Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DIY Mantlepiece #1

This post has very little (if anything) to do with the garden. Except for the fact that I often use my garden as my workshop — mainly because my wife doesn’t appreciate me mixing concrete inside the house — but that’s another story...

Let me start by explaining my problem. We finally decided to upgrade our TV from an old fashioned montrosity that was taking up a whole corner of our living room to a wall mounted 42 inch flat screen. The only suitable wall space available was directly above our fireplace.

I realised when we bought it at the end of last winter that this was going to be a problem next winter when we’d be wanting to use the fire again. I was worried that heat rising from the fire would damage the TV, so I started investigating ways of adding a mantlepiece to our existing hearth — something that would deflect the heat away from the TV.

To begin with, I looked into getting one made out of marble or something similar but the cost of doing so was going to be more than the TV itself (over $1000), which to me didn’t really make much sense. So I decided to build one myself out of concrete and then use tiles to match in with the existing hearth.

Our house was built in the 1950’s so the chance of matching the tiles perfectly was out of the question — I knew that. But it wasn’t just the colour and pattern at issue here but the size of the tiles which are an imperial size of 6 inches. Despite the challenge, I was amazed that I was actually able to find something pretty close at 150mm square which is about 3.5 mm smaller. The colour and pattern matched pretty closely too. To top it off I was able to get the 40 or so tiles I needed from a Tile Clearance Warehouse who stock all sorts of end-of-lines so they only cost me $10.

So I first set about finding some suitable timber planks which I had stored away under the house and which I used for building the boxing for the mantlepiece. I was careful to ensure the timber was straight with no bows or buckles in it and would be strong enough to remain straight under the weight of concrete which I estimated would be over 80 kilos.

I cut a piece of MDF to the shape and size of the end profile that I wanted and used that as the pattern around which I built the boxing.

Once the boxing was built I lined it with a bit of plastic, then tied together some reinforcing steel and set it in place ready for the concrete. You might also notice I added a couple of bits of timber moulding to create a channel where I planned to run the cabling for the TV.


Next, after making sure the boxing was level, I mixed up three 25kg bags of concrete and filled up the trough then smoothed the concrete over by eye getting it as flat and as even as I could, and working the slurry to the surface.

After the concrete had set, I removed the boxing and gave it a blast with the hose to remove any loose agregate. Then I got my mate Damian to give me a hand to carry it round to the front of the house where I would work on it further and get it ready for tiling.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Red Capsicums

I’ve grown Capsicums before but this year is the first time I got so many to turn red.

They’re not as big as I’ve grown in the past, probably because they haven’t had as much water. This is due to the drought we had this year. These were mostly hand watered and didn’t get watered every day consistently — sometimes I missed a day or 2, which probably explains why some of them got a big black spot on the bottom of them, a bit like under-watered tomatoes.

But I think having the drought helps to also explain why so many have turned red this year. I’m sure it’s part of the ripening process. These have received more daylight hours of sunshine than previous years (see my other post about Capsicums here). Plus the spot where I grew them (the one I call my Winter Garden) is still getting quite a lot of sunshine even into late April (which is mid Autumn in NZ).

Capsicums are fine to eat whether they’re green or red and are great in stir-fries or even raw in salads. I haven’t had any of mine turn yellow yet. Perhaps that’s a different variety.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Upgrading the Myoga Plot

Recently I noticed how the roots of my Myoga plants were beginning to take over in the bottom garden. I knew the roots were invasive and that this could happen over time. The fence palings I originally used to control their spread had finally rotted through.

I wasn’t terribly worried about this in the short term, because I had been planning to increase the size of the plot anyway and to get serious about cultivating them properly. So after the season had finished and the plant had entered it’s dormant phase I took the opportunity to extend the plot and to put a more robust frame around it.

So, using an old tanalised plank (300mm wide) which I pinned together with a few nails, I dug a trench and set it at the height I wanted it then backfilled it to hold it in place. When digging the trench I discovered quite a bit of the myoga roots which had spread beyond the original plot.

You can see why it could be a bit of a problem having this plant take over in the garden. Anyway, I pulled all the roots apart and simply spread it around inside the new enclosure and covered it up with soil. I’ll eventually get around to putting more pavers down to finish off the path, but knowing me, it could be a while before that happens.

Anyway, when it starts taking off again later in the year I’m going to try feeding it with some sulphate of potash to encourage more flowers to grow — and bigger ones too if possible – more like the ones they’re selling in Japan. That should be interesting as I’ve never done anything to encourage this plant except to water it in dry periods.