cable, etc... and these were all made in China.  I kept looking, and I was surprised to eventually learn that THERE ARE NO ANGLE GRINDERS MADE IN THE USA ANYMORE!  So, I broadened my search and looked at Makita (a Japanese company)- their grinders are also made in China.  I eventually purchased a Metabo grinder (made in Germany).  Kind of shocking that was the best I was able to do!

So, I thought, I'd pay better attention to where everything I was buying was from, and for the next year, I will try to not buy anything new from China (not just tools for the shop, but anything).  I'd like to only buy stuff made in the USA, but from the grinder example, maybe that is not possible anymore.

I'll keep you posted how I do.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Repurposed Garden Tool Garden Arbor

This is Part Three of a Six- Part Series of Re-purposed Garden tool, Garden things.

To recap:
 Part 3: Garden Tool, Garden Arbor
I like hand tools, especially old ones.  Old ones, inherently, in order to survive, must have been well made (on the other hand, perhaps they were so lousy that they never got used, but that is another story).  Hand tools are pieces of art, and they all represent such value- since a lot of time, energy and toil probably went into using them.  To me, tools represent the greatest fusion of function and design.  
This arbor is the first part of a fence I am making, or have been threatening to make for a while now.  But I did just secure a fence permit, and I have six months to complete it- so the game is afoot.
One of the main functions of the soon to be garden fence and current garden arbor is to show intent with our front yard garden and provide a definition of space- a kind of formal one too, separating the green lawns on either side with our wild, and currently very dry, prairie.
Along with these design reasons, an arbor, and fence give me some more things to make.  I like building things.
I used as many pieces of tools as possible- including the handles for pegs.
On top of the arbor are two acorn finials I turned and these will be replicated on the fence posts.  Acorn finials are a common welcoming symbol used in gardens for centuries.
I bent the rake and hoes on the interior of the arbor to represent the universally recognized recycling symbol – in this case three tools mutually chasing each other in perpetuity.  Plus, it just looks cool, I think, and bending wood is fun.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hot and dry in the wildlife garden, and just the way I like it

It’s been a dry one this summer- throughout the west.  No surprise, I know everyone has been dealing with it and hearing about it.  In Missoula we received 0.04” of precipitation in August* (for those of you scoring at home, that is 1.0 mm).  Not a lot of moisture and that is the same amount as our home garden received, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Now is the time I think native plant garden shines- this is the reason we have selected locally appropriate species- a suite of plants designed to handle these situations- without any interference or assistance from us.  Make no mistake- it is dry, and we have received only a fraction of normal moisture this summer (normal for August* is 1.23”, and probably going down).  I never gave a thought to watering, and I’m not worried about the plants at all.
For a variety of reason, I’ve been digging some holes in the garden- to transplant some plants, dig post holes and remove some plants.  In each case I was amazed by how little soil moisture there is.  None.  Yet the plants survive, and even thrive.   Although many plants are dormant, even if prematurely for the year, not all are. The rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) is just starting to flower, and some of the fleabanes (Erigeron species), are re-flowering; a sign of reverse photoperiodism.
Early dormancy is a common strategy for dealing with the unusual hot and dry conditions.  It happens in the wild and in our garden- there is a nice harmony and symmetry with that.  It helps me feel connected to the natural world.  When I was elk hunting this weekend, the plants looked the same there as in my garden.  And actually, many in my garden looked a bit more lush.  In the woods right now even the serviceberry (Amalanchear alnifolia) have either lost their leaves or they have turned brown.  All, save the plants in the riparian areas that will stay lush and green through the fall.  We live in a water limited environment here. 

I don’t really understand why people plant native plants- wanting the benefits of water conservation, but then water them like conventional plants, or expect them to look like they do in June all year long.  That is not how it works, and not how these plants have adapted to our local ecosystems.  Trying to change this aesthetic just reminds me as a group native plant and wildlife gardeners have only come so far.  We need to accept the beauty in the natural world, and the values and aesthetics of something different than an emerald green lawn, and roses and annuals flowering in the end of August (when we have only received a millimeter of precipitation).
The garden is dry and beautiful and next spring it will be alive and well, and set up beautifully if we don’t have any more rain next summer.  And the insects, and birds will be back and there will probably be more of them to enjoy the garden again.

*weather data according to