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Archive for June, 2015

Garden Paths June 2015--BLOGEverything is growing like crazy at my place, including weeds in my garden paths. Unfortunately, I don’t have white clover growing there like I usually do. Dutch white clover is a short-lived perennial that, in my opinion, is great to have growing in your garden paths. Without white clover, I mulch my paths with leaves or grass clippings, with or without newspapers or cardboard underneath the mulch.

Although I have access to leaves and grass clippings from our own property, sometimes they are used to mulch the crops in the garden beds or other areas in our landscape, leaving little for the paths. I used to have access to as many leaves as I could want that came from other places and I used them liberally in my paths and on my beds. Now, however, there is a danger of herbicides being used that persist in the environment for a long time after they are used and could be in materials I would acquire. I wrote about that in my post on Killer Compost. When I decided to limit outside inputs to my garden, including those leaves that were hauled in from elsewhere, I had to rethink what I would do with the paths. I turned to Dutch white clover and have been pleased with it. I am thinking even more fondly of it now that it is not here.

Winter Squash provides mulch for this path.

Winter squash provides mulch for this path.

So, why is white clover not in my paths this year? Last fall my attention was called to too many things besides the garden. I was happy I was able to get the cover crops planted in a timely manner, but I never tended to the paths. I told myself I would do that early in the spring. Unfortunately, spring proved to be busy, also, and the clover never got planted. Well, I’m paying the price for that now. I have been weeding all my paths and mulching with grass clippings from our lawn. I’m also taking advantage of things like letting the winter squash wander into the path, naturally providing mulch, as it is doing in this photo beside this cowpea bed. The cowpeas will need little tending until they are harvested for dried beans.

Ordinarily, in the fall when I plant cover crops I reshape my beds if needed, scraping any loose soil from the paths back into the beds, and sow white clover in the paths—raking it in with my cultivator. It gets off to a good start in the fall and keeps a green cover on the paths through the winter. In the spring it is growing nicely and keeping the weeds away, allowing me to concentrate on what to do with the garden beds, with little maintenance needed for the paths. Dutch white clover is the lowest growing clover, so that is the variety you want. You can see my garden with clover paths in my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden.

The clover will flower here in June. Too often I wait until it is in full flower to cut it, which is probably why it sometimes dies out in mid-summer and needs to be planted again in the fall. That’s okay. It had done its job for the year. If I trimmed it sooner, it would probably last longer, just as it keeps growing in your yard when you mow it. I only cut it a couple times during the summer with my sickle—the same one I use to cut my grains. Those of you who are into noisy machines might use a string trimmer to keep the clover trimmed. Sometimes the clover creeps up into the edges of the beds, but I don’t find that to be a problem. The clover keeps weeds from the bed edges and can be easily pulled out when I weed the beds if it starts to creep in too far. In that case I harvest it for compost material.

Some paths did get attention in the spring and they have cardboard or brown paper bags as mulch, sometimes under grass clippings and sometimes alone. The organic grain I buy to grind as feed for my chickens comes in the brown bags. I don’t have many chickens, so not so many bags, but I save them up for this job. I don’t go looking for cardboard for the paths, but sometimes boxes find their way to my house and have no other use. I have not made a study of whether cardboard is safe to use in your garden these days, but I don’t use it often—only when the boxes start to accumulate and I need to cover garden paths. Remember, most years I have white clover growing there, so don’t need the mulch. We get the newspaper daily and usually recycle it, but when I need to keep the weeds under control, such as now, I use it (newsprint only, not the glossy sections) in the paths. Since newspapers tend to blow around, I cover them with grass clippings.

Rye straw from the mulch in the bed on the left of the corn and grass clippings in the path on the right.

Rye straw from the mulch in the bed on the left of the corn and grass clippings in the path on the right.

I grow grains in my garden and if I didn’t use the straw for the carbon addition to my compost, it would be available to use as mulch. In some of my beds rye is grown to be cut early and kept on the bed as mulch for the next crop. Allowing some of that rye straw to spill into the paths takes care of some of them. In this photo you can see the rye straw from the bed covering the path on one side of the corn bed and grass clippings mulching the path to the right of the corn.

My paths are now all weeded and mostly mulched (more grass clippings coming with the next mowing), so they should be good for the summer. I have to admit, they started to get away from me there. I always like to have everything under control by July 4th. If your garden is getting the better of you right now, don’t beat yourself up. Harvest the weeds to feed to your compost pile and be happy for the great compost they will make for your garden for next year. Then, make a plan so you will be more in control in the future. You can bet that I’ll be planting Dutch white clover in the paths this fall, making my work easier in 2016.Homeplace Earth

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betsy and luke onion harvest - BLOGSummer is upon us and it is relatively quiet at my house. It wasn’t always that way. My husband and I raised four children–the oldest was thirteen when the youngest was born. Summers meant lots of activity and a full table for lunch every day. I was the stay-at-home parent and had no desire to haul the kids around to keep them entertained. We had plenty to do at home.

I wanted my children to be productive members of our family and, from a young age, gave them opportunities to do that. They were responsible for keeping their rooms clean, picking up after themselves, bringing firewood up to the house in the winter as needed, and doing things when asked, such as setting the table or folding clothes while they watched TV. Those are the things I can think of off the top of my head (the youngest is 28 and the oldest is 41, so it’s been awhile). I’m sure they could add to the list. Actually, setting the table was usually the job for the youngest. When we moved to this house in 1984 I put the dinner dishes on a shelf in a low cupboard so that our daughter, age 2, could reach them and set the table by herself. I believe they were all grown before I got around to moving the dishes to an upper cabinet.

Summertime, however, was different. There was garden work to do, and plenty of it. I told them they had to give me an hour of their time each weekday—even the little ones. The first week after school was out (they went to the school that sent a yellow bus around every day), I let them sleep in and decide when they would put in their hour. Since the work was usually in the garden it didn’t take them the whole week to decide it was better to get up early and put in their hour before it got too hot. I remember someone telling me they were happy their children were on the swim team because it got them out of bed every morning to be at practice by 9. When a public pool was built nearby, we joined and our children went there, but not because of swim team. They all learned how to swim and, to this day, prefer rivers to pools anyway.

travis betsy and luke painting the fence - BLOGI would choose age-appropriate jobs for each of them. They would weed, mulch, and pick. They learned entomology when we identified insects in the garden, deciding if they were good or bad ones. In order to keep the Mexican bean beetles and Colorado potato beetles in check, I would pay them a penny for each beetle they picked off the beans or potatoes and a nickel for each egg cluster they smashed. Let me tell you, a child who struggles with math in the classroom has no problem adding numbers in his head to tell you how much he is owed under these circumstances. Sometimes their job was to paint the fence.

We were all in the garden at the same time, and it took some managing on my part to keep everyone at their job—happily (which was a requirement). By the time their hour was up, they had thought of enough things to do to keep themselves occupied for the rest of the day. Legos were a part of their lives, especially on hot afternoons, but they were also free to make things, spend time in our small woods, play with neighborhood friends, and when they got old enough, ride their bikes to Ashland—about 3½ miles away. Of course, those were the days before video games. The TV was turned on for shows like Reading Rainbow, Secret City (an art show), and sometimes they watched a cooking show.

travis and betsy juicing tomatoes -BLOGOn the days there were things to can, especially snap beans and tomatoes, they were expected to help with that. Sometimes it was in addition to the garden work, and sometimes it was instead of. We would all sit around the table and talk while we worked. I remember having a young one in the high chair with his/her own knife and cutting board. The work got done and it never required anyone ever getting any stitches. By the time the second oldest learned to read I would choose books from the library that the two oldest could read and let them take turns reading a chapter at a time while the rest of us worked on the beans. It gave the reader a break from the beans, honed his reading skills, and kept everyone quiet and interested. It was a pleasant time. With the tomatoes, they washed, quartered (more knife work) and sometimes worked the Victorio strainer.

One of the best things that came out of summers at home with the kids was the Summer Lunch Café and it wasn’t a work requirement. When he was about eleven, our oldest came up with the idea to make lunch, with the help of his brother, age seven. They had decided to play “restaurant” and, on their own, found all the choices in the kitchen for lunch and made a menu, which, among other things, included all the condiments in the fridge. When their restaurant opened, they seated me and their little sister and took our order. I don’t remember what we had that day—it could have been peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What I do remember is that it was a nice break from me making lunch and we all had a good time.

The children continued to play restaurant whenever the spirit moved them during the summer, with the next in line moving up to either helper or manager as the older ones got “real” jobs elsewhere. By the time Betsy (third child and only girl) was in charge, with her younger brother as helper, the oldest (Jarod) had his own lawn business and would occasionally be home for lunch when he was working in the area. Betsy was the one who named it the Summer Lunch Café and would put a tip jar out if Jarod was there. Often he would ask her in the morning if the Summer Lunch Café was going to be open that day and was happy to enjoy what he had started so long ago.

Although it was often through garden work that my children contributed to the household each day, I would sometimes give them the choice of housework. They could choose to dust and sweep the living room or clean the bathroom instead of putting in their time in the garden that day. Cooking could be an option for your kids to contribute to the household. My kids came up with the Summer Lunch Café on their own and enjoyed watching the cooking show on PBS (I don’t remember which one). With the proliferation of cooking shows on TV, sometimes involving children, your children may be inspired to make dinner on a regular basis, or at least help, as their contribution to your household. Just like with me in the garden with all the kids at once, it would take some guidance and management on your part, but the skills they come away with will be with them forever.

When I started selling produce in 1992 I hired whoever was a young teen at the time to be my paid helper on market days. There was still the “one hour for the family at no pay” requirement on the other days. If you ask my grown children today, they will probably tell you that they had more chores than their friends did at the time, but they have no regrets. When they were old enough to get a “real” job they already knew how to follow directions and to keep at a job until it was done. I received good feedback from their bosses, who said that wasn’t always the case with young employees.

To describe those summers when our children were growing up as busy would be an understatement, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I know times have changed and there are many distractions in this digital age, but I hope you take the time to arrange regular occasions to have your children do meaningful work alongside you this summer. You will get to know each other in a way you couldn’t otherwise.Homeplace Earth

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Cindy in her homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Cindy in her homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

My new vest is finished! In the photo I am wearing my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest. It has been a long time in coming. Growing the cotton and sewing the vest are skills and knowledge I already had. The spinning and weaving were things I needed to learn.

Homegrown cotton and takli spindle.

Homegrown cotton and takli spindle.

In February 2013 I wrote of my cotton spinning journey in my blog post Grow and Spin Cotton. I’ll repeat the photo here of my Nankeen Brown cotton, Erlene’s Green cotton, and takli spindle. All the fiber for the vest was spun on that spindle. Since cotton has such a short fiber length, it is helpful to use a support spindle, which is what a takli is. A small bowl supports the bottom of the spindle while it spins. Once the cotton was spun into singles I plied two singles into 2-ply yarn, which is what I used to weave with. The plying was done on a drop spindle that I made from a dowel and a small wooden wheel.

Small table loom with fabric for homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Small table loom with fabric for homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Joining Clothos Handspinners has been an important part of this fiber adventure. I learn so much from attending the meetings and interacting with the members. Every two years the group holds a swap meet which is an opportunity for members to sell extra equipment, fiber, and books and for others (like me) to acquire it. Some of that trading also goes on informally at the regular meetings. The swap meet was where I bought my loom. Then I had to learn to use it. This vest has not been an easy project. The loom is 12” wide, but my resulting fabric was only 9½” wide. I made a pattern from the quilted vest I wear, and from that, designed a pattern that used 9½” wide fabric. Since 9½” is not wide enough for a full front or back panel, there are side panels that make up the difference.

Erlene's green and Nankeen brown cotton spun and woven.

Erlene’s green and Nankeen brown cotton spun and woven.

I used brown for the warp and green for the weft. As you can see, the weft is dominant in the weaving. I grew both colors in the garden and, although they were a good distance apart, there was some crossing. I didn’t notice green in with the brown, but there would be some brown in with the green. Maybe brown is the dominant color when it comes to genetics. When I was spinning I didn’t separate the off-color fibers, so there was some brown spun with the green, just as it was harvested. The fiber from the green cotton plants also had bits of white. It made for a pleasant variation in color in the finished fabric. Although I did do some carding, mostly I spun the fiber right off the seed.

As noted in my 2013 blog post, my 2012 yield (fiber only, no seeds) was .75 lb (green) to 1 lb. (brown) fiber per 100 sq. ft. The weight of my vest is 11.5 oz. (.72 lb.) including lining and buttons. Frequently people assume I would have had to grow cotton on a larger scale to produce an item of clothing, but this can be done in a garden. I used cotton osnaburg fabric for the lining—a piece I had left from a previous project. Osnaburg has an earthy appearance and seemed right for the vest. Besides, I already had it.

Button made from a shell on the homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Button made from a shell on the homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Although I usually don’t button my vests closed, I wanted to have buttons and I wanted them to be special. My first thought was to make wooden buttons, but then I remembered the jar of shells our children picked up at the beach many years ago. I used small vice grips to nip the edges of a shell off—going round and round until it was the size I wanted for a button. Then I drilled two ⅟₁₆” holes in each button. I didn’t want to put buttonholes in my new fabric so I made loops by braiding my brown cotton yarn to close the vest, if I should want to. This was my first time making buttons from shells and I am pleased with the results. In the photo you can see a bit of the osnaburg lining.

Now that I know how to spin and weave, the possibilities for unique yarns and fabrics are endless. I will be learning about natural dyes and eventually learn to spin wool and to use a wheel. When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC in April I bought a book charka from Eileen Hallman at New World Textiles, but I haven’t used it yet so as not to distract me from finishing the vest. Once I learn how to use it, the charka will speed up my cotton spinning. For this vest I wanted to use the least technology that I could, not only because it was the least expensive way to go (which was a consideration), but because I wanted to relate to how people down through the ages worked with fiber to clothe themselves. I’m sure in some places people still depend on these methods and, you can be sure, I kept them in my heart while I worked.

When I first grew cotton I had no idea what to do with it and put it away in a box for at least ten years. It has taken some effort to learn to spin and to get to the point of making a vest with my homegrown cotton. I might have finished the vest earlier if I wasn’t sidetracked writing two books during that time. You might not be into growing and spinning your own cotton, but there is probably some other adventure that has been rolling around in your head for awhile—maybe even ten years or more. I want to encourage you to go for it. If I can learn to do this, you can learn new tricks, too.

I’ll be wearing my new vest at upcoming events this year, which are listed here. First up is the Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, Vermont on June 3-5. See you there!

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