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Sunday, September 25, 2016

What I Did With My Saturday

Click on the pic for
better clarity
Saturday the 24th I went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in Canby, Oregon with my buddy Rae and her friend Jodi.  I've never been to one of these and have always wanted to go, so I canceled a kitchen painting date with another friend (my kitchen- I don't think Stephanie minded much) and said yes I'd go.

It was largely dominated by women- no surprise there- but there was a reasonable representation from the other half of humanity, which was a surprise. Most of the vendors were women, who owned their own businesses- yarn goods, specialty fibers like tencel and silk, raw wool sellers, lots of rovings sellers, special dyed and combined batts, dye, weaving suppliers...all kinds of things.

Then there were fiber animals.  French and English angora rabbits, goats, sheep, alpacas and llamas. The ram here to the right was a super mellow fellow, but Rae discouraged me from patting him anywhere on the top of his head as it encourages the animal to butt. Better to scratch under their chins.

Curiously, there was no sheep or herding dog competition, presumably because the fairgrounds are pretty small.

Upstairs in the sheep hall they had the various competitions' entries.  Some of the entries were really stunning, but the entry that swooped everything and got best in show was this amazing felted hat.  A very Jules Verne-looking octopus at that. Isn't it amazing? Then at the far end of the hall they had an enormous poster of all the different fiber animals with their pictures. I had no idea there were so many.  If you were interested in starting a fiber business and wanted to raise animals for that purpose you could literally do it anywhere, north and south poles excepted, of course.  Even if all you had was an apartment, you could still raise angora rabbits in your apartment.

So by now you're wondering, well where are you going with this?  Did you buy some rabbits or a goat or something?  No,  but I did come home with a very pretty drop spindle and several bits and pieces of rovings, specialty fibers, and acid dye. None of which I needed, I know, but this is for a productive hobby.  It'll keep me off the streets and out of the pool halls, and when I'm done I can use it for another productive hobby- knitting.   However, as you can see from my example here, I still have a lot to learn.

But I'm finally spinning! Yay! New skill!

Boro Chair

Many years ago a high school buddy of mine moved to San Francisco and while living there, she trash-picked a chair off the curb, which she gave to me.  I've always really liked this chair; it's smallish, and it fits my short body well.  It's the chair of choice for me when spending time in the living room, and set up next to the table and floor lamp, it's comfortable for spending a few hours on hand work.

So I was pretty dismayed when a visiting house guest left a damp towel on it and ruined the silk upholstery. And I was even more dismayed to find that the casual way Steve had occasionally sat on it, legs spread well before him, had split the upholstery across the front of the seat.  Clearly, it needed repair.

While fretting about how to fix this I ran across boro. Boro is an ancient Japanese practice of patching things. Rural peasants in Japan didn't have enough money to run out and have new clothes made, so they patched what they had, and when that wore out, they patched the patches.  Then they handed down these garments and their new owners patched them. as well, and handed them down again. Consequently, there are examples of these garments in museums.

(Click on the photo for a clearer picture.)

 Some folks have discovered Boro and are using it for fiber arts. I particularly liked this one.
Still others use it freeform for patching, or just expressing where they are right now.

Boro seemed ideal for covering my chair. It had several advantages, chief of which was the fact that I already had the fabric on hand.  The second advantage was that if and when an area wears out or splits on the boro upholstery, all I have to do is patch it!

Last spring I got started on this project, and I've been at it steadily since then.  There are two items that I found invaluable while doing this.  The first item you need is a curved needle, like they use in upholstery and surgery, the only difference being the size and sterilization of one over the other.  But you'd need a curved needle for both events for the same reason; once you stick that needle in, you certainly want it to come back out!  There's no putting your hand behind your work to catch a needle in upholstery or surgery, so the needle needs to curve so that it comes back out of your work.  

The other thing I found invaluable was a flexible rubber thimble from Clover.  The thimble has a metal end but rubber sides, which came in very hand for both pushing the needle through and pulling it out.  I'm not going to lie to you; pushing the needle through a couple layers of denim and the original upholstery fabric was hard work, and my hands could only stand adding two to three patches a day.  I also found that I couldn't do it after doing the dishes, because my skin had softened up too much.

Finally, after roughly six months of doing this off and on, I finally finished the chair. Friday I removed the chair from its sawhorses and put rolled up towels on them, and then flipped the chair so that I could access the bottom.   Then I tacked down all the fabric that hung below the edge of the chair. 

Then I tacked on a dust cover, much to my relief.  This chair never had a dust cover on it since the day I got it, and various stringy things hung down from it which always looked dreadful. Not any more!

Later this week I'll take the chair out to the garage and clean up the legs with some odorless mineral spirits (although who thinks they're odorless is a good question because they are not), then touch up the stain and then finish it with some wipe-on polyurethane.

All done!

* I don't know where I found the first three pictures, but they are not mine.  If this is your picture and you want it removed or credited properly, I will gladly do that.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Merger News and What It Means to Me

So have you heard the news?

Monsanto is selling itself to Bayer for somewhere between $57 and $66 billion dollars, depending on whose reporting you believe.  You can believe in any case that should this deal come to pass, we are all, and I mean we in the global sense, not we in the homesteading bunch sense, we are all in trouble.

So why is this a scary deal? These articles from Vox, Common Dreams, and The Wall Street Journal all explain it better than I can.

The articles also indicate that there were other agribusiness giants who merged recently, and that was news that largely went uncovered.

I guess I'd better get more serious about saving seed.  And, in light of the fact that I just found out that my new favorite bush bean, Wyatt, was produced by Harris Moran, which is another large (but not giant) seed company, I'll be looking into heirloom seeds for next year's seed purchases.  I'll also look at Seeds From Italy, who is the only US distributor of Franchi seeds.  Franchi is the oldest family-owned seed company in Italy, and is a member of the Safe Seed Initiative, which means that they are pledged to never knowingly buy or sell genetically modified seeds or plants.  I also like Franchi because they are generous with their seed, it germinates extremely well, and I find them to be a good value.

I guess this also means that I'll have to get more serious about growing more of our food.

I'll be honest; learning I have an auto-immune disorder and that I can't eat a great many vegetables that I love to grow and eat really affected me.  It kind of blew all the wind out of my homesteading sails, which is why I haven't written much this year, probably because I haven't grown much this year.  In February I had an expensive (as in $580 out of pocket) series of blood tests that told me what I can and can't eat, and a lot of favorite vegetables were on the Can't list.  I can't eat cooked onions (or shallots or leeks) but I can eat cooked and raw garlic (thank God for one allium!); I can't eat summer or winter squash, which is a huge bummer because I loved to grow both. Now there's no point.  I can't eat Brussels sprouts (so I guess I can quit worrying about trying to grow them- I never could get it right) but I can eat broccoli and cabbage. However, they didn't test kale, or kohlrabi, or other brassicas. They also didn't test turnips or rutabagas, or parsnips, or fennel, or a whole bunch of other stuff, which means that once I get my symptoms under control, on which I've been working since getting the tests done, I can try testing other vegetables to see how I react to them, with the intention of growing anything that it turns out I can eat.

But yeah- Monsanto and Bayer merging means that food costs are likely to go up in the future. They are anyway, but this will help push that eventuality along.

Makes me glad I have some of my own soil to root around in.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Coppice Story 2.1

Here's an update on my little coppice.  If you haven't read my earlier posts about coppicing, you can take a look at what it looked like in June two years ago, and if you're completely unfamiliar with coppicing or want a refresher, be sure to see the link in the post Coppice Story 2.0.

*pictures are clearer when you
click on them
This is what the coppice looks like today. The tree that winter-killed two years ago is the multi-trunked one that is third one back.  That represents only two years' growth, and I'm figuring in two more years, each trunk will be the size of the one in the middle and will be ready for harvesting.  In terms of short rotation, that's a phenomenal rate; most short rotation coppices are on a six year rotation, and that's for softer woods, like poplar and willow, which are grown for biomass.

The little guy in the front is the result of cutting down a second tree this past late winter. Next spring I'll have to tie up all the saplings that are a result of late winter cutting, and at the same time we'll cut down the middle tree and harvest its wood, setting it up to coppice.

To the left left here is a comparison of a four-year-old Eucalyptus with the two-year-old coppiced Eucalyptus. This particular variety is Eucalyptus gunnii, or cider gum, and is purported to be able to handle winter temperatures down to -14C or roughly 7F. Eucalyptus trees have extremely hard wood; they make terrific firewood. Every homestead needs a woodlot, and coppicing allows you to get more wood from the same space, from only one investment of time and money for planting the trees. I don't expect to get a large proportion of my burn needs from this coppice, because it's pretty small, but it's great practice for when we do have a property someday.

At least, that's the plan, anyway.

Super Cheap Firewood Rack

By now you've seen our firewood storage. You haven't? Ah. You need to read Tales from the Woodcutter's Wife.

So we have this giant rack for firewood in the garage. Between that, the underside of the workbench, and a small metal firewood rack on the deck, we almost have enough storage space for two cords of wood. Almost.  Some of it always gets piled up on the garage floor in front of the rack, but we always manage to get it all under cover for the winter.

This year we have a lot of extra wood because one of the neighbors had to cut down a cedar and they let us have it, which another neighbor cut up for us.  Then on top of that, someone a couple of streets over cut down a fairly sizable birch tree and labeled the pieces 'free wood', so you can bet I snapped that up with the help of my trusty pickup truck.

So- with all this wood lying around, most of it in the front yard, we needed a way to get it stored off the ground. Enter four eight-foot two-by-fours and two concrete blocks.  I wish I could claim this brilliance as my own but I saw this getup on Pinterest posted in some camping posts, only they had shortened the two-by-fours to half lengths because it was only supposed to store enough wood for the camping trip.  I couldn't see why it wouldn't work for our application, so we put one together under the eaves on the backside of the house.

It may not hold all the extra wood, but it's making a big dent in it. And we could also build another one, for under ten bucks.

I will probably never buy a commerical firewood rack again.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Indoor Cat Goes Camping

I may have mentioned it somewhere before, but right after Steve and I got married, I said, “Oh boy! Now I have someone to go camping with!”

To which Steve replied quietly, “I’m an indoor cat.” 

I was crushed.

Fast forward nearly fifteen years later: we just got back from our second camping trip this year.

The first trip was nothing to write home about, save that I would discourage anybody from staying at Bud’s RV in Gearhart, Oregon.  The.Worst.Campground.Ever.  It started with a barely concealed hostility from the help behind the counter. The RV park was right on US 101, so we were treated to the constant sound of traffic which seemed to be largely made up from logging and distribution trucks.  Each of the eleven or so tent sites was right on top of the other with no bushes or any plants to provide privacy. They were also fairly narrow, which made tying down the fly difficult. The worst part was that I kept catching a whiff of sewage the whole time we were there and it took me a shameful three days to finally realize that they had us parked on the septic tank. Needless to say, we left a day early, knowing full well we weren’t going to get a refund (I asked when we checked in; maybe that was what incurred the hostility), and if you knew what a tightwad my husband is, that should say something.

This last weekend couldn’t have been a better 180 from the coast experience. The original plan was to do some dispersed camping (more on that later) with Steve’s sister Susan and her boyfriend. We wound up camping at the Riverside camp ground in the Deschutes National Forest because we could build a fire in the fire ring at the campsite.  There was a burn ban on for the disbursed campsites, and Susan’s boyfriend is an avid dutch oven cook.  As it was, there was plenty of space and cover between campsites, and everybody seemed to respect each other’s privacy and sleep habits.  So the trip was nice and relaxing, and on Sunday, Susan’s boyfriend took us fishing.  That was pretty awesome, because I caught a trout! Which was delicious for breakfast the next morning.

Measure what you have first
But prior to this latest trip, I made myself a grub box.  They are also called chuck boxes or patrol boxes, but I use the term grub box because that’s what my grandfather called his.  His was just a large plywood box with a lid on it (which could have stood in for a coffin, actually).  

The base frame

After looking at a bunch of them on the internets, I decided that I could do better than anything I saw, and I think I succeeded at that.  With the exception of having to buy hardware for it, the whole thing was constructed from lumber I had languishing in the garage. 

Two thirds finished

Getting it together was a little tricky because the plywood warped a little from having been leaning against the wall for so long, but it went together in the end.  I am not the best craftsperson by any means, and it looks a little rough in spots. 

Field test

We field tested it this past weekend and it performed the way that I hoped it would, which was to make camp cooking a whole lot easier. It may not be a fancy-schmancy camper like some people have, but it worked fine for my needs.  The only drawback that it has is that fully loaded, it weighs a metric crapton. I need to work on lightening the load for next time. Gotta think about that one.

Tippy tap
The other thing that proved to be a great addition was the tippy tap, which is something I keep in my bug out box. The first tippy tap was built by Dr. Jim Watt in Zimbabwe using a gourd.  There are plenty of pictures out there of camp hand washing stations, but they usually involve a reused detergent bottle with a large tap that was designed to be laid on its side to dispense the detergent; the problem with these is that you have to touch the tap.  

Foot lever at bottom
What I like about the tippy tap is that it’s foot operated and also that it uses a tiny stream of water to get the job done. Susan and John were so impressed with it they decided that they needed to make themselves one.  You can get the instructions for making one at Because the campground was fairly primitive with only one pit toilet and a nearby hand pump for water, the tippy tap really came in handy, no pun intended.

But back to dispersed camping.  I don’t know how I got to be fifty-six years old and completely ignorant about something so wonderful as dispersed camping.  Anyone can camp pretty much anywhere in the country’s national forests and national grasslands, and on BLM lands.  For free. (Best price ever!)  There are no amenities, and you can’t camp more than fourteen days in the same spot, nor can you camp within 200 feet of any water source, plus you also have to manage your fire responsibly.  You also have to pack everything in, including water, and you have to pack everything out, including used toilet paper. You also have to check with the forest or grassland’s government website to check for local regulations, because they are all different, but all of them adhere to the Leave No Trace principles. It may be a little more rustic than the kind of camping that you’re used to, but what a wonderful way leave society behind and go get immersed in nature.  We are making plans already for going next June before everything dries out and there’s a burn ban posted. I can’t wait! 

Oh, and the indoor cat finally admitted that he enjoys camping. Woohoo!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What's black and white and cute all over?

* Sorry about the picture failure the first time around!

Jessie, that's who!

I've been pretty dog-starved ever since Rufus passed several years ago now.  I never meant to be dogless for so long.  Then one of my sister-in-law's co-workers found a litter of day old puppies abandoned in a ditch and rescued them.  And now we have a dog again.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Householding Update, May 2, 2016

Saturday Rae and I hit the Canby Garden Show, which appeared to not have as many vendors as in years past.  This made me wonder why: did the missing vendors decide it just wasn't worth the trouble? Did they go out of business?  I missed the vendor from whom I bought peppers the year before last- I especially wanted Italian roasting peppers, but couldn't find any. But I did find eggplant, bell peppers, Serrano peppers, (which reminds me I have to find tomatillo plants- note to self), three different tomatoes for slicing, and for which I didn't pay much (I'm finally getting around to trying a Brandywine this year), and a six pack of beets.  I also grabbed a lemon verbena plant, tarragon, English thyme, sage,  anise hyssop, and a couple of flashy geraniums, just because I like flashy geraniums.  Some of this will go into the ground tomorrow, but the herbs will have to wait because the new herb bed is not ready.  Well, I mean the box is built, but it's full of construction detritus and I still need to fill it with something, probably compost.  I'm going to guess that it will take all the ready compost that I have.

Then the other thing that got accomplished was I finally got off my duff and got some seed started.  I don't have the luxury of being able to eat just any old vegetable, so the selection is going to be limited.  That selection consists of tomatoes (for putting up), cucumbers, basil, scallions, bush green beans, French filet beans, and some more beets. Tomorrow I'll soak and then start some okra seed, which is a bit of an experiment this year.  Have I told you how much I love okra?  A neighbor in Jacksonville who grew up in the south turned me onto a wonderful dish called okra and tomatoes. You cook a mess of bacon and onions together, and then throw in a can (or jar, if you put them up yourself, you industrious thing you) and a mess of sliced okra.  Let it simmer for twenty minutes and then serve the whole thing over rice.  Delicious!  Except that I can't eat cooked onions or rice anymore.  So I've been cooking with garlic as the stand in for onions, and serving it over cauliflower rice.  The last time I made it I browned a couple of Italian sausages with the bacon, which I fished out, and then after I got the okra and tomatoes in, I laid the sausages on top of the whole thing to cook with the rest of it.  And I served the whole thing on grits. That was also pretty wonderful; I didn't know I could make it better, but those sausages went a long way in that department. Another okra dish that I love is fried okra.  I would rather snack on fried okra than popcorn any day.  So anyway, the okra plants will be an experiment, as I said.  They need some pretty consistent and serious heat, which we don't always have in the Pacific Northwest, but I bought the seed from Territorial Seed, which is in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and they said this variety did pretty well for them.

I just hope it does well for me, too!

Monday, April 25, 2016

I'm Back

Did you miss me?

I know it’s been awhile since I actually wrote something.  That’s because it’s been a weird year for me, the details with which I will not bore you. But suffice to say that because I did’t really have anything good to write about, I didn’t. I’m not sure I have anything of interest to relate at this juncture, but I feel the need to write. Lucky you.

I’m not sure if it’s a mild case of depression or the somewhat curtailed list of vegetables that I can still eat (which I think might be the cause of the mild depression - no it's not, it's because I can't drink anymore), but I’ve been having a real struggle with getting excited about gardening this year. Consequently, here it is toward the end of April already and I don’t have anything planted or started. Not. Seed. One.

I figure that I’ll buy starts this year for a lot of it, (CHEATER!) and eventually I’ll get off my duff and get some seeds started.  I did haul out my seed stash last week and threw out the inviable stuff  and then sorted out the seeds I want to start with.  And I ordered some seed- not a lot. I still didn’t get excited though.

What will be the summer bed
But today I was out digging up some weeds and throwing some ancient cabbage plants into the green barrel and I noticed that the soil in the bed in which I was working was looking pretty good.  And that changed my plans for the summer somewhat.  I was planning on planting said bed with Sudan grass and planting the large bed next to the deck with summer veg, but I think I’ll switch the beds, because soil next to the deck needs more work than the other bed.

Bed getting the Sudan grass
(the comfrey is doing just fine)

Sudan grass is something I’ve only recently heard about, but what I’m hearing sounds good. Nita over at Throwback at Trapper Creek, whose opinion on all things homesteading I respect mightily, calls it the cat’s meow.  Sudan grass has two things going for it: one is that it’s great for impacted soils because every time you cut it, it sends out more roots, so with each successive mowing it creates more biomass under the soil.  The second thing it has going for it, and this is important, is that it winter kills. It’s also reported to be great at smothering weeds, but I’ll believe that when I see it. So many other cover crops have made the same promise only to disappoint. The other thing that it’s good for but not so important to me is that it makes good livestock fodder, but there are very specific times to feed it because it’s toxic at the wrong times. You can’t feed it when it’s under eighteen inches tall and you can’t feed it around frost time, and definitely not after a frost. But in between those stages, it’s supposed to be very palatable.  I ordered my Sudan grass seed from High Mowing Seeds because they had the size I wanted and the best price for buying it that way.  At five pounds, their price is the same as Johnny’s Seeds ($19.00), but High Mowing has free shipping within the contiguous US. And I only need about a pound; Johnny’s Seeds didn’t offer a pound and it would have been somewhat ridiculous to order it by the quarter pound, and a lot more expensive. Plus, I would have had to pay a lot of shipping. Here is a paper from Oregon State University regarding Sudan grass should you want to learn more about it.

This weekend is the annual trip to the Canby Garden Show, which I like to hit with my buddy Rae.  Last year we managed to miss it because neither one of us was paying attention, but we’re not letting that happen this year.  We have it all planned out.  I’ll look for my nightshades, which are back on the menu (yay!), and then see what other kind of veg is available.  Possibly some herbs. So with that in mind, I need to get the big bed cleaned up this week and some compost thrown on it.  The weather will be hot (eighty-four and eighty-six Fahrenheit, respectively) on Sunday and Monday so all my starts will get to cool their jets in the shade over the weekend, and then next week I’ll get them into the ground.

I honestly can't think of
another word for this
other than disaster.
Something else that needs attention, but I'm dreading taking care of, is the greenhouse.  Oh what a disaster that is.  'How could you let this happen?' you ask. Well, I'll tell you.  I think I got the winter stuff planted too early; by the time I got the plastic up on it, most of what I'd planted was going to seed, which was  a huge bummer.  Then I ignored it all winter.  So this is what I get to deal with now. I promise it wasn't my intention to grow all that biomass.  It just sort of happened. Yeesh.  I think I'll have to take off the plastic so that I can get at it properly, which is just as well anyway; I need to replace the pieced plastic with a solid piece. I was being cheap, and while it was a noble experiment, it helped result in the aforementioned disaster. Ai yi yi.

Well there it is, for what it's worth. I'm back to wasting your precious time again.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Birth Of A Wooden House

I can't say whether it's my amazement at how good this guy is at building this house or the way this film was crafted, but this is currently my favorite all time film.  If you appreciate fine craftsmanship, and are intrigued by timber frame construction, this will appeal to you.  I can't get over how good this guy is, I mean, he even chamfers the edges of his cuts, and he does it all with hand tools.  From felling the trees in January in Latvia when the moisture levels are lowest (which will result in lighter, stronger lumber), to insulating with pine shavings, and finishing with the Japanese technique of Shou Sugi Ban, to plastering with a mixture of sand, clay, lime, linen fiber, salt and wheat flour, and heating the house with two different masonry ovens, one of which weighs five tons and will heat the house for two or three days on a single firing, I guess you could say this guy is my hero.

Sorry Steve.