Monthly Archives: September 2020
Monthly Archives: September 2020
Coir Is A Workable Substitution If You Don’t Want To Use Peat Moss In Your ‘Tufa Recipe
I received an email from a gentleman in the United Kingdom asking me, “I am very interested in your excellent site and in particular hypertufa. I am based in the UK and peat is a no-no environmentally. Can you recommend a peat substitute for a hypertufa recipe?”
I was able to tell him that yes, I could.
As a matter of fact I have a hypertufa recipe I shared with him that uses coir, also known as coconut fibers, that works quite well.
What is coir?
But I did ask him why peat had become a “no-no”. After all, there is so much of it in the world it certainly is a “renewable” plant/product, and I have read that Canada, for instance, does practice controlled harvesting.
His reply was “[there’s] still plenty of peat around in all purpose compost here and you can still get peat, but it’s known as being an unsustainable resource and all the big retailers have policies to reduce and eradicate it over the next few years.”
So, that being said, I decided I ought to post this coir hypertufa recipe on my website, because it might be of help to other crafters that want to try a variation on a “true” hypertufa recipe, or for those folks in the U.K. who have difficulty finding garden grade peat moss.
Coir Does Not Decompose As Quickly As Peat Moss
I have to mention that you need to be aware that coir isn’t going to decompose as quickly as peat moss does. To be honest, I think you will be waiting quite a while longer for it to do so. Door mats are made of coir. If you’ve ever used one, you’ll know what I mean about it not decomposing quickly.
The reason peat moss is an integral ingredient to a “true” hypertufa recipe, is that when it decomposes, it leaves pits and crevices. This mimics real Tufa rock. So you must understand that the finished look of your garden art object made from this recipe will be different looking from a true ‘tufa recipe. Oh, it’ll hold up just as well, it’s just as time goes on, it may not resemble real Tufa as much as a peat moss based recipe would.
Hypertufa Recipe With Coir
2 parts coir (coconut fiber)
1-1/2 parts perlite
2 parts Portland cement
Enough water to make proper consistency
As with all hypertufa recipes, these measurements are not exact, and it may take a little experimentation to get a recipe you’re happy working with.
For information on mixing, curing, etc. please refer to these other pages of information:
Mixing Guidelines: Tips to Avoid Unnecessary Mistakes
Curing Hypertufa: Proper Methods For Success
Good luck with this project and remember … Have Fun!
Start With One Of These Hypertufa Recipes And Learn The Basics
Here are 4 proven, reliable and time-tested hypertufa recipes that will help assure your next project will be headed for a successful outcome. These have been used by scores of hypertufa novices and artisans alike. I’ve also included mixing tips and guidelines to help you cut out any guesswork.
There is one “ingredient” missing from these recipes … your expertise. However, the expertise is really rather simple to attain. Obviously, the more experience you have working in hypertufa, the better you will become at knowing when your ingredients are blended to the proper consistency andare ready to be applied to your mold.
It Takes Just a Little More Skill Than Making a Mud-Pie
You’ll do just fine on your very first project by following all the directions, but once again, practice does make perfect. So, through experience you’ll get the hang of:
If you’ve never tried working with hypertufa, then click here for a Beginners Hypertufa Recipe. I really suggest you start with this recipe. It’s a little more affordable because you don’t have to make a big investment in the various ingredients.
The following hypertufa recipes have two things in common — Portland cement and peat moss. Also note that the ratios of one ingredient to another may vary in these recipes. Please follow the directions, OK? Thank you. I want you to be successful, remember?
Portland Cement is NOT Concrete
I’ll repeat this so you understand fully … Portland cement is NOT concrete! Portland cement is an ingredient of concrete. Concrete is a composite building material made from the combination of aggregate and a cement binder. I don’t want you buying and lugging home the wrong 30lb., or worse, 80 lb. bag of product.
Also be aware that Portland cement is available in grey or white. Grey seems to be just fine for most projects. White lends itself well to a granite look — just make sure to use small or medium size perlite in your mix. White would also be your choice if you are using cement/concrete colorants. **Start by adding one cup of powdered colorant to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Learn to Make These & Then Tweak To Your Heart’s Content
Note: “Part” = whatever container you are using to measure the dry ingredients. Use the same size container for all ingredients! This keeps the proper ratio needed for each recipe.
Basic Hypertufa Recipe A
1 part Portland cement
1½ parts peat
1½ parts perlite
This recipe is suggested if you want the ability to carve a pattern or design into the ‘tufa. It is workable while still quite damp. This would also be a good basic “granite look” recipe. (Use white Portland cement.)
Basic Hypertufa Recipe B
1 part Portland cement
1½ parts peat
1½ parts vermiculite
Vermiculite, instead of perlite, will add a little extra weight to your object. There is also a little sparkle to the vermiculite, which can be a nice touch. This recipe is also carvable as the one above.
Hypertufa Recipe For Added Strength
1 part Portland cement
1 part sand
1 part peat
1 part perlite or vermiculite
Note this is using an equal ratio of all ingredients. This mixture will give you a stronger ‘tufa. It will be a bit heavier than the first 2 recipes. Your choice of sand (textures vary here, too) will affect the final coloration of your object.
Hypertufa Recipe With Fiber Mesh For Added Strength
2 parts Portland cement
2 parts perlite
1½ parts peat moss
½ part coarse sand
1 large handful nylon fiber mesh
Please be aware that the fiber mesh product might be a bit hard to find in your area.
You may get a blank stare from the sales clerk when you ask for it. It’s used in commercial concrete applications, so … if you’re having trouble finding some, seek out your local ready-mix concrete company. They should have the fiber mesh already bagged, available to sell for about $10/bag. One bag will last you a looooong time.
In case you’ve not yet read Hypertufa Safety Guidelines please read it before you even think of starting to mix up any hypertufa recipe! Thank you.
Many a hypertufa maker has had the sad experience of having their project start to crack, crumble or not even set solid. It just starts falling to pieces soon after it starts to cure. And many remain baffled as to why it happened.
They followed the recipe to a “T”, but after they applied the mixture to the mold, everything seemed to start going downhill from there. Although it’s said that making hypertufa is almost as easy as making a “mud-pie”, there are some important facts to know that will greatly increase the odds that all your ‘tufa projects will be successful.
Even a few minutes without the right level of moisture can cause severe cracking and the loss of many hours of work.
Unfortunately, even a slight breeze in your workspace can rob enough moisture from your mixture to cause it to fail. The less air movement around you, the more moisture you’ll keep in. Avoid breezes while you are working. Sorry, you definitely don’t want to have a fan pointed at yourself to stay cool while you’re working on your project!
If you are doing your hypertufa project outside, dealing with breezes can be frustrating. Mother Nature isn’t very accommodating in letting us know when a breeze or gust of wind will happen. Try to find a sheltered spot you can work in.
The Mixture is Applied and Your Object is Ready … Now What?
You’ve applied all the hypertufa mixture and are happy with your garden art object so far. Great … you’re moving along in the right direction.
Here’s your next step: carefully place your object into a large black plastic trash bag (or similar) and seal it up tightly. (If your object is too heavy to lift, then do your best to cover with black plastic. Keep in mind you are trying to retain moisture to help the object dry slowly.) Plastic trash bags, plastic roll sheeting, anything that is air and moisture tight will also do the job.
Additional step: many ‘tufa makers will thoroughly mist the object with water before sealing up the bag. As I’ve said elsewhere on these pages, there is no exact science to anything regarding hypertufa. That includes the “best way” to cure it. It’s frustrating, but the truth is while one technique may work for one ‘tufa maker, that same technique may not be successful for another. Trial and error will show you what works for you.
Seal the bag as air tight as possible. You may want to inflate it a little to help keep it from touching (and possibly making an unwanted impression on) your object’s surface.
We’re moving right along … what’s the next steps?
Two Options That Will Work In All Types of Climates
Two Options: Place It in Direct Sunlight or Keep It In The Shade … Either Will Work
Here we go again … one hypertufa maker swears by one method, and another says “I’ve never had to do that. My pieces always come out great”. OK, take your pick. Try it either way. From my experience, these both work, and depending upon how large an object you’ve made, the spot you are able to leave it undisturbed during the curing process and other factors like these, will determine which method you will use or have to use. It’s up to you.
If you cannot place your project where it will receive direct sunlight, fine. Your next step will be to periodically open the bag, mist the surface to keep it moist, and reclose (or recover your larger object) after misting.
If you can place it where it will receive direct sunlight, that’s fine, too. Try to put it where it will get as much direct sun as possible. Because the bag is sealed, it creates a very hot environment. The heat will cause a lot of moisture to be released from the hydrating cement. The moisture will condense on the inside of the sealed black plastic bag and now you have an “automatic” water supply that will help keep your object properly hydrated while curing. A built in “mister”.
This First Stage of Curing Lasts About 2 to 4 Days
How long does it take a hypertufa project to dry? It depends upon the humidity and temperature. And … the recipe you used; also how thickly you applied the ‘tufa to the mold. This is why making hypertufa is not a set of cut and dry rules. Experience in experimenting with recipes and different types of projects brings you the expertise, just like everything else in life!
After approximately 24 hours you will want to test your new, and still curing, hypertufa object. Carefully open the bag (or uncover) and see if your fingernail can scratch off any ‘tufa. If you can, seal it back up and wait another 12-36 hours. When you can’t really scratch any off (without some difficulty), you’re ready to unmold your object. Your object is still a bit fragile! Remove from the mold carefully.
If you want to add texture to the object’s surface, you need to do that now before you move on to the next step.
Caution: when handling damp pieces you should wear your gloves! Your hands need to be protected.
Please refer to this MUST READ article: Hypertufa Safety Guidelines.
You Can’t Rush The Cure So Relax! Give Your Project The Rest It Needs
Gingerly place your object back into the plastic bag and seal tightly. You can now keep your object at room temperature. Continue to keep it moist, misting occasionally if needed. Allow it to cure for at least another week but the longer it can slowly cure in a moist environment, the better.
At this point, most ‘tufa makers will keep the object bagged up for a month or more. (I’ve seen it written that a one month cure time can result in 25% stronger ‘tufa). As my dear Grandma used to say, “Patience is a virtue”. You too need to be patient. Remember what I just told you. The longer and more slowly it can cure in a moist environment, the stronger your hypertufa will be. Curing will also take longer at cooler temperatures.
Alright, now you’re ready to get rid of that black plastic bag! Your new garden art object can be removed and left until it is completely dried … you’ll know if it sounds hollow when tapped.
You’re not quite done yet. There is one more important thing to consider …
Cured Hypertufa is Very Alkaline
Due to the Portland cement, the ‘tufa ends up being very alkaline. If you have ever seen a white powdery residue on new cement, that is the free lime leaching out. This lime causes the alkalinity. Most agree that the lime is toxic to most plants and therefore needs to be leached from the object if you are going to use it as a planter.
Here’s where “I have success doing it this way” and “I have success doing it that way” comes into play again. You can find many varying methods on leaching out the lime. Personally, I have successfully followed an easy method: I soak my ‘tufa planter in a larger container of fresh water. I change the water every day for 3 days. It is plant safe by then.
Note: The lime can still burn your skin so wear your gloves. If the planter is too large to fit into another container, I’ll hose it down once or twice a day for 3-5 days.
Other recommendations are to leave the planter outside for 1 or up to 2 months, allowing it to weather naturally by being rained upon. I’ve even read of leaching baths concocted from various chemicals — and chemicals that are not very user friendly. I’ve read of others spraying down the hypertufa with household vinegar. From my research and experience, I wouldn’t consider the chemical or vinegar suggestions as satisfactory methods.
On a side note, if you are going to be making planters, think about tackling a “planter project” in the fall or winter. You will have ample time for a proper curing and you can put it outside to leach naturally. Your planter will be ready by spring and you’ll not have lost any valuable growing time.
As with all hypertufa projects … experiment to find what works best for you.
A Great Beginners Hypertufa Video Overview
In an effort to provide all the hypertufa “how-tos” I can for you on my website, I certainly understand the value of being able to see someone in action, making a hypertufa garden art item from start to finish. If you are like me, I often learn a new skill a whole lot quicker if I can see what I’m supposed to do, rather than read the written instructions.
I wish I was, but I am not yet at the point where I can offer hypertufa videos of myself taking you through all the steps. I’m working towards that goal, so please be patient with me.
However, with the internet being as wonderful as it is these days, and with online videos all the rage, I now can provide you with what I feel is a great 3-minute basic tutorial for making a hypertufa trough.
The video is provided by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension’s “Backyard Farmer” program, which has been helping gardeners for more than 50 years.
In this video, you’ll get a good quick look at how to make a hypertufa recipe; how to mix and blend the ingredients; and how to make a rustic trough using a box, plastic sheeting and another plastic container to form the interior area. This is a good “first” project.
This Is Such A Great & Simple Way to Make A ‘Tufa Trough’
Get Your Popcorn & Let the Camera Roll … Please Watch The Video Now
OK, do you see how relatively easy it is to work with hypertufa ingredients?
The method shown to make the trough is rather “rustic” (many crafters take great pains to make more perfectly formed troughs), however hypertufa is supposed to replicate real Tufa rock, and the peat moss is supposed to deteriorate over time, leaving pits and crevices just like real Tufa.
So a haphazard approach when constructing a trough isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This type of construction method might very well give you a trough that ends up looking like you carved it out of a large hunk of Tufa. That could prove to be a pretty neat looking trough in your garden!
The only thing I feel the video should have included was adding drainage holes. I HIGHLY suggest that you make at least three drainage holes in the bottom of any hypertufa trough or ‘tufa planter.
You can use short pieces of ¾-inch to 1-inch dowels, or even short pieces of thick branches to stick into the bottoms of your hypertufa troughs. Or, you could just make ¾-inch or wider holes in the trough bottom. Just make sure your wet hypertufa recipe doesn’t “ooze” back into the holes you’ve made.
After you properly cure your trough (click here to learn more: hypertufa curing guidelines) and are ready to plant in it, place a small piece of mesh or screening material over the holes before you add the soil. This will keep the soil from washing out the holes every time you water the trough, and also stop slugs and other bugs from entering up through the holes.
I Wish You Success With All Your Hypertufa Projects!
If You’re Not Quite Sure Hypertufa-Making Is For You … Save Some Money And Try This Recipe
This hypertufa recipe is a good choice for someone who’s never tried making ‘tufa but certainly wants to get going and make a new garden art object.
You can give it a try and see if working with hypertufa is a craft that really excites and inspires you.
**Note: I’ll give a free plug to the “Quikrete” company and say that you’ll very easily find their “Sand (Topping) Mix” in the yellow bag at most hardware and big-box DIY stores. If you’re lucky, some stores in some states carry 10lb bags. Otherwise, 40lbs. is the smallest bag available. Either way, you are still saving money using this hypertufa recipe.
Peat moss can be readily purchased at your local gardening supplier or DIY store’s garden center.
Perlite can be purchased in smaller quantities, again at your local gardening supplier or DIY store’s garden center.
Vermiculite, on the other hand, is harder to find due to bad publicity about a certain vermiculite mine awhile back. Now most of the DIY stores no longer stock it. But the good news is that it continues to be used by professional pool contractors and large greenhouse growers, to name a few. You may have to make a few phone calls to locate either of these important hypertufa recipe ingredients.
What project do you have in mind? I suggest you start with what is probably the easiest beginner’s project — a trough. I’ve got two excellent sources of information on my website to help you.
First, I encourage you to click here to view this 3-minute video: Beginners Hypertufa Trough How-To Video. You’ll gain a pretty good idea of the basics involved.
Then, after you read through the recipe instructions below, go to this page Easy Hypertufa Trough. I walk you through in more detail about the ins and outs of making a hypertufa trough.
Make sure and have your mold or form, and everything else you’re going to need ready to go! Once you mix up the hypertufa (including the 10-minute rest period), you need to start applying it.
Remember, once the water mixes with the cement … it is chemically starting to “cook”. Hypertufa is not a wet mixture that can be stored away for future projects! It’s kind of like the saying “use it or lose it!”
Alrighty then, here’s the recipe:
1 part pre-mixed Portland cement/sand mix
1 part peat moss
1 part perlite or vermiculite
1) Please familiarize yourself with what you need to do BEFORE you even open a bag of any of the ingredients!
Please read the Hypertufa safety guidelines : Hypertufa Safety Guidelines
2) It is highly suggested if at all possible, you shake, turn and jostle the bag of premix product (yes, this will be hard if you had to buy the 40lb. bag) to help redistribute the ingredients. Things do tend to settle when sitting on a store shelf. Careful – don’t burst the bag. You might want to place the entire premix sack into a heavy-duty garbage bag, just in case.
3) In a wheelbarrow or large plastic mixing container, thoroughly blend the three recipe ingredients.
4) Start to add water slowly! Begin to mix everything with your gloved hands. Add a little bit more water. Mix, add a little more water. Now, squeeze the mushy hypertufa mixture with your hands. It should hold together and only a few drops of water should ooze out. If not, add a little more water – just a little – and let it set for about l0 minutes.
5) During your 10 minute wait, the chemical reaction between the Portland cement and water started. If the mixture seems too dry to be used on your mold or form, add a little more water.
You should now have a nice squishy hypertufa mixture that can be used on your mold or form.
A Few Important Tips for Success
Portland cement is a caustic ingredient and can burn skin. Always follow these hypertufa safety guidelines!
The first important piece of hypertufa safety information I will give you is this: it’s important that you fully understand that working with the products used to create any hypertufa mixture requires that you pay strong attention to safety and health matters — yours and anyone else’s who may be assisting you.
Not only do you need to familiarize yourself with the chemical properties of the various ingredients, but also the environmental issues that pertain to the ingredients.
Read the labels. Heed the warnings about safely handling them. And another thing … Mother Nature needs to be protected too, so please dispose of left-over ‘tufa mixtures properly.
Protection is the Key: What You’ll Need
Let me share the hypertufa safety issues you should keep in mind EVERY time before you start mixing up your recipe. The experts kindly share this knowledge. Beginners who are learning to work with ‘tufa have no excuse to not pay attention to what’s been handed down!
Now, I may be repeating myself a bit here, but I cannot stress it enough … please protect yourself.
Hypertufa Safety Steps That You Should Always Practice!
• Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty
The nature of a hypertufa project is going to be somewhat messy. Wear protective clothing, whether mixing a batch of hypertufa or finishing off your garden art object. A lot of dust can penetrate your clothing when you’re mixing. You can drop globs of the wet mixture on yourself. It’s also recommended to launder your work clothes right after you’re done … it’s easier to try and remove moist hypertufa than it is dried ‘tufa.
• Wear waterproof gloves!
I’m telling you … do not even think of handling the dry or wet ingredients unless you are wearing waterproof gloves! No ifs ands or buts! The caustic nature of some of the ingredients is not skin-friendly. Working bare handed will result in you suffering “burned” skin or worse, broken and bleeding skin. Wear heavy-duty rubber dish gloves (or similar) when you’re mixing your dry ingredients and the wet mixture. Only use the thinner, latex-type disposable gloves for when you are doing more intricate finishing of your object.
Another caution: even handling hypertufa that has cured enough to unmold but is still damp can cause skin burns. Wear rubber gloves at all times!
• Wear a fine-particle dust mask when mixing the dry ingredients!
Warning: The dust from any ‘tufa mixture is very caustic and definitely can damage your lungs if you breathe it in. Think about this … when you mix dry cement with water, it starts to harden almost immediately. This is due to a chemical reaction. So, if you breathe in cement dust, it will naturally mix with the moisture in your lungs and that “hardening chemical reaction” will start to take place. Awful thought. Wear a mask … please.
Now, once you’ve got everything mixed and have added the water, then you can take off your mask. It’s perfectly OK to work without it during the molding or forming of your object.
Remember … Hypertufa Safety is Your First Concern!
• Last but not least … yes you should wear safety goggles!
You should always wear safety goggles when measuring, pouring, or mixing hypertufa ingredients. It’s very important to protect your eyes from the caustic nature of the ingredients. I’ve already explained this above. Add protecting your eyes to the list of hypertufa making “dos”.
Though most people do not wear their goggles when applying the wet mixture to their mold, most will put them back on when finishing a project, as when you are wire brushing or aggressively scraping the surface. A flying bit of cured ‘tufa in your eye can STING!
• If you’re working on a project indoors …
A final bit of advice I almost forgot … if you are working with hypertufa in an enclosed area, please make sure you’ve got good ventilation. And you’ll want to take off your shoes before entering your home … no sense in tracking in cement dust. Of course, all the other “rules” discussed above still apply.
Alright, you’ve been told!
Now you can start getting your hands, err I mean YOUR GLOVES, dirty!
Hypertufa … A Mud-Pie Recipe That Is Used to Make All Sorts of Garden Art Objects
Hypertufa is perfect for making long lasting garden troughs (plant containers), fake rocks and boulders, stepping stones, wonderfully whimsical garden spheres and all sorts of decorative garden accents. Smooth it over a form or mold, let it properly cure (dry) and you’ll have a very durable DIY garden art treasure for years to come.
Exactly what is it? Hypertufa (pronounced hyper-toofa) is the term used for a type of artificial stone. It was first created in the mid 19th century by mixing sand, peat, various volcanic aggregates and cement. It’s relatively lightweight compared to stone or concrete and no matter how cold your winter temps may be, if properly cured, is freeze proof.
Hypertufa was concocted to be used as a substitute for the natural volcanic rock called Tufa. Tufa has been used for making Alpine style planting troughs. Unfortunately, it is not readily available anymore.
Most deposits have been depleted and it is increasingly difficult to find. I’ve read that there are only two deposits left in the United Kingdom, with a site in Wales having the best quality; there is some in East Germany; there are a few deposits left in the United States; and Canada has an excellent deposit located in Brisco, BC.
A Few Simple Ingredients and You’re On Your Way
There are different recipes you can mix up. It depends on what end result you’re desiring — lighter in weight? More durable? Want to carve it? Basic hypertufa recipe ingredients are varying combinations of Portland cement, peat moss, sand, perlite, or vermiculite, and water.
Another big part of the whole process is … patience! Seems that many beginners are too impatient for their ‘tufa projects to set and cure, and end up destroying their first creation because it wasn’t ready to be unmolded yet.
The garden crafts and accessories that can be made with this remarkable mixture are almost limitless. To give you an idea, you can make: hypertufa troughs (planting containers), stepping stones, birdbaths, pedestals, columns, spheres, and garden lanterns. You can make ‘tufa castings of objects like giant plant leaves. You can free form sculpt it, hand mold it, sand-cast it, or mold it in a form. You can carve it, color it, or add mosaic pieces to it. It’s really quite incredibly versatile.
I’ve seen an entire pond completely encircled with hypertufa rocks along with a stacked rock waterfall! ( I wonder how many hours it took for that project—whew!!!) I’ve seen an entire rock wall constructed from it — it was amazing because it was so realistic — which stretched over 100 feet. I’ve seen photos of another adventurous project — a 30 foot long shallow stream with rocks on the side — all hypertufa and concreted together. I don’t think I could ever accomplish projects as large as these!
Start With Simple Projects and Move On From There
Start simple as this is really the best way to learn any technique, hypertufa too. I’m going to assume this is all new to you. One piece of advice I can give you is don’t make the mistake of taking on a project that is obviously difficult. Start with something simple, like a small garden trough. Maybe a stepping stone.
There is an art to making hypertufa but it’s not too much more involved than making a child’s mud-pie. Having your projects turn out a success means getting the feel of the recipe requirements, and the molding, curing and unmolding steps. To say it again … start out simple. It’s just like mixing and baking a cake. Most folks don’t attempt a complicated 7-tier cake recipe without first learning the basics by making a simple sheet cake!
The materials, mixing utensils and other tools needed are easily and affordably purchased or can be made, as in the case of the peat moss sieve many tufa-makers use. You probably have many of the items you’ll need around the house right now. For instance, molds can be as simple as a cardboard box, a styrofoam cooler, a waste paper basket, any kind of plastic bowl or container… you get the idea.
You can get as intricate and fancy as you wish with a hypertufa project. I do believe that the sky’s the limit when you start to think of all the garden crafts you can make with this incredibly versatile home-made mixture.
So … ready to give hypertufa a try?
I’ve got many free craft ideas for making great unique garden art using hypertufa. I’ve even got a beginner’s recipe for those of you who might like to give it a test drive before really getting yourself involved in a more complicated project. I do hope you’ll investigate and try out a hypertufa project or two.