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Archive for October, 2015

corn sheller box

Corn Sheller Box

Corn is a wonderful crop and I encourage people to grow varieties for cornmeal. In order to do that, you need to grow it out until it has dried on the stalk. The stalk will have dried, also. If you have grown only a small amount you can use your thumbs to push the kernels off the cobs. It doesn’t take much to make you start thinking of easier ways to do that job. I have a corn sheller that I found at an antique mall years ago. Corn shellers need to be attached to something to use them properly. I have mine on a box that I made from scrap wood. Painting it makes it not look so scrappy.

ejecting the cob

The sheller is mounted close to one side so the cob will be ejected away from the box.

My corn sheller box measures 18” wide, 21½” long, and 12” high. I would use different dimensions if I were making a new one and I’ll be telling you about that. You can see that I framed the outside of the short sides in wood, in addition to the plywood for the box. That provides extra support and the top piece is a nice edge to hold onto when I’m carrying it. I carry it with the corn sheller against my body and my hands grasping that top strip on each side. It is more manageable than holding the box by its bottom. There is a 1” x 1” nailing strip on the inside bottom edge of the long sides. This is a sturdy box. The sheller is mounted close to the end on one side so that the cobs are ejected to outside the box. I suppose you could hang a basket on the side to catch them.

corn sheller

When I travel I enjoy stopping at antique malls. It used to be I could find corn shellers for $25 – $30 dollars. I would take them apart and add the necessary bolts and wingnuts, give the moving parts some grease, and resell them to my students at the community college for $30-$35 dollars. One hole for the bolts to attach the sheller to a box is usually accessible, but the other is not. The wheel needs to be removed to be able to put a bolt there.

corn sheller on box

Bolts and wingnuts attach the sheller to the box.

One year I turned over five corn shellers to my students, putting them into the hands of people who would bring them back to life. The price may have gone up some by now, but there are still some good ones out there. Two things to look out for are the tabs that allow you to bolt the sheller to the box and the handle. Sometimes those tabs are broken off and you would have to find an alternate way to attach the sheller to a box—maybe with a clamp. It is nice to have a good wooden handle. Some of the corn shellers I have seen have lost the wood on their handles, leaving only the metal rod. The handle could be replaced with a handle that you can buy to put on a file. You can find old corn shellers on ebay. You will have to pay shipping, but if you aren’t in the mood to shop around at antique malls, maybe you don’t mind that.

The box for my corn sheller is easily stored in the barn with other seed processing equipment in it. Since I shell my corn all at one time in the fall it is only used seasonally. After shelling, the corn is stored in half gallon jars in the pantry. If you have grown corn to feed to livestock and have your year’s supply stored in the corn crib, you might be shelling it out through the year as you need it. At our state fair one year, I saw a corn sheller mounted on a box that had legs tall enough to get a bucket under it. The floor of the box was slanted toward one end. The side at that end had a hole that was covered by a piece of wood that could be slid up to allow the corn to flow into the bucket. That is a handy design, especially if your sheller is used regularly and needs to be a stand-alone piece of equipment.

pan inside corn sheller boxYou do have to think about how to get the corn out of the box. You could tip it on end and pour it out, which is awkward to do. You could reach in with a large kitchen spoon and scoop it out. Flat pancake turners also work to get the corn out of the corners. I used those things until I realized I could put a large pan in there to catch the corn. In the photo you see the pan I use to roast a turkey in at Thanksgiving. It has many other uses, but I bought it for the turkey long ago. It is larger than a large cake pan. If I was to build a new box I would decide what pan I would use to catch the corn and size the box accordingly. A plastic bin would work, also. (Maybe I should look for a pan that fits the box I already have.) In the photo you can see my Bloody Butcher corn in the pan and some kernels that escaped it. After I took the pan out I had to round up those wayward kernels with the pancake turner. The photo shows just how the corn dropped. If the box more closely fit the pan, those stray kernels would have landed in the pan.

Corn shellers are still made, so there are new ones available; but if you can find an old one at a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to get it. Don’t let a little rust on one deter you from buying it. Keep your eyes open and you will find a good one that you can use. Happy shelling!homeplace earth

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Fall Fiber Festival WinnerI entered my homegrown handspun cotton vest in the Fall Fiber Festival that was to be held at Montpelier Station, VA on October 3-4, but because of impending weather conditions, it was cancelled. However, the judging for the Skein and Garment Competition had already taken place the week before. In order to show off the wonderful entries, Clothos, the handspinning group sponsoring the competition, decided to display them at their already scheduled meeting on October 10. It was an opportunity for everyone to come and see the exhibit and for the exhibitors to pick up their entries. As you can see from the photo, my vest was a big winner!

My vest won its class of Handspun Handmade-wearable, Best in Division, and Best in Show. It also won the Gladys Strong Memorial Award for Handweaving. I was thrilled! There were so many wonderful entries. As you know from previous posts, this vest has been a long time coming. I began learning to spin in 2011 and joined Clothos in November that year. I was definitely a newbie at this. It seemed to be slow going for quite awhile, especially since I became sidetracked writing two books. But I kept at it.

This vest was a personal challenge. I wanted to see what I could do with my own homegrown cotton. The festival was not even on my mind when I completed it in June. It was at the urging of Clothos members that I entered it in the competition. On Saturday several of them expressed their pleasure at how well my vest had done—to the extent that they felt that they had won also, and rightly so. They remembered me coming that first time with my spindle and cotton in hand. Month after month, they would be working on all sorts of projects and there I was, still with my spindle and homegrown cotton. I had so much to learn and the Clothos members were very giving with their knowledge and skills. Each month I gained just by watching and listening. The chairs are set up in a circle in the large room at the fire station where we meet and I make a point of going around the circle to find out what each one is doing. Many use spinning wheels, which I’m learning about now. There is always someone ready to answer any questions I have.

If you have wanted to learn something, be it spinning and weaving, playing a musical instrument, fixing your car, gardening, or some other skill, it is not too late. Find people who know about that and jump right in. Take classes or join a group. You will meet new people and make new friends along the way. It is nice to know that my interest in homegrown cotton is valued by others and is not just a quirk that I have. I will never top my winnings of this year in the competition. Nevertheless, I am excited to try new things and keep pushing the limits of what I can do. Maybe one year there will be a division or a class in the competition requiring the fiber used, whether animal or plant, to be grown by the artist. That would be fun.

It you want to see my vest, I’ll be wearing it at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas on October 24-25. Come and see me there!homeplace earth

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cotton in field

Brown cotton ready to harvest after the frost,

Fall is the best time to plan your garden for the coming year. If you manage cover crops with hand tools, like I do, when you plant them you need to carefully consider what goes in next. With this type of management, tilling them in anytime you choose is not an option. Some cover crops will be in the ground longer than others. That’s why, if you are going to grow cotton and flax in your garden, you need to plan for that now. Having a harvest of cotton and flax will open up a whole new world for you of growing your own textiles.

I wrote about cotton when I told you about my homegrown handspun cotton vest. Cotton needs long hot days to mature. Plant it after the last expected spring frost when you put in tomatoes. It will be in the ground until the first fall frost, and maybe a bit beyond, so plan for that, also. The varieties I grow are listed as 120-130 days to maturity, but it seems to take longer than that for the bolls to open.

red foliated cotton

Red Foliated cotton. Fiber is white.

I can transplant cotton into a mulch of rye and Austrian winter peas that has been cut when the rye is shedding pollen, which here in zone 7 is the first week in May. Cotton transplants would go in two weeks later, after the rye roots have had a chance to decay somewhat. If I wanted to plant closer to the last frost date, which is about April 25 here, the preceding cover crop would be Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, or hairy vetch. These legumes can easily be pulled out at that time and added to the compost pile. The soil will be ready for the transplants without waiting the two weeks. The pea, clover, and vetch plants could be cut and left in place as mulch; however, it would be a fast-disappearing mulch—much different than the rye mulch. The cotton plant in this photo has a mulch of grass clippings.

Flax, on the other hand, needs to be planted early in the season. Using Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth by Linda Heinrich as my reference, the time to plant flax seed is mid-March to early April when the soil is about 43-46°F (6-8°C). Planting in soil that is too cold will set you back. It will mature in about 90-100 days, so be prepared to harvest sometime in June or July, depending on your planting date.

As with any early spring crop, to be ready for flax, you would need to have a cover crop there that has winterkilled, such as oats or radish (oilseed or fodder). It is getting late to plant those crops now and have the best benefit. Late August into early September is the optimal time for that. You could plant Austrian winter peas now. Although it won’t have put on too much growth by the time the flax needs to go in, it would have put on some, and the plants could be pulled out for the compost. The easiest cover when anticipating early spring crops is to mulch the bed with leaves. That provides a good habitat for the earthworms over the winter, leaving you with friable soil in the spring. Pull the leaves off the bed about two weeks before the flax will go in to allow the sun to warm up the soil.

You will want to plant a variety of flax suitable for fiber production, which is different than varieties best for culinary uses. Flax for fiber is planted at close spacing so the plants grow straight without branching. The plants are pulled (not cut) for harvest before the seeds are mature, so if you want to have a seed harvest for fiber flax, plan for that in another spot. For mature seed the plants would be spaced farther apart to allow branching and the harvest would be about two weeks later than when the fiber harvest occurs.

I usually write about food production, but obviously my garden interests have broadened to include fiber. I believe that, just as people are concerned about where their food comes from now, sometime in the not so distant future, they will also be concerned about where their textiles come from. There are some pretty bad things going on within the globalized networks that bring us cheap clothes—way too many cheap clothes. If we want to be free of that, we would need to look for textiles closer to home, grown in a way that everyone and everything benefits—from the soil and the lowest paid worker to the consumer.

Red Foliated cotton blossom

Red Foliated White cotton blossom.

I don’t expect that all of you are going to start clothing yourselves from your gardens, but it could be fun to learn about the production of textiles from seed to garment. Just growing a little of it and learning how to process it can start the conversation with others about our present textile industry. From an historical point of view, growing cotton and flax in school gardens would definitely add to the curriculum. Besides that, it looks so good in the garden. Even if you can’t grow cotton in your area, you can probably grow flax. If you don’t grow it, you could buy the fiber and learn to spin it. Of course, that leads to learning to knit or weave it. The opportunity to learn new skills is boundless.

Maybe you are not ready for this, but you find it interesting. If you don’t have sewing skills yet, you could start your fiber journey there. Learn to sew and you will increase the production of your household. Besides learning to use the fabrics you buy (start inquiring about where they come from), you can bring new life to textiles that are finishing their first life, such as clothes, sheets, and towels, by turning them into something else.

unretted flax

Unretted flax from the Heirloom Seed Project at Landis Valley Farm and Museum.

Cotton is something I’ve already been growing, but 2016 will be the first year for flax in the garden. I’m not waiting to grow my own to start learning about it, though. I’ve bought flax fiber to spin into linen thread using a spindle and a spinning wheel. The results will be used for weaving. While we were in Pennsylvania recently we visited the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. They grow flax there and have a textile barn dedicated to showing you how it was processed in the past. Unretted flax straw is available through their Heirloom Seed Project. I bought some and am learning about that, too. Right now it is laid out in the grass being dew retted. I’ll be writing about that one day.

So many fun things to do! If you want to join me on this fiber journey, plan now to plant cotton and/or flax in your garden for next year.homeplace earth

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