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

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

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

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

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

Home Economics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Homeplace Earth is now offering Free Shipping!

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

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

      

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

homeplace earth

Homemade Garden Shed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

garden shed floor

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

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

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

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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