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Cassie Dickson teaching how to turn flax into linen.

From the response to the Mother Earth News article about my homegrown cotton shirt in their April/May 2018 issue, there seems to be much interest in growing your own clothes. For those whose weather is not conducive to cotton, you might want to consider flax. Cassie Dickson is teaching a Flax to Linen class at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Massachusetts June 10-16, 2018. If a week is too long for you, she is teaching a shorter version of that workshop on June 16-17. Cassie taught the Flax to Linen workshop for Clothos Handspinners here last summer.  Find more information about these events at https://www.snowfarm.org/workshops/topics/fiber-baskets/flax-plant-linen-cloth and https://www.snowfarm.org/workshops/topics/fiber-baskets/spinning-delight-flax-linen-thread.

Whether you are growing flax for linen or cotton, and turning it into clothes,  it is an exciting adventure. You could grow both! My latest shirt is white cotton warp and linen weft. I’ll tell you about it sometime. homeplace earth logo

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My homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored, cotton shirt is in the latest issue–April/May 2018–of the Mother Earth News!

Seed to Shirt-article - Copy  Mother Earth News April/May 2018

You can access the article online here, but it is prettier to read in the print magazine.

Enjoy!

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Christmas Heirloom wallhangingLast December I finally got around to making a wallhanging using my old jewelry. It was an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for years, but I never took the time to act on it. If you know me, you know that I wear very little jewelry, but that didn’t prevent it from accumulating over the years.  With my mother’s passing in 2014, the calling to do this became louder.

I began to think of what I would leave behind. The jumble in my jewelry box would be just that, a jumble, to whoever got the job to clean it out. That jumble, however, was full of stories. Everything had a story, just like the patches on a quilt. Not that I plan on leaving this earth any time soon, but if I passed on, the stories would go with me if I didn’t do something about it. By putting these items into a wallhanging, they would get out of the box and the stories would be told. You could make any sort of wallhanging to decorate with your jewelry. For me, decorating a Christmas tree made sense, since the family gathers here at Christmas and the stories can be told to all. In fact, our grown children may have their own tales to add.

I had bought a yard of green batik fabric for a project that never happened and one day I saw it with new eyes. It was the exact piece I needed for the Christmas tree on the wallhanging I envisioned, so maybe it was time to get started. In my mind, the background was a blue batik fabric with stars. Sure enough, that is what I found at the fabric store. Batik fabrics are made with a wax-resist dyeing method and come in many interesting designs. If your local fabric store doesn’t carry them, check with a quilt store.

cow pin and rings

We kept a milk cow for 7 years.

There is a layer of quilt batting between the blue background and a backing fabric and between the green fabric and the blue. I cut the Christmas tree ¼” wider for a seam allowance to turn under. The tree is hand-stitched to the blue background. The pins from the “ornaments” and the thread from items I sewed on quilt the tree, background, and backing fabrics together. The red used on the side borders, also a batik, helps to set off all the colors. The gold cords used to hang it with are what I wore at my high school graduation to designate I was in the National Honor Society. They have been cluttering up my jewelry box since 1969.

typing pin-osu ring-red heart

Typing 50 words/minute with minimal errors on a manual typewriter earned me the winged 50 pin in high school.

Necklaces are great for garlands. Our class rings are here, as well as the pins I received as recognition for activities over the years. Back in the day, charm bracelets were the thing to give girls so that you could give them charms on gift occasions and you didn’t have to think of anything else. I had two charm bracelets and many more charms that never made it to the bracelets. I never pierced my ears or else there would be earrings on this wallhanging. There are numerous 4-H pins from my days as a 4-Her growing up and later as a 4-H leader.

Snyder B-I love to garden pinThis wallhanging tells stories from my life, beginning at birth. There is the small beaded bracelet that was put on me in the hospital when I was born. I was Snyder B and my first born twin sister was Snyder A. Other relatives and friends are recognized in this wallhanging. One summer when we were in high school, my friend Dixie went to France and brought back an Eiffel Tower charm for me. Dixie and I still keep in touch. The pin my husband received for having donated 100 pints of blood over the years is here. What else do you do with something like that? The base is a souvenir given for participation in the Heritage Village at the Virginia State Fair. We were the family that looked like we lived in the log cabin for the first two days of the fair. It is sewn on at the corners with my homegrown handspun brown cotton yarn.

charm bracelets-D pin-blood pinThere are a few pins that belonged to my parents and a large heart-shaped ”D” pin that had belonged to my great grandmother. I never knew her name was Delia until my aunt passed that pin on to me. The angel at the top of the Christmas tree is a pin given to me by the same beloved aunt many years ago. You may not have a collection of old jewelry to do this with, but maybe you have your father’s old fishing lures or a button jar from your grandmother. I’m sure if you start looking around at what odds and ends you have been saving, you will find a use for them in a wallhanging such as this. Before I decided on the size, I laid out what I had on a large piece of paper to see if it would fit, then drew the tree for a pattern.

As you can see, I have had a full life, with more adventures to come. This blog has been quite an adventure, and one that I am happy to have had. In my last post I wrote about balance in your garden. We need to keep balance in our lives, also. Life continues to be busy here and there are other things I want to turn my attention to, so I am going to step back from the blog to keep that balance. Don’t worry, there are no broken bones or other health problems, just lots to do. Everything will still be here for anyone to find. My website at HomeplaceEarth.com will continue to be active with my books and DVDs for sale and the Events page that shows where I will be speaking.  I have had a great time sharing what I know with you through this blog. My wish is that you build on what you learn here and make even better adventures yourself.  Most importantly—have fun!
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taking a soil testOver the years, whenever anyone asked me for advice on organic gardening, my response has always been Feed the Soil and Build the Ecosystem. Often they were expecting recommendations on what amendment or pest control product to use. However, you need to look at the whole system, rather than addressing symptoms of imbalance as they pop up. Now that permaculture is becoming more widely publicized, whole system management is more well known

Feed the Soil—Now is a good time to take a soil sample. I send my soil samples to Waypoint Analytical, formerly A & L Eastern Labs. If you are not good at interpreting the results that they send you, you could contact John Beeby at www.growyoursoil.org for organic fertilizer recommendations. Check with his website for which test to request and where to have it done. You will need to sample the soil from many places in your garden, then mix everything together for your sample to send in. The soil you see in the photo looks really good, but remember that I have been working on my soil for many years.

Correcting imbalances in your soil is the first thing to do if you are not receiving the results you want in your garden. Sometimes, well meaning actions can lead to imbalances, including adding a lot of manure to your garden every year without testing first. Sometimes people lime every year because they assume it is a good thing. It is only good if your garden needs more lime. Even if you do not do a soil test each year, you should have one to use as a baseline, then do one a couple years later to see how things are going. Make cover crops a part of your soil building efforts. The organic matter they add with their roots, and with the plant matter you harvest and use as mulch or compost material, is a tremendous benefit.

Build the Ecosystem—Well-nourished soil cannot go it alone in producing good crops. Malnourished plants will attract insects that will take them out, for sure. However, even well- nourished plants need pollinators. Also, if there are any insects munching your plants, you want to have beneficial insects taking up residence in your garden to eat them. In order for the beneficials to stay, there needs to be some other insects around as food. Buying insects to add to your garden is not as effective as attracting and naturally growing your own,

Chemicals, even those approved for organic production, can harm beneficial insects, as well as the not-so-desired ones. Furthermore, you have to acquire and apply the chemicals. If you include plants that attract the good insects into your crop mix, all you have to do is to stand back and watch the show. That’s what happened when I planted mountain mint, as well as other plants in the margins of my garden. I had visitors to my garden this summer who stopped in their tracks and asked the name of the plant when they saw all the buzzing around the mountain mint. It was an insect frenzy! Tansy is also well-documented as attracting beneficial insects.

goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies

Goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies.

The best time to witness beneficial insects on your plants is between 10am and 2pm in your garden. Goldenrod grows up in the wild areas of my garden if I don’t cut it down through the season. Since I am getting interested in natural dyes, I cut some for a dyepot recently. When I went out with my clippers, there were so many insects buzzing around it that I backed off. I did take some where there was little action going on, but left the rest to the beneficials.

leatherwing on spearmint

Leatherwing on spearmint.

You can also experience all this by letting some of your regular garden plants, such as basil, flower and go to seed. Spearmint, which can take over if you are not careful, attracts many beneficials if you let it flower. I like to have celery come back each year and go to seed. On the way to making seed that I save for culinary use and replanting, the flowers attract an array of good bugs–and all I have to do is watch it happen. Besides the insects you see in these photos, you will see bumblebees, wasps, beetles, spiders, and more in your garden if you allow it to happen.

Assasssin bug babies

Assassin bug babies.

Learn to identify insects you find in your garden so you don’t freak out and destroy the good ones you see that might surprise you, such as the assassin bugs in this photo. I found this young family on my cowpea plants. Although I’ve found ladybugs on other plants, my favorite ladybug photo is one I took on a cowpea plant of a ladybug eating an aphid.

ladybug eating an aphid

Ladybug eating an aphid.

To attract many of these good insects, you need to have permanent plantings. Weedy fencerows can provide  habitat. Not tilling all your garden at once will help, as well as having permanent paths. A border with permanent plantings will provide overwintering habitat. These things will enhance the year-round beauty of your garden and will be less work for you in the long run. The book Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham is a good reference to consult if you want help deciding what to plant to attract specific insects to help with certain pests.

Now is a great time to make your 2018 garden plan to ensure that you plant the desired cover crop, considering what your following crop will be, in each bed for next year. I locate my compost piles on my garden beds and rotate them, along with my other crops to contribute to soil fertility. The advantage of that is evident in the crops that follow. Managing your plantings to attract and maintain beneficial insects in your ecosystem will create a garden that is a joy to be in.homeplace earth logo

Conner family at table Easter 2014 - BLOGCome to the Newfound Gathering Place and Eatery in Ashland, VA on Wednesday, September 27 for a Farm-to-Table dinner and a talk on eating from your garden through the winter–all for $15!

The evening begins at 6 pm with dinner sourced from local farmers. The menu is:

Butternut Squash and Pine Nut Soup–Ashland Farmers Market
Microgreen Salad–Carrot Top Farm
Meatloaf (vegan and gluten-free option available)–Dragonfly Farms
Garlic Fingerling Potato Roast (vegan)–Delli Carpini Farm
Additional Vegetable–to be determined
Lemon Pound Cake with Raspberries (gluten-free)–Agriberry
Iced Tea or Fresh Citrus-Aide

carrots-collards-jerusalem artichokes-beetsAt 7 pm I, Cindy Conner, will present The Winter Garden: Grow to feed yourself and the soil through the winter. Learn about planting cover crops and garlic this fall and how to make a row cover to protect the greens and roots in your garden for winter harvest.low tunnel over fall greens

Okay, so the first photo is obviously not taken at the Newfound Gathering Place and Eatery, but is of my wonderful family having a meal in our home. Come to Newfound (formerly Ashland Coffee and Tea) at 100 N. Railroad Ave, Ashland VA on Wednesday and join other wonderful like-minded people for a great local dinner and learn how to eat from your garden through the winter. Call for reservations at 804-299-3604. Make sure to tell them if you prefer the gluten-free / vegan meatloaf option. I hope to see you there.      homeplace earth logo

Heritage Harvest Festival 2017The Heritage Harvest Festival is coming up September 8 and 9. It is a huge deal held at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, near Charlottesville, VA. This event is sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Seed Savers Exchange. It celebrates food, sustainable agriculture, and the preservation of heritage plants.

Saturday, September 9 is the main event. Up on the mountain there will be booths with vendors, demonstrations on all sorts of stuff, and tents where talks will be held. For one admission price of $28 (children 5-11 $9, under 5 FREE) you have access to all the speakers that day. In years past, some of the talks were premium talks that required signing up ahead and paying a separate fee. Many of the premium talks were held at the visitor center. This year on Saturday there will be no talks at the visitor center.

flax to linen--retted sraw-strick-spun

Homegrown Flax–retted straw, processed fiber, spun flax (now called linen)

There will be premium talks at the visitor center on Friday, September 8 and that is where you will find me.  This is the 11th year for the festival and the 10th year that I will be speaking there. The Heritage Harvest Festival celebrates local food and gardening and usually my talks reflect that. I have given talks on cover crops, growing sustainable diets, garden planning, seed libraries, and how to transition from a home gardener to a market gardener. This year my talk is From Seed to Garment: Cotton and Flax/Linen in Your Garden. I am looking forward to sharing my work with fiber. Monticello is working on a textile exhibit that will open in 2018 to showcase the spinning and weaving that was done at the plantation, primarily to clothe the slaves. I am happy to bring a bit of textile production to the place ahead of that.

homegrwon handspun cotton shirt 2016

Homegrown, handspun, naturally colored cotton shirt.

I will still be around on Saturday and you will find me in the Homeplace Earth booth, #RR7 on Retailer Row. If you can’t make it to the talk on Friday and really want to take a closer look at my homegrown clothes, come and find me Saturday. I will have them in the booth, along with my DVDs and books that I have for sale. I won’t be selling any homegrown clothes, though.

This is a unique event. You get to hang around Thomas Jefferson’s backyard and enjoy so many things besides the great view. My friends Kim and Jimbo Cary will be playing music under the trees. They will have some gourds, washboards, and tamborines for you to use if you want to join in. They are great with the kids. When you are not taking in a lecture you can stop by the Seed Tent and do some seed swapping. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will have their tomato tasting, as always. You can wander through their tent and try varieties of tomatoes that you probably never knew existed. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson is in his glory, having all of this at his home. He so much enjoyed experimenting with new crops at Monticello. When I am there I take the time to stop, look around, and marvel at what is going on. All of this celebration of agriculture and food in this particular place! Fantastic!

The Heritage Harvest Festival will expose you to many new and not-so-new projects around the region that promote sustainable agriculture. A word of warning to those like me who carry a pocket knife–this year they will be screening for things like that, so leave your knife in the car. Come for a day on the mountain, make new friends, and be sure to come by and see me!homeplace earth logo

Onion braids hanging in my shed.

Onion braids hanging in my shed.

I have been writing quite a bit this year about growing cotton and flax, with the idea of taking the fiber all the way to clothes you can wear. Scroll through my posts and you will have enough information to begin working on growing your own clothes. You will be hearing more about fiber in the future, but now I will turn my attention back to food crops.

Onions are a great crop! Plant them at the right time in the spring, harvest them all at the same time, and, if you have grown enough and stored them carefully, you can be eating your homegrown onions all year. Onions grown for storage can become a staple crop for your homegrown diet. Open-pollinated onion varieties good for storage include New York Early and Red Wethersfield, but there are others. Sweet onion varieties, however, do not last as long as the varieties grown for storage. The descriptions in seed catalogs should indicate if a variety will store well or not.

If you have had a problem with the onions you buy at the grocery store sprouting in a relatively short time after you brought them home, you are probably wondering how you could ever keep them long term. Well, the ones you grow are much different from the ones you get at the store, primarily because you can manage them from the time they come out of the ground. Most likely, the store-bought onions have already been kept for a long period in cool conditions and, once they are brought out to room temperature, they are ready to sprout.

onions in fence circle just after harvest

Onions in fence circle just after harvest.

By this time of the year you have probably already harvested your onions, hopefully before the tops died back. If so, you will have them to braid. Onions need to be cured after harvest under conditions with good air circulation. You could lay them out on a screen or board in the shade or lay them out on your barn floor, which is what I used to do before I began putting them on a circle of fencing. I went to the fence circle once I was growing more than my barn floor could accommodate. For each circle, I use a piece of old welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spacings. It sets on two cement blocks in such a way that allows good air circulation up through the middle. It could also be hung from the rafters, which would get it off the floor and provide even greater air circulation. I put each onion in the middle of the circle and pull the green top through the wire to the outside. Those tops will die back in the next couple weeks. Having them on the outside, allows them to dry quicker than if the onions were on the outside of the circle and the tops were inside.

Onions in the fence circle ready to sort.

Onions in the fence circle ready to sort.

Most likely, no matter what you have done with them, you have reached the stage where the onions tops have dried and it has become apparent that not all your onions are going to keep till the spring. It is time to sort through them. Identify the ones to use early and which ones you can keep for later. Hold each onion in your hand and put your thumb over the spot where the top comes out. Press down. If there is much give, put it in the “use now” pile. If it is very hard, set it aside to braid or otherwise store for the long term. If there is just a little give when you press down with your thumb, put it in the “use next” pile, meaning it will be used after the “use now” pile is depleted.

Onions in solar food dryer.

Onions in solar food dryer.

The “use now” onions are what you want to be using as you are canning salsa, spaghetti sauce, or anything else that needs onions this summer. You could also cut them up and put them in a dehydrator. Here is a photo of some onions in my solar dryer. My extra “use now” onions are sitting in a basket on my back porch and that is what I am using for summer cooking. I’ve braided my “use next” onions and labeled the braids so that I will use them before the long term storage braids. For now, all the onion braids are hanging in my garden shed. About mid-October I will transfer them to the crawlspace under our house. I have put nails in the joists just to hang onion and garlic braids through the winter. Even in the coldest times here in central Virginia it never freezes there. You can find details about how to braid onions in my July 28, 2015 post.

There are many ways to manage onions, but this method is what I have found to be most helpful  It is a wonderful feeling to reach the point where you are growing most, if not all, of the onions you will need for the year. The important thing is to not crowd them in a warm place. They need to have air circulation. A story for another day is about using onion skins to make a natural dye. As I use the onions, I save their yellow skins in a mesh bag to use in dyeing. There is much fun to be had from what you can grow in your garden!

Onions have many health benefits, which I wrote about on January 24, 2012. Knowing how healthy onions are for you should prompt you to include onions in your diet as often as possible. Learning to store the onions that you have grown for the long term brings you one step closer to being able to put homegrown meals on the table all year long.homeplace earth logo

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