Monday, April 23, 2012

Lumber from the Salt Lake Valley

Here's a new project that I've kept under my hat for a while, but it is "game on" now: I am now offering furniture made with wood from trees that grew right here in Salt Lake City.  It is a very unusual thing to be able to offer, and I am proud to be able to do it.  I currently have lumber in a few different species, including sycamore and elm, both of which are quite rare but very desirable.  I have boards that are up to 24" wide, so dining room table tops, for example, can be built with just two boards.  I also had most of the "natural edges" left on the boards.  These edges can be incorporated into a finished piece or cut off, depending on what you'd like.

I debated whether or not to post about this topic here on the blog, but I ultimately decided to, since the blog exists as a celebration of sustainable and handmade products.

Here is a photo of a dining room table that I built a few years ago using local lumber like this:

I've also built countertops using similar materials:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Local potter Sara LaRosa

Oh boy do I love local artists, and I have a particularly soft spot for potters, since I've been elbow deep in clay a few times myself over the years.  Sara LaRosa, a very talented ceramicist, has recently moved here from the northeast, and I had the privilege of interviewing her for this blog.  We're also doing a work exchange- pottery for woodworking!- but that's another story.  Here are the main points of her story:

Sara threw her first pot in high school, as part of a broadly-focused Crafts class.  She tried hand-building techniques in addition to wheel-work, and she credits her early teachers as major influences.  For a while, she was quite interested in photography too, but this waned somewhat and she has since turned her full attention to pottery.  Sara is captivated by the entire process- everything from preparing clay and making pots to constructing and firing large-scale kilns.  Her experiences at the Community College of Rhode Island were very exciting:  "It was just breath-taking to be part of a community of great potters.  I want to do that all the time!"

Once she starts talking, Sara's enthusiasm shines through:  "I like making functional work.  I really love the idea of building something that people will use every day.  There's something really special about using something that is handmade, and knowing that it came from someone an not something.  And I like providing people with that, and helping people feel that too.  I'm into anything functional, really: tea sets, dinner ware, whatever people need.  Nothing would make me happier than having my own studio.  Just going out there to make pots for hours and hours."

Sara's next steps involve going back to school to finish a degree and avail herself of the excellent resources that the University of Utah offers to ceramicists.  I think, after our conversation, that she will thrive in a setting filled with other creative people who are similarly motivated.  

If you have a minute- and I know you do, if you've read this far!- please check out Sara's new website:

If you'd like to contact Sara directly, you may email her at

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How (tall) does your garden grow?

If you didn't already know, I am a fan of growing vertically- it makes a dramatic design statement, and it uses space efficiently.  In many cases, it can even help to improve the health of your plants and create a large harvest. If you're curious about adding a trellis or two (or more!) to your garden, but are still in the idea gathering stage, look no further: I just put together a free image gallery of over 30 trellises that I really love.  I used Pinterest, so there is no login required.  Anyway, the designs vary quite a bit, with some on the fancier end of the spectrum, and some on the rough-yet-charming end, but they all made the cut.

Do any of them catch your eye?

here's the link:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Backyard Chickens are always an Eggcellent idea

My family has raised chickens for the past 6 or 7 years, and getting new birds is something I always look forward to.  We used to buy day-old baby chicks (purchased in-town at the farm store, or mail-order from a large hatchery), and this is definitely a pretty fun solution.  I especially recommend it if you have a kid or two or more around the house, since they usually appreciate the "watching things grow" aspect of the process.  Having done this a few times, however, I'll admit that I eventually got tired of waiting 6 months for those little peepers to start producing eggs.  My solution?  I started buying year old hens that were already laying.  In our area, it is pretty easy to find someone who is looking to downsize their flock.  $10-15 per bird is usually about the going rate, and so it is reasonably affordable to build up a flock of 4-6 chickens.  Baby chicks will usually cost $3 or so each, so you pay a bit more for older birds, but bear in mind that somebody else paid to feed your new adult birds until the moment they became yours.  All  things considered, buying "used" chickens is the way I'll probably always do it from now on.

Anybody else out there raise chickens?  Or, are there any chicken-related questions that I can answer?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Handmade kitchen knives

Most of us wear a few different hats in life- welcome to life in 2012, although if we're honest, it was probably always kind of this way- and one my favorite roles is that of an artist who makes objects that hopefully combine beauty and function in a pleasing way.  One of my newest ventures is the Artisan Knife Company, which makes, by hand, quality chef's knives one at a time in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I spent two years researching steel, refining techniques, and building prototypes, and now it is game on.

Why did I put the time into this?  Mostly because I am such a huge fan of handcrafted, small-scale businesses that allow skilled artisans to work with passion.  Oh wait, no wonder I am posting about it on this blog!  Seriously though, it just seemed like the right time for an undertaking such as this- the broader culture seems focused like never before on things like local food, heirloom veggies, and farmer's markets, and hopefully this means that folks will want to experience the joy of using a handmade knife that truly fits your hand and holds and edge better than factory-made knives.  We'll see!

For more information, check out

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Nice Article by the Salt Lake Tribune

I have a new book out about building projects for the garden, and our local paper did a super nice write-up on it.  So, here it is, for those interested in checking it out!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Made by hand

The goal of this blog is to spotlight things that are either homegrown or homemade, and I've been focusing largely on the former since springtime is here and gardening season is coming up.  For this post, though, I'd like to devote a little time & energy to the homemade objects that most of us have in our lives.  My hope is that this post might generate a little bit of a conversation of sorts: I can drone on all day long about the various kinds of handmade stuff that I'm attached to to, but I'd really rather hear about some of yours!

I'll go first.  One of my favorite items is a small pottery cow that a friend of my wife's made for her when they were back in high school.  It isn't even glazed, but there has always been something really charming about its roughness, if you know what I mean.  I don't know the story behind it, but it has been in my life for all of the 15 years that Michele and I have been together, and over time I've gotten kind of fond of it. It is just a knick-knack that doesn't even have a real function, per se, but knowing that it was made by one of Michele's oldest friends is special in and of itself.  I can't say it takes me back to a different time, because her and I hadn't even met at that point, but somehow this nifty little cow means something to me.

So, what handmade object in your life is special to you, and why?  Anything is fair game, I just want to take a minute to listen to whatever folks might want to share.  I don't have any real agenda, other than wanting to recognize that handmade stuff matters- so, if you're inclined, let's take a minute to celebrate it.  Photos are not required.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

treasure in our own backyards- is there a Restore near you?

Some of you have already heard me rave about this, but for those who haven't, hold the phone: do you know about Habitat for Humanity's Restores?

Most folks have heard of Habitat for Humanity- the nonprofit that helps people build their own homes, revitalize neighborhoods, and teach general DIY skills to thousands of volunteers every year.  It is a very established group- and for the record, I am in no way affiliated with them: I just can't resist giving them a plug because I see how much good they do in the world and I can't keep my mouth shut about it.  Anyway... Habitat also runs over 6,000 Restores, and that is what I want to focus on in this post.

Restores are nonprofit stores that accept donations of used or surplus building materials (donators receive the necessary paperwork to file for a tax credit with the IRS), and they then sell these building materials for what often amounts to pennies on the dollar.  Their goal?  To make money that is all plowed back into their mission of sustainable, affordable housing and empowered homeowners who help to improve neighborhoods one house at a time.

We had a Restore when my wife & I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and I was bummed when we relocated and Salt Lake didn't have one.  Well, fast forward a few years, and now we do!  I now have a place to donate my extra building materials- the amount of stuff they keep out of landfills every year is just staggering!- and it is also my first stop when I'm looking for materials for new projects around the house or shop.

So, my question is, where's your nearest Restore?  And, have ya been lately?  Let me know if you find any deals next time you go!

Here's a few pics from one of my recent (ok, I go every week!) trips:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Growing Up is Easy: for vegetables, anyway

Small space gardening is awesome- who doesn't want to get more produce from a given spot?  Once you're up and running, it may actually be easier and more efficient to maintain than traditional garden plots.  In fact, some small-space-friendly principles are just as useful to people who have a lot of room to grow stuff.

Growing vertically is a major theme in small-space gardening.  While it is not exactly rocket science, I still want to devote at least one blog post to it, since it is one of those simple things that often provides the best results at the smallest expense of time, effort, and money.  And it is overlooked far too often.

Vertical gardening takes advantage of the fact that most plants are really happy to grow upward if they are provided with some kind of structure to climb.   That's my main point; I could stop writing now, but I won't, so stay tuned for more detail.  Lots of plants can do fine when they are left to sprawl across the ground, and if this approach works for you in a particular situation, then that's great.  Move along and enjoy the rest of your day!  If you're interested, however, here are three reasons (there are more, of course) why vertical gardening makes sense:

1) Healthier plants
Some plants will be healthier when they are kept up off of the ground- this approach helps ensure a good airflow around the base of the plants, which can help excess moisture to evaporate rather than provide a breeding ground for mold, disease, and who knows what else.  It also provides less nooks and crannies for mice, insects, and other pests to hang out.

2) Larger yields
Some plants will grow and grow and grow when they're given the opportunity, so if you build a simple trellis (it can be quick & dirty or fancy, or somewhere in between.  Whatever works.)... your plants will get bigger and you might just get more produce.  Logical, right?

3) Better produce with less waste
I got sick of finding over-ripe, mushy, maybe even inedible tomatoes that I missed the first time because they were buried under tons of foliage.  I hate to waste food, and I'd rather pick stuff at its peak- this is easy when plants are grown up high and trellised out so you can easily see how things are ripening.  A good trellis makes  it easier to monitor the health of your plants and the ripeness of your coming harvest.

For example, I started out growing tomatoes in the ubiquitous wire cages that are about 3 feet tall.  I did this for years, because that was the only way I knew how, and it worked out ok.  But then I heard somebody- local superstar (in my book) Carly Gillespie, from Wasatch Community Gardens- talking about her tomato plants getting to 7 or 8 feet high, and I was blown away.  Seduced by the promise of growing such whoppers, I came home and built a simple trellis- I mean really simple, just using scrap wood and about 20 minutes of my time.  I built it 6 feet high, and when I planted my seedlings, it looked just ridiculous.  "These plants will never get tall enough to need all this height," I thought.  Boy was I ever wrong (I guess there's a first time for everything).  Our plants blew past the 6 foot mark and I had to add on another foot of structure to the top of the trellis.  This year, I'll be building a trellis 8 feet high.    

In addition to looking awesome, our three "walls" of tomatoes provided far more produce than the old cages allowed for, and they made it easier to keep an eye on the ripening fruit so that they could be picked at their peak.  While I didn't weigh the total amount of tomatoes we produced- I'm curious, but far too lazy- our 25 plants kept us in fresh tomatoes through December, and the gallons of fresh salsa I consumed (yes, gallons) were fantastic. 

If you have any questions on building trellises or other supports, just ask!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Small Space Gardening

During the winter time, especially with Spring on the horizon but not actually here yet, even pictures of plants make me happy.  This is a great time of year to start looking around and getting ideas about the upcoming growing season.
(photo credit keeping it real @

For many folks, space is an issue, either because there just isn't much of it, or it may not be around long enough (i.e. you're anticipating a move before you get to harvest those delicious veggies), and there are a few approaches that might help.  Here I'll discuss my top 3, in no particular order:

*Container Gardnening

*Vertical Gardening

*Community Gardening

They're all pretty much just what they sound like, but since it is my nature to talk a lot, why stop now?

Container gardening 

demonstrates that you can actually grow a lot in very little space (most "normal" gardens are not very space efficient, and I guess if you have a lot of room to spare, this may not matter, but why wouldn't you want to take an easier, more efficient route in life if there is no down side?)  Just about all herbs are very well-suited to containers- they don't need deep soil or lots of room to spread out.  Even a small balcony can house a very robust container garden.  And when your plants are in containers, you can just load 'em up and take 'em with you if need be, or move them to other spots in the yard, or give them away.

You probably already have good containers on hand- old Rubbermaid tubs (even small ones just 6" deep) might work out great.  You could also hit a thrift store and spend less than $10 for some funky containers that strike your fancy.  Traditional flowerpots are fine if that's your thing, but once you start thinking about it, it is pretty easy to come up with solutions that look good and work great.  Depending on the particulars, you may need to drill a few small holes in the bottom for drainage.

This post is inspiring me, in fact, to set a new goal for my own gardens this year: grow lots of stuff in other stuff.  By which I mean that I'd like to go ahead and plant seedlings in as many things as I can that seem suitable.  Obviously time, space, and sanity will have to limit the endeavor, but how's this for a motto: if there is a container of some sort laying around, I hereby vow to plant something in it!

For a really funny and practical take on this, here's a great blog I post I stumbled upon:

Stay tuned for a post later this week on vertical gardening.  It was my big epiphany last year, and my 8' tall tomato plants were a thing of beauty.  Talk about getting a lot of produce from a small footprint!

Chris Gleason

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Handmade posters and more

I can not resist, as I sit here lazily surfing the web on a snowy Sunday morning, posting about this awesome artist I just found on Etsy. For those not familiar with Etsy, it is a pretty great online store dedicated to promoting the work of artists and craftspeople all over the world. And yes, there is some real goofy stuff on there, but if you look past it, it is absolutely full of some really terrific work.

Anyway, all of the posters at ChattyNora are hand-drawn (not printed, drawn! Sounds like a lot of work to me...) and the prices are really great, especially in light of the amount of work that must go into them. Here's the one that first caught my eye. It shall be mine, oh yes, it shall be mine:

There is also a really great Star Wars one which I am not quite geeky enough to buy, but still like anyway:

If you dig this style, take a look at their work. Not a bad way to spend a little time online:


Friday, March 2, 2012

Yard projects

This winter hasn't been a particularly tough one in Utah- it has actually kind of felt spring-like from time to time. Even though we just got whacked by a snowstorm, this has seemed more like the exception than the rule, and nothing can stop me from thinking about the cool stuff I just might get around to building for our yard and gardens this year. Every year, we add at least one raised bed, so there's that, and who knows what else we might come up with. What kinds of projects are you interested in building this year? And, even more to the point: how can I help? I am really happy to write blog posts that might help you in exactly this kind of endeavor. Please hit me up with any and all thoughts and suggestions! The best idea will win a signed copy of my new book "Building Projects for the Backyard Farmer", due out in April.

In the meantime, here's some pictures I took last summer (wow, it sure was green!) of things I'm inspired by:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spring Chickens

Spring is in the air- or, at least on the calendar. Since tomorrow is March 1st, I've been thinking about this year's batch of chickens. I'm really looking forward to it. We've raised chickens for about 7 years now, and it is a ton of fun. One of the most satisfying things is seeing my young daughter (she's almost 4) get to interact with them and collect their eggs.

We've raised lots of chicks- purchased locally or online as day-old babies- and we've also purchased fully-grown birds here in town. Both approaches are really satisfying: the former provides the fun of watching the chicks grow, and the latter provides a pretty much immediate supply of fresh eggs. This year we'll be going with option #2.

Regardless of the approach you take to starting your backyard flock, they'll have to live somewhere. Building a chicken coop is a great DIY project if you're handy, or want to be. If not, you can probably find someone in your area to help you out.

Here's a couple of pictures of coops that I've built recently to help get your creative juices flowing.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Planting seeds

I am excited to finally bring this blog to life. Thinking about it used to feel like a drag- oh man, another chore to do?- but now I have shifted to seeing it as a great source of joy that I can plug into. So what kinds of stuff will I be posting about, now that I've got my attitude adjusted?

+Music, especially opportunities to make and hear music in our area

+Food, from lots of different angles: growing it, preparing it, and consuming it

+Making stuff: nuts & bolts tips on building the things you want and much more

+People: our community is full of inspiring people that I want to spotlight. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading this, and please give me a shout if you're inclined.

Chris Gleason

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My First Post!

Wow! I have been thinking about starting a blog for a few years now (who hasn’t?) but I held off because I figured the world didn’t need another “here’s what I had for dinner” kind of thing. And to be honest, even though I’m as much of a narcissist as the next guy, I guess I had mixed feelings about broadcasting so openly. I guess Facebook kicked the heck out of those inhibitions!

Fast forward to 2012: either something has changed online, or my perception has (maybe both?) and I have developed a new understanding of blogs as much more than just another forum for self-indulgence: the good ones seem to provide a really dynamic way of connecting with other people in a meaningful fashion. And that interests me very much. The name- which I agonized over, as I imagine most people do, evolved as a “close enough” representation of some of my dearest values: if life is a garden, we’re all planting seeds, all the time. And as a professional woodworker, sawdust is a by-product of my work that I then compost to nourish the plants that I grow. Call me an old hippie- you wouldn’t be wrong- but I think the name is going to stick, nonetheless.

Anyway, here’s what I am going to do: I plan to present myself, and some things that I find wonderful about this world, in an honest attempt to connect with a few people who may feel that it resonates with them. Wouldn’t that be grand, all by itself?


Chris Gleason