Kerry’s Garden

The trials and tribulations of one Kentucky gardener…

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Homade Birdbath Project

August 19th, 2011 · 4 Comments

I was browsing the Net looking for a birdbath project and ran into this one. Basically you take a really large leaf (think elephant ears or something simliar), some sand and acrylic concrete patch and in the end you have a beautiful birdbath the shape of a leaf. I love this idea and do believe this is my next project.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Projects


July 31st, 2011 · No Comments

The project I started just about 2 years ago has been finished. The outer, protective layer went on this weekend. It consisted of a 1:2 clay:sand mix and was probably the easiest part of the entire project. To give it a textured finish I lit a drying fire and waited a few hours then made imprints of my hands all over it. The photo below is before that final touch.

As this dries it will form small cracks. I’ve saved back some of the clay/sand mix to fill in those cracks. It may very well crack when it heats up too. It doesn’t hurt the oven any but is just a natural effect of the expansion that happens when it heats to over 600F.

→ No CommentsTags: Mud Oven · Projects

Another step done & that first meal

July 20th, 2011 · 2 Comments

This past weekend the insulation layer went on. It involved 2 trips to the cemetery for buckets of clay and a trip to WallyWorld for a bale of hamster bedding. The hardest part was turning the clay from large chunks into slip. Lots of stomping and twisting left me with a sore knee. A small price to pay for having it behind me. It ended up taking about a bale and a half of bedding and roughly 6 buckets of clay chunks. Some of the clay was so pure I could have thrown pottery had I had access to a wheel. I kept some back to play with. I heard once that you could fire clay in a bbq. I was pondering the possibility of making a small oil lamp like days of old. Something to try at a later date.

first 'real' fire. The venting was perfect.

By Saturday at about lunchtime I had about 1/3 of the insulation layer done. It was a little wetter than ideal so I had to use bricks to keep it from shifting and becoming an insulation skirt. I decided to light a fire to help with the drying and wait till Sunday to finish. I lit a roaring fire and was very pleased with the way it vented. My measurements must have been on the money because the fire burned bright deep inside the oven. I let it burn for about an hour and decided that it would be a waste to not take advantage of the heat. Once the fire started to die down a bit I used a hoe to move the coals back and to the sides. I covered the oven opening with a large piece of firebrick that I will use as a temporary door. I remembered the ham steaks in the freezer and I knew I had a bag of beans. Ten minutes later I was loading the oven with a dutch oven filled with ham and beans. I replaced the brick ‘door’ and waited. 3 1/2 hours later and the beans were PERFECT and just in time for dinner. I think I’m going to like this.

The summers here are notorious for being hot and dry. This is half true this year. We have had some pretty warm temps but have had rain regularly. Great for the lawn but not so great when the goal is to dry out a mound of wet clay. I finished the insulation layer on Sunday at about lunchtime. I started another large fire and let it burn for about an hour. Once it died down I again covered the opening. The outer layer was quite warm to the touch and given the amt of heat coming from the front I was unable to cover it with the plastic tarp. Instead I covered the top 2/3 with a couple of layers of newspaper and used small pieces of broken brick to hold them in place. I had to leave for a couple of hours and of course we got a small rain storm while I was gone. I wasn’t too worried though. As long as the news paper stayed in place I felt like the added water would pretty much just run off and take very little if any clay with it. This was in fact the case. It has take a couple of small showers since then with the same results. I did cover it last night as they were calling for some more severe rain. I was glad I did as it got pretty windy and wet for a while there. The heat index for the next couple of days is over 100 and it is supposed to be rain free. The oven is uncovered and I have high hopes that it will at some point actually dry. I expect to see some rather large cracks in the insulation layer once it does finally dry. Before cleanup I held back some clay/wood mix to patch those when the time comes.

The insulation layer completed.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Mud Oven · Projects

After a long break

June 16th, 2011 · No Comments

So two years ago I started this oven project. I had high hopes of finishing it that year but starting grad school left me with little free time and the weather soon turned to insure it wasn’t happening in 09. 2010 started out great, I was ready to get back into the mud once the weather warmed. Life had a different plan for me last year and lets just say I was left not wanting to get into much of anything. 2011 is a new year and time to get back into this project. Last weekend I untarped the mud foundation and found a small ant colony had taken up residence. I checked the base for structural soundness and when I was confident I put down the layer of sand and firebrick floor. The ants and I had a talk. I let them know it was time to leave. They will be gone this weekend.

I opted to make the bricks ahead of time and use the 2:1 sand:clay mix as a mortar. I dipped each ‘brick’ into water coating on all sides to help the wet mortar to stick. The bricks were surprisingly tough and water resistant. I opted for a firebrick arch which required a wooden support to assemble. The arch turned out to be the trickiest part of the project so far. Making sure the inner corners of the bricks were supported by other bricks while not falling required several tries to get it right. I am hopeful this holds with repeated heating and cooling. Time will tell. The beauty of a clay oven is that repairs are possible without too much work. If I determine that the brick arch isn’t going to work I can always opt for a clay/sand doorway.

Firebrick floor and first row of oven bricks

By the end of Saturday the inner layer was half done. As I added layers I would wet the top of the previous layer of bricks if it had dried out. Using the pre-made bricks meant I hadn’t had to use a sand mold up to that point. I had a cardboard cutout of the 22″ diameter dome shape that I used when placing the bricks. I made sure that the bricks touched each other on all sides in the inside of the oven. I stopped Saturday when it became apparent that I would need some kind of support for the rest of the dome.

On Sunday morning I cut out a wooden circle slightly larger than the remaining opening. I cut it in half to get it inside the oven and placed it on a couple of stacks of bricks. I piled sand to complete the dome shape and continued to lay ‘brick’ and build the firebrick arch. The last couple of bricks had to be shaped to a v shape to go into the remaining space. I was pleased at how much work it took to cut these down with the edge of a hand trowel. By Sunday evening the ‘inner sanctum’ was complete. Since the bulk of the oven was already dry at this point I removed the wooden support for the arch and sand dome. It held beautifully.

completed inner lay of the mud oven

By Tuesday it was dry on the outside but the inside was still damp. I was needing to tarp it for a coming rain and wanted the inside a little drier. I opted for a small newspaper only fire to test the drafting and dry things out a bit. It performed like a champ.

Once I get back from vacation I will add the insulation layer and the outer layer. My wish is to make a lime plaster outer layer but I may end up doing a clay sand layer first if I can’t come up with the lime to make the lime putty. I should have my first pizza later next month. :-)

→ No CommentsTags: Mud Oven · Musings

Spring has sprung

April 14th, 2010 · 2 Comments

A couple of signs of spring here in Kentucky.

Each year I see a lone bumble bee visiting the blueberry. I am sure there is probably more than this one but if so, I never see them.

Ludwig Spaeth lilac
This is Tia’s lilac – Ludwig Spaeth. A very nice scent and color. It has been growing in a large post for several years not and this is the best flowering yet.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Blueberries · Flowers · Fruit

Global Warming?

November 22nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

Ok here it is late November and one of the in-ground figs still has leaves. Our average first frost is a month gone. We have had a few light frosts but not enough to take out these die hards.

Now to be fair the fig IS on the south side of the house and there IS a largish bush nearby to offer some protection but it does seem a little late. The container figs have lost their leaves weeks ago.

The jalapeño peppers I picked yesterday are pretty late though. They were grown in a half barrel on the back patio by the north-west corner of the house. They are currently seeded and in a water soak waiting to become hot poppers. mmmmm

Jalapeño peppers picked in late November.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Figs · Peppers · Weather


November 1st, 2009 · 5 Comments

Hauled home 4 buckets of clay (thank you T.) this afternoon. It was enough to finish the lower insulation layer on the oven. Weather permitting I should be able to start of the body of the oven next weekend.

I am really noticing a difference in comfort levels when mixing the mud with my bare feet in July as compared with Nov. My tootsies were pretty numb by the time I got done. brrrr

I planted a couple of small fig trees in the ground on the south side of the house this spring. Since the figs still in the containers have started dropping leaves I decided to check on the in ground figs today. I actually found a ripe fig on one. A ripe fig in Ky on Nov 1. That has to be a record for me. Once the inground trees go dormant I will build a little cage (they are only about 18″ tall) of chicken wire and fill it with leaves to help insulate them for the winter. I’ve never tried overwintering them outside before so I am not sure it will work.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Mud Oven · Projects