Ring My Bell

The dinner bell has acted for hundreds of years as a signal to farm workers that the workday was over and food would soon be served. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, my mother rang a version of this bell to summon my friends, sister, and I in from our ongoing tree house projects in the woods.

There's something sweet about the sound of a cast-iron bell ushering loved ones (and lackeyes) in; and something made more authentic by the practice of communal, family dining. A farm bell suggests a familial spirit, can be used to gain the attention of unruly dogs (of which we currently have two); and sounds absolutely classic against a backdrop of chirping frogs or whip-poor-wills.

Nowadays the dinner bell is all the rage, whether you've got a small herb garden out your city window sill, a backyard with a few tomato plants, or a full-blown Better Farm.

Of course, there are many ways to make your own dinner bells—even if you're not a master welder or blacksmith. There are at least two methods: Track down an old triangle to strike (check to see if any music classrooms at local schools are getting rid of used instruments), or gather some hangers, anything that clangs when struck (silverware, metal scraps, nails, broken glass, pie tins), Gorilla Glue, string, and some creative spirit. Tie or glue the pieces to some durable hemp, and hang them from outside your door (or a nearby tree branch). The next time you want the attention of those far away, save your vocal chords and simply ring that bell. If the pieces are extremely mismatched, consider coating each with a layer of uniform paint.

If you're interested in a more classic look for your farm bell, expect to spend between $50 and $100 for a nice, wrought-iron piece that is likely to last a lifetime with proper care and use. Or invest in a nice wind chime, which you'll never have to go out of your way to ring but which will look lovely in a nearby tree or eave. These start in a lower price bracket, and the DIY version requires the same equipment as the DIY bell.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.