Weekend projects - raised beds, planter boxes, and bacon

Guest post by Tom today.

This long President's Day weekend, I worked on a few different projects around the house. It's nice to take a break from working at a desk, and it's nice to work on some projects that you can look at afterwards and say "I did that".

First off, there's the new raised beds that Elizabeth has mentioned. Last fall we'd covered the last of the grass in our yard, and so this weekend was a good weekend to get the raised beds built. The space we had to fill was a little oddly-shaped, and we wanted to break out of the square and rectangular mold with these beds, so there's a large center diamond and four smaller triangular beds.


The redness of the new redwood will fade to match the other raised beds in the background, and of course we still have to get a bunch of dirt and fill them in (and run some drip lines to them). Elizabeth's still finalizing what will go in here – some perennial vegetables, a citrus tree? It'll get some shade during the summer, so that's something to consider.

The next project was to work on some planter boxes for the back patio. I built four in total, taking inspiration from a simple planter box design I saw online. These planter boxes will form the basis for our backyard hopyard. I sketched up plans for a big ol' arbor, but then started doing math on how much the lumber would set us back, and decided that the planter boxes would be this year's construction, and that we'll go with a more economical trellising system using 3/4" electrical conduit.

I was fortunate to be able to go over to Elizabeth's dad's shop and take my big pieces of lumber and break them down into many small pieces of lumber. Here's how the boxes came together:

Side panels were made with 4 two-foot sections of 1x6, with a 1x4 crosspiece top and bottom.

Legs that were slightly larger than the side panels were attached, along with a horizontal cleat, using 2x2's. (Note: in the final version, I moved the cleat to be 12" below the top of the side panels).

After combining the four side panels, I put 1x2 slats evenly spaced across the cleats:

I then stapled in a double-thickness of landscape fabric across the bottom, to keep the dirt in but let excess water through.

The final boxes are substantial – they probably come in at around 30-40 pounds, and that's without any dirt. Some of that is the water content in this very new redwood I'm working with, but I'm hopeful that this will be a solid base upon with to attach our vertical supports for the hopyard.

The final project of the weekend was bacon! It's been almost a year since I took that salumi-making class with Angelo Garro, and I haven't gotten the wherewithal to actually follow up that lesson with any salumi-making of my own (mostly because I've prioritized other things over making a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment for aging salumi and cheeses).

Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago I got my hands on a copy of Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, which talks about how to make all kinds of meat products, from duck confit to salumi and sausages to patés and terrines to – yes – bacon! Of all of these, bacon seemed to be one of the more straightforward things to attempt – it cures at regular refrigerator temperatures, and while it'd be nice if I owned a smoker so that I could make hickory-smoked bacon, it's not strictly necessary. There's only one speciality ingredient, "pink" salt, which is salt mixed with sodium nitrite. Pink salt is used to stave off the bacteria that causes botulism, and is readily available online. (Note: don't confuse the curing-meat pink salt with that fancy himalayan pink salt).

I worked with the basic cure mentioned in the book, which is just sugar, salt, and a teaspoon of the pink salt:

I squared up the edges of the pork belly that I got, slathered over the cure, and put it in a big (2 gallon) ziplock bag:



It now gets to sit in the fridge for seven days, with me flipping it daily. After seven days, I wash off the cure, and then heat up the pork belly in a 200ºF oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 150ºF (this would nominally be the step where I'd smoke it, if I had a smoker). Cool it off, slice it up, fry it up, yum. If this works out, we could have some very nice BLT's in the summer.

Well, I think that's about enough for one weekend. Time to enjoy the product of a previous weekend's work:

A really nice homebrew IPA. I'm thinking of calling it Hoppy Corners.

A really nice homebrew IPA. I'm thinking of calling it Hoppy Corners.