BUILDING AN “EARTH-CAST” BIRD BATH
Information provided by Nancy Bauer.
You can use the earth as your mold and can embellish it in many artistic ways. Birds love these baths and seem to choose them over others. They provide great footing, gradually going from shallow, for smaller birds, to about 2 feet deep for larger ones. The bath can be made by one person but is a lot easier with two people.
SUPPLIES NEEDED (can be purchased at any hardware store)
- Reinforcing wire, either chicken wire or hardware cloth. Any mesh type wire that is easy to bend and shape.
- Mortar mix. For a 20-22 inch diameter birdbath, 1 bag; for a larger bath up to 3 ft. diameter, 2 bags. Best to have extra on hand just in case.
- Plastic gloves. The mortar is caustic and will make your hands raw, so please use gloves when mixing mortar and forming the shape.
- A nail and a long piece of string.
- OPTIONAL. A concrete additive to make it tougher and less likely to crack. There are many name brands on the market (Admix, Berlux, etc.) We use them at about 1/4 to 1/2 the recommended rate. We generally add them to our 36 inch and greater-sized baths.
- OPTIONAL. Concrete colorant. The soil will stain the mortar to some extent so it looks good natural.
- Using the nail, attach the string to it and use this to draw a circle the desired size of the finished bath in the soil. Dig a shape in the earth that will be the desired width and about 2 inches deeper then the depth of the finished bath –this is your mold. You will have to leave the mortr in this depression for about 2 weeks so choose an area that can be undisturbed for this amount of time. Keep the soil you dug out. Remove any large gravel or rocks. If your soil is too rocky you may have to use some sand for the top fill or sift the soil.
- Cut your reinforcing wire and line the depression. Keep the wire back from the edge by about 5 inches or it will show in the final product. This is a trial fit. After you are satisfied with the fit of the wire—remove it.
- Mix the mortar with water (and add optional additive) to a stiff consistency.
- Lightly moisten the earth mold.
- Distribute some of the mortar mix in the mold to a thickness of about 1 inch. Pat the mortar down firmly with your hand to avoid air packets.
- Put the reinforcing wire on top of the mortar and press it in slightly—just to set it but not so deep that it hits the earth below the mortar (or it will show on the outside of your finished bath). Make sure the wire is at least 3 inches from the finished edge. The finished edge will be much thinner than the central area of the bath and the wire will show if it is too close to the edge.
- Put the remaining mortar on top of the wire. Place it in piles around the mold and then evenly distribute it around the mold making a thicker layer in the center and gradually getting thinner as you reach the outside edge. Pat this layer down firmly with your hand to avoid air pockets. HINT: a thin and slightly uneven edge looks the best. Stand above the mold and check to see that you have not distributed the mortar lopsided or unsymmetrically. If so, just rearrange the mortar or add more here and there. You may have leftover mix, so if you feel some areas are too thin, add some more. You don’t have to use it all.
- When you are satisfied with the shape, let it set for about 10 minutes or until it is somewhat firm to the touch. If you want to get arty, you can now add metal pieces as perches before you cover with soil, or add bits of mosaic, leaf impressions, scratch in designs…..
- Take the soil you dug out of the hole and carefully distribute it around the mold; then fill the mold with the leftover soil. Water the soil very well. You will now have to keep the soil damp for 2 weeks. You can cover it with some burlap or an old blanket or whatever to help keep it from drying out. Water on top of the covering. We find that in really hot weather we may have to moisten it 2 times a day.
- After it has cured for 2 weeks, carefully dig the soil off of the top & lift the finished bath out by digging under it a few inches and prying up, Don’t pry it out of the mold using the thin edge, it will break!!. Hose and brush off the soil that has adhered to the bottom and top. You can leave it on the ground, but only if you are sure you do not have any cats around. For a base, use a tree stump, a tree round that is proportionate to the size of the bath, a grouping of 3 or more large rocks, a flu tile, even old tires. Be sure that the base can support the weight of the bath. If your base is flat on top, try to make your mold flat on the bottom. BE SURE to clean the bath with a wire brush when needed and replace water every day. Just tip it when rinsing with water.