Category Archives: Recycled Building Materials

Backyard Permaculture!

Digging the first swale in 2006.

2007.  First year’s garden after our Permaculture design implementation began.

The garden in August of 2013.

It now includes ducks, chickens, honeybee hives, annual and perennial food crops, 20 fruit trees, berries, grapes, fruit-bearing shrubs, medicinal herbs, dye and cordage plants, 3000 gallons of rainwater catchment, a rainwater-fed pond-to-garden system, a greywater-fed garden (left of the pathway), prolific backyard composting operation and an operating greenhouse built with 95% recycled materials.  All on a 6000 square foot lot with a 1200 square foot house and a five minute walk to downtown.   Urban Permaculture! 

A Reverence for Wood


Many years ago my husband became enamored with the books of Eric Sloane. Over the years we searched the “used” section at our downtown bookstore COPPERFIELD’S and were able to pick up many different volumes of his work.

Sloane was considered an artist, philosopher, historian and environmentalist. He had a keen interest in New England folk culture, Colonial daily life, and Americana. He wrote and illustrated quite a number of books on tools, architecture, farming techniques, folklore, and rural wisdom. Every book included detailed illustrations and hand lettered titles. A few of our favorites are Our Vanishing Landscape (1955), A Museum of Early American Tools (1973) , A Reverence for Wood (1965) and An Age of Barns (1975).

In this age of reclaimed, recycled, and re-purposed materials Eric Sloane’s work can be an inspiration. He saw the beauty and utility of what was being lost in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. He tried to preserve it in his books. Now, from those books we can learn about the skills, tools, architecture, and wisdom of what has been lost.

Here are some images of our recycled Redwood front gates. Inspired by Eric Sloane and built by my husband a few years ago.


Materials used: 100 year-old Petaluma chicken barn wood for fence boards (these collapsed barns can be found all over the Petaluma countryside), old barn beams as posts, old barn beam cut-offs for the arbor, recycled deck wood for the gate framing.

Sources: Heritage Salvage, Sonoma Compost, and our own deck re-build. The rusty lag bolts came from the Petaluma Junk Company in the back of Masselli’s.

Above, the gate when new. Below, as the gate looks today. The wooden spring on the gate latch was taken directly from Eric Sloane’s books. It was made out of scavenged cherry wood and the latch itself is made of scavenged hardwood shelving pieces from a defunct wine cooling unit.


Hopefully, we can do our part to preserve and conserve those pieces of the past that still have utility and beauty. If not, we can learn the useful skills of the past and put them to good use in the future. No one’s going to do it for us. We’re going to have to do it ourselves!

The Greenhouse Comes to Life

We love building with recycled, reclaimed and salvaged materials. The redwood for the greenhouse framing came from a disassembled water tank. The wood had been stored in a barn for 50 odd years awaiting reuse. Luckily, someone who knew its value was present when the water tank was taken down. It is beautiful wood.

At Sonoma Compost there are stacks and stacks of reclaimed redwood boards. People tear down Redwood decks and fences and take the wood to the dump. Luckily, they set it aside for reuse. We’ve found gorgeous water tank wood there, as well as beams from old barns. It’s wonderful to see all that useful and beautiful wood being diverted from the wood chipper and eventually the compost heap. Thank you Sonoma Compost! Check them out at www.sonomacompost.com. They are located at the Sonoma County Landfill. 500 Meacham Road in Petaluma.

The greenhouse rafters are tank wood and the ridge beam is made from old siding off of our house. It was in the lumber pile and it fit the bill. Blessedly, it was unpainted redwood as well. In the background our backyard Redwood tree looks down on the new 6′ X 9′ greenhouse.

All of the windows for the greenhouse walls came from Recycletown (www.garbage.org) at the Sonoma County Landfill, Petaluma. We could not have found more perfect windows for our needs. Nine of them six-feet tall with bottom sliding windows and screens for ventilation. They made the project much easier to build because of their height and uniformity.

Now that we have our final dimensions we will look for a door and some front windows at Recycletown or Urban Ore (www.urbanhore.com). Right now, we’re in the middle of a storm so construction has halted. We’ll post any progress once we get back to work.

Good Ol’ Truck, Good Ol’ Wheelbarrow

Around here we love old things. I guess that’s why we bought this old house. When we bought it the realtor considered it a ‘tear down’. She thought someone would buy it just to build something new in it’s place. We saw the heart and soul in it. It’s great natural light, the wildness of the yard, the good neighbors.

When we dug into and got down to the bones of it we travelled from the 1970’s back to 1907. That’s a lot of layers and sadly a lot of trips to the dump. We needed a truck for dump runs and after buying the house there was no money left to purchase such a thing. Then, we remembered Big Blue sitting out in a field at my husband’s old family place. The ’69 Chevy hadn’t run in many years but we knew it could. With some elbow grease and a trip to the junk yard for new wheels and tires Big Blue was on the road again. In no time we were on our first run to the dump with a truck load of green 70’s carpeting, cheap wood paneling, and many layers of wallpaper and acoustic ceiling panels. We were feeling good and getting things done. Then the hood blew up and the engine overheated and we were stuck on the side of the road. We were out in the country so we knocked on the door of a nearby farmhouse and got some water for the radiator. Got some rope to tie the hood down and continued on our way.

When we got there we couldn’t believe all of the trucks and trailers filled with usable things heading for the landfill. This was the last year our local dump just had you drive to the edge of a great precipice and dump everything over it. As we pulled up to our spot on the edge I saw a truck parking with a wheelbarrow in the back. As my husband parked I jumped out and ran like the bionic woman over to that doomed wheelbarrow. “Wait!” I yelled. “I’ll take that!”. Whew! Nick of time. I had it in my possession. We got it home, fobbed up a new axle for it and have been using it for 9 years now.

As I said, that was the last year our dump operated that way. Now, there is mandatory recycling and an amazing place called Recycletown where the still-usable items are sold for a nominal price.

I recently thought about all of this while using the wheelbarrow to haul base rock for the floor of our new greenhouse. We just started construction last week. It will be built with windows from Recycletown, redwood from an old water tank, salvaged leaded and stained glass windows and a salvaged door. Should be fun! I’ll post our progress here.

Big Blue has since gone on to be a Father and Daughter restoration project in a nearby town.