5 Labor Day DIY Projects: Build a Winery, Plant a Rooftop Garden + Make Moonshine
DIY: Homemade apartment-window liqueur
Holiday traffic, bars reeking of stale beer, hoards of people intent on their last beach fling. Ah, Labor Day weekend fun. Actually, it's the perfect excuse to stay home and channel your inner Euell Gibbons and forage for backyard cattails.
Or, if you're not swamp-adjacent, build a mini-winery in your hall closet. Plant that trellised vegetable garden on your apartment patio, the one you've been saying all summer you're going to finish. Distill something or, if you prefer to keep things legal, make homemade liqueur with summer fruit (photo above). All good, old-fashioned hard work, but not in that paint-the-kitchen literal "laboring" sense. It's Labor Day weekend, but also the end of summer, so we might as well have some fun.
Get the resources you need to make that home winery (!), trellised garden and other projects after the jump.
5. Build a home winery:
Steve Hughes' recently released reference guidebook, The Homebuilt Winery, is all you need to get on your grape-fermenting way. It's so great, in fact, we are considering getting a subscription to WineMaker magazine, where Hughes is a regular contributor, even though we have absolutely zero space to build a home winery. (That's what apartment courtyards are for, right?) Hughes guides you through the entire wine equipment making process step-by-step, then hands over plenty of DIY "extras" like how to make your own carboy closures ("Silicone bungs have become the Cadillac of barrel and carboy closures. ... Make them and save yourself some money") and craft a disgorging freezer from plywood, foam and a small plastic pan "such as a kitty litter pan" (unused, we hope). And our favorite, in the last chapter: how to build a "Winedirondack" chair from an old wine barrel because, as Hughes notes, "It's time to sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of your effort."
Though the book's press release promises you can even build a home winery in your closet, looking at the size of that handmade wood wine press ("the quintessential piece of winemaking equipment"), we're going to bet Hughes hasn't been in too many L.A. apartments. A decent-sized apartment patio, though, would work. Imagine the fun you'll have with that (very loud) power saw when the college kids next door crank up the Labor Day tunes.
4. Make moonshine:
While we're on an alcohol kick, it's also the ideal weekend to try your hand at distilling a little moonshine.
And not just because it's an illegal activity, and much of the LAPD police force will be out at DUI checkpoints for the holiday weekend (though that is pretty handy).
But because the beauty of moonshine is that by nature it has no structure, no flavor commitment. It can be whatever you want it to be, a last summer fling. Throw in a little of this and that and see what happens, add everything at once or plan on a few additional flavorings down the road.
Sure, in an ideal spirit world, that last sip of summer fun will turn out perfectly. If not, it's all the more reason to pull out those Traditional Distillation for the next batch this fall.
3. Plant something edible:
While everyone else is getting sunburned at the beach, why not do it at home with the added benefit of radicchio in a few months? Senga Lindsay's Edible Landscaping is fantastic, one of the best guidebooks to urban gardens that we've seen (it details how to construct the physical structure of your garden more than what to plant).
In this compact guidebook, the Vancouver-based designer details how to build a rooftop (or garage-top) vegetable garden, the best containers and plants for an apartment balcony garden, what edible plants hold up best in high-traffic "street" gardens (in medians or spaces adjacent to pedestrian walkways), and how to build a vegetable and herb garden directly into your outdoor kitchen space so your produce is literally an arm's length away. There's even a "square-foot garden" technique (small, tightly packed raised-bed gardens) if you're extremely tight on space.
If you're lucky, you can forage in your backyard to find purslane and other wild weeds.
If not, maybe you'll be able to talk your way into a nasturtium quest with a couple of L.A. chefs this weekend.
Regardless, foraging is the perfect excuse to venture out (quietly) on your own.
If you're new to foraging, you might want to invest a few dollars in one of Pascal Baudar's weekly "Friday foraging" guided walks, held at various L.A. parks and neighborhoods (two hours for $10).
A resource pamphlet like David Winkler's concise (and laminated for back-pocket hiking ease) Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of California (left) is also a wise investment, particularly when you're dealing with a fungus that, should you chose the wrong type, might lead to an untimely Labor Day weekend demise.
Though really, we can think of worse ways to go than strolling through the mountains on a holiday weekend searching for mushrooms.
1. Preserve or ferment something:
Really, what better dénouement for the season of self-preservation (500-degree-plus grills, saberlike vegetable skewers, aggressive customers elbowing their way to the front of farmers market stands) could there be than preserving the last summer produce? Clean out the produce drawer and dig into one of the endless new canning and preserving books like The Pickled Pantry. It's a handy tribute to classics like pickled watermelon rinds, kimchi and Italian-style tomato relish. Author Andrea Chesman also includes recipes like a German chocolate sauerkraut cake that your grandmother might have made in her dairy-rationing days to use some of that homemade sauerkraut.
But if you're really keen on becoming a master preservationist, The Art of Fermentation is essential for the full range of pickling inspiration. Growing mold cultures, everyday yogurt dilemmas, jam, jelly, preserves and pickles -- they're all here. You'll even find guidelines to making the ultimate DIY brew: "spit-fermented" cassava masato (chewing and spitting out the cassava helps initiate the fermentation process in this traditional African beer). A lot more fun to talk about at the office on Tuesday than holiday traffic.
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