Grow and Make Do It Yourself Blog

Crafting Kits for Every Occassion

  • How to harden off seedlings

    By Nancy Hulse |

    You’ve chosen the right planting time, planted your seeds indoors and nurtured your tiny seedlings into sturdy healthy plants. The final step is hardening off: successfully introducing your plants to the outdoors.


    Plants have very different requirements in the conditions they need to thrive, and this will help you to determine when to begin to harden them off. If they are hardy cold-season plants, like asparagus, broccoli, lettuce or spinach, you can begin to harden them off a couple of weeks before the date of last frost (just remember to bring them in if frost actually threatens). Other plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons and annual herbs like basil require a warmer soil temperature to thrive. Setting these out before conditions are optimal will not gain you a jump start on your garden; rather, it will stress the plant and result in slower growth and decreased resistance to disease.


    To prepare your seedlings for the real world, you can begin while the seedlings are still indoors. You’ve provided a stable environment where your seedlings are protected from the three main stresses they’ll encounter after they are transplanted: wind, drought and direct sun. Now you can begin to gently introduce some of these elements.

    As the plants grow and produce leaves, find a way to move the air around them. A small electric fan stirring the air will do nicely, or even fanning the seedlings with a piece of stiff paper a couple of times a day. In the interest of providing information that you no doubt will be able to work into your gardening conversation at some point, the name for this process is thigmomorphogenesis (from a Latin word meaning touch, morph to shape or form, and genesis to bring something about).

    When you begin to move the air around the plants, you add the benefit of increased evaporation from the leaves of the plant. As a reaction to increased water loss the plant begins to grow a thicker cuticle. So now you’ve begun to condition your plant for the second stressor: drought.

    A couple of weeks out from your planned transplant date, reduce the amount of water the seedlings get. Let the soil become a bit dry-looking between watering. You’ll know you've gone too far if the plants wilt a bit. If so, water them right away, and try not to let things go so far in the future. The reduction in water has an effect similar to that of the moving air; the plant responds to drying by toughening the cuticle to retard water loss.



    At least a week out from transplant time, start exposing the plants to the great outdoors. The first exposure should be numbered in hours. Put them out in a shady, protected place for a few hours (say, mid-morning to early afternoon). If the day is breezy, avoid putting them in the direct path of the wind.

    If you have just a few plants, you might not mind schlepping them in and out each day. However, if you’ve started several trays of plants, or you are in a cold area, you may want to have a shaded cold frame available. Unless you are really pushing the season, or have very cold-tender plants, a cold frame will give your plants enough protection to allow you to leave your plants in place after the first couple of days.

    There are many ways to construct a DIY cold frame. A straw bale can also make a great cold frame: Four straw bales placed in a rectangle will leave a space in the center for several trays of plants. Place a recycled window or plastic over the top. As the straw decomposes, you’ll even get additional heat for your plants. But be sure you’ve put your bales in a place were they can stay for the season, and don't attempt to move them after they soak up a couple of days worth of rain.

    You might also want to consider a manufactured cold frame. It’s useful to have screened vents and doors so that you can control the temperature and humidity. Remember that whatever method you use, keep the seedlings protected from too much sun.

    After a couple of days of short exposure, unless there’s a danger of frost, you should be able to leave the seedlings out for the day, as long as they're still in the shade. Each day, nudge them closer to a spot that gets full sun, or uncover more of the cold frame. Assuming the weather remains stable, by the end of the week you should be able to leave those seedlings fully exposed to the elements, day and night. Water as needed, of course.

    If the plants aren't showing any signs of distress, and the weather is looking good, the seedlings are pretty much ready to go after a week and a half to two weeks of hardening-off. These times are, of course, generalizations. In regions with really cold climates, a longer and more gradual buildup to total exposure is a good idea. Be prepared to bring the plants back indoors any night the weather is likely to be too cool for the plants, and you should have hot caps and such ready to use at a moment's notice after the transplants are in the garden.

    Follow through on the hardening-off by transplanting on a calm, cloudy day, or by shading the transplants if sunny weather prevails. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather: Have shade ready for unusual heat, and row covers for that late spring cold snap. Watch the transplants for signs of stress, and don't be too quick to douse them with fertilizer. Let them settle in a few days before giving them anything stronger than a compost tea.

    Let us know how hardening off your seedlings goes! Share your pics and tips on our discussion forums.

  • Grey Water Guide


    By Will Johnston |

    Due to global warming and irresponsible land and water management, many urban areas are seeing a rapid decrease in available water. Places like California are starting to impose water regulations to curtail the drought. There are many ways to reduce your water consumption, but harvesting grey water is a relatively easy way to safely reuse waste water from your home and lessen  your environmental impact.

    By reusing the water from baths, dishes and laundry you can water your yard and garden. Typically grey water accounts for half of typical residential water use, so every family that can reuse grey water can make a difference in the emerging water resource crisis. Reuse of grey water also eliminates the costs to process the water at a sewage treatment plant and from ultimately ending up in rivers, streams and the ocean as highly treated water from the local processing plant.

    Before you get started, check with your local water company or city regarding the regulations and requirements for grey water use in a residential location.

    There are a few approaches to using grey water based on your water usage and how much you can budget toward a grey water solution. The first is to quickly, easily and inexpensively connect a hose to your washing machine and have the cycle water run-off into your yard or into a bladder for temporary storage (not to exceed 24 hours). The next approach is to consider having a splitter installed in your plumbing from your sinks drain. This would allow you to switch the water from your faucet and dishwasher to drain to the outside via a hose or pipe. In combination with draining your washing machine, an under-the-sink splitter could provide significant reclaimed grey water for your yard.

    If you live in an area where water conservation is critical, then either an above or below ground grey water system might be a good choice. There are a range of systems on the market that can either be installed by someone who is handy or may require a professional plumber to install. These grey water systems allow you to reuse water from a range of sources in your home, including shower and bath, washer, dishwasher and sinks throughout the house. These system will sometimes include a pump from the storage unit to push the water out to the area of distribution.

    Some important considerations when using grey water are to ensure that you are using biodegradable cleaning agents or "green cleaners" for your laundry and dishes, because the water is going back into your yard. You must also be sure that only water which contains no human waste or potentially toxic or hazardous chemicals are drained (often referred to as blackwater). Finally, you should not store grey water for more than 24 hours because of the potential for bacteria to grow and accumulate in the water. Of course, you never would drink or cook with grey water and any storage beyond 24 hours requires treating the water, which is another topic altogether.

    If you do intend to store your grey water temporarily and also want a convenient way to have a multi-hose distribution, consider purchasing or making a rain barrel with a heavy duty plastic garbage can and a downspout adapter from your drainpipe. The rain barrel can be used to capture rain water in the wet season and then in the dry season can be where you drain your greywater until it's used. By connecting multiple hoses to the barrel you can feed multiple parts of your yard and garden simultaneously.



    By Will Johnston |
    If you are considering starting a community garden, there are many things to keep in mind before setting out. It could prove to be a bigger project than you imagine, and steps below will help you cover your bases and launch a successful garden.

    First, you need people. Select some individuals whom you know you could take on a project of this scope and longevity with to tackle the planning and execution of the garden. It's good to have a mix of friends and folks who are knowledgeable about gardening. A quick perusal of some online gardening forums or Craigslist may turn up willing participants in your own city.

    Make sure you select someone who is going to be the principal coordinator of the garden. This person will be the hands-on, day-to-day decision maker who ensures that the garden grows successfully. This person should be trusted and respected, because you're going to have to give him or her authority. Also select or elect someone to manage day-to-day operations. He or she will collect and funds or fees required to support the garden, greets visitors, tracks tool use and ensures that the commitments of volunteers and the team are followed through. This person is not responsible for ensuring that garden grows successfully (the garden coordinators job), but instead the coordination of those using or helping with the garden.

    Once you have your group organized, work through the following steps and discussions below:


    1) What are the objectives and desired outcomes? Get consensus from your team on what you hope to accomplish, so that later there is no confusion.

    2) Make sure everyone involved understands the roles of the garden coordinator and the operations manager and the importance of their authority and responsibility.

    3) Determine the type of garden you wish to have. Conventional or organic? How organic?

    4) Find a plot for the garden. Ensure that you have proper rights established for long term use. You don't want to be surprised after years of investment and community sacrifice that you may have to relinquish it all based on the whim of a property or lease holder. Also ensure that your plot is adequate for gardening. A soil test, hours of sunlight, access to water, easements or rights of access issues examined.


    5) Determine your resource plan. Assign someone who will be responsible for acquiring and managing resources (seeds, starts, tools, money, plumbing, etc.). Decide at the outset if you intend to fund the garden with the founding team's contributions or if you're going to do fundraising. If you'll need to do fundraising, make sure you assign someone with experience to this task and give them adequate time to meet the funding goals. The best approach could be to have the garden evolve organically, starting with a small and inexpensive plot and over time creating a substantial bounty.

    6) Set a date and plan for preparing your plot. Clean it up, coordinate soil preparation and irrigation, provide a tool shed for storage and have a sign-in sheet and tool checkout if desired.

    7) Determine how inclusive the garden will be: What will be done communally and what will be the responsibility of individuals? What are the roles for the team and for any community volunteers? Do you want to have local folks drop in or just keep it to the original group?


    8) Ensure that a schedule and individual responsibilities are clearly outlined and posted in a public place.

    9) Who has access and how will distribution take place?

    10) Keep things as simple as possible, but not too simple. Planning and assigning responsibilities in the beginning will help things to run smoothly and minimize conflicts and ambiguity. Some groups will want to keep things loose and flexible and that will reflect that long term outcomes, others will want to have clearly established goals, by-laws and responsibilities. If you choose to do the latter, it is wise to have an individual responsible for establishing the by-laws and getting buy-in from the group. This person will also be responsible for ensuring that they are enforced and followed through.

    11) Plan to have a more general meeting with the broader community to outline what you are trying to accomplish, to ask for volunteers and to gather input and feedback. Make the community feel involved and establish the goals ground rules from the outset.

    12) Consider creating a website or Facebook page with everything that anyone would want to know. This is a great place to keep all of the information that the original group decides and then outbound communication that you need to the neighbors and broader community, and should include email addresses, phone numbers, policies, hours, address, news updates, roles and names.


    Hopefully your community garden will bring people together, nourish your families and be a meaningful way of giving back.

  • Beginners Guide to Container Gardening

    By Nancy House |
    Who says it takes forty acres and a mule to grow some of your own food? With a balcony, fire escape, or even a sunny windowsill, home gardening is perfectly accessible to the urban dweller. All you need are seeds, some basic gardening equipment, and this container gardening guide to get started.

    urban gardening guide

    My great-grandmother Conchita was an accomplished gardener. She raised chickens, grew lemons, and had a yen for planting every seed she encountered. She lived in New York City her entire life. Her Washington Heights apartment, as my mother remembers it, was a jungle of citrus, avocado, and coffee plants, colorful embroidery, and enticing cooking smells. By understanding the basic preferences of the plants she grew, she was able to keep things happy in a tight space.

    With a sunny windowsill and one of our garden starter kits, your apartment can be producing crops of herbs, wheatgrass, or salad greens in no time. The main consideration with indoor growing is maintaining an appropriate moisture level. Because the amount of soil involved will be smaller, and (presumably) it doesn't rain inside your apartment, it's essential to water your plants several times per week. Spritzing them with water helps too, and will deter common leaf-dwelling pests like spider mites, which thrive in low-humidity settings.

    Of course, you don't need a kit to have your own indoor garden. Start with easy-to-grow plants such as parsley, cilantro, lettuce, and dill. Planted in a small container of potting soil and kept well-watered and in a sunny spot, your little garden will be producing in no time. If you find you don't have a window with enough natural light, try a grow light to help things along.

    gardening in the city

    Bigger, high-maintenance crops such as tomatoes and bell peppers are possible with a patio, balcony, or fire escape. For an especially hot and sunny area, choose crops that like having their roots as warm as possible. Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers all evolved in the tropics and don't mind hot temperatures. To keep them from baking, choose a lighter-colored flowerpot one gallon or greater in size. Tomatoes and peppers should each have their own pot, whereas crops like cucumbers, basil, or even green beans can share space with one another. Check the back of the seed packet for crop spacing information. Cold weather crops like spinach, lettuce, or kale might be possible in the fall or early early spring, but in summertime they'll likely wilt in the heat. Again, attentiveness to water is key. Plants can dry out pretty quickly in the hot sun.

    Keep a plant's natural growing habit in mind when choosing your set-up. Plants with a sprawling habit such as tomatoes and cucumbers should be grown near a railing or trellis, or in hanging baskets, for best results. Anything that grows on vines needs support.

    For a shadier balcony, you might try this easy trick. Take an entire bag of potting soil, and lay it flat on a low table or bench. Carefully cut one entire side away, exposing a wide, flat expanse of dirt. Sow your seeds -- lettuces and other greens are ideal -- and enjoy your very own easy-care salad garden. Keep well-watered for best results.

    A few things to keep in mind before embarking on your container gardening journey. Most importantly, some plants are just plain wrong for container growing. I'd steer away from root crops, pumpkins, sunflowers, melons and squashes. Bigger, bushier crops like these may find container growing too constricting, and fail to produce. Even for crops that grow well in containers, the fruit size may suffer. Cherry tomatoes I grew in hanging baskets one year produced well, but the tomatoes were about half the size of typical cherry tomatoes.

    With the above tips, you'll be well on your way to growing so of your own food in no time! Doing so reduces your reliance on the grocery store and long-distance trucked vegetables. And there's nothing to beat the pride you'll feel sitting down to a fresh homegrown salad.

  • DIY Composting Worm Bin

    Spring is the perfect time for DIY gardening projects, like this worm bin tutorial. We'll be focusing on the garden for the next few weeks on the Grow and Make blog, so let us know if there's anything you'd like to see!

    If you want to have richer soil and do your part to compost, consider using a worm bin. By setting up your own worm bin in your backyard, you'll be able to create more high quality soil and minimize your landfill footprint. 

    Also called vermicomposting, a worm bin is more than your basic compost bin. Instead of relying on mere microorganisms to break down food scraps and debris, a worm bin employs worms for the task. The result is a much higher turnover rate and much more rapid break down. Though this article takes the through the steps for an outdoor worm bin, vermicomposting its indoors-friendly and a great composting option for apartment-dwellers.
    Begin with a few plastic tubs. We recommend a 3 tub stack, which serves as a multi-tier composting stack. You'll need to find 3 identical tubs and drill holes for both aeration (air flow) and drainage (water flow). Put holes in the bottom of the top two tiers so that the worms can migrate upward.

    You can set this tiered tub setup in your backyard or driveway and it should last many years. You'll need to perform the described maintenance and be aware that in the winter your worms will go somewhat dormant. Typically your worm can consume their weight in compost in 24 hours.
    You might consider making a worm bin from wood, but be warned that a wooden bin will rot and decompose unless it is lined, so the lifespan can be fairly limited. Also, try to make sure you don't use any toxic items for your composting bin (paint, styrofoam, etc.).







    Make sure that you have access to worms for your bin, either by purchasing them or by finding them in your soil. Red Wigglers are the recommended worms for composting and can be purchased by the pound. In the top tub you'll add your fresh compost -- banana peels, newspaper, coffee grounds -- any sort of organic waste material. Then you'll add some of your worms and some starter soil to all the bins. The worms will find their way up into the higher bins when they sense the organic material. After tier one (the top tier) begins to look like compost mulch, you'll want to move it to tier two, so that you can add more fresh compost to tier one. Tier two should have a little higher concentration of worms.








    When you're ready to move tier one into tier two, move tier two to tier contents to tier three. Once your compost looks usable in your garden, yard or for house plants, remove it from the bottom bin. Then you can transfer the contents from tier two to tier three and tier one to tier two.








    Worm Bin Maintenance

    If you live in a dry part of the country, occasionally add water to your compost so it doesn't dry out and kill your worms. Your soil should also be maintained at a temperature between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the drainage tea to either pour into your garden on your plants or pour it back into your composting bins to ensure richer composting soil. Also, don't be surprised to discover what look like maggots or large flies in your bin. These are part of the composting process and should be left to work their magic.

    Any questions? Share your own composting photos with us below.

  • The last resource you'll ever need to make soap

    We're so excited to share with you all something we've been working on for awhile...

    Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.49.11 PM

    Getting started with making soap can be overwhelming. And you have better things to do than wade through all the blog posts and recipes and resources available. So we waded through them for you, and compiled everything you need to know in a handy little guide. We'd love for you to check it out and let us know what you think. If it can be more helpful, we want to know.

    Now that we've finished our first guide, we're already buzzing with ideas for so many more (gardening? cheese making? brewing?). Keep an eye out for them in the coming year!

    Ps. Father's Day is coming up. Dad's are hard to buy for, especially if they're not into golfing, football or any of the other five Hallmark-approved "dad activities." We're working on finding gifts your dad actually wants (even if your dad IS into golf, he can only have so many golf balls). Find all of our suggestions, both from Grow and Make and elsewhere, on our Pinterest.

  • Easy DIY Laundry Detergent

    laundrysoap 2

    By Ananda Floyd |

    Making your own laundry detergent is a quick and easy way to avoid harsh additives and chemicals in mainstream laundry soaps. Try our recipe and let us know how it works for you.

    Laundry Detergent Recipe

    • One 5 to 6oz bar laundry soap such as Fels-Naptha soap
    • 1 cup washing soda
    • 1 cup borax


    • Grate the bar of soap.  It will be easiest with a box grater.
    • Place the grated soap in a blender or food processor and grind to a fine powder.
    • Transfer to a large bowl and mix in washing soda and borax.
    • Store in an air tight container and use 1 Tbsp per small load and 2 Tbsp per large load.
    • Place detergent in washer before adding clothes to ensure your laundry detergent dissolves fully in the wash.
  • Tutorial: DIY Soap

    By Ananda Floyd |

    Avoid the animal products and harsh additives found in mainstream supermarket soaps by making your own. In this tutorial we're using our Grow and Make Organic Glycerine Soap Making Kit, but the process is the same for any of our kits. This kit comes with 1 lb organic glycerine soap base, a celtic design soap mold with four cavities, lavender essential oil, red and green mineral based colorants, a thermometer and instructions.

    We also need a knife, a cutting board, a pot and a spatula (or spoon) to stir in the colorants and scent.


    Chop your soap base into cubes and pour into a pot. Place on medium-low heat to melt soap base.


    Keep an eye on your soap base as it melts. Try to stir it as little as possible to avoid forming bubbles in the melting soap base. You'll want to make sure the soap base doesn't start to boil as this will cause bubbles as well. If the temperature of your soap reaches 120F to 130F you'll want to remove it from the heat for a couple of minutes. Before our soap base cubes melted fully, at just under 120F, we noticed tiny bubbles starting to form at the bottom of our pot, so we took our base off the heat for 3 minutes before returning to the heat to continue melting.



    Once the base is fully melted, add color and scents to the pot and stir as gently as possible. We added about a third of the red colorant and 6 or 7 drops of the lavender essential oil.


    Once the color is fully incorporated, pour slowly into each mold cavity.


    You'll notice there are some bubbles in the soap. This will not harm the finished soap, but if you feel it's unsightly you can spritz the surface with isopropyl alcohol to disperse the bubbles. We skipped this as the bubbles are on the back of the finished soap and not particularly noticeable.


    Allow to sit undisturbed until soap begins to harden. Once it's mostly hard, pop the soap filled molds in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and turn the mold over, pressing on the center of each mold cavity to release the soap. If they don't come out easily, return to freezer for another 5 minutes. Our soaps came out great and have a lovely lavender scent.


    The soaps from Grow and Make's soap making kits are ready to use immediately (no curing needed!). It is best to wrap each soap individually in plastic wrap to keep the soap looking it's best during storage. We recommend folding the excess plastic wrap gently over the top of the soap to protect the relief design during storage.

    SaranWrappedCelticCircle WrappedUpSoap1

    We wrapped our soap in decorative paper for a cute finish, and you can too! Take a look at our tutorial for wrapping your soap bars using the French Pleat technique.

  • Tutorial: DIY French Pleat Soap Wrapper

    By Ananda Floyd |

    Instead of tossing your homemade soap into an old Tupperware, store and gift your soap in cute paper wrappers.  It makes each bar into a functional work of art and it is very easy!

    Thinner paper is the easiest to fold neat creases in, such as large origami paper or tissue paper, particularly with larger bars of soap. However, printer paper also works fine and can quickly be made cute with some drawings or other decoration, which is what we did for this tutorial.

    The quickest way to make cute paper is to make a repeating pattern of quick sketches.  We made flowers, leaves and circles for one sheet and triangles, rectangles and circles for the other.  Even a pattern of randomly placed ¼ inch lines looks great, so just go for it and don't worry about making it perfect.


    It's a good idea to wrap your soaps in plastic wrap to protect the bars from moisture before you use them.  I like to fold all the excess plastic wrap over the top of the soap where the design is to provide some protection for the relief designs.


    Place paper with the design down and the soap in the middle of the sheet. Bring the two short edges of the paper together and fold over the edges between ½ to 1 inch.


    Fold the pleated edge toward the center of the bar of soap.


    Fold the edges of the excess paper toward the centers to make triangular tabs.


    Flip soap over and carefully fold the paper tabs to the center of the back, then tape down.


    Turn your soap over and admire your beautiful work!

    WrappedUpSoap1 WrappedUpSoap3

    Share your pictures of your own product in the comments, and let us know if you have any requests for future tutorials.

  • Mother's Day Gifts: 5 ideas for the gardening mom

    Make it With Mom


    Does your mom / wife / grandma / woman in your life have a green thumb? Or does she have a major black thumb but wishes she could have a flourishing garden? Either way, here are 5 easy DIY ideas for Mother's Day:

    1. Organic Garden Starter Kit: Take the stress and decision making out of starting an organic garden with one of our most popular garden starter kits. Even better, offer to spend a Saturday helping her plant the starters.
    2. DIY Hummingbird Feeder: Gift your mom a hummingbird feeder, and she'll enjoy spotting lovely hummingbirds for years. It's also made entirely from recyclable materials, so it's a great sustainable option. If you and your wife have younger children, this is a great project for them to work on with you or her.
    3. Herbs Garden Starter Kit: This culinary herb kit is one of the easiest ways to start growing your own food, and can be done entirely indoors. Plus fresh herbs take homemade soups and other dishes to the next level.
    4. Salad Greens Kit: Growing your own greens is fun and practical, and can be done in either the fall or spring and indoors.
    5. Homemade Apron: Since you're starting with one of your old shirts, this tutorial is actually pretty quick and easy. Make sure and choose a shirt with a pocket so that she has a place to put her sheers.

    For more Mother's Day gift ideas, visit here, and use the coupon code "makeitwithmom" for 15% off. All of our kits are sustainably made in Portland, OR so you can feel good about your purchase. And share your own Mother's Day craft and DIY projects in the comments!

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