Friday, November 28, 2014

DIY Concrete Candle Holders from Pringle and Coffee Cans

Concrete candle holders made from Pringles cans and a coffee can
Concrete isn't just for sidewalks or garden decor-it is an extremely versatile medium that can be used for a ton of different projects.  Even those for the inside of your house.  Not only is concrete versatile  it is extremely easy to work with once you get the hang of using it.  I tell everyone it is a lot like Jello-you make it, put it in a mold, wait for it to firm up, then unmold it.  It is that easy!  I personally prefer to make my own concrete-but it is entirely OK to buy it in a bag or bucket.  That's why they sell it:-))  One thing I have to mention is if you are making smaller projects make sure the product does not contain large gravel or rock.  You can sift it out if you can not find any without.

Molds for concrete projects are really easy to find.  Many household containers can be used.  I stay away from items that can not be easily cut away if the concrete gets stuck.  Nothing is worse than struggling to release your piece.  Plastic is usually my first choice-but I will give just about anything a try.  With this project I chose some Pringles cans and coffee cans-which are not really cans at all.  They are cardboard sides with a metal bottom.  The metal bottom is important-it prevents the weight of the concrete from sagging and making an uneven bottom on the finished product.  Here is a pic of what I mean:
Bottom of coffee can
A bottom like this will not work for a stable bottom-it will sag when filled with concrete:
Bottom of a bread crumb container

There are many different containers that you could use for this project-just raid your recycling bin.  You will also need molds for the inside-something a little bit larger than the candle you want to use.  I used small condiment containers and a lid from my cooking spray.  Here are some containers and interior molds that could be used:
Here is what you will need for this project:
1.  A concrete mix or recipe  (A good "recipe" for this project: 1 part portland cement/3 parts sand/
1/2 part water-I use a cottage cheese container as measurement )
2.  Good quality mask
3.  Gloves
4.  Bucket or tub to mix in
5.  Empty Pringles cans and/or coffee cans
6.  Mold release spray-I use cooking spray. 

To start this project you need to spray the molds with the mold release and then wipe it off.  You do not want a heavy coating of it-it will cause excess air holes if excess is not wiped out. 

Next you need to mix your dry ingredients in your tub or bucket-if you are using a mix just pour it in (don't forget your mask and gloves!).  After your dry ingredients are mixed start adding water.  Start with half of the amount then add more slowly as you mix to get the consistency you want.  It should be almost like peanut butter.

After you have it mixed it needs to sit for about 10 minutes to hydrate.  Don't worry-you have plenty of time before it hardens:-))

After 10 minutes you can begin filling your molds-don't fill it all the way. 
Tap the sides to release air bubbles:
I like to firmly tap it on the ground to make sure the concrete settles and to release even more air bubbles:
After you have tapped it fill the interior mold with some sand or rocks (for weight) then set it in the center and press it down into the concrete.  Do not push it all the way-leave it sticking up a little so you have something to grab when you pull it out.

Here are the three I filled for this project:
Let them sit for at least 24 hours to set before you unmold them.  Trust me on this:-)) 

To clean up fill your tub or bucket with water and let it set until the sediment settles on the bottom.  After it has settled you can pour the water off then scrape the sediment up and put it in a bag and dispose of it.  Never dump concrete or the sediment down the drain.  It will ruin your drains.  

When the concrete is set pull the interior molds out (it is easier when the rocks or sand are dumped out).  Here I used a pair of pliers:

Now take a pair of scissors and snip the top of the mold:
Then take your hands and start pulling the paper off:

For a smooth finish on top you need to sand it.  I just use a sheet of snadpaper and rub it until it is smooth:

Rinse the concrete off-try to get rid of the sand from rubbing it with sandpaper.  Your next step is an important one.  It is the "cure".  In order for concrete to cure properly it needs to stay wet and the temperature should stay above 55 degrees.  I always try to water cure my items-it is the easiest and best way to accomplish a good cure for smaller items.  This will take a week.  I just fill a plastic tub with water and place the items in changing the water daily.
After a week pull them out of the water, rinse them off and let them dry. 
When they are completely dry you can paint decorate them if you would like.  I spray painted mine with gold spray paint.  Here is what I did:

I then coated them with a concrete sealer and let them dry.
Here they are all done:-))
I really love the way they look-perfect for holiday decorating or for a nice handmade gift.  You can paint or decorate them any color you would like.  Here is a pic of three I made using brown dye in the mix:
If you are concerned about them scratching your furniture you can cut a piece of felt or cork and glue them to the bottom or you can use the lids from the cans. 

I hope you give this project a try!  As with all of my projects you can tailor them to suit your taste and style.  If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below.  Until next time-

Happy Planting!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Propagating Succulents in Fall/Winter

Did you know that succulents are the easiest plants to propagate?  It is true!  You can propagate them many ways but I mostly propagate them by either removing the "chicks" or by leaves that have fallen off.  You let them dry for a week or so then place them in a well drained soil and voila! you have baby plants.  It does take a little bit of time for them to reach a large size-especially from a leaf.  But I believe that it is well worth the wait.  Heck-if I can wait three years for seeds to germinate I can definitely handle waiting for a succulent to grow to a good size.  Of the succulents the easiest to propagate is the famous hens and chicks or Sempervivums.  You pop the babies off and plop them in soil and you have a good size plant in no time.  When I propagate my hens and chicks I usually do it in the fall or winter when I have a little time on my hands.  That means I have them inside-even the hardy Sempervivums (they will grow inside!)  I collect little chicks off of plants that I have or someone gives me and I set them in a tray of sandy soil.  I do this all summer and by the time it gets cold I have a few to bring inside with me to grow.  Here are some I will propagate over the fall/winter:
My system is relatively easy-you only need a few things:

1.  Pots or seed starting trays
2.  Some sandy/fast draining soil-make sure it is sterile (you do not want any bug or disease issues)
3.  Succulents
4.  Plenty of light-at least 6 hours (just a note-I do not have a lot of direct sun so I use shop lights with T8 bulbs and have excellent results.  There is no need for fancy grow lights)
5.  Rooting hormone (not necessary  but some people like to use it)

That is it.  So here are the steps I take to root these babies:

1.  Find your trays or pots (make sure they are clean) and fill them with the sandy/well draining potting soil (that is sterile).
2.  Dip the bottom of your succulent in a little water (this helps it to make contact with the soil)
3.  Just lay the chick onto the soil-mine has his "cord" so that is inserted into the soil.
4.  If you have ones that have dead leaves around the base of the plant-pull them off:
All clean:-))
In his new home:
I even have a few that almost died-I remove all the dead parts and stick them in the soil too.  As long as there is a green spot on it I try to save it:-))
Here is a tray that I have planted:
5.  If you have any leaves that have broken or fallen off all you need to do is let the end dry up for a few days then when it is dried up just lay it on top of the soil.  It will root and form a plant.
Here are my cuttings and leaves that I am rooting:
I will mist the soil when it gets dry-never soak the soil.  It can cause the plants to rot instead of root.  I will also run a fan a couple hours a day to keep the air circulating and to keep any issues of bugs or diseases at bay.  The fluorescent lights are on for 15-16 hours a day-mostly because I have other plants under them.  Succulents do need at least 6 hours of light in order to "survive" and grow.   By spring most of them will be ready to pot up into a bigger container or out in the garden.

This is such an easy way to get more plants that I do it every year.  Doing this in fall/winter works best for me because I have time in the fall/winter to take better care of them.  In the summer I have a tendency to forget about the little things.  Doing it when it is cold also gives me an excuse to "garden" inside.  When I don't have any "dirt" to play in I get a little restless so this ends up helping me with that.  It also keeps the "winter blahs" at bay.

Just remember-don't be afraid to propagate those succulents!  You will find out like I did that they are the easiest plant to propagate from cuttings.  They are also extremely hard to kill.  All you need to remember is that water is the enemy-too much will kill them.  If you are not sure when to water just remember to let them completely dry out.  That is all there is to it.  I hope you try growing your own and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below.  So-until next time

Happy Planting!