Wandering Cherry Meadow

A 3 Acre Homestead Renovation Project

Month: July 2018

Hoop House: A $30 or less Greenhouse Made With PVC Pipe and Plastic for Your Melon Needs

Opened Hoop House Shortly After Planting

Growing Melons in a Short Season Cool Climate is Perfectly Reasonable

Back in January when my newborn was still completely immobile and required me for everything, I had a brilliant idea.  I should grow melons in the Pacific Northwest!  I was reading an article about the thousands of dollars, primo perfection melons selling in Japan, slightly dehydrated from constantly breastfeeding, and completely sleep deprived.  Naturally, melons came as a brilliant idea.  For those of you who don’t know, the Pacific Northwest has a fairly short growing season and incredibly mild climate.  What do melons need?  Heat.  Lots of heat.  Yeah, we don’t have that.  They also need a long time to get going.  Yup, don’t have that either.  Doesn’t matter.  Mama wanted fresh, locally grown melons.

My initial instinct was to convince my husband we needed to drop a few thousand dollars on a heated greenhouse, but I realized I could just buy the multi-thousand dollar Japanese melons for that price and had to figure out something more cost effective.

Cheaper Alternative to a Greenhouse

Enter the hoop house.  Or hot house.  Or cold frame.  Or miniature greenhouse.  I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m going to stick with hoop house.  This is a structure made entirely with PVC pipes, and if you’re feeling fancy like I was, rebar you “borrowed” permanently from your father’s shop.  The structure is fairly inexpensive to make, running roughly $30 in materials tops for a 12 foot bed if you don’t have any extra supplies running around, and it has increased the soil temperature during 60 degree weather by roughly 15 degrees.  This is the difference of being able to plant melons (or tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatos and yams, etc…) in March and worrying about frost to knowing everything will be fine.  Half of my plants outside the hoop house died due to unexpected early cold, where as everything inside stayed nice and toasty.

Green tomatoes, bell peppers, and melon blossoms in July (and weeds. Ignore the weeds.)

I used 5 ten foot PVC pipes for a 12 x 3.5 foot bed, spacing about 3 feet between each pipe.  I also used 10 ft x 100 ft 6 mil plastic sheeting from our local hardware store the first time, but when we ran out of plastic at my mothers we used 12ft x 50 ft 1.5 mil plastic instead since it was 1/5th the cost ($10 as opposed to $60 at the time of writing this).  Keeping in mind this plastic will not last forever due to the fact it is going to be exposed to the sun and PVC, the less expensive option isn’t a bad one.  You can also use an old garden hose to keep the plastic from touching the PVC if you’d like.  Next, you need two spring clamps per PVC pipe.

Construction is simple.  Put a rebar or just the pipe evenly spaced across the bed, carefully bend the pipe over the rebar (thicker pipe will survive the bending more easily – I used 3/4″ pipe, but my mom used 1.5″ pipe and inserted straight into the ground).  Pull plastic over the hoop house.  Cut to fit.  Clamp on using spring clamps.  It’s that easy.  You have a greenhouse in under 30 minutes, with the only part you need someone to watch the baby for being the hammering in the rebar part.

Total Materials:

5 ten foot 3/4″ or larger PVC pipes (1 for every 3 feet + 1 for the end)

12ft x 50 ft 1.5 mil plastic (at least 10 feet long, 12 preferred if you have bunny problems)

1″-2″ clamps , two per PVC pipe (10 total for me – $1 each at the hardware store, or half the cost at the link).

2 one foot rebar per PVC pipe (optional – but helpful if you have clay soil – if you have soft soil you can just push the PVC pipes in)

Melon Success?!

So far, I haven’t seen any melons yet, just little blossoms everywhere.  However, the melon plants haven’t died, which from farmers I’ve talked to in the area is on its own success so far.  However, one thing I did notice is my bell peppers, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, and tamatillos have all fruited much earlier than they typically do.  Last year I was just starting to get tomato fruit showing last September due to the cold, and with another cool spring, I already have tomatoes on the vine as of early July.  I’ve also had peppers for about a month now, which is absolutely lovely.  I’m still holding on to my melon dreams, but if nothing else I do intend to continue using the hoop house for extending my lettuce season / protecting it from bunnies and other pests during the winter.  I honestly didn’t have to weed this portion of my garden at all until about 2 weeks ago when I opened the side of the hoop house to let it breathe on hot 90 degree weather days.  That alone is a massive boon for those of us with little ones running around!  I will update after melon season is over and let you know if I’ve had any luck.

Additional Benefits of a Hoop House

More heat, less weeds, fewer pests, less watering needed.  So, the fact it makes everything warmer is an obvious, but you’ll notice that first picture has significantly fewer weeds in the garden bed than later when I opened up the hoop house full time.  In fact, I didn’t need to do any weeding until I started having the hoop house opened full time because nothing could get in.  I naturally had to open it up for fertilization later on so the bees could get in, but even in my area covered with bunnies, they have completely left my produce alone with just the sides of the hoop house open.  Additionally, since the hoop house, like a greenhouse, is naturally more humid, I didn’t need to water it as frequently during Seattle summer drought time.

Hoop House Downsides

There are two notable cons, however.  One, you either need to install a soaker hose, which I did, or remove the hoop house cover to have it watered.  This means paying attention to the weather forecast and taking it off when it’s going to rain or paying to water the plants.  However, due to the fact that the humidity made the watering requirements significantly less than the rest of my yard, I didn’t take this to be a massive draw back.

The second down side was that slugs love how humid it is inside.  Most of the plants I have aren’t something slugs love if they aren’t seedlings, but the bell pepper plant did not have a great time at the start.  They did end up killing one bell pepper seedling that I didn’t catch in time, but otherwise everything has thrived.

My mother’s hoop house with plastic removed for her tomatoes

A Case for Using Organic Fertilizer Instead of Using Homemade Compost

Side note, my mom used actual fertilizer instead of just mixing in the fecal matter from her animals, and her plants are huge.  Like, busting out of her hoop house so she had to take the roof off huge.  I’m curious about our yields, but for about $10 of liquid fertilizer she has plants much larger, bushier, and more well fed than mine.  I’ll have to do a follow up and look at my own ratios of goat/chicken poo being added to my soil.

 

Ways to Buy Cloth Diapers on the Cheap

So if you ended up here, you’re probably considering using cloth diapers.  Great!  You’ve also likely heard a lot of talk suggesting it’s too difficult, you won’t last a month without a laundry service, and so and so knows so and so who used cloth but didn’t stick with it, or back in the day everything smelled like poo for ten miles.  Most of that is misleading or myths, but one thing people don’t really mention is that the start-up cost is high.  For people who are looking at cloth diapers predominantly for the savings, this can be a bit daunting.

The start-up cost is too expensive for my family’s budget.  Period.

This is a legitimate problem.  Cloth diapering, unless you’re a crazy lady like me who wants all the pretties, is incredibly economical…over time.  But for a lot of people who would benefit from the economical advantages of it the most, the start-up cost is just too high to get started without setting aside a baby budget way before pregnancy is even in the horizon.  Fortunately, there are a number of great cloth diapering charities out there to address this exact issue, and if you don’t qualify for charity support, there are economical and budget-friendly ways to cloth diaper.

Cloth Diaper Charities for Families Enrolled in WIC

A few of these require you to pay the cost of shipping (~$40, about 2 boxes of disposable diapers) to participate and prove a need through WIC enrollment and pregnancy confirmation.  Some of these charities have a lot of paperwork required, and others, such as Grovia Gives, require very little.

Giving Diapers Giving Hope

Cotton Babies Love

The Rebecca Foundation

Grovia Gives

Cloth Diapering on a Budget Options

Buying cloth diapers new is almost always the most expensive option.  There are a few very rare exceptions to this rule, such as Lighthouse Kids Company  recently becoming incredibly popular which resulted in people selling diapers they just purchased for 2-3xs as much as they bought them for, or when a company has a seconds sale such as Softbums at the time of writing this where diapers are around half their normal cost.  Some retailers will have sales for up to 35% off, or if it’s the off-season for a season-specific print and they had extra they will go on discount fairly substantially.  Other prints that just aren’t popular can also be on sale cheap.  A great time of year to catch amazing cloth diaper sales in general is Earth Day, but regrettably the next one isn’t until April 22nd, 2019.  Of course, brands irregularly have sales throughout the year and will retire prints which makes them cheaper as well.

Second Quality Diaper Sales

Finding a seconds sale usually takes following a brand for a while and picking them up when they become available, but most brands have them.  First quality is the diapers companies sell new at whole price, and seconds quality is usually diapers with a flaw that doesn’t impact functionality and is generally cosmetic.  These diapers are also new, but had a flaw that caused quality control to pull them out.    A few seconds I’ve seen included a patch of mismatched thread, missed stitches, or an insert that wasn’t sewn together completely so one layer just flops around on the top.  I’ve also seen some seconds that I would argue the company had advertised the diapers incorrectly as fully functional including having the waterproof layer, PUL, on the outside of the diaper (short term it would work, but the external wear on the PUL would significantly shorten their lifespan) or elastics becoming disconnected from the diaper and not holding at all.  Definitely check with people who frequent the brand to figure out more what category the diapers tend to be.  Reputable companies won’t put the latter into their seconds sales because they don’t want customer complaints impacting the perception of their brand.

Gently Used Diapers

Remember those people your friends were telling you about who used cloth but didn’t stick with it?  Time for you to capitalize on the error of their ways!  These are people who may have gone through their diaper stash for a month tops, leaving some diapers in great shape.  Most diaper brands, not all, drop in value significantly as soon as they’re used as long as you aren’t looking to buy hard-to-find (HTF) diapers.  If you’re willing to buy a lot of diapers, where the owner is able to sell a number of their diapers at once, the deal is usually even better.

A few places to check if you’re on the hunt for gently used diapers are OfferUp, Craigslist, B(uy)/S(ell)/T(rade) groups including on Facebook and Baby Center, and Cloth Diaper Trader.  A quick search on Craigslist and a couple Facebook BSTs helped me find diapers selling for as little as 1/5th their retail cost depending on the brand and condition.  Certain brands retain their value significantly better than others.  Sometimes this is because the diapers are better quality, the fan following, or because they more frequently release limited edition prints that people find appealing but couldn’t necessarily buy.  If the PUL or TPU (waterproof layers depending on the brand) is torn or de-laminating at all, don’t purchase those diapers.  They won’t last long before they need to be replaced.  If the elastics are stretched, it depends on your level of craftiness for repair.  I personally failed the sewing portion of home economics in middle school, so I need those in good shape too, but they can be replaced for a reasonable price most of the time.  Unfortunately, none of these things can be verified online.

Your best bet for buying used diapers is to get someone to take very good photos, and typically the B/S/T groups for a specific brand or buying diapers in person are your best bet for accurate listings.  These groups tend to be sellers who also participate in the fan pages of the same retailers, so they tend to be more accurate in their listings due to potentially selling to their internet friends and a community they are involved in.  Similarly, people you meet in person tend to be more accurate because you will see the items before purchase, and you’re a member of their community.

Piling is another issue with used diapers.  Usually this is just cosmetic wear on the outside of shells, but it can also be from velcro losing its stickiness and no longer adhering to itself in the washing machine.  Velcro that falls off easy is a recipe for a poopy baby bum sliding all over your floor, much like a number of my nightmares when I was pregnant.

Please let me know if you have any other ways you have saved buying cloth diapers or any particular questions about buying used diapers!  If anyone knows of any additional diapering charities, please let me know and I will happily link them as well.

Temporary Goat Fencing Using Carabiners and Cattle Panels For Clearing Brush

So I have 3 dairy goats.  I didn’t even get a full season of milk from them, since about a month and a half after each of my goats kidded I was hit with a milk aversion only pregnancy could burden you with.  I smelled, saw, noticed, or went anywhere near a teat and anything I consumed that day would end up all over it.  Not a great set up.

Determined not to give in to my husband’s grumblings about goats being freeloaders we should sell, I instead decided to make use of some cattle panels I had originally intended to use for growing grapes and a few carabiners I found in my garage.  4 cattle panels at about $35 each and 12 carabiners at free each later, I had a temporary goat enclosure for shady days or around shaded areas that was fairly easy to move and set up.  Just because I couldn’t milk the goats didn’t mean they couldn’t be useful!  On top of their freeloading, they could destroy our arch nemesis – blackberry bushes.

Simple. but effective! Just clasp the cattle panels together with the carabiners! 4 foot fence is enough to keep my Nigerian Dwarfs in, but not enough for every goat.

Now, I have Nigerian Dwarf Goats, so they predominantly like eating the tender branches and low leaves, but with a little bit of manual labor knocking the branches down when the goats clear out what they can reach, they do a pretty good job of murdering everything.  In fact, if I remember (which I won’t), I’ll take a before and after shot of where I had them clear out last!  I was able to get them to clear out a huge bramble and all I had to do was leave a few logs they could climb on then mow over the remaining invaders.

Eat, my expensive bush goats, eaaaat!

 

My next project for this summer, pending how busy baby makes me, is to extend their actual run to include this logged area below.  I have all the materials, just not the time!  That will  be with actual fencing, though, using 4 foot no climb horse fencing (more economical for long spreads than the cattle panels from my local farm supply store), T-posts, and the hopes and dreams of goat lovers who want their husbands not to encourage them to sell their pretty girls.