Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cindy Conner’

Flax bundles waiting to be retted.

Flax bundles ready for retting.

It is time to harvest the flax that I planted for fiber in early March. I wrote about harvesting (pulling the stalks) and taking the seeds out (rippling) on May 23. The nice thing about flax is that, once the flax is pulled and dried and the seeds removed, there is no rush to process it further. It can be stored in your barn or shed until your time opens up to work with it. After I pull it to harvest I put it somewhere to dry, which can be outside or inside, depending on the weather. I usually gather it up in bundles with baling twine around each to hold it together; but when I want to dry it, I’ll loosen the twine, or take it off, and leave the flax spread out and leaning against the shed, fence, or the picnic table. I can take the seeds out once it is dry, or do the rippling just before retting, if I am going to be retting soon. I store the flax bundles in my garden shed.

Dew retting fiber flax.

Dew retting fiber flax.

Retting is the process of freeing the flax fibers from the inner core and the outer epidermis of the flax stalks. This is done by dissolving the pectins that hold everything together. I prefer to ret my flax in the summer so that it will be ready for processing further whenever I get to it. Before I studied flax-to-linen I thought that retting involved pools of water or a stream and was happy to find out about dew retting. All I have to do is to lay the flax straw out in the grass! It needs to be spread thin. Of course, here in humid Virginia the grass is heavy with dew each night. If you live in a very dry climate this method may not work as well for you. If the weather is too dry it will be necessary to water the flax every few days. I do that here if it doesn’t rain. It will need to be turned occasionally to keep the moisture level even throughout.

Flax retting complete

Fully retted flax.

Retting is complete when you can break the stalks and see the flax fibers inside. Under retted flax can be retted again—even at a much later date. Over retted flax is ruinous to your crop, since the flax fibers themselves will have broken down. Watch carefully! Last year, the first year I grew flax here, retting was complete in 17 days in July. During that time, July 9-26, the nighttime temperatures ranged from 67-79° F. (16-26° C.) and the daytime temperatures were 87-93° F. (31-34° C.), so it was quite warm. If the weather was cooler, it would have taken longer. Warm temperatures speed it up and cold temperatures slow it down. The previous fall I retted some flax I bought from the Landis Valley Farm and Museum Heirloom Seed Project. I remember that it took at least three full weeks then.

Water retting flax.

Water retting flax.

If you are in a hurry, or don’t have a suitable place to leave your flax lying around for several weeks, you could water ret it. Just about anything that can hold water and allow your flax straw to stretch out is suitable to use as a container for retting. When I took the Flax to Linen class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, flax was retted in a plastic box. I have heard of using a child’s rigid plastic swimming pool and even a plastic toboggan sled for the project. I saw the sled idea submitted to the Flax to Linen Facebook page by Corrie Bergeron.

From what I have read, I have come to understand that if flax is left in stagnant water it will produce a smell. To avoid that, you could add fresh water to the container or keep your flax submerged in a flowing stream. Flax has a tendency to float, so it is necessary to put something on top to keep it under water. Boards and/or rocks may be used or anything else you have to keep it down. Water retting is usually faster than dew retting, depending on the temperature of the water.

Once the retting is done, the flax needs to be dried before storing. Just like drying it after harvest, lean the loose bundles against something so that air can pass around them. When dry, the flax bundles can be stored indefinitely until you are ready to process them for the fiber. Processing for fiber—now that is where it gets exciting!

Clotho’s Handspinners held a Flax to Linen workshop at my place on June 10 and the participants processed retted flax into linen to spin. They brought their own spinning wheels and the equipment for processing the flax was here for them to use. I will tell you about that workshop in my next post (July 11). The post after that will have specifics about the equipment you need, such as a flax brake, scutching board, and hackles. This is going to be fun!homeplace earth

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Cindy's nametag-Homespun_cotton_of_colorI took a serious interest in growing cotton and learning to spin it in 2011. I had grown a few cotton plants at a time before, but that year I planted an 80 square foot bed of Nankeen Brown and 22 square feet of Erlene’s Green. The cotton beds were about 100 feet apart. My first weaving project, a nametag, used cotton from the 2011 harvest and in the photo you can see the brown and green I grew. The white was from cotton I grew in the late 1990s. I cropped this image of the nametag from a photo taken by Mary Delicate, while I was wearing it at a VABF conference. A nametag might seem like an unlikely first weaving project, but I made it to wear at my spinning group meetings and have had fun with it elsewhere. It has come in handy to document those early colors. Although my records show the brown variety was Nankeen, that has been called into question recently since, apparently, Nankeen Brown has fuzzy seeds and my brown has naked seeds. Learn more about that at Seed Conundrum.

My cotton varieties were much closer than the recommended distance for avoiding cross pollination. The crossing was not reflected in the fiber that year from the parent plants, but held within the seeds. Some plants would have been pollinated by those of the same variety, but others would have been touched by pollen from the other variety. The plants that grew from those cross-pollinated seeds would be the F1 generation.

You have probably seen varieties designated as F1 in seed catalogs. That is always an indication that it is a hybrid. With hybrids, the parents are from different varieties of the same crop, and their offspring (F1 generation), although a mixture of genes with loads of potential, produce a predictable crop. Hybridization is done to produce the special qualities that can be found, and predicted, in that F1 generation. It is when you move beyond the F1 that things get exciting.

In 2012 I grew cotton from the 2011 harvest. The seeds for the green cotton were fuzzy and the seeds for the brown were naked. The green and brown colors of cotton that I grow are faint at harvest, deepening to their ultimate color once the skeins are scoured by boiling in soapy water after spinning. Since I was not aware of the extent of the crossing, I didn’t examine the fiber from each bed, considering everything from the green bed green and everything from the brown bed brown. I would have had to look closely to distinguish the difference in color within each bed when the fiber was all mixed together. In the photos, the color looks evident because it has already been sorted.

2014 harvest-Green bed - BLOG

Part of the 2014 Green bed harvest.

I was spinning the cotton off the seed, so I didn’t see the seed until the fiber was already on my spindle. Examining the seeds helps determine differences. Once I scoured the spun yarn and the colors popped, I could see how much crossing had occurred. The vest I made in 2014 contained harvests from my 2012 and 2013 green cotton beds. It made for a wonderful pattern and made me think about what was happening with the seeds.

2014 Harvest-Brown bed - BLOG

Part of the 2014 Brown bed harvest.

In 2014 I planted brown and green cotton seeds saved from the 2011 and 2012 harvests. In 2015 and 2016 I grew Red Foliated White cotton only. I decided to study my 2014 harvest by closely examining the seeds and fiber from the green and brown beds. The fiber from the green bed was either green or light brown and the seeds were all fuzzy. The fiber from the brown bed was brown or light brown, with the darker brown having naked seeds and the lighter brown having fuzzy seeds. It appeared that what had crossed expressed itself as light brown, whether in the green bed or the brown bed. Apparently, brown is the dominant color. The green cotton had a more silky feel than the brown and that showed up some in the light brown fiber. The feel of the fiber helped me separate the brown bed harvest. Next, I wanted to see what would happen if I grew out these four sets of seeds.

I enlisted the help of my daughter, Betsy, daughter-in-law, Stephanie, and friends Molly, Susan, and Margaret. Betsy had seeds from the brown bed with the dark brown fiber (B/B), Stephanie grew out seeds from the brown bed with the light brown fiber (B/b), Molly and Margaret grew out seeds from the green bed that produced green fiber (G/G) and Susan grew seeds from the green bed that produced light brown fiber (G/b). I asked them to grow out about 10-12 plants for me. Some grew more than that, and some grew less. None of them are spinners or have any other interest in cotton other than joining in the adventure with me. I have wonderful family and friends!

Most likely this was the F2 generation, but some could be F3. What Betsy grew, B/B, was uniformly dark brown fiber with naked seeds. Stephanie had light brown and dark brown fiber, all with fuzzy seeds. Surprisingly, she also had four bolls with white fiber! Although they just look dark and fuzzy now, the lint on the seeds of these white bolls definitely looked green at harvest.

M-M--2016-G-G

Harvest from Molly and Margaret (G/G). we were expecting mostly green fiber.

I thought that the plants with fiber that was definitely dark brown or green had not crossed. That was apparently so with Betsy’s harvest, but not so with Molly’s and Margaret’s (G/G). They had fewer plants, but nevertheless, I was expecting green and instead, got light brown to tan, with only a very small amount of green. Green is definitely recessive and elusive.

Susan--G-B-2016 - BLOG

Susan’s harvest (G/b) was sorted into 9 colors/shades.

Susan (G/b) had a very interesting harvest with the most variation of green and brown and some of her colors were quite dark when scoured. Although most of her harvest had fuzzy seeds, she had some medium brown with naked seeds. I am sorting the colors of each harvest and spinning them separately, then scouring to find the true colors. In my garden this year I am growing the greens. I have pulled two from Susan’s harvest, the small bit from Molly and Margaret, and I will be including Erlene’s Green from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I’m looking forward to seeing what I will get, knowing full well they will be crossing with each other.

My wonderful crew is helping me again this year. Stephanie is growing out the white cotton. With green fuzzy seeds, we’re thinking she will get more than just white fiber. Molly and Margaret are each growing the light brown/tan fiber from their harvests. There should be green in there somewhere.  Susan is growing seeds from the plants she grew that yielded silky brown fiber and had green fuzzy seeds. Betsy had to bow out of The Cotton Project this year because she is growing cotton for Southern Exposure. They asked her to grow Nankeen Brown, which is how we realized there was a question with naked vs. fuzzy seeds for that variety.

Sally Fox of Viriditas Farm has been researching colored cotton since the 1980’s and has been breeding for longer staple length and color. She says she has some F19 generations of cotton that haven’t settled yet and still yield surprises. We are having a good time with this and, from looking at Sally’s experience, it appears the adventure could continue for quite some time.homeplace earth

 

Read Full Post »

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.

book-charkha-cotton-seeds-mat-blog

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.

loom-with-fabric-for-shirt-blog

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.

yarn-for-shirt-blog

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

Read Full Post »

drawer-open-jsrcc-blogGood news for seed libraries! In July 2016 the American Association of Seed Control Officials (AASCO) added an amendment to the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL) to exempt seed libraries and other non-commercial seed sharing initiatives. The RUSSL is the guide that state legislatures look to when setting their own seed laws. The AASCO is made up of seed control professionals from each state department of agriculture. Making this amendment a reality is the result of work done by a committee composed of representatives from AASCO, the American Seed Trade Association, seed librarians, and others active in the seed world. Granted, this doesn’t mean it is a part of all state seed laws now; however this recommendation will influence those seed laws.

Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and California have already passed laws exempting seed libraries from their state seed laws. Sometimes it is just a matter of interpretation when applying the existing laws. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has now decided that seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges are exempt from regulation without requiring an act of congress. What it did require is action by a statewide group led by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Grow Pittsburgh, the Public Interest Law Center and members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. Individuals and other organizations were also involved in this effort to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to change their interpretation of their seed laws, which is all very interesting because it is their original interpretation that brought up the issue of seed libraries being in violation of state seed laws in the first place.

SeedLibraries~MENI am the author of Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, published by New Society Publishers in early 2015. During the year I spent writing that book, I tracked down every seed library I could find evidence of for information. Although much of this work was done by computer, I was able to physically visit some of them. My years of experience as a seed saver contributed to the book, also. Seed libraries were popping up all over the country and changing constantly. I contacted all the seed libraries I wrote about to confirm my information. As much as I found out about seed libraries, nowhere was there any mention about their legality until just before I sent my finished manuscript to the publisher. In late June 2014 I started receiving emails about the Simpson Public Library in Pennsylvania being approached by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and told that it couldn’t distribute seeds as planned, which is the same plan that I had written about. You can find more about that in my post Seed Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities. The world of seed libraries was in an uproar. I included an afterword in the book to address the situation, being pretty sure that things would settle out, and they seem to be doing that, but not without the efforts of seed library activists. You can find more information about the Simpson Seed Library and their legal issues on their updated webpage.

seed-library-poster_2-13-15-e1423881096561-blogWhat does this all mean for seed libraries in states that haven’t exempted them from the state seed laws yet? To answer that question I consulted Neil Thapar, food and farm attorney with the Sustainable Economies Law Center. I met Neil at the International Seed Library Forum in Tucson, AZ in May 2015 and he has been at the forefront of the effort to work through the legal issues of seed libraries. Neil and I both agree that you should proceed with your seed library plans, but to be 100% sure that your seed library will not be challenged by the laws in your state you would need to contact the Department of Agriculture in your state. It may be that there is no issue with seed libraries because of how the existing seed laws are worded.  If it is questionable and you are told there is nothing to worry about, get that in writing. There are actions currently being taken in some states to have the AASCO amendment on seed libraries adopted.

The AASCO recommendation is a template for language that the states can use for tseed-envelope-and-rubber-stamp-blogheir own laws. You can view the seed library amendment here. To receive updates about what is going on in the seed library world go to seedlibraries.net. The amendment is for “non-commercial seed sharing”, which means that no money should change hands for seeds. It also means that the seeds are freely shared and that there is no expectation of seeds being brought back. Some seed libraries may have had their patrons sign a paper pledging to bring seeds back. That should be changed. In reality, though, even if they signed the paper, that doesn’t mean that they actually brought seeds back. Lots can happen between planting seeds and having a harvest of viable seed, no matter how good your intentions are when you start. Other specifics concern label requirements, which are easy enough to comply with. In fact, having good information on the packages of seed offered has been encouraged with seed libraries early on and you will find examples of labels in my book. Since these seed sharing initiatives are non-commercial, “no distributed container shall hold more than eight (8) ounces of agricultural seed or four (4) ounces of vegetable or flower seed.”

If you use the AASCO amendment as a guideline for your seed library I would think you should have no problems. Do check with your state if you have concerns. Seed libraries should communicate with each other, particularly ones in the same region. Join The Seed Library Social Network. The seed library movement is so much more than just the sharing of seeds. It is the celebration of seeds. I see education about seed saving and sharing to be the most important aspect. No matter how many seeds you distribute, if those who receive them don’t grow them and save the seed properly, you are not moving forward. With enough education and celebration about seeds, growing and saving them will follow naturally. For more ideas on forming a seed library and keeping it going, consult Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, which is sale-priced at Homeplace Earth through January 1, 2017. Happy seed sharing!homeplace earth

 

 

Read Full Post »

SeedLibraries covergrow a sustainable diet coverAfter being away from this blog since I broke my wrist in March, I’m back! To celebrate my return, I am offering a 25% discount through January 1, 2017 on my cover crop and garden plan DVDs and on my books Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. As always, shipping is free in the US. My DVDs and Grow a Sustainable Diet are educational tools and used in the sustainable agriculture program at Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA where I used to teach. When I produced them, I had in mind those who couldn’t take my classes in person. So, if you have been wanting to learn more about cover crops, garden planning, garden plan dvd coverplannicover-crop-dvd-blogng your diet around your garden, and planning your permaculture homestead, take advantage of this opportunity to purchase an educational  program that will walk you through the process and help you apply your new found information to your own situation. Or, you may have someone on your holiday gift list that would benefit from these materials. You’ll find these sale prices on my website at www.HomeplaceEarth.com, along with deals for a few great books that I didn’t write.

flax-flowers-blog

flax flowers in the garden

I did enjoy my time off from writing. No matter what you are involved in, it is always good to step back now and then. My wrist has healed nicely, although I am still a bit careful with it. My husband and I took a long-awaited trip to Ireland in May and it was nice not working blog posts around that. In spite of working slower due to my injury, I grew several new crops this year. Flax for linen has been harvested and retted and is

yarn-and-indigo-plants-2-blog

wool yarn nestled among the Japanese indigo plants it was dyed with

waiting for me to build some fiber tools to process it (next on my to-do list). I trialed two kinds of rice this year. I also grew Japanese indigo and used it for some dye work, part of my new focus on fiber and textiles. Once I was sufficiently recovered, I was back to spinning my homegrown naturally-colored cotton for a shirt that I intended to make, weaving the fabric on my small table loom. It’s finished and I wore it for the first time on Thanksgiving.

Working with homegrown fiber is important to me in so many ways. Of course, there was the challenge to see if I could grow, spin, weave, design, and sew garments for myself to wear, and now I have a vest and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa shirt. Hurray! I’ve used my time away from this blog to read and learn more about the history of textiles. What was once local production fueled the industrial revolution and the exploiting of people and resources has continued ever since to bring us cheap clothes—way too many cheap clothes. When you shop for clothes I would like you to consider how the people who produced them and the earth that provided the raw materials were compensated to bring you such bargains. There is much to talk about on this subject, so stay tuned. I will be telling you all about my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton shirt in a future post. I will also be sharing my adventures with the flax, rice, Japanese indigo and other natural dyeing, while I continue addressing the many topics you have enjoyed in this blog.

Learning about my new shirt, however, will have to wait until I fill you in about what has been happening in the seed library world. Seed libraries have been deemed exempt from state seed laws, by the way. You can learn more about that in my next post, which should appear next week. After that I will go back to my old schedule of posting every two weeks.

The video Seed: The Untold Story has been making the rounds and will be shown in Charlottesville, VA on December 8. You need to reserve your ticket ahead of time and you can do that here. After the film there will be a question and answer period with a panel staffed by folks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and ME. If you go, be sure and catch me afterwards. I’m always happy to meet the people who read my words.homeplace earth

Read Full Post »

MENFlogoA couple weeks ago I made my first visit to Texas for the Mother Earth News Fair. Wanting to make the best use of my time and the rental car, I scheduled my flights so that I would arrive by noon on Friday and leave close to 5pm on Monday. Since I have an interest in fiber, I checked ahead online to see if there were any interesting yarn shops near where I would be traveling and found Yarnorama. Their website indicated that it was in an old renovated store and that the owner, Susan Fricks, had grown cotton. It sounded like my kind of place.

I flew into Austin and drove 40 miles east to Paige, TX and found Yarnorama. I had envisioned it to be in a town with other shops. That store might have been part of a going town at one time, but there wasn’t much there now, except for Yarnorama, of course, which is hopping when spinning, weaving, and knitting groups meet there regularly. I enjoyed chatting with Susan and she did know about cotton. She told me that I could bring out more color in my vest by washing it in an alkaline solution, suggesting washing soda. Well, I bought a small box of baking soda on the way to the hotel and added some to the water when I washed one side of the front of my homegrown cotton vest in the sink in my room to try out the idea. It is a pH thing and you could tell the difference! I hadn’t realized you could change the color of cotton by changing the pH. Thanks Susan!

I made it to the hotel that evening and met up with my friends. Besides the wonderful people I meet at my talks and around the Fair, these events are an opportunity to hang out with other authors and speakers, publishers, and the Mother Earth News staff in the off hours. Where else could we have that kind of opportunity? Besides the chance to get to know one another better, a lot of information gets passed around during these times.

DSC_0008 (2)

tahkli spindle and wooden bowl from Ploughshare Institute with my homegrown cotton

I gave three talks in two days at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, Texas—From Seed to Garment, Planning for Cover Crops in Your Garden Rotation, and Seed Libraries and Other Seed Share Initiatives. I was delighted to see that the Ploughshare Institute had a number of booths there, in particular one about fiber arts, complete with spinning wheels and looms. They also had kits for sale that included tahkli spindles (the kind I use for my cotton) and support dishes for them in either pottery or wood, all made by folks in their community. I enjoy it when I can let those who attend my presentations know where they can get supplies or seeds related to my talk. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Brim Seed Company had cotton seeds for sale.

When preparing this year’s talks I had to find information to make my cover crop presentation relative to the Texans with a very different climate than mine. The last spring frost in Belton, TX is around March 11-20 (my date is April 25) and the first fall frost can be expected about November 21-32 (I usually expect it toward the end of October). Gardening slows there in the hot dry days of August. If you understand the concepts in garden planning, you can adapt the information to your climate. I really like the Plant / Harvest Schedule that I offer as a free download on my website, but when playing with it to see how some crops would look using Belton’s frost dates, I had to do some cutting and taping on the worksheet I was using to add more weeks on both ends of the season. You can grow some of the same crops there as you could grow in Virginia or even Maine, but you would want to look for different varieties that do the best in each climate.

The fairgoers were wonderful! They were so appreciative that the Mother Earth News Fair finally came to Texas. I enjoyed meeting them and had some great conversations, including one with a woman I met in the line at the MEN bookstore who told me she had my cover crop DVD and it changed her life. Now that she knew about my books, she added them to her purchases. Besides the presentations and the books, there are vendor booths that offer so many great things—things you may have heard about, but hadn’t actually seen, and things that are new to you. Attending a Mother Earth News Fair is like walking into a place where the magazine opened up and the writers, advertisers, and everything else came to life.

That Saturday I attended a brunch sponsored by Purina to showcase their new line of organic poultry feed. The spokeswoman was pretty proud of helping bring that project to the public. If there is enough interest, Purina will expand their line of organic feed. I am a Mother Earth News blogger and on Sunday I attended a blogger lunch, along with two people who each blog about cooking—one was a cookbook author and the other a rocket scientist. Yes, it was an interesting time.

I had much of the day on Monday to enjoy before my flight home, so I drove an hour north to Homestead Heritage Craft Village, which is where my new friends from the Ploughshare Institute were. To quote from their website, “Homestead Heritage is an agrarian-and craft-based intentional Christian community. Its literature stresses simplicity, sustainability, self-sufficiency, cooperation, service, and quality craftsmanship.” The Craft Village is open to the public and has a fiber arts cottage, blacksmith shop, pottery house, grist mill, cheese-making house, and a woodworking and fine furniture-making shop. There is also a restaurant and General Store on the property. Classes are given in each of these areas through the Ploughshare Institute. If you can’t make it there, you could bring the classes to your home through their online program.

flax at Homestead Heritage TX on 2-22-16--BLOG

flax growing at Homestead Heritage

I was met by Sue who heads up the fiber arts department and given a great tour. It turns out that they are experimenting with growing flax and planted it in the fall, since it gets too hot, too fast to plant it in the spring. It was flowering now. Quality craftsmanship was evident throughout the Village.

Sue and Ira in the fiber arts buiilding --BLOG

Sue and Ira in the Fiber Arts Cottage

I wasn’t the only one involved with the Mother Earth News Fair who was there that morning. E.J., Ingrid, and two authors from New Society Publishers, Jerome Osentowski (Chelsea Green author), Ira and Gordon from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Joel Salatin and his wife Theresa were there. We were being shown around by different people we had met at the Fair and our paths kept crossing. The New Society folks had to head to the airport, but the rest of us stayed for lunch.

Jerome and I had lunch in the restaurant with the weaving class. Over lunch I had an opportunity to talk with Kay, who I had become friends with over cotton spinning at the Fair. I only had the briefest time to talk with Butch who is involved with their gardening program. Their gardening practices are very much like mine. Butch already knew me through my DVDs and has now become familiar with my books. I hope to make it back to Texas to the Mother Earth News Fair and to Homestead Heritage. I didn’t know what to expect on my first visit to the Lone Star state, but I felt welcome wherever I went.homeplace earth

Read Full Post »

lettuce washing Cindy--BLOGOnce you have gotten quite good at producing food for your table, it is natural to think of providing for others. You could casually share with your neighbors and the local food bank, but many want to take it further and exchange their extra veggies for cash. If that is where your thoughts have been leading you, I would like to offer some things for you to carefully consider before becoming a market gardener. There is a big difference between doing what you love when you have the time and turning doing what you love into a business. During my time as a market grower I grew and sold a lot of lettuce. This photo shows me washing it for a restaurant delivery.

On January 29 I gave the presentation Scaling Up from Homestead to Market Garden at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference. It was well received and people who heard me speak approached me that evening and the next day to thank me for the presentation. Those who had already been selling said that my points hit home. I became an organic gardener so that I would have a healthy family. In order to also have a healthy community I became a market gardener in 1992 and sold to area restaurants. The farmers market network was not yet established at that time. In 1997-98 I had a small CSA in addition to the restaurant sales and in 1999 I was a founding farmer at our local farmers market. I left selling produce and eggs for others after the 2001 season to concentrate on teaching and researching so that I could put more knowledgeable consumers and producers at the markets.

Selling to others on a regular basis highlights the need for good record keeping. You need to plan for how much to grow and to plan for how much money it will bring to your business. No matter how good you are at growing some crops, such as broccoli and cabbage, the income from the same amount of other crops, such as specialty lettuce mixes, will exceed it every time. If you have already been a home gardener and have kept some records of your yields you will be able to anticipate how much you can produce from the space you have. Keep in mind, however, that if you have to break new ground for this endeavor, it may not be as productive as the garden you have been building the soil in for years. Some crops might surprise you. Onions turned out to be a good crop, as well as potatoes, winter squash and garlic—all crops that are not as labor intensive as lettuce.

You need to know what your crops will sell for before you even grow them. Notice what they are being sold for in area grocery stores and farmers markets. Start now and make a chart of the stores and markets in your area with a list of vegetables you might want to sell. Record the prices for them each week throughout the year, noting if they are sold by the piece, pound, bunch, etc. If by the piece, how many pieces make a pound? If by the bunch, how many items make a bunch and how heavy is it? Also record the origin of each crop. This list will be invaluable to you as you move forward with your plans.

Cindy's booth at 17th street--BLOG

Potatoes in wooden boxes were sold by the pound. Small potatoes in pasteboard containers were sold by container.

Although prices might fluctuate in the greater marketplace, I decided on a price that was fair for both myself and for my customers for each crop and kept it the same throughout the season. That said, there are a number of things you could do to vary the price. If you have an abundance of something, you could offer a larger quantity of seconds at a cheaper price per pound. I sorted my potatoes and displayed the smaller ones in pint and quart containers at a higher price per pound than the larger potatoes that were sold by the pound. The price displayed for the containers was by the container size, not by the pound. Nevertheless, the prices remained the same for the abundant seconds (cucumbers), the pints and quarts of potatoes, and everything else for the duration of that season.

Know your produce. People often comment on how much more expensive the colored peppers are in the grocery store compared to the green ones. Well, you need to leave the green peppers on the plant for a few additional weeks to ripen to red, yellow, or orange and anything can happen during that time. I priced my colored peppers at twice as much per pound as the green ones and had no complaints. Besides the prices, you need to know the nutritional value of everything you have and what to do with it in the kitchen. The more information you can pass on to the buyers, the more sales you will make.

I sold a limited variety of produce to the restaurants; primarily leaf and romaine lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and onions and the chefs did not need me to suggest what to do with it. For the farmers market I needed a larger variety of things for my booth and my customers welcomed my suggestions. The greater population has gotten away from cooking from scratch at home and need some instruction as they move back to that. If you package all the ingredients for salsa, for example, plus the recipe, many are more likely to try it. Packaging all the colors of the peppers you have together will entice your customers to buy the package, rather than just the one or two peppers that they had in mind.

Your passion and enthusiasm will go a long way to making sales, but keep in mind that you need to tend to your family first—and to your soil. If you feel you can grow more than you alrFeed the soileady do, maybe it is time to expand what you are growing for your own table, rather than grow for others. How much of your staple crops, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and grains do you grow? Are you growing enough cover crops to feed back the soil and provide all your own compost?

The first DVD I produced was Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden and I was excited that I could show people how to manage cover crops in their gardens with hand tools. I knew it would be a tremendous help to small scale market gardeners—those gardeners moving from growing for their family to growing for others. The garden plan DVD followed which shows how to put together a notebook with your complete plan. I wanted gardeners to have a good foundation to help them plan to feed their families and others. Through my teaching I met folks who were ready to jump into growing for the markets with little experience of getting their hands dirty, let alone an understanding of what is going on in the soil when things grow and in our bodies when we eat the food. By the way, you will get dirty, sweaty, and tired. So tired that you will fall into bed at night thoroughly exhausted, only to get back up early in the morning to do it all again. It is not an occupation for the fainthearted.

I want gardeners to understand all of that before they ramp up to feed others. I expanded on what was in the DVDs when I wrote Grow a Sustainable Diet. It includes an additional worksheet (How Much to Grow), and information on nutrition, food processing and storage, garden washing stations, sheds, fences, and more on garden rotations with cover crops. With that book and the DVDs it is like taking a class from me. No matter how many people you are growing for or how much land you are using, my teaching materials apply. I’ve been talking here about determining how much money you could make, but sometimes the profit in this is not so much about the money you make, but the life you make. You become an integral part of the community around you and you can’t put a dollar value on that.homeplace earth

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: