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Let it Snow!

snowstorm January 23 2016-BLOG

We were recipients of some of the snow that fell on the east coast over the weekend. It was 14” deep at our house. It isn’t the most snow that I remember having here, but it is the most since January 1996 when we had 20”. We still had our milk cow then and I remember shoveling a path to the barn when the snow was at 10”, knowing I would be shoveling again. The path had to be a wide one—wide enough for me to walk with two five-gallon buckets of water.

snow covered row cover--BLOG

snow covered low tunnel

This time around I have kept busy finalizing my presentation for the upcoming Virginia Biological Farming Conference, shoveling snow, and knitting a sweater. Snow like this disturbs everyone’s schedule, for sure. But, as bothersome as that is, it presents a lot of opportunities. Of course, if you have been following my blog, you would know that I look at everything as an opportunity. It is when our structures are tested and we find out how well we’ve done. If you planned your low tunnels, coldframes, and greenhouses to withstand your usual conditions, you might find them collapsed in the snow. This snow reveals if they were built beyond the usual conditions.

It is good to know. This is the sort of thing you have to plan for from the beginning. Yes, it doesn’t happen very often and may not occur again for another twenty years, but the way the weather has been in recent years, I would build with the assumption that it could happen every year. That will put you at ease whenever severe weather strikes again.

As the kids were growing up, whenever we had a big snow that shut things down my husband would take them for late night walks down the road for at least a half-mile or more. Well, the kids are grown and establishing their own snow traditions and now it is me accompanying my husband on those moonlight walks. We went out on Friday and Saturday nights under the full moon and it was wonderful. Since the power hadn’t gone out, which was surprising, noisy generators didn’t disturb the silent night.

The first night it was still snowing when we went out and there was quite a bit of wind. We were walking in the road on snow. The plows had been out, but that didn’t mean the roads were fit to drive on. The next night I could feel the difference in the surface beneath my boots. Although not much traffic had been on them, the surface had turned to ice and there were lots of drifts across the road. So much so that the drifting snow and icy road had caused a snow plow to get stuck. He was waiting for a tow when we came upon him about midnight.

path in the snow to the barn BLOG

paths to the chicken house and barn

That walk brought to mind how important it is to get out and walk the ground to really know how it is; although, I’m usually referring to walking in gardens, possibly in your bare feet, when I talk about that. Looking out my window, either from my house or a vehicle, couldn’t have told me the road conditions like walking on the ice and through the drifts.

The roads in our area are full of curves and wooded areas. Even when the roads are clear after a snow, we know to look out for the areas where there are trees on the south side. Their shade keeps ice on the road in spots long after it has melted elsewhere. We can learn about where the cooler areas due to shading are in our gardens by watching the snow melt. I wrote a blog post about that in February 2014.

I hope you have enjoyed the winter weather at your place. It reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. Things we have planned to do get changed, and that’s okay. It is an opportunity to slow down and check on our neighbors. Sitting by the woodstove is great, also. And about that snow shoveling—welcome it as a needed winter workout and be thankful that you are healthy enough to do it.

garden plan dvd coverHere it is– a new year and time to plan your new garden. Before you do that, however, I urge you to think about last year’s garden. Most likely, if you are reading this you probably did some sort of planning last year. That’s what my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan is all about. In the DVD I show you how to put together a notebook with your complete garden plan. It even comes with a CD with all the worksheets I talk about, such as a Seed Inventory, How Many Seeds and Plants Needed, Plant / Harvest Times, and a Plant / Harvest Schedule. My book Grow a Sustainable Diet has an additional worksheet—How Much to Grow. It is great to work up a plan, but you might be like someone I met recently who put her plan together in a notebook, just like I advise, but neglected to keep track of things afterward. That is a great start and all is not lost. Even though you didn’t write it down, surely you remember something that happened through the year. Take the time now to note the highlights of 2015 and make a report of your gardening year. Then, file it away with the garden plan you made for 2015 for reference.

overlapping maps-BLOGFor many years my garden plan consisted mainly of my garden maps, the one I made showing what I intended to plant where and when, the Actual version that showed what actually happened, and the Amendments version that showed what amendments were added to each bed and when. It is the Actual version that will help you plan this year’s garden. If you completed it you will know what was in each bed throughout the year and when it was planted, particularly, what is in there now; but the subject of garden maps is a whole other post. Once I became a certified Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-farming Teacher I had to keep many other records and send them to John Jeavons each year, accompanied by a letter that explained what went on that year. It always gave the highs and lows of the year, what I was particularly working on, etc. It is that letter that I want you to write for yourself about your 2015 garden.

If you didn’t get past the initial plan, just making that plan should be considered a high. Not following through would probably be considered a low, but I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. You should note those. It might be that you took a vacation and never quite got back to garden recordkeeping when you returned. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces pretty much serve to get even the best planners off track, as do the activities of your children and parents. Building projects around your homestead might keep you occupied, and then there is the weather, which is always a good excuse for messing up your plans. If any of those things happened to you this year, they should be in your annual garden report. Although many of the things I mentioned cannot be foreseen or avoided, things like vacations can. If your vacation seems to coincide with crucial harvest times each year, change your vacation time for this year or time your plantings so their harvests will not conflict.

Thinking through the year will help you put things in perspective. If there is something you wished you could do better, such as fill in your Actual Garden Map as the season progresses, you might decide that will be a priority in 2016. What crops were you especially proud of? Even if you didn’t keep yield records you should have an idea if you were pleased or not with the harvest of most of the things you planted. Your pleasure or displeasure could be with the yield, taste, color, or whatever other traits you remember. Put that in your garden report. If you wished you had planted more or less of something, besides mentioning it in your report, make a note to change the amount planted in 2016.

What did you do differently last year? Did you try any new varieties or new ways of managing your tried-and-true varieties? What amendments did you bring in to your garden, if any? What did you use as mulch and where did it come from? Write about those kinds of things.

leatherwing on mint--BLOG

Leatherwing on mint

I hope you took photos of your garden through the year. It is amazing how things will look to you at another time. Having that visual record helps you to remember what was going on. Besides the plants and overall garden throughout the season, take photos of things you built or tools you used. Also, take photos of the insects and other wildlife in your garden. As you can see, I found leatherwings in my mint last summer. If you look closely, you might be surprised to see just how many varieties of insect helpers you have in your garden. This can all go in your annual garden report.

If you depend on the computer to store your photos, make sure to file them somewhere, hopefully in a file titled for that year, such as “2015 Garden”, with copies filed in appropriate files, such as “insects”, “crops”, or “tools”. Some people like to put photo books together online and then receive copies of the actual book. You could document all sorts of things in a book like that. Maybe that could be a project for your children to do, compiling information throughout the gardening season with that in mind.

Through the years I have often referred back to the letters that accompanied my records to John Jeavons and Ecology Action. Your annual garden report will reflect more than what is on record sheets. It can tell of the excitement, disappointment, discoveries, and enlightenment you experienced throughout the year. So, before you plan for 2016, take time to reflect on 2015. By writing an annual report, you can better direct your actions for planning this year’s garden.homeplace earth

 

VABFConferencePosterI will be speaking about making the jump from being a home gardener to a market gardener at the upcoming VABF Conference. The following is a news release about the scholarship opportunities that are available.

The VA Biological Farming conference is coming up at the end of January. There are a number of volunteer opportunities available for folks which in turn provides a reduced registration rate. It’s a wonderful opportunity for those interested in the sustainable ag / local food movement. The conference is a great networking and educational experience. The volunteer option provides a way for those who may not other wise be able to afford the entire conference registration.

The deadline for volunteer/financial aid applications has been extended until Jan 1. Please share this opportunity with any network and listserv you have access to to help spread the word.

Thanks so much for helping share this message and help folks attend this amazing conference.

 VABF conference info: http://vabf.org/conference/
Conference volunteer/financial aid info: http://vabf.org/conference/volunteering-financial-aid/

Home Economics

home economics--BLOGAfter many years of rarely hearing the term, I have seen “home economics” pop up recently here and there. That might be due to the DIY movement going on. It catches my attention because that was my major at Ohio State University. In 1975 I received a degree in Home Economics Education. When I started on that path my intention was to be a cooperative extension agent and help people be more productive at home. However, by the time I graduated I had already married my college sweetheart and our first child was two. It had been an eventful six years since high school graduation.

My husband and I chose to start our family early and live on one income. When our first child was born I stayed home and put everything I learned in my college classes to good use. We had to watch our pennies carefully. Home economics education involved classes in clothing and textiles, food and nutrition, housing and home furnishings, family and child development, and education. At Ohio State I attended the School of Home Economics within the College of Agriculture. By the time I graduated classes in consumerism were being added. Now if I wanted to be an extension agent, rather than a Home Economics agent, I would be Family and Consumer Sciences agent and would attend the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State.

I did end up becoming active with extension as a volunteer. I was a 4-H leader with my children for many years and the county office gave my number out frequently when people called in with questions about organic gardening, school gardens, composting with worms, and hatching baby chicks. That helped prompt me to become a teacher at the local community college, since there was a need for adult education. Gardening was not part of my curriculum at Ohio State, but was a natural extension of providing my family with good nutrition. I had studied everything I could find about organic gardening and put it to use, just like my other education.

No matter what education we have, we can make the life we want. I learned to sew as a young 4-Her, so by the time I was in college I already had skills and even made my wedding dress. My arms and legs are longer than most. Learning to sew was a way for me to have clothes that fit—also, I don’t like to shop. I made our children’s clothes while they were growing up, saving the fabric scraps, which eventually led me to take up quilting. When we make the life we want, we have the opportunity to do things and to have things that we can’t get elsewhere. You could even make your own blue jeans, which is what I’ve been doing for well over thirty years now.

Cindy's jeans-front-BLOGWhen I first started to make my own jeans I altered a store-bought pants pattern to fit like my favorite pair of store-bought jeans. If you have a favorite garment, wear it out, then cut it apart and use it as a pattern, allowing for seam allowances, of course. From patching my own jeans and those of my children, I realized that if pants were looser, the knees wouldn’t wear out so quickly. Also, if the back pockets were larger, like the ones on bib overalls, in addition to fitting more things in them, they provided an extra layer on my behind and the seat of the pants wouldn’t wear as much. Cindy's jeans-back-BLOGI began changing my pattern, eventually adding pleats in the front so I would have more room in my front pockets. (I really like pockets.) The front pockets are lined with the same denim as the pants. Even if I put screws in them, the pockets don’t wear out. The only problem I have with making my own jeans is finding heavy 14 oz. denim (14 oz. per square yard). I generally make two pair every two years and have to search the Internet each time, usually finding denim at Syfabrics.com. Once you know how to do something, you can change it anyway you want, and that goes for much more than clothes.

Money can’t buy a pair of jeans like this that fit me. When we hear the word economics we usually think in terms of dollars; however, home economics involves so much more than $. Even if you don’t sew, there are so many other things to do yourself in a household and on your homestead that will bring you more pleasure than anything you could buy. Any skill you can add is a plus. Learn to cook and feed your family as close to farm-to-table as you can; growing your own makes it even better. Learn to troubleshoot problems that occur and fix them yourself. Acquire tools and learn to use them.

It helps if there is more than one adult in the household. I leave the electricity and plumbing work, plus the major building projects to my husband. Some people yearn for a home theater. Not us, we have a library and a workshop. A home library may start out as a bookshelf in the living room and find a room of its own after the kids are grown, such as in our case. You can start your library by making your own bookcase, sized to fit your space.

outside sewing kit (2)Speaking of making your own, if you are looking to make a simple homemade gift for someone, make them a sewing kit. It can be sewn entirely by hand and you could even use pieces from your old shirts to make it. In the first photo you can see one opened up. It has buttons and a safety pin for emergency repairs. The pins and needles attach to the outside of the fabric pockets. The thimble, scissors, and a card with thread wrapped around it are stored in the pockets. The whole thing folds in half. I show the outside opened up here. If you’ve always wanted to make a quilt, this could be your start. Make two small quilt squares together, fold fabric for the pockets on the other side and add binding on the edges. I gave one as a gift to someone going off to college. She told me later how handy it was when she needed to make a repair. The scissors you see in the top photo are inexpensive fold-up ones. You could jazz up yours with some fancy embroidery scissors. It is fun to make, fun to give, and fun to use.

Tools and books are usually on the wish lists we make up at this time of year. If you have someone on your gift list who is just beginning home projects, quality hand tools and a toolbox to put them in are good gifts. If they already have some, maybe they need an upgrade. As for power tools, a drill and a circular saw are good places to start. A sewing machine and sewing classes at a fabric store are my suggestions for someone learning to sew. For the kitchen, canning jars, a water bath canner, or a pressure canner might be appropriate. My books and DVDs are great suggestions for the gardeners on your gift list. Doing things for yourself is empowering. Things might not turn out as you expect the first few times you try something new, but that’s part of the journey.

The winter solstice is coming up. I always find wonder in the change from the shortest day to the slightest bit longer. My chickens even notice. In January I’ll write about garden reports. Until then, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a peace filled New Year.homeplace earth

 

In Nfolk school signovember I had the wonderful opportunity to take the Flax to Linen class at the John C. Campbell Folk School  in Brasstown, North Carolina. I don’t remember when I first heard about the Folk School, but it was many years ago. Whenever I met someone, most often broom makers and blacksmiths, who had taken a class there, they always recommended it. I came across the Folk School’s listing for their Flax to Linen class this summer. It was a busy time and I still had two major trips ahead for the Mother Earth News Fairs, so I put the thought of attending aside but kept it in the back of my mind. By the time I had returned from Pennsylvania where my flax experiences included the Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival and the Landis Valley Farm and Museum, in addition to the MEN Fair, I was ready to consider the flax class. It was full, however, and I was put on the waiting list. I thought that if I was meant to be in that class, a space would open up. A couple of weeks before the class was to start I got the call that I was in.

There were eight students in the class that was taught by Cassie Dickson and her assistant Peggy Patrick. Cassie was a great instructor and was backed by much experience. She grew some of the flax we were working with. Peggy makes her own shoes, among other things, and has taught classes at the Folk School about that. I was pleased to see that Jan Thomas, a fellow member of Clothos Handspinners, was there. Although Jan and I were there because we intend to grow flax and make linen for ourselves, not everyone aspired to be producers. They were there to learn the process because they thought it was interesting, to learn more about their heritage, or to learn enough to encourage the museum they volunteered at to add flax-to-linen as a program.

flax to linen classAmong the students there was a wide range of skills and previous experience with flax or any other fiber. I had acquired a spinning wheel in August, but delayed getting started with it until I could replace a couple parts. I was an experienced spindle spinner, but spinning on the wheel was something else and took getting used to. I kept at it so I would be comfortable with the wheel before I attended the class. For me, spinning flax was important. For some of the others, the exposure of what was involved was all they were after. I was able to take my wheel, but if you didn’t have one there were wheels available to use. Everyone was spinning before the first day ended. After having just gone through my learning process with the wheel, I had great respect for those who were learning to use the wheel in class for the first time. We learned about distaffs and how to put line flax on one, which I found helpful

breaking flax-ronThe second day we worked outside breaking, scutching, and hackling flax. How well the flax is retted before you work with it is important. We had the opportunity to work with flax from more than one harvest and retting. Since the processing can be dusty, we were advised to wear a mask while we worked, which explains why Ron was wearing a handkerchief over his face while he was breaking flax, as you can see in this photo. Ron is a Folk School regular, taking a new class every couple months or so.

The focus at the John C. Campbell Folk School is to help people develop skills in a non-competitive environment. Everyone learned at his/her own speed and could concentrate on the aspects of the craft they were most interested in. To quote from their 2015 catalog, “…the Folk School seeks to bring people toward two kinds of development: inner growth as creative, thoughtful individuals, and social development as tolerant, caring members of a community.” I enjoyed being in the class and couldn’t help but think of the students who took my classes in the past at the community college. They, too, arrived with different skills and ambitions and it was fun seeing them work toward their own goals. Unfortunately, they also had to work toward my goals and I was required to give them a grade. There are no grades at the Folk School, just learning.

dyeing linen--yellows and madderThe third day we were into dyeing, although processing and spinning continued. Cassie prepared dyepots of marigold, osage orange, broom sedge, onion skins, madder, butternut, and butternut with iron added, plus two indigo pots. She had already prepared the linen samples by mordanting with alum, tannin, then alum again. The marigold, osage orange, broom sedge, and onion skin dyes yielded yellow colors. Samples of each yellow were put in the indigo to produce green, each expressing a different shade. The madder was dug from the Folk School garden the day before to make the red dye.

dyed linenPlant fibers take up dyes differently than animal fibers. In this photo you can see a sample of wool yarn that came out a deeper red than the linen dyed with the madder. The photo also shows four green samples from the yellows overdyed with indigo. Cassie plans on teaching this flax class next year, but dyeing won’t be part of it. Instead, silk will be added. Yes, she has her own silk worms and knows what to do with them. The next day we had the opportunity to try our hand at weaving patterns on three small table looms that were warped and ready to go. We each prepared a book of samples of the flax straw, processing at each stage, and our own spinning and weaving. The books included linen swatches from each color dyed.

Besides this class there was so much more going on around us. I stayed on the grounds, as did many others and we all ate together in the dining hall. That was a wonderful opportunity to meet others and learn about the classes they were taking. In the evenings there were other activities to participate in. It happened to be Shaker Week, so much was centered around that. Our class finished each day by 4:30, allowing us time to take advantage of these activities. However, that was not so for some of the other classes. The weavers, woodworkers, and basket and broom makers tended to return to their studios in the evening. The last afternoon everyone gathered in the main hall with each class displaying their work. It was fun to see what we had been hearing about all week.

homeplace earthIf you want to meet interesting people and learn something new, check out the John C. Campbell Folk School. I am happy I had the experience.

As the holidays approach, remember that Homeplace Earth now offers free shipping on books and DVDs. In addition to the ones we have written or produced, there some other great books that are available at a discount while supplies last.

 

Homeplace Earth is now offering Free Shipping!

In addition, we have some books we bought for resale that we have decided to clear off our shelves. We are offering them at a discount while the supply lasts. These discounted titles are all great books that would be beneficial to have in your homestead library. Before my own books were published we would use them to fill out our table, in addition to my DVDs, when we had a booth at events. Now, however, our outreach is mostly presentations and book signings and doesn’t include a booth. If I need a booth, I’ve got it covered with my own work.

That means deals for you, just in time for the holidays–with free shipping as a bonus! You can order my DVDs and books and the discounted books at Homeplace Earth.  The books we offer at a discount are:

      

You might consider sending this post to those who have you on their gift list.

homeplace earth

Homemade Garden Shed

garden shed-frontgarden shed-backI have been waiting for a garden shed for a long time and it is now a reality. If you have read Grow a Sustainable Diet, you know that we intended to start on it as soon as that book was off to the publisher. Well, life got in the way, including writing another book (Seed Libraries), but it is done now—or mostly done. The door is yet to be built. The shed is 8’ x 8’ with the side walls 7’ high and about 12’ to the peak. My wonderful husband, Walt, was the builder, designing it to my wishes. Our daughter and son-in-law, Betsy and Chris, supplied the lumber, harvested from their property and cut to our specifications on their Wood-Mizer. The framing is oak and the siding is pine.

I wanted a solid floor with a foundation so we dug trenches for the footings, which promptly filled with water and stayed that way over the winter while the water table was high. Once the foundations walls were in, the floor was dug out and leveled. A layer of gravel went in, followed by sand and tamping. Everything was carefully measured to ensure the floor would be level with the door opening in the foundation wall once the pavers went in. The pavers had been diverted to our place a few years ago, rather than being hauled to the landfill at the end of a construction job. Even though they each had a piece taken off, I was sure I could put them to good use.

Cindy-Walt garden shed floorWalt did most of the work on the shed, while I was the extra set of hands when needed. But, since the floor was my idea, I was the one on my knees fitting everything into place. We rented a wet saw from Home Depot for this job. I decided how things would go together and Walt operated the saw, trimming each paver to fit. It was a lot of work, but made for a great floor! We swept fine sand into the cracks between the pavers. Once the roof went on and things were very dry, we used a polymer product that son Jarod (who knows about those things) gave us to sweep into the cracks as a finish. It was important that we do it when everything was dry.

bare bones garden shedLast winter Walt finished the framing and put on the metal roof. The framing is patterned after the old chicken house that is on our property. This garden shed is going to be here for a long time. Since it was for storage, I didn’t want to waste wall space with a window. All the light I need comes in through the door and the openings at the peak on both ends. Those peak openings are covered with expanded metal to keep birds out, while allowing ventilation. As anticipated, small spaces opened up between the siding boards as they dried. Rather than cover them with battens, we left them as is. I like the bit of added ventilation.

garden shed back wall and loftThe pine siding is about 8” wide and runs the entire height needed for each piece, which is a perk of having lumber cut to order. That width was convenient to cut from the trees available. I moved in this spring before the siding was complete. As I used tools, gathered from their previous homes on our property, I put them in the garden shed. The rafters are 2’ apart. I put nails in them to hang things, such as garlic, onions, bags of cowpeas, etc, but reserved a space for a loft in the back two feet of the shed. Anxious to use the loft, I found two old 2 x 2’s salvaged from an old chicken tractor years ago. They just fit the space from one end to the other. I had some old wooden flats that I no longer use, since I start most things in the cold frames, so I put them up there as the loft floor to see how it would look. So far, that’s my loft. Nothing is nailed down, but it works for what I’m using it for. I can store harvest baskets and other containers and shade cloth there. My solar oven spends the summer in the garden and will now spend winters in the garden shed loft.

garden shed inside leftWhen I step into the shed, immediately to my left I have hung the tools I use often—my fork, cultivator, and spade. I’ve found that hanging them up, rather than leaning them in the corner, as I did when they were stored in the garage, encourages me to keep them clean. As a result, I now keep a wire brush handy to scrape mud off the ends of these tools, as well as off my trowel, Cobrahead, and soil knife.

garden shed inside rightJust to the right, as I step into the shed, are other important tools at my disposal—my Cobrahead, sickle, scale, and measuring tape. When the door is finished I plan to hang the Cobrahead and sickle on it so that when the door is open, they will be even more accessible as I pass by. You can see that I have added corner shelves here. That was a design that evolved with the shed. My original plan called for a counter/workbench along that whole wall. However, I realized that I could use scraps from the siding to make corner shelves and I like that better. The shelf boards rest on the framing pieces already there.

garden shed work station and back cornerTaking the place of the built-in counter/workbench is this workstation I built from scraps on hand, including an old broken door. It is great to have a space to put my clipboard on, make notes, and sort seeds.The panels on the workstation are painted with blackboard paint. Soil amendments and odds and ends are on the shelves in that back corner.

garden shed garlic and wire sculptureHere you can see some of my garlic and the vent opening in the eave above the shed doorway. Garlic and onions have been hanging there since they were harvested, but will now go under the house where I have nails in the joists in the crawl space for winter storage. If you look closely on that siding you will see a wire sculpture I’ve put up there just above the door. It was an old art project by son Travis that has outlived its usefulness in the house. I’m sure I’ll find some more fun stuff to put up there. As always, click on any picture and it will open in a new window for a better view.

garden shed floor

Originally I had thought I’d make the shed 6’ x 6’ and am glad I let Walt talk me into going with 8’ x 8’. There is plenty of room for storage, plus room for me to be comfortable using the workstation. After everything you’ve seen, I’ve got this much floor space left. I have since put the smaller of my two solar food dryers there for the winter and I still have space to move around. The small stepstool is just right for reaching the loft. Currently I use an old 2 x 2 with a screw sticking out of it (found it in the barn) to hang things on the nails in the rafters. Son Luke is carving a cedar pole for me, specially made for that job.

I love this shed! If you are planning a shed of your own, write a plan for what you want it to do for you. Although it wasn’t the case for me, it might be that there is a shed that fits your needs sitting in the parking lot of a big box store, waiting to be delivered to your yard. I had been thinking of everything I wanted in a shed for a long time and it was worth the wait. There is still more to come. A door of course, and we’ll be adding gutters and a water barrel or two, and maybe attaching things to the outside. I’ll probably paint it next summer. It has been wonderful using it this summer. I hope I’ve given you some good ideas to put to use in your garden shedhomeplace earth.

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