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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

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cindy in cotton vest - BLOGI have come to the conclusion that the English language is deficient in vocabulary to adequately describe the value of our homegrown/homemade products. Each week my local farmers market devotes a booth space to a nonprofit organization for educational purposes. Recently that space went to Clothos Handspinners, of which I am a member. For my part, I set up a display to demonstrate how flax straw becomes linen thread, spun cotton on a spindle, wore my homegrown, handspun vest, and had my homegrown, handspun shirt on display. From conversations there, it was apparent that people wanted to put a value on my shirt and vest and the only way they knew how to do that was to put a price on them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though I made it clear that they weren’t for sale, I was repeatedly asked how much money I would take for my vest and shirt if they were for sale. This has happened to me before. These garments are priceless. I will not put a price tag on the cotton I grow and the labor of love involved in bringing these garments to life. Granted, when I grew for the markets I had to put a money value on my vegetables and eggs.  I don’t do that now for the food I grow and for anything else I make for my family’s consumption and use and that which I give to friends. It is a relaxing way to be. Market growers need to grow high value crops to make ends meet. However, there are many other great things to grow and to make that wouldn’t bring enough money if you were to sell them, but would greatly enhance your well being.

Unfortunately, putting a monetary value on things is how our society of consumers operates. There should be words to describe an item that includes more than the materials, labor, and overhead that are involved, which is what is usually considered when setting a price. How about the love that is extended in the growing and making? I truly believe that there is a special positive energy in something grown or produced with love and that the people who are the end users benefit from that energy. Likewise, if something is grown or produced by someone who is not of a loving nature throughout their work, the results would not be so positive.

Cindy's booth at 17th street--BLOG

Cindy’s booth at the 17th St. Farmers Market, Richmond, VA in 2001. Photo display is in the back.

With that in mind, you might want to keep a positive attitude with everything you do. If you are not growing all of your food, take care to get to know the producers of the food you buy. At first glance, the vegetables might look the same, but rather than make your decision on price, dig deeper and make your purchase decisions on attitude. Ask questions, such as; what kind of fertilizers are used, how are the plants protected from insects, and if measures are taken on their farm to build the ecosystem. Those growers who are in tune with their land will be oozing with great information. From their answers, you will identify those you might want to steer clear of. I once asked a grower what he did to keep Colorado potato beetles from his potatoes. He proudly told me about a product from Bayer that knocked them dead. Needless to say, I did not buy potatoes from him. On the other hand, a grower might tell you that she has no problem with potato beetles because she has a diverse ecosystem on her farm that attracts beneficial insects that take care of the bad ones, which is what has happened at my place.

The Inuit language has more than fifty words that describe snow. I wish we had the vocabulary to describe the value when someone puts their heart and soul into what they produce. Here in the United States we have different labels, such as Certified Naturally Grown and USDA Organic, which help to differentiate the growers, but there is more that goes into things than is measured by those terms. How do you adequately quantify and express the love and care involved?

Fifty Plus cover--cindyI sold vegetables and eggs from 1992 through the 2001 season. Although I followed good organic practices, I never bothered to get certified organic because I was selling directly to restaurants and families and I told them how I grew things. When we started the Ashland Farmers Market in 1999 I had a photo display that showed my gardens and compost piles. Besides being an educational tool, it gave people a reason to stop, see what I was doing, and ask questions. In 2001 I also sold at the 17th St. Farmers Market in Richmond, VA. Two of the farms at that market were certified organic. A few weeks after the Richmond market opened for the season the monthly publication, Fifty Plus, came out that included an interview with me. I had turned fifty that year and I was on the cover holding a chicken! In the interview I explained how I did things at my farm, working with nature and making compost. The next week a woman came to my booth to shop and said that in the previous weeks she had only bought from the certified organic growers because she thought they were the only ones who had what she valued. After reading about me in Fifty Plus she realized that I was the one she wanted to buy from.

It is with more than food that we need to look deeper. Everything has energy and we should want to make sure that it is as positive as it can be for the things we bring into our homes and lives. With my work with fiber, I know that not everyone is going to go out and grow their own clothes. My hope is that it will open the thought process of discovering the origins of the clothes that are being worn now. What is the fiber used and what are the environmental consequences involved in bringing it to you? Who made the garments and how are they compensated for their work? The list of questions could go on and on for each thing that comes into your life.

I don’t mean to burden you, but to urge you to look at everything with new eyes and to recognize the all encompassing energy that is involved. How do we express the value of things that are produced with the heart? I believe we can feel it, but have no words at this time to express it.homeplace earth

 

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tahkli and cotton--green-brown-bolls and skeins - BLOG

Nankeen Brown and Erlene’s Green cotton with a tahkli spindle. The fiber is lighter at harvest, as you see in the bolls, and darkens once you scour it.

I love to spin cotton, but I will be the first to admit that it is not an easy thing to learn. I had no knowledge of spinning any fiber when I took on cotton, but I wanted to learn to spin fiber that I grew in my garden. Wool spinners had told me it was hard to spin cotton because it was such a short fiber. However, since I would learn on cotton, I figured that would be my normal.

Cotton is a short fiber, being only about an inch or so long, more or less. You are probably familiar with seeing drop spindles that spinners use. You see them hanging from the fiber in front of the spinner while she/he works. Short fibers, such as cotton, require a lighter weight supported spindle. The tip of the spindle rests in a small dish while spinning. I needed to acquire a spindle and instruction, so I turned to Joan Ruane in Arizona. I didn’t make the trip there, but learned from her video, which came in a kit that included a tahkli spindle, support dish, bobbins, and cotton sliver. It took much practice to go beyond something that resembled rope to something that resembled thread, but I kept at it. Eventually muscle memory kicked in and things got easier. Joining a handspinning group helped tremendously.

When you look for cotton fiber to spin, most likely what you will find is cotton sliver, which is a long rope-like preparation. You might come across roving, which is a thinner preparation of sliver. I often use the words sliver and roving interchangably. I learned when working with sliver that, by dividing it lengthwise into several strands, it was easier to work with if I only used a strand at a time. You might also find cotton in the form of punis, which is cotton that has been carded and rolled into cigar shapes. I have never spun from punis.

lazy kate-bobbins and carboard box - BLOG

Box holding tahkli for winding off; plastic, wood, and homemade bamboo bobbins; lazy kate that holds two bobbins for plying.

None of those preparations are quite like what you will be working with from your homegrown cotton, but it is something to learn from. I believe that anyone learning to spin should learn to spin with a spindle before progressing to a wheel. For one thing, it is cheaper to get started. Also, you gain skills that will help you with any spinning. With only one tahkli spindle I was able to spin enough cotton to make my vest, which you can learn more about here. Once the spindle was full, I would wind it off onto a bobbin and fill the spindle again. In the photo you can see the cardboard box I used to hold the spindle while I wound off onto bobbins. I bought plastic and wooden bobbins and even made some from bamboo. With 2 bobbins on a lazy kate, I could ply the cotton on a larger spindle made with a dowel and 2” wooden wheel. I used 2-ply cotton for both warp and weft when I wove the fabric.

book charkha-cotton-seeds-mat - BLOG

Indian book charkha from New World Textiles.

After the vest, I made a shirt. By this time I had acquired an Indian book charkha from New World Textiles and used that to spin all the cotton for the shirt. I had also acquired a Louet S10 spinning wheel. I used the spinning wheel for the plying, but I needed to get a high-speed bobbin to do it. No matter how fast I treadled, the regular bobbin did not go around fast enough. Cotton requires a high spinning ratio. Plying with the wooden spindle worked great, but using the spinning wheel for that job was faster.

I can spin off the seed with the tahkli, but find the charkha is so fast that it is better to take the seeds out first, which I do by hand. However, when I first started working with cotton I thought I would need to card it. Cotton cards cost more than I wanted to spend for a project I was just getting into, so I bought dog brushes at the pet store. They worked fine. I’ve since acquired regular cotton cards, but the lighter weight dog brushes are great for starting out. I only card the fiber if it has become compacted. I’m working with some cotton right now that I didn’t grow. This cotton had the seeds removed with an electric cotton gin and I find that I need to card the fiber before spinning. Some spinners card cotton and roll it into punis. I find that unnecessary. The fiber that I’ve taken the seeds from is loose enough to spin as it is and the fiber that I’ve carded is also loose enough. Of course, spinning it off the seed is the easiest way and that can happen with your homegrown supply.

Sliver, roving, and punis are fiber preparations that are better for commercial transactions. They can be manufactured, measured, stored, and shipped easier than working with cotton fluff pulled from the seed. Actually, in manufacturing, the fiber isn’t pulled from seeds, it is cut from them in the ginning process.

balls of cotton for shirt and swift - BLOG

Swift with skeins and balls of naturally colored cotton for a shirt.

When I made the vest, I worked with one spindle at a time and put the fiber on bobbins. From there it went into skeins. Since three spindles came with the charkha, once I had three spindles full, I wound the fiber from all three spindles into one skein using my swift. Lacking a swift, you could wind it around anything that you could remove it easily from. I scoured the skeins by boiling them in a large pot of water with washing soda and a bit of soap. That is when the color pops. The fiber was then wound into balls over a core of crumpled paper. The balls you see of cotton in this photo are what I prepared for my shirt.

The cotton you grow in your garden is a premium product. Hand picking ensures that the fiber is never subjected to the harsh treatments that commercial cotton is. Take care in the picking to not also gather leaves or other bits of the plant that will dry and be hard to pick out later. Removing the seeds by hand is not hard. You can take a small bag of seeded cotton with you anywhere and work on the seeds while you are waiting for whatever you need to wait for. It is good to keep your hands busy. Save the seeds to plant next year.

For spinning, I have recently moved up to a Bosworth attache charkha, which is wonderful. As much as I like it, I would hope that you start your cotton journey with a tahkli, like I did. I still use my tahlki and spin with it in public whenever I can. Spinning in public is a great way to meet people and spread the word that this is actually something you can do, not something out of the history books. Have fun spinning!homeplace earth

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cotton-brown-openboll-BLOG

Brown cotton ready to harvest.

This year I am on a mission to encourage gardeners to grow textile fibers and take them all the way to clothes to wear. The last post was devoted to flax for linen and this one is about cotton. Not everyone lives in a climate where cotton thrives, but even if it doesn’t actually thrive where you live, you might get a few bolls to play with. I know of someone who grew some cotton in her greenhouse in Northern Ireland in 2016 and harvested 21 grams of fiber. That’s the amount that would fill 3 spindles from my Indian charkha! Not enough for a shirt, of course, but enough to experience what it is like to grow and spin your own cotton. You could buy fiber someone else grew and spin it, adding yours into the mix, and make a garment from that.

You will need full sun for cotton, along with hot weather. Cool nights will diminish your harvest. I generally tell people to plant cotton like they would tomatoes. That means start the seeds about 6 weeks ahead and transplant out around the time of the last spring frost. If you live in a hot climate you may have a long enough growing season to direct sow the seeds, eliminating the need to grow out transplants. The soil temperature about the time of our last spring frost is 60°. Even better for cotton would be a soil temperature of 65°. For a more in-depth look at soil temperatures, I found Development and Growth Monitoring of the Cotton Plant from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Good germination depends on warm conditions. You can grow cotton in pots. If you do that and live in a not-so-favorable climate, you could bring the pots inside toward the end of the season.

red foliated cotton in the garden 3016-BLOG

Red Foliated Cotton in the garden–red foliage, white cotton.

When I first grew cotton I purchased seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral, Virginia. Now I save my own seed to plant back each year. Southern Exposure is local to me and a great company to work with, and I’m not just saying that because they put a photo of me wearing my homegrown, handspun cotton vest in their catalog. The Southern Exposure catalog suggests setting cotton plants 18-30 inches apart in rows 5 feet apart. Cotton requires a good long season—120 days or more, depending on the variety—and it needs every bit of that. I’ve found it usually takes longer for most of the bolls to mature than the days to maturity that are listed for the variety. It all depends on the number of heat units the plants experience over the season. Refer to the Texas A&M article above for more on that. By the time frost hits here there are often bolls that have not opened yet. They can be brought inside and left in a basket to ripen at their own pace into winter. Sometimes I have put those unopened bolls in my solar food dryers and let them pop open there.

Susan--G-B-2016 - BLOG

Part of the Cotton Project. All these colors were grown in the same bed in 2016 from seeds of cotton that had grown in a bed I thought would produce green fiber, but had light brown fiber.

I start cotton seeds in my coldframe, as I do everything else, and set the transplants out a few weeks later than the last spring frost date, since the preceding cover crop is usually rye that is cut at pollen shed and left as mulch. I often transplant on 12 inch centers in my 4 foot wide beds. Varieties will cross with each other, so if you want to keep the variety you are planting pure, the best way to do that is to grow only one variety a year. Southern Exposure suggests isolating varieties by ⅛ mile (660 ft.) for home use, and ¼ to ½ mile or more for pure seed.  I have experienced the mixing of colors when I grew both green and brown cotton in the same year. Even if it crosses, the harvest is still great cotton to work with. In fact, that’s what made my homegrown vest so interesting. In 2016 I carefully sorted seeds from a previous harvest according to fiber color and if they grew in either the green or the brown bed. Some of my friends and family grow them out. We called it the Cotton Project. I’m working with the harvests now and will be writing about it at some point.

If you live in a cotton growing state you may need to get a permit to grow even a small amount of cotton in your garden. Each year, here in Virginia, I contact the Office of Plant Industry Services of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). If I lived closer to the cotton growing areas of the state I would be required to pay a per-acre fee and VDACS would place a boll weevil trap at my place, to be monitored by an inspector throughout the season. The boll weevil, once a scourge to the cotton industry, has not been seen in Virginia since 1995, nevertheless monitoring for it continues. The boll weevil is still alive in Texas.

I checked information online about Georgia’s Boll Weevil Eradication Program and see that few permits are given for non-commercial cotton, and those involved heritage farms that had educational programs, but you could still inquire what it would take to get a permit for you to grow cotton. States that are part of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, which is any state with commercial cotton production, would have a policy for non-commercial growers, such as yourself. In my case, all it takes is an email explaining where I am growing cotton again this year for educational purposes and how much area will be in cotton production. I measure the area in square feet, not acres. I receive a waiver by return email, no problem. The program is taken so seriously because the fear of the boll weevil making a comeback is so strong. Boll weevils can move around via our interstate  highways as fast as our cars and trucks can carry them as hitchhikers, and could find a safe harbor in your garden if not watched for.

green spun cotton, seeds, spindle - BLOG

Erlene’s Green cotton. Seeds plus fiber total 1 ounce. Fiber is 25% of weight.

I like to grow cotton so that I can spin it and make clothes—a vest and shirt, so far. It is fascinating to plant a seed, harvest the fiber, and produce thread. I think it should be part of every school garden that has the right climate for it. History can come alive for the students when they harvest the cotton bolls, take out the seeds, and learn to spin. If the students don’t spin it themselves, someone should be on hand to demonstrate that for them with their very own school-grown cotton. Most likely, the cotton that will be harvested in the fall will have been planted by the previous class. The harvesting class will save the seeds from their harvest and plant them out as a gift for the next class. What a great way to live!

Planting for fiber is the easy part; learning what to do with it is another thing altogether. This year I will be leading the way for you with my blog posts about cotton and flax, with directions for what’s next. In fact, since cotton and flax fiber to practice on is available for purchase many places, I hope to have you spinning while you are waiting for your harvest.homeplace earth

 

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bean-seedlings-blogIf you are new to vegetable gardening, or even if you are an experienced gardener who has moved to a new climate, it may be hard to decide when to plant. It is easy to make a list of what you want in your garden, but when to put the seeds or transplants in the ground is the conundrum. There are many things to consider, but the most important is to know the average first and last frost dates for the area you are considering. If you have been keeping temperature records, that’s great! However, not many are that diligent. Not to worry, others have that information available for you. I am sure you could find it through the weather service or your local Cooperative Extension Service, but I’ve found that a quick way to get temperature and precipitation information is through plantmaps.com. The amount of annual rainfall is important, also.

Seed catalogs are a great help when deciding plant dates. At the beginning of each crop section in the catalog there is generally an information box that will guide you on planting. It might indicate that you should wait until after the last spring frost to plant a particular crop, but start the seeds about six weeks before you expect to put the transplants in the ground. So, count back six weeks from the date you have chosen to indicate your last expected frost and you know when to start the seeds in your house or in your coldframe. At the resource page of my website you can download a free Plant / Harvest Schedule to help you with your planning. You fill in your own crops and dates. p-h-sample-garden-w-cover-crops-blog

More confusing is when the planting information directs you to plant as soon as the soil can be worked. In that case I would look to what the soil temperature should be and the seed catalogs will indicate that.  FYI, the soil temperature is generally about 60° around the date of your last expected frost in the spring. Find more information at my post How Important is Soil Temperature. You can use a compost thermometer or a household kitchen thermometer to take the temperature of your soil several inches deep.

2017-catalogs-blogThe catalogs I have are Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Virginia and local to me), Sow True Seed (North Carolina), Fedco (Maine), Johnny’s (Maine), High Mowing (Vermont), Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa), Territorial (Oregon), and Bountiful Gardens (California). I like to source my seeds as close to home as possible, but sometimes there are items or varieties that are available further away that I seek out.

It is good to have an overall reference book in your home library that you can consult for growing information for specific crops. In my early gardening days I was given a copy of How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method edited by J.I. Rodale and the staff at Rodale Books. I still look to that when I have questions about a crop. In fact, I wore the binding out on my first copy and now use a copy I found in good condition at a used book store. A more recent book that is a terrific reference and one I turn to, also, is Pam Dawling’s Sustainable Market Farming. Pam is growing in the mid-Atlantic region but much of her information is applicable to a wider geographical area. You can find books specific to your region. Ira Wallace, of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, authored The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. Timber Press has published growing guides for seven regions of the U.S.

Here in Virginia, some crops, such as kale, can be planted in both the early spring and in the fall. It is too hot for these crops in mid-summer. My main crop of kale is planted in late summer for a fall and winter harvest. About March, as the days begin to warm up, overwintered kale will bolt, meaning it will send up a seed stalk that will flower and, if left alone, will produce seeds. Generally you would clear out those plants to make room for spring and summer crops, unless you plan on saving seeds. Seeds for my spring crop of kale will go into the coldframe sometime in late February, to be planted out in the garden when the seedlings are big enough—late March or early April.

A friend recently asked about growing in North Dakota, specifically at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. She will be visiting there in late July and wanted gardening information. According to plantmaps.com, the last spring frost there is the first week of May and the first fall frost is late September.  I consulted The Old Farmer’s Almanac gardening calendar at http://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-dates/states and found that when she gets there it will be time to plant lettuce, radish, spinach, and Swiss chard for a fall harvest.

In Zone 7 we can harvest lettuce until about Christmas and kale and collards all winter under a single layer row cover. The temperature rarely dips into the single digits, and then not for long. According to plantmaps.com, at Standing Rock in Zone 4b the temperature could go as low as minus 25°. Only the most cold hardy of greens could survive, and then with multiple layers of cover. It is important to research what varieties would do best under those conditions. For extended fall planting and harvesting times under rowcovers, consult Table 16 pages 205-207, in Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, 2nd edition. It helps you determine your planting times according to your first expected fall frost and, also, if you have one or more covers over your crops.

The summer nights are cooler in Standing Rock than they are here in Virginia. Besides warm nights, we have high humidity here. Our rainfall, about 44” annually, occurs fairly evenly throughout the year. Standing Rock gets only about 14.5” per year, mostly from April through October. Other places might get the bulk of their rainfall in the winter. More plays into your success in your garden than just knowing the frost dates, but that is a good place to begin to know your climate and when to plant. If you want to start keeping temperature and precipitation records for your garden, I have worksheets for that on the CD that comes with my DVD, Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan. There is also a download code for these record sheets in my book, Grow a Sustainable Diet. Getting better acquainted with your garden this way will help you understand what Mother Nature is saying to you when you are there. Listen carefully.
homeplace earth

 

 

FEBRUARY 3, 1017 UPDATE: I was alerted that the map that appears on plantmaps.com is the USDA Hardiness map for 1990. The USDA updated their maps in 2012. Scroll to the bottom of that map and you will find a link to the 2012 map. There is also a link to the updated map in the right sidebar. Plantmaps.com has maps for countries other than the U.S., which should be helpful to many of my readers around the world.

 

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black-walnut-shirt-and-homegrown-vest-blog

Homegrown cotton vest with black walnut-dyed shirt.

Fibershed is the name of a non-profit organization started by Rebecca Burgess in 2010 in California. Her goal was to “develop and wear a prototype wardrobe whose dyes, fibers and labor were sourced from a region no larger than 150 miles from the project’s headquarters.” Since then her work has expanded and other Fibershed groups around the world have signed on to explore textile production in their own regions. You will find their Facebook pages and activities on the Internet. It is a fitting name for a group looking close to home for their fiber sources. Just like watershed is concerned with where the water comes from for a region, and foodshed looks at our local food systems, I can see the word fibershed becoming a buzz word anywhere someone is talking about clothing themselves locally.

On the Fibershed website I found the term soil-to-skin. I have often used the term seed-to-garment, but I like soil-to-skin, since it takes the concerns further. I also found soil-to-soil used on the website. If your clothes will compost, just bury them at the end of their useful life and let them replenish the soil. Twenty years ago not so many people were as concerned about the source of their food as they are presently. Now, I hope they start talking more about where their fiber comes from—their fibershed. As with their food, it all starts with the soil to produce cotton, flax/linen, and wool. Synthetic fibers are not part of this conversation.

cotton-brown-openboll-copy

brown cotton boll

Many of the Fibershed groups deal heavily with wool. That could be because there are more farmers with small herds of fiber animals than there are farmers with small plots of cotton. I don’t say much about wool because I have my hands full with the cotton and flax/linen from my garden. So much of the cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified that you might think that non-GMO organic cotton is not available to the consumer. I sew my own clothes and set out to see what I could find. It would be wonderful to have sewn a whole wardrobe by now from my homegrown cotton and linen, but so far I have only a vest and a shirt. Spinning the fiber takes time, but it is mindful and enjoyable work. I have learned about the toxic effects of textile dyes and have been exploring those, also. There is a black walnut tree in my backyard and I eat lots of onions from my garden. Walnuts and onion skins are both terrific for dyeing.

onion-skin-shirt-blog

Shirt dyed with onion skins.

I like to use Kona cotton for shirts because it wears so well. When I did some checking I found that it met the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX certification for human-ecological requirements. That doesn’t mean it is organic, but they are moving in the right direction. You’ll find Kona cotton in fabric stores and quilt shops. I wanted to make a shirt to wear with my homegrown cotton vest, but couldn’t find a color in my fabric store that would do. However, this fall I had experimented with the black walnuts and realized that produced just the color I needed. Furthermore, I discovered that Dharma Trading Company sold Kona Cotton PFD (prepared for dyeing); meaning that it was not treated with optical whiteners. I bought enough for two shirts. You can see the black-walnut dyed shirt in the first photo at the top of this page and the shirt dyed with onion skins here. Obviously, this shirt took the color well from the onion skins. I’ve already rinsed out any extra color, but it may fade a bit over time. The buttons were in my stash from previous projects or cut from old clothes.

I needed a new turtleneck shirt to wear with my new homegrown cotton shirt. It is hard for me to find cotton turtlenecks in the weight of fabric I want (they all seem to be too thin) and ones that have cuffs and enough length in the body and in the sleeves. My search for organic cotton led me to Organic Cotton Plus, a company started in Texas by organic cotton farmers to sell directly to people like you and me. It has since entered the global marketplace. I found nice organic cotton interlock for my turtleneck shirts! You can order swatches (99 cents each) of the fabrics you are interested in if you want to see and feel it first, like me. I bought enough fabric for two shirts and made a pattern from an old turtleneck that fit me best, making adjustments as necessary. I love this new shirt. It is a recent project, so sorry, I have no photo to show you of the turtleneck I made, but you’ll see it eventually. I will make the second shirt when I decide what I want to dye it with. Organic Cotton Plus had this interlock in colors, but none that matched what I needed.

I initially took an interest in Organic Cotton Plus because I was looking for organic cotton grown in the U.S. I had already bought naturally brown denim for jeans from Sally Fox at Vreseis.com. Although that’s how it started out, not all the cotton for fabrics sold through Organic Cotton Plus comes from this country. I see that the organic fabric for my turtlenecks came from India. Maybe I’m helping to support the Indian farmers that Vandana Shiva worked with to overcome their experience with Monsanto and GMOs. That would be a good thing.

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I knitted three pairs of wool socks this past year from yarn I bought from Kathy Oliver of Sweet Tree Hill Farm. Kathy is a shepherd and we are both members of the same handspinning group. I bought the first two skeins at the Powhatan Fiber Festival in April and knitted the first pair in the natural color. I grew Japanese indigo last summer and used it for my first dyeing adventures, resulting in the blue socks. It was so much fun I bought a third skein when I saw her at the Fall Fiber Festival in October. I used that skein to play with indigo, onion skins, and black walnuts to make variegated yarn.

I applaud the groups that are working to develop textile systems that are environmentally safe and people friendly. It is when we take a closer look at our systems that we can detect ways we can change them—or, maybe do without. You probably know that I’ve worked with growing food and looking closely at what it would take to grow a complete diet. In my blog posts on Homegrown Fridays I share my experiences of limiting what I consumed on the Fridays in Lent to only what I grew myself. That was definitely an eye-opener, so I can see that if someone decided to limit their clothes to what could be produced naturally in their region, they have an adventure ahead of them. Rebecca and her group are working to change the system. I am on a personal journey to produce my own clothes as close to home as possible. If I have to buy fabric or yarn I want my purchases to do the most good they can. Meanwhile, I hope that by sharing my experiences, others will start a journey of their own. There is so much fun stuff to do in this world on our way to making it a better place!homeplace earth

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have completed another garment with my homegrown cotton! You may recall that I made a vest from my homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton in 2015. For the vest I used my green cotton. I had grown green and brown in separate gardens, but they crossed. There was some brown and a bit of white (although I wasn’t growing any white) mixed in with the green and I spun it all together. It was easier that way since I was spinning it off the seed.

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Indian book charkha

This time I carefully separated out the colors and took the seeds out by hand before spinning. Examining the seed and noticing the feel of the fiber helped with identification, since sometimes the colors are so faint at harvest that it is hard to tell them apart. Once the fiber is spun and boiled to set the twist, the color pops. As for feel, the green feels a bit silky compared to the brown. The green fiber is also a little longer than the brown. The Nankeen brown seed I was working with is naked seed with no lint on it. Everything else had fuzzy seeds. I spun all the cotton for the shirt on my Indian book charkha that I bought from Eileen Hallman at New World Textiles.  I plied the singles on my Louet10 wheel. I had Nankeen Brown, Erlene’s Green, and light brown. When I got right down to it, I didn’t have enough green and brown fiber for my project, so I used the white cotton I had grown in the late 1990s. I didn’t know how to spin then and had put it away in a box, seeds and all. That first homegrown cotton is now in my new shirt.

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My loom with fabric for the shirt on it.

I spun the brown, green, and white separately, then plied brown and green together and brown and white together. I used the same 12″ table loom as I used for my vest, resulting in 9½” wide panels of fabric to work with. There are 2 panels on each front and back and ½ panel on each side. Each sleeve is made from 2½ panels. I wanted to conserve as much of the fabric as I could, cutting only the lengths apart. The only shaping was for the neck. The color of the cotton that had crossed expressed itself as light brown, whether it was in the brown bed or the green bed. I used the light brown for my warp. My loom has 8 spaces per inch on the beater bar and enough string heddles for 8 ends per inch (epi). I could have made more heddles and doubled up the warp ends through the beater bar, but I didn’t. The 8 epi made for a weft faced fabric like my vest. I used my homegrown 2-ply cotton throughout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wove four full length (30½”) panels for the front and back. The change of color from brown/white to brown/green is woven in, not pieced. The side panel was woven at 22” long. The sleeve panels were woven at 14” (10½” brown/white ply and 3½” brown/green). The hem is 1” plus an additional ⅜” turned in from there. I had to make sure to allow for shrinkage when I determined my measurements for weaving. Shrinkage in the length amounted to about 8%.

Most of the seams were ¼”. I made facing for the neckline from cotton fabric that had been dyed with black walnuts. There is a ⅜” seam at the shoulders. I designed this pattern myself and made a shirt from pieces of denim saved from old jeans to try it out before cutting my homegrown cotton. The shirt fit beautifully. To make more room in my hips, especially when putting my hands in my pockets, I did not bring the seams where the front and back panels connect to the side panels down all the way to the hem, leaving a few inches open. Those edges were faced with the walnut dyed cotton.

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Cotton used in my shirt. I didn’t need the green/white ball.

The hardest part of this project was estimating how much fiber I needed. I had the calculations of how much 2-ply yarn it took to make my vest, but now I was using a charkha to spin. That, combined with having more spinning experience, my yarn was finer, requiring more yards per woven inch. I needed to calculate carefully because I had a limited amount of fiber. By keeping careful records and weaving a sample, I estimated that I needed 43.65 yards of raw singles for each 1” of weaving. This cotton would get boiled twice—once after spinning into singles and again after plying. I estimated about 12.5% total shrinkage for that. Once everything was plied, I needed a figure for how much 2-ply yarn necessary to finish my project. I estimated 22.2 yards of 2-ply yarn for each inch of weaving. My calculations from actual weaving were 18.1-22.2 yards of 2-ply for each inch of weaving. Thinking back to the 43.65 yards of raw singles, taking out 12.5% for shrinkage and dividing it by 2 to make the 2-ply yarn, I would end up with 19 yards of 2-ply per inch of weaving. There are many ways to calculate and I wanted to use generous estimates to make sure I had enough fiber. Periodically I checked my 2-ply yarn for wraps per inch (wpi) and found it to vary from 29-35 wpi.

I loved doing this project, although, at times I thought I would go crazy doing the calculations. I wanted something appropriate to wear it with, so I made a pair of jeans from naturally brown denim I bought from Sally Fox at Vreseis.com. I’m wearing those jeans in the top photo.

I am enjoying wearing this shirt everywhere I can. It is so comfortable! The design allows freedom of movement and that contributes to the comfort, but I think all the good energy it embodies contributes even more. Knowing I grew it from saved seeds, spun, wove, and sewed it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. I want to encourage other spinners out there to do the same. This shirt weighs 14 ounces. To give you an idea of how much space you would need to grow that much, in my Grow and Spin Cotton post I gave yields of 12-16 ounces per 100 sq. ft. Your yield could be higher or lower, depending on where you live. I hope you give it a try!homeplace earth

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