Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hypertufa Pot Party

Sure you can do it alone. But it’s so much easier and more fun with the gang.

No, this isn’t brain surgery. The dust masks are just a good idea to prevent irritants from peat, perlite and portland cement from entering the lungs while mixing up some hypertufa to make custom pots. The Hawai'i Island Master Gardeners are an adventuresome bunch, and on this occasion they were up for some constructive mud rasslin’. There were small pots, generous bowls, a fernleaf-imprinted birdbath, and troughs of various sizes, including one of porcine proportions. The collection of handcrafted vessels that emerged from the hypertufa workshop I supposedly led were a sight to behold.

I say supposedly because these are experienced gardeners who are used to working with their hands and getting down and dirty, so I didn’t have to tell them much. Indeed, they made quick work of sifting/unclumping the peat and combining it with the aggregates.

And when they finished making their containers, cleanup was a breeze because everyone knew how to pitch in, shoot the mess down with water, and pack up all the tools and materials lickety-split. Then everyone handily helped each other load up their creations in their vehicles to transport home for the curing process. What teamwork!

If you’ve been thinking about making hypertufa but are hestitant to get started, I highly recommend that you gather some buddies together to do it. That way you at least have some help to prep and tidy up, plus you have companions to joke around with if, heaven forbid, you’re like me and sometimes your project starts to self-destruct because your creativity has pushed the limits of the process a bit too far.

Some more tips:

  • If you’re just starting your first project, choose a mold that’s easy to work with. For example, what works well is a small, shallow bowl, about 9 inches in diameter or less and with sloping sides. Smaller shapes are more forgiving.
  • Hypertufa has a tendency to “slump,” especially if it has a little too much water. In fact, I think the hardest part is figuring out the amount of water to add. Too much, and you’ve got a mix that lets gravity take over and the sides are too thick and the top (what becomes the bottom) is too thin. Not enough water in the mix makes it crumbly. It should hold its shape, but not ooze a lot of water nor dry out too quickly.
  • Cover the mold with a plastic bag to make it easier to remove after the first cure. A mold that has a ridge or lip can make removing it difficult.

I’ll be featuring some of the master gardeners’ pieces later on when they are finished curing. I’d love to hear your stories, if you’ve done these type of projects too. Just drop me a comment.

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