Monday, April 2, 2012

Grow Boxes, DIY Mason Bee House, and Chickens... Oh My!

      I love Spring!  Last week was Spring Break and I was able to get a lot done.  Travis also got back and was able to help me move the dirt that I needed, so we're all set and ready for the growing season!

     "Life's a garden, dig it."  -Joe Dirt

     This year, instead of doing raised beds (we moved into a rental house and I really didn't want to mess up the great lawn that they had put in), I decided to go with a container garden.  I set up the Grow Boxes (the ones found at The Garden Patch) in March, but because Travis was gone and I'm pregnant, I waited to fill them with dirt until he was able to come home and help.  This past Friday, I filled up the boxes and got all the plants in. 

     I purchased the big bags of potting mix (2.5 cu feet each) and one bag will fill up 2 boxes.  You have to fill them as full as possible, saturate the potting mix, fill again (if needed), and then put your fertilizer pad/cover on top.

     This is how they turned out:

Close-up of the Grow Box.  (Additional fasteners added.  Explained below.)

     As far as the initial setup, it really wasn't hard at all. It took awhile because I did all ten at once, but the steps are clearly laid out in the directions. 

     Regarding plants and garden layout, I had drawn out a plan ahead of time before even setting it all up.  The instructions let you know how many plants you can fit per box, so I wrote down a list of what I wanted, figured where I wanted it to go, and then bought the plants I had planned on at the same time I picked up the dirt.

     I will say that one "con" of the Grow Box has got to be the spikes they give you to hold down the fertilizer pads.  They just will not cut it.  When you plant your plants, you have to cut into the pad to get the plant under its designated "number".  (Explained in the directions.  The numbers ensure proper spacing of your plants if you plant multiple ones in a box.)  If you use the spikes included... some of which were missing when I originally set up my Grow Boxes.... they just won't be enough and the fertilizer cover will curl up and just not stay in place.  To fix this, I purchased "fabric and garden staples" that you can find in the landscape fabric section of a home improvement store.  These "u-shaped" pins work great for tacking down the fertilizer cover.  No issues after that.

     It's only been a few days and I can already see that the plants have grown a bit.  They're going to be huge if they continue like this.

     Oh, speaking of "huge", my son brought home a "Mega Cabbage" from school.  Bonnie plants has a scholarship program for 3rd graders, that whomever grows the largest mega cabbage in the state will earn a $1,000 scholarship.  We're going to give it a shot. 

Here was the cabbage last Wednesday...

And here it was today....

     Somehow, I don't think the pot is going to be big enough.  Maybe a kiddie swimming pool?  Agh!

     Alright, so in addition to the Grow Boxes and the mega cabbage, I wanted to put in a Mason Bee house.  Some of you may have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder and how it is negatively affecting honey bees.  Honey bees play a huge role in pollinating plants and with colonies disappearing at a rapid rate, pollination has become a serious issue in certain places.  I read an article about Mason Bees and how they are resistant to CCD.  These bees are also non-aggressive and fantastic pollinators, which makes them even more desirable in a garden environment. 

     I did a few Google searches and finally decided on a design that I wanted to go with.  In the end, I came up with this...

     It was really easy to do once I had all the stuff.  Remember, there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal.  Some of the stuff that I used is interchangable with something similar.  (For example, I used a circular saw and a jigsaw.  However, a table saw would have worked as well.  I used a drill with a long spade bit.  If you have a drill press, you could possibly use that.  Beware, I will be jealous of your drill press.  *laughs*)  I am still new to the whole wood-working thing, so if you know of a better way to achieve the same result, by all means... go for it!  Then let me know so I can use the tidbits in future projects.  ;)

Supplies You'll Need 
1- 2" x 6" x 8' board cut into 1' sections.  (This was the smallest size board they had and I only used half of it.  You'll still have a 4' section left when you're finished.)
1 small piece of thin plywood
1" thick dowel cut to 6" long
Circular saw (table saw or miter saw works too.  I also used a jigsaw for the plywood, but the circular or table would work instead if you wanted to use those.)
Drill with long 3/8" spade bit (Mine was 16" long)
Various sized drill bits (that are close to your nail and screw sizes but a tad smaller) will also come in handy, but I always just eyeball it.
Wood glue
4 Super-short nails (about 1")
2 Short nails (about 1 1/2")
8 Super-short screws (about 1")
2 long screws (about 3")
Tape measure
Parchment Paper
Protective Wood Stain and brush to apply it with

Step 1- Cut your 2" x 6" x 8' board so you have four 1' sections.  You'll still have half of your board left over, set it aside.

Getting ready to cut.

Step 2- Mark your holes.  I marked mine 1" apart with my tape measure and a pencil.  Drill through your four 1' sections of 2" x 6" boards width wise using your long 3/8" spade bit.
Step 3- Sand down any really rough areas.  Then, line the boards up the way you want them to be, put wood glue in between the boards, clamp them and let them sit. Once the baords are dry, then you can coat them with wood finish.  (When I did it, I did it backwards and made it harder than it had to be.  Instead, I finished certain areas of the boards, THEN glued them.  It still came out okay, but it would have been easier to finish them AFTER they had been glued.)  Don't worry if the tops are a little "off".  The roof will cover that up.  Just make sure that when you clamp them, the sides and bottoms are nicely lined up or it'll be wonky.

Step 4-  Nail wooden dowel onto the top, about 1/2" forward from the back edge.  Use the two short ( about 1 1/2") nails.  If you want to make it easier, drill a small hole through where you want the nails to be.  It'll make it easier to nail them in and help you keep your sanity.  Now, you can also line your holes with parchment paper.  Cut the parchment pieces so they stick out about 1" on the back side of the bee box.  My parchment papers were about 7" long (not exact... guesstimating works) and about 3" wide.  Roll the papers length-wise around a pencil and push the pencil into the hole.  Tapping the edges of the paper tube roll helps it to expand and the pencil will come out more easily.

Dowel and parchment paper in place

Side view of paper sticking out the back but flush in the front.

Step 5-  Cut a 7" x 15" piece of plywood for the back and a 7" x 8" piece for the sloping roof.  Fold the 1" long "tail" pieces of parchment paper down (make sure they're pointing down so any rain or debris that may sneak in any cracks or crevices will flow down and away), and then secure the back to the main bee box part by running 4 super short screws along the bottom (one into each board for added stability) a little off of the edge.  Then, run 4 more super short screws through the back along the top into each board.

Click to view larger.  (I'm sorry my "Paint" skills are atrocious.)

Step 6- In the last step, you will use your 4 super short nails to nail the roof to the top.  Two of the nails should be just behind the face of the box, and the other two should go into the dowel.  Use your two long screws to put it up on a fence or pole and you're done!

     Lastly in this post, my family and I headed over to Tractor Supply and came home with these little cuties.  (The chicks, not the kids.  As far as I know, Tractor Supply does not keep children in stock.)  :)

     I'm glad I got to practice on the Mason Bee house before I take on a chicken coop.  *whistles*  That's going to be an interesting one.  I'll let you guys know how it works out. 

    Oh, the chickens' names are Perry (after Perry the Platypus), Eva (from Wall-E), Ballerina (that's Scarlett's chicken), Wanda (Travis' choice), Bertha and Kiev (my two picks).  Fresh eggs in the future!  Yum.


  1. You are too awesome! I admire you greatly for all you do. I did a lot more in my younger years but have slowed down some now. I am planting seeds and transplanting some flowers that came up in an unwanted spot. I want chickens, too! Love the names!

    1. Thank you so much! It's great to have a bunch of nice plants growing. Super rewarding and brings a lot of neat critters into the yard. I'm sure the bees would appreciate all the nice flowers you're growing. You may see Mason Bees before I do! :-D

  2. I'm so jealous of your yard!!! I finally got a 10' x 10' plot in a community garden so I can grow something this summer. I'd LOVE to have chickens, too! My neighbor has six though and we go to say high just about every day :)