Small Batch Papercrete for Fairy Gardens

As promised, I am writing today about small batch recipes for papercrete. For those of you who did not read the previous article – Papercrete for Fairy Gardens – papercrete is a mixture of paper pulp made from shredded newspaper and water, portland cement and vermiculite or pearlite. It is being used in many places to make bricks as an inexpensive alternative building material for houses that makes use of something that would otherwise fill landfills – old newpapers. For my purposes I am using it in small batches to make garden containers and miniatures houses for fairy gardens. Finding a recipe for a small batch of papercrete has proved for many to be quite difficult. Even after taking a workshop from Lee Coates, The Papercrete Potter I still lacked a recipe that I could share (through no fault of his own). After many experiments I think I have come up with some instructions that will help you with a recipe of your own.
There is not one recipe that will work every time for everyone. This is because the paper used in the recipe differs from one source to another – even from one brand of newspaper to another. Check this for yourself. Next time you are in a party or variety store with several newspapers available for sale along with some free ones, feel the various papers and note the difference in thickness and texture. My suggestion is that if you are planning on making papercrete on a regular basis, pay attention to the paper you are using and strive to use the same paper in the same amounts each time to get consistent results. If you are planning on just one or two projects, worry not. I have used just whatever paper was at hand with many different results all of which came out just fine in the end.

Basic Recipe

This is a basic recipe that will make enough papercrete for two planters approximately 6-8″ deep, 12″ in diameter and 1/2 to 3/4″ thick. Start with approximately one gallon of water in a 3 to 5 gallon bucket.Tear an average size daily newspaper (USA Today or The Toronto Sun or Star) into 2″ strips. Push as much paper into the water as you can while still leaving an inch to 2 inches of water above the paper. Leave the paper to soak for at least 24 hours. Longer is better. Mixing is easier when the paper is soaked longer. 48 hours is good.

lumpy-oatmeal-pulp-in-bucket
Next, using a paint mixer attachment on an electric drill ( not a cordless one), mix the paper and water into a pulp. The mixer should move fairly easily around in the mixture. If you are putting a lot of effort into this or your drill sounds like it is laboring, add up to a quart or liter of water and try again. At some point you will probably need to get your hands in the bucket to pull up paper from the sides and bottom that is not getting mixed in properly. The key to making good papercrete is getting the paper pulp to the right consistency.

When the mix looks like lumpy oatmeal and you can still see just a bit of water pooling in the top when you stop mixing you can stop and test your mixture. Take a small handful of pulp and gently squeeze it into a ball in the palms of your hands. Water should easily and freely be dripping from your hands as you do this. When you open your hand the ball should keep its shape and not show signs of crumbling or separating into sections. If the ball will not hold it shape and is flattening out on its own the mixture is too wet. Compact the paper in the bucket and pour off some of the excess water. If the ball appears to be cracking apart…add water and mix again. Keep track of how much water you are adding or subtracting to adjust the starting amount for next time around. Now form the ball into a patty just like a hamburger patty for the BBQ. Patt it a bit to smooth the top and edges. It should all hold together with very little separation on the edge of the patty. Very much like a home made hamburger patty that has BBQ sauce or egg in it.

pulp-ball-colage
Eventually, when you have worked out the paper to water part of the recipe according to the paper you are using. you will be able to go forward mixing the papercrete right in the same bucket. The first time or two I recommend measuring the paperpulp into a second bucket with a scoop of some sort. I use a 1 liter (1quart) bagged milk holder. Put three scoops of paper pulp ( push the pulp into the scoop a bit to release any air pockets), two scoops of portland cement and one scoop of vermiculite ( adds a little sparkle )or pearlite into the second bucket. This is the basic 3-2-1 recipe starter recipe. Mix. Again, if you are really laboring over this add water ( keeping track of course to obtain that one shot recipe you are looking for that works with your paper choice) Test the mixture. This time the mixture should form a ball with only a very little bit of water dripping from it. It should behave as with the first tests – hold its shape and make a nice smooth patty with very little separation at the edges. Add water if it’s ‘cracking..add a little portland cement if it is having trouble keeping a ball shape. Now try the mixture in your form.

The form needs a release agent to make removing the dried container easy. Any kind of cooking oil works great which is easily applied with a 2″ brush. Form an even layer of papercrete in the bottom of your form about 1/2 -3/4″ think and start building up on the side of the form. Just do a small area and then wait a minute or two to observe. If the sides sink or slump your mixture is still just a little too wet.

papercrete-housesAdditional Notes
1. Choose forms with generously sloping sides when possible. Very steep slopes on the sides of your forms will make it more difficult to apply the papercrete without some slumping occurring and making it more difficult to release the dried container. Trying to dry the mixture up with too much portland cement to address this could make the papercrete crack and separate while drying. For very large forms or forms with straight or steep sides a reinforcing screen or mesh may be needed.(Still experimenting)

2. A small brick pointer tool or painters trowel tool can be used along the top edge of the form to smooth the area. Be sure to check that your sides are a consistent thickness for a professional looking result. A little sanding afterwards will tidy things up even more. A small drum sander attachment on your drill works nicely to smooth the top edge and the top inside walls. Lower walls and the bottom will be covered with soil so it’s fine as it is.

3. If you want drainage holes in your container you can poke a finger through the bottom layer while wet or drill one after it has dried. I prefer drilling afterwards as it just looks tidier.

4. When you have finished forming your container cover it with plastic for the first 24 hours to make the papercrete dry evenly ( not quickly on the outside surfaces and slowly in the middle). You can remove the container from the form after 24 hours. It will continue to dry for a few days. After it has dried completely try pushing your fingernail into an inconspicuous spot. Also try tapping on the outside or top edges. Your fingernail should not easily make a mark and when you tap it should make a sharp sound and feel very solid. The tapping sound will sound dull if the papercrete was too wet.
5. Papercrete can be colored with cement dye during mixing or stained afterward with stain or diluted acrylic paint. For indoor use, papercrete is porous so a sealant on the inside is probably a good idea to keep moisture absorbed by the container from damaging furniture surfaces.

I’ve done many experiments with papercrete now and have made pots and houses with papercrete that I now know was too dry or too wet. All of them came out well enough to be used even if some took longer to dry. I haven’t had any of these finished projects long enough to tell you the long term result, but I suspect that if I have trouble with any of them it will be with the ones made with too dry a mixture. It seems that not all of the paper gets a coating of wet portland in this scenario and therefore has weak spots where the paper is lacking this. With one of my houses an area where there was just an inch width of papercrete ( from a too dry mixture) above a window broke while being removed from the mold. It easily glued back together. (Out door non shrinking waterproof adhesive sealant or liquid nails) Otherwise I haven’t had any problems as of yet. I wish you all the best of papercreteing fun and hope you will share your experiments with me and each other here or on my Fairy Garden Facebook Page
Marthe

Papercrete for Fairy Gardens

Many of you may have heard of hypertufa, a mixture comprised usually of perlite, sand, peat moss and portland cement. Used first by alpine gardeners to emulate the natural tufa rock often associated with alpine plants (plants that grow above the treeline), the hypertufa mixture is used to free form artificial rock or in forms to produce gardening containers. It has a very beautiful and natural look and the peat moss and pearlite make them light weight. It has, in my opinion, three draw backs. It’s mucky to work with and it needs to be cured (dried) and leached out in water or rain for several weeks before use. In cold climates it also has a tendency to crack or deteriorate over the winter if left out doors.

Fairy Garden in a Papercrete Container made at  Papercrete Class from Lee Coates (http://thepapercretepotter.blogspot.com)

Fairy Garden in a Papercrete Container made at Papercrete Class from Lee Coates (http://thepapercretepotter.blogspot.com)

Enter papercrete! Papercrete is a mixture of paper pulp, perlite or vermiculite, and portland cement. Fillers such as sand are optional to produce different effects and textures. The paper pulp is produced by shredding any used paper you have, soaking it for a day or two in water and then pulping it with a paint mixer attachment on a drill. Lee Coates, papercreter extraordinaire, says various papers produce unique results  but his preference is good old newspaper as it is readily available in large quantities, it has a long fiber for strength and is easy to shred and pulp .

papercreteP1-scalloped-bowl-half-done

Newspaper and water pulped into an ‘oatmeal’ consistency.

How does it hold up? From Lee Coates’ Papercrete Blog : The most frequently asked question is, “How do they hold up in the water?” After shoppers find that paper is one of the ingredients in the recipe of our product I find that it is a fair question. The paper is just a fiber source that is encased by portland cement… I cannot say how long the product will hold up but we have had some of the pots in ground contact for several years without any deterioration. What we build each year once dry gets placed outside on pallets to suffer whatever Mother Nature throws at them. Containers built in the Fall are built for sale the following year so they are subjected to rain, snow, sleet, hail, and ice throughout the Winter. How do they hold up? About the same as the sidewalk in front of the house!

papercrete-in-the-snowThe basic recipe for papercrete is approximately 3 parts paper pulp, 2 parts portland cement and 1 part perlite and other optional fillers. Getting the paperpulp made to the right consistency is key. Too wet and the mixture is slumpy and if too dry – crumbly. Make small batches to experiment and get your mixture to your liking.

papercreteP1-scalloped-bowl-part-done

Hand application of papercrete in a dollar store scalloped edge salad bowl mold

To make containers  you can use anything fairly smooth coated with a bit of vegetable oil to allow easy release. Ideally, the container should be shaped in a somewhat tapering shape in such a way as to make the finished product easy to remove once dry. For an 18″ container the thickness of the papercrete should be about 3/4″. Just take handfulls of your mixture and hand form it and pat it to compact it into your mold of choice. Allow it to dry for 24 to 48 hours and remove from mold. Drainage hole can be made during by finger poking or after with a drill.

first-planters-out-of the mold

Newly released from their molds after 24 hours these containers were purposely made and left with rough top edges.

Papercrete can easily be sanded, drilled, and sawed after it is thoroughly dry. Cement dyes can be used to color it or thinned paint can be used to stain it afterwards. Adding a small amount of latex paint during mixing adds even more durability and resiliency to the end product and also acts to neutralize alkalinity.  When can you use it. Right away!

Papercrete can also be used to make fairy houses and in some places in the United States it is being used in large scale projects to build real houses!

Papercrete miniature house and molds by Lee Coates

Papercrete miniature house and molds by Lee Coates

An experiment of my own using a one part mold for the house and a one part mold for the roof of a papercrete fairy house needs some refinement although the basic idea seems to work.

Papercrete miniature house newly released from one piece mold

Papercrete miniature house newly released from one piece mold

In the final analysis, having played with both hypertufa and papercrete I find several advantages to papercrete. First it’s ‘greener’- I love the idea that it uses a resource that would otherwise be filling our landfills. It is also so clean and easy to work with , can be used right away, and appears to stand up well to freeze and thaw conditions. It’s versatile – it can be easily cut, drilled, sanded, colored , screwed and glued! What more could you want?

 

Many thanks to Lee Coates for introducing me to the wonderful world of papercrete and allowing me to use information and pictures from his blog.

Papercrete Pots by Lee Coates

Papercrete Pots by Lee Coates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairy Garden Plant Abuse

The instructions and care tag for this plant should be ……”provide unrelenting abuse”.

air-plant-abusedI am ashamed to admit that I am not the best plant nurturer around, but this time I’ve out done myself. While shopping for a few plants to use in display gardens for a show I impulsively grabbed a few interesting things called air plants. I believe they were $1.50 each . I went home armed with all the information I had about these plants which was..they were called air plants at the nursery and they had been displayed laying about on a screen.

I deduced that soil was undesirable. I loosely wrapped a bit of thin wire around them and ‘picked’ them into a sandy area of an arid fairy garden display for the show. And away we went out into the snow storm to the show.

After the show I  didn’t see the air plants in the bottom of the box I was unpacking and they were stowed into the attic in the empty box for about 2 weeks . When I next discovered them I brought them downstairs and just popped them into a small empty clay pot so they would stand up. Next thing I knew the cat had them! I rescued one immediately but the cat was on to me and dashed up the stairs into an inaccessible crawl space under the eaves.  For several days I could sometimes hear the cat playing with plant. This involved biting it, tossing it in the air, batting it around up and down the stairs etc. All the usual cat nonsense.

Finally, I did get my hands on the poor abused plant, popped it back in the clay pot and down graded the abuse to simply ignoring it completely. I couldn’t really tell if it was alive or not. It looked about the same as when I had last seen it…I’m not even sure how long ago that was, but today I noticed that it is growing and starting to flower!

I fully intend to rectify my complete ignorance about this plant. What do you know about these marvels?

As always keep having a  fairy good time …and hello, welcome and thank you to all my new followers. Feel free to shoot me a line. Always happy to hear what others are doing in the fairy garden and miniature garden DIY world.

Where did all this fairy garden nonsense come from anyway?

Image

 

I was poking around in Google Trends the other day doing some keyword trend research and discovered a few interesting tid bits of information. I was looking at the historical popularity  or the two search terms’ fairy garden’ and ‘miniature garden’ and here’s what I found.

The data starts in 2004 and of the 6 most interested nations in the term fairy garden only the United States shows enough interest to have data ranging back to 2004. however the US comes in at only fourth in over all interest.The other five in order of most interest shown in fairy garden and miniature garden and when it started to show is shown below. I all cases fairy garden was a more popular term than miniature garden.

‘Fairy Garden’                                               ‘Miniature Garden’

Australia 2007                                                 2011

South Africa 2007                                            not enough interest for data                                           

UK  2006                                                         2007

(US 2004 and beyond)                                    2004

Malaysia 2012                                                 not enough interest for data

Canada 2012                                                  2012

So now we know ..all this fairy garden nonsense came from the good ol’ US of A.

What does this data mean? I’m not sure. But I  was surprised that fairy gardening seems to be an enduring American interest rather than a trend or fad.  I had suspected that I would find that the UK showed a more historical interest. I also hope it means that Canada is just getting started and that this interest will endure:) That would be good news for fairygarden.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairy Garden Shabby Chandalier

Fish Hook Chandelier

Fish Hook Chandelier

Inspired by an image on Pinterest of a miniature chandelier made out of a fish hook I gathered up some supplies and decided to give it a go.

First off – who knew fish hooks came in such an array of sizes. I decided to buy several sizes but settled on one about 1 1/2″ high for my experiment.

Step one -squeeze those nasty little barbs on the fish hooks until they are good and flat ( pliers) and nip the pointy ends from the hooks with a a little wire cutter.

gathered-supplies -fish-hook-chandalier  I picked up some clear seed beads and some larger clear beads as well as some even larger colorful beads. For the larger beads I looked for ones with a bead cap that could be used as a candle drip catcher.  reconfigure -beads      Step Two – I pre-assembled a few items. The largest bead was dismantled, reassembled and embellished with a small clear teardrop bead to form the part that would attach to the top of each hook and eventually hold the candle.  The hole in the tear drop bead fit over the hook a little making that part easy to glue. get-some-peieces-ready

A few strands of beading wire with curled ends were used to make the three pieces that would attach to the middle of the fish hook where beads would later hang. More beading wire pieces with a tear drop and several seed beads were made ready for hanging as well.

Step 3 – Assemble. Easier said than done :) I painted the fish hook first. Much of the paint rubbed off during the assembly – and I’m going with the “I meant to do that story” and calling it shabby chic!

I started in the middle with the three pieces of twisted wire with curls at the ends, poisitioning them evenly around the middle post as best I could. Then I twisted a bit of wire around the bottom and top of the group.  I pulled and poked and eventually shaped the twisted wire into a shape I found pleasing and that would allow me to hang beads out away from the post, and then tightened the wire I had placed at the  top and bottom.

making-the-candlesAfter the bead chains were hung and the larger beads glued to the hooks it was time to make the candles.

Premo translucent clay was used  for making the candles. I just rolled out a thin snake, cut a few little pieces, poked a tiny bit of wire in the end and popped them in the toaster oven. Glue.

Fussy but fun. Keep crafting and, as always, have a fairy good time. Marthe

Fairy Garden Wire Crafts

wire-and-nail-polish-flower2Never fear to experiment. After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe a less than satisfactory result. Even then, chances are you will have learned something from your effort that can be used to improve on the present experiment or be useful to another wire-crafts-for-fairy-gardenscraft project.

Like most of my ideas, I borrowed this one and adapted it to my purposes. I saw a Pin displaying twisted wire flower crafts for making  wearable art and decided to adapt the idea to making a fairy wand. That went ok so I tried a few other things… flowers, a butterfly, and a set of fairy wings.

wire-tree-and-cardinalThen, having seen and admired twisted wire trees and leafy wire garlands on a fairy garden supplies website I went ahead and tried making my own. leafy-garland-wire-craftAnd learned a few things along the way.

If you try this tree start with an even number of wire pieces (I used 19 gauge black craft wire), at least eight to have sufficient wire for making the ‘legs’ or roots at the bottom and a good number of branches. For the leaves a thin beading wire is easy to work with and comes in many colors. I made a leafy wire garland  and added it to the tree .

loop-wire-techniqueThe basic technique for all of these projects is a simple loop. After you have a loop give  it a couple of twists to keep its shape. To make the loop shape more leaf like insert a round object  into the loop and then pinch the outer end of the loop with a pair of pliers.

Brush the leaf or flower petal area with nail polish. This works somewhat the way bubbles on a bubble wand works. If the area to be painted is small enough try to spread the brush out to cover the whole area and gently let the polish fill the hole. For larger areas start the polish in the tightest area holding the piece so that the polish clan flow down across the rest of the area. For the flower in the first picture I used a bit of acrylic paint for the flower center.

Go ahead and experiment with other shapes, paints and wires and as always, have a fairy good time. Marthe

 

 

 

 

Fairy Garden House from Bird House

Sometimes the best things come from just starting a little experiment and letting it take you where it will.

fairy-houses-from-bird-house-croppedI often see cute plain wood bird houses in the dollar store ready for decorating and think there must be a way to turn that into a fairy house. I’ve brought a few home and today I decided to tackle one and see what would unfold. I also had some pine cones stashed away so I started by getting out my garden sheers and tearing it apart into pieces for a roof covering.

While doing so I was eying up the bird house and wondering how I could get rid of the perch sticking out . I took my garden sheers to it and sure enough , that worked. The wood seemed quite soft so I then used a box cutter to cut the bird hole into a doorway shape.fairy-house-from-bird-house-3

I added a little artificial moss to the roof and was thinking I wanted something twiggy to happen next. Then a lovely woman from PEI called and asked If I could paint some fairy houses with some lively colors for some young children coming into her life and suddenly I wanted color. I also had a notion to incorporate some twisted wire and nail polish ideas I had played with lately.

The result was a somewhat disjointed looking mess but I did not despair. I liked the happy color and decided to white wash the pine cone roof..add a poly clay door frame and a window. The thought came that it was getting a bit of a beach hut look so I went with it and made the window a fish shape.  From no where really, I thought I could make the funny wire nail polish thing in the doorway fit in by adding a ‘bead curtain’ of wire and clay.  The brown moss got touches of preserved brighter green moss to color it up. A final touch was some clay flowers hanging from the roof like patio lanterns.

And there it was..my experiment had morphed itself into some kind of beach hippy love hut fairy house. Not at all what  I started out to do!

hippy beach

So experiment..and as always , have a fairy good time, Marthe  And thank you to Mary from PEI for coloring my day!