Monday, May 30, 2011

Adding more color

It's been a while since I posted anything about my dyeing explorations, so here's what I've been up to with that:

I've gotten a pretty good handle on technique - this makes things a lot easier.  I just need to make sure that no one's going to want to use the kitchen while I'm mixing dyes, and that no one's going to want to use the oven when I'm setting them.  This can sometimes make for some tricky timing, but such is life.

I've been working on a few more colorways.  This first one was inspired by johnny-jump-ups.  I'm not entirely sure I like it.  Or rather, the finished yarn didn't turn out to be quite what I'd envisioned.  I was picturing something that was mostly yellow, splashed with blue and purple.  It took three tries to get the ratio right in the roving, but when I spun it up, the blue and purple was more evenly distributed than I wanted.

    This may call for either Navajo-plying the spun singles, or spinning the yarn first, then dyeing it.  I'll revisit this colorway idea later. 

In the meantime I'm starting to work up a basic palette of mono chromatic colorways.  I've done reds, greens, blues and yellows (although I don't have a pic of the yellow roving yet), and I have a plan for purples, but I haven't tried it yet.  I haven't had a chance to spin any of the new colors up yet, but I expect they'll be fine.

The next step is to try and come up with a palette  of browns that I like.  The existing formulae that I'm starting from give me variations of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, and some of those are brown-ish, but none that I would truly call brown.  The trick is to be able to do this without wasting a lot of dye!  I see a future afternoon devoted to small plastic cups, eyedroppers, and sheets of paper.  When I come up with something good, you will certainly see it here!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yay for farmer's markets!

My local farmer's market opened for the season last week, and I finally got there today.  I know a lot of the vendors have seedlings, so I wait for the farmer's market to buy anything I haven't succeeded in propagating myself.  Here's today's haul of plants:

Three different types of basil, rosemary, chocolate mint (!), thyme to replace one of my plants that didn't survive the winter, and this year my favorite vendor, Chaplin Farms, has stevia plants!  The two stevia plants I started from seed last year were amongst the beetle casualties, and never made it past six leaves.

I also got beets, asparagus, rhubarb (crumble for dessert!), eggs, and milk and chevre from Sweet Pea.  Now I need to decide what else is for dinner tonight!  Maybe grilled chicken breast?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Greater Hartford Area Vegetable Gardens and Backyard Homesteading

This is my new Big Project.  I got tired of not having any Real Life people to talk to about gardening stuff.  Not that I have no one, but everyone I know who is really interested lives too far away to get together on a regular basis.  As in, usually, several states away.  I started looking for local gardening groups to join, but they all seemed more interested in flowers and landscaping.  Flowers are pretty, but I want to grow FOOD!  I decided to try and start my own.

It's a lot harder than you'd think.  Granted, I'm really only into my second day of trying to get the word out, but so far it's been terribly disheartening.  Stores don't let you put up signs in their windows like they used to.  A few have "community bulletin boards," but those are usually a) tucked away in a corner where no one notices them, and b) so crowded with other announcements that you'll be lucky if yours is noticed amongst all the visual noise.  the exceptions were Whole Foods, where they date-stamp all announcements and rotate them out when they get old; Starbucks, where they only allow non-profits to post, and it's right in the front of the store; and the public library, which has theirs in a glass case so they can decide whether the posting is appropriate.  Thankfully mine passed muster!

Here's what I'm aiming for:
I'd like to be able to get together with real people, in real life, on a semi-regular basis to discuss food gardening and related topics.  While I want the focus to remain on food production, I don't want things too narrow either.  There are a lot of subjects (sustainability, Peak Oil,reduced energy usage, Big Ag, conventional vs. organic, etc) that tend to lie on the fringes of backyard food production, and I expect anyone interested in this group will have opinions on one or more of these issues.  I'd like it to be a place we can discuss these ideas as well. 

I'm hoping to establish a community of gardeners who are willing to help each other out, not only with advice, but with the occasional "work party" for someone breaking ground on a new garden.  I'd also like to establish enough trust and goodwill within the group to feel comfortable sharing tools with people just starting out.  For example, I doubt I'd feel comfortable loaning my pressure canner to someone who posted an ad on Craigslist, but I'd be happy to lend it to a member of a group I was part of.  Someone might have a rototiller they only use once a year, or a Weed Whacker they don't need on a particular weekend.  Sharing material resources like this will help us all.

Finally, I would like to give something back to the community.  There are many low-income families where the adults have jobs, and finding the time to install a garden and learn how to tend it may be out of their reach.  I see this as the classic "Teach a man to fish" opportunity.  These families may not have time to install a garden on their own, but they would probably have time to tend one if they had help setting it up.  This would provide almost-free healthy food to the people who need it most.  Also, there are many disabled people who think that their disability prevents them from growing their own food.  I'd like us to eventually be able to help plan and install appropriate gardens (e.g. wheelchair-height raised beds) for people who thought they couldn't have one, and to help with regular maintenance (weeding, watering, etc) to those who have gardens already, but whose health conditions now prevent them from maintaining them.

I've never done something like this before, so I really hope someone who knows more than I do about establishing a non-profit will join and help out!  In the meantime I'm just trying to get exposure.  I've set up a Facebook page and a YahooGroup, and even though my primary goal is to make local Real Life connections, I also recognize the value of long-distance online participation, discussion, and advice, so I hope people will join the online groups just to talk gardening and local food production!  I'll have links to both groups in the sidebar of the blog.  Any help I can get in making this an active community, both online and IRL will be greatly appreciated!

Garden update (finally!)

I feel like I've gotten surprisingly little accomplished in the last few weeks.  This is partly because I had my annual booth at the Westville Artwalk this past Saturday (which I will talk about in my other blog), and spent the two weeks prior eating, sleeping & breathing jewelry.  No time for much garden stuff (for me) at the end of April.

I have managed to plant out everything I had started under lights, including the tomatoes, which I put out a couple of weeks earlier than I did last year.  They're still very small, but for the most part they look green and healthy.  I can't wait til they get a little bigger - the squirrels keep burying them!  Eventually I will fence in the open side of the garden.  It won't keep out any truly determined squirrels, but it will deter the ones that are just casually wandering into the garden in search of goodies.

My broccoli is doing beautifully!  I expect to have a lot more of it this year.  It's the one garden vegetable that I can count on everyone enjoying, so I'm trying to plant more of it.  I may even try for a fall crop this year.

The mizuna and lettuces i've planted alre coming along nicely, but I really need to start some more.  I sowed some carrots a week or so ago, but no sign of them so far.  I have terrible luck with carrots, but I keep trying!  I'll get it eventually.

The long spate of rainy weather we had really slowed down my efforts to dig up new beds.  So far I've only finished two of the six new beds I've got planned.  Now that the craft show is over I should be able to devote more of my dry weather time to digging up sod.  That said, I'm devoting a lot of my child-free time to another major project lately, but that's going to be another post.

The herb bed is still looking a little sparse.  The mint has popped up in at least three different places, and I'm going to have to decide which one I'm going to keep.  The thyme is coming along slowly, but the oregano is going great guns!

 Last year I planted four shiso plants.  I didn't bother to start any this spring because I was told they reseed easily.  Apparently this is correct.  All these little seedlings with heart-shaped leaves are shiso!  I'm going to have to thin them aggressively - I only had four plants last year, and that was more than I needed!
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