June 08, 2021

Finished the Socks!


 A while back, before the latest Covid lock down, my daughter gave me 7 balls of sock yarn, suggesting that we trade.  She'd give me the yarn and I'd give her back socks.   I don't think I'd have made this trade with anyone else, but since she's my daughter, I didn't mind.

It had been several years since I'd knit socks, so I had to relearn the steps.  It wasn't difficult, but I did have to restart several socks, a couple of times because I'd forgotten how the yarns worked.   Kroy is a sturdy and easy to knit yarn, but it's not as fine as most sock yarns, and I needed to change my stitches and gauge.

The bright unicorn fart yarn wasn't in the original back of yarns.   Instead there was a bright red yarn, but it was wool, rayon and nylon.   I didn't really like the rayon aspect, so I switched it out for the stripey yarn.  At first, I was going to make them for me, but the more I thought about the rayon sock yarn, the more I said nope...just not happening.   So my daughter got the fun striped socks.

I also used this project to experiment with different heels.   I did the German Short Row heel.  Ick.  It didn't fit me at all when I tried it on.   I also had to use markers to keep track of my stitches, which became a royal pain in the butt.   My next heel type was the square heel.   That was one sweet heel to knit.  It was easy to knit, looked fine but also didn't fit me at all.   I ended up doing the round heel that I normally use on the final pair of socks.   It fit me just fine.     Nice to note though, that they all fit my daughter just fine.   

I was doing some rug hooking but having a wool rug on your lap when it's 30C outside and no AC inside, just isn't doable.   If I had a gripper strip hooking frame on a stand, or a Cheticamp style frame,  then hooking could happen.   However I use a small, plastic hoop.  It isn't big enough to be supported and ends up flopping the whole rug on my lap.   It's just too warm right now, with this unseasonably early heat wave!

I have spun and plied some lovely Merino.  It's another skein of white yarn, so I haven't yet photographed it.   I'm beginning to wish I had some dyed roving to play with, just for a change. 

 

Woad plants are happy.   Japanese Indigo is very happy.   I have Weld plants again this year which makes me happy!  Yay!

May 29, 2021

Missing month of May


 It's been a busy month.   The weather has been up and down.   We had a stretch of milder temperatures with no frost for several weeks.  I took the opportunity to get much of my garden in.   According to the Canada Natural Resources we are in hardiness zone 6a.    Our last frost date is supposed to be May 11 according to OMAFRA.   I lost two pepper plants last night because it got really cold and this evening I just covered all my tender plants and put feed sacks and straw around the tomatoes.    Sadly, I don't have enough sheets and covers for all the planters on the deck, so hopefully the patchy frost which is forecast for tonight, will not get to the deck.   There are two tomatoes at the back which don't have cages to support them yet, so they are just buried in the straw which I'm using as extra mulch over the cardboard.

The straw bale garden experiment is doing quite well.   The lettuce has loved it so much that I've already harvested our first salad.    The cucumbers are doing okay and beans are already coming up.  Again though, the tender new leaves are being snipped off just as they come up.   I've had to put a ratty whirly gig, faded but still spins, and some hoops over the bean seedlings to hopefully keep whatever is eating them away.   

I've seen some pretty spectacular photos and reports of straw bale gardening success, and an occasional report that it doesn't work.   I've heard of issues with bad straw, or people using hay and getting lots of weed growth.  Also, you really have to condition the bales to jump start the internal composting in order to actually have them sustain the plants.  It also requires keeping on top of watering.   Since I don't have a drip system for my bales, it means I have to go out and give them a bit of water once a day, or twice on really hot days.  It's totally not a no work garden this way.   But way less weeding, is what I'm finding.   I've been weeding the raised beds multiple times and it seems the weeds pop back the next day.  I've the Japanese Indigo bed covered, so my fingers are crossed that they'll be okay with tonight's weather.   I usually put them under cloches, but with the early May weather being mild, I didn't bother this year.    Next year for sure, as I won't risk it again.

We've been walking the local trails.   Once thing I've noticed is that some of them look so different in the spring.   This trail was unbelievably different looking with the heavy hardwood tree canopy and lush fern covered forest floor.   It's a joy to traverse the trail while we still have few mosquitoes.



Canadian geese seen yesterday.   They are huge birds!   These didn't have babies with them, which I'd normally expect to see in the spring.   Still they were a joy to watch while they paddled along until they spread their wings and headed off with a lot of honking and fanfare.



April 22, 2021

Early Spring in the Garden


 During those unseasonably warm and lovely almost summery days in early April, I got 3 of the 4 raised beds cleaned up.  I removed any remaining plants that I'd left from last summer, weeded them twice.  There was some volunteer garlic growing in one bed, so I dug up a couple of clumps and transplanted it into one of the beds.  I wasn't going to grow garlic this year, but free and unexpected plants!   The bulbs should still have time to develop.   

I took some of the lettuces that had germinated in the winter sowing containers and transplanted them into the garden and covered them with plastic cloches.    I have some woad almost big enough to transplant and some Japanese Indigo which is ready to move into the garden, but it's still too early.

We've had snow and below freezing temperatures for the past couple of days.   The daffodils flowers are bent over from the snow and the cold.  They'll pop back up when the weather warms up, but they look so sad.   I had just started transplanting the winter onions from the main garden to this raised bed.  It snowed the next day, so they didn't even have a chance to settle in.   They're pretty hardy though.  I don't imagine they'll have a problem.   I've more to move over.  I want to till that part of the garden this year, and the over wintering onions will just get in the way.  Plus these ones are almost sweet and a lovely addition to a salad or stir fry.  I don't want to lose them.

I read a couple of books on Straw Bale gardening and decided to experiment with it.  This part of the garden gets dug up by the chooks and because of the proximity of the surrounding pastures, is difficult to keep clear of weeds.

I laid down a lot of cardboard and put the straw bales on top of it.   The bales need to be conditioned so that the insides start to compost before planting them.  Both seeds and starter plants can be used.  Most of the bales won't need to start being conditioned until May 1st.  I conditioned two of them early so that I could plant onion sets, beets and chard, which are all safe to plant in cooler weather. Plus I wanted to start playing in the dirt, so an early start for some of the bales allowed me to do that.

While I could see subtle changes in the straw bales that were getting the water and nitrogen, I wondered if it was really working.  The instructions say that the centre of the bale will warm up.   It was just above freezing and the unconditioned bale inside was the same temperature as the ambient air temperature.  The inside of the conditioned bale was over 10 C degrees warmer.   Once our cold and snowy weather moves on, I'll put a bit of potting soil on the top of the bales to hold the seeds while they root, and plant the onion sets on the outside edges of the bales.  The beets and chard will go in the middle.  I've seen so many photos and read so many reviews of this method that show amazing gardens, that it was worth the bit of start up costs to purchase the bales and nutrients to get started.   The cardboard was free though and I've had great results using cardboard as a mulch.  By the end of the summer, it's starting to break down and it's composted completely by the spring.

Dye Plants-  I have a bunch of mature Madder which needs to be dug and used.   There will be a load of woad seeds later this summer and I have lots of woad seedlings to plant.    I have Japanese Indigo seedlings as well.  I'm thrilled that there is a surviving weld plant.    Last summer I stopped watering the raised beds because we had weeks of hot weather and no rain.   I didn't want to over burden our well with watering both the raised beds and the regular garden, so the raised beds were sacrificed  as they needed watering 2 or 3 times a day.   Having a weld plant which will go to seed this summer means I will have weld to play with next summer.   Plus a friend gave me some of her extra weld seed, and I've got some planted for seedlings.  The rest I'll scatter in the weld bed. My Dyer's Greenweed is totally planted in the wrong place, but it's at least surviving.   I don't really have another place to put it right now, so I'll leave it where it is.  At least the bunnies didn't eat it this year.  Last year they gnawed it practically to the ground and the poor plant had to regrow completely.





April 18, 2021

Colours of Early Spring

These Scilla flowers are the prettiest blue.  They are naturalizing in areas, carpeting the lawn for the time they are in bloom. 
Glory of the snow?, I thought they had another name too, but whatever they're called, they are beautiful.  I had to wait to the evening to photograph these because the white centres were difficult to photograph, without washing out completely.
Coltsfoot is a lovely splash of yellow.   I found these on the side of one of the local trails.   


Wild violets just starting to emerge.   Again, from a local trail and not my garden.  Because they can be invasive, I'm not unhappy about that. 
 
I saw these on one of the trails too.  I think they are bloodroot.   They aren't that common around here, so it was a nice treat to see them.  The roots can be used as a dye plant, but since there are so few of them around here, I haven't experimented with it yet.


 

April 15, 2021

Carrot Seed Tape

Yesterday I made some carrot seed tape.   Carrot seed is tiny and the seed packets come with planting instructions that say, sprinkle seed, cover with light soil and when it germinates, thin to 2 in or more apart.   It always seems a waste and a lot of work, to plant too closely and pluck out a ton of little seedlings.

I found all sorts of instructions on the web for making seed tape, which is a basically a strip of paper, with seeds glued to it.    I took 2 ply toilet paper, separated the plies so I was working with a single ply and then folded the ply lengthwise and cut it in half, to make 4 seed tape strips.

I made a flour and water paste and made way to much of it.   Next time, I'd use a scant tablespoon of flour with a tablespoon or a bit more,  of water to make a runny slurry, like you'd use when making paper maché as a kid.   I used a cotton swab as a paint brush and dabbed little dots of the flour glue along one 1/3 of the paper strip.   This was so that I could fold over the paper and encase the seeds as a bit of storage protection.
 I tried several methods to put the  seeds on the flour paste dots, but most were messy.  The seed was  too tiny to just use my fingers.   A cotton swab with the tiniest bit of flour paste on it worked well for the first 3 or 4 dots, and then got too sticky.  In the end, a pair of tweezers with a needle nose like tip worked best for me.

I dabbed a bit of the paste on the edge of the paper that didn't have the seeds on it, folded it over and gently pressed it down.   I left it spread out to dry, which took far less time than I thought it would.



 When it was dry, I remembered to label it.  I used a fine point marker.  Then I folded up the strips and stored them in a plastic bag to keep them safe until needed.  

I sized my paper strips to fit the area where I'm planting them.   

You could use paper towel, newsprint, tissue paper etc.   It needs to be something that will fall apart quickly when wet though.

I only used one seed per dot, about 1 1/2 - 2 inches apart.  I didn't measure, just eyeballed it, because the cat kept trying to play with the tape measure while I was using it.  

  I did wonder though if I should have put 2 seeds on each dot.  It would still mean some thinning, but less chance of a bare spot because a seed didn't germinate.

I wouldn't use this for large seeds.  Beans, peas etc are easy to plant but the very fine seed is a bit fussy.  We'll see how this method works.   Fingers crossed.

March 22, 2021

Back yard syrup


 One batch of maple syrup was too thick.   We do the main boiling of the sap outside and bring the almost finished syrup in the house for me to finish.   I think this particular batch was at or almost at the sugar percentage, or temperature that syrup finishes at.  By the time I brought it back to a boil in the finishing pan, it was too high a temperature.   I filtered it, then reheated to bottle and only half the jars sealed.   The sugar crystals started precipitating out by the next day.   

The thick syrup is absolutely delicious.  It is a wonderful ice cream topping, but it is crystalizing in the jar.   I took the unsealed jars, poured the syrup into a pot, and thinned it with some more of the crystal clear sap that is still running.    While the syrup was absorbing the sap, I washed and sterilized the jars.  When the sap was completely mixed in to the syrup, I reheated it to 219F, and rebottled.  This time, all the jars sealed and hopefully I salvaged the syrup.

On top of this, we started boiling sap on Thursday evening, then Friday evening and both weekend days for another 5 litres syrup.   The sap is running like crazy right now so you have to boil when you can.   With the weirdly warm weather we're having, the sap could stop being viable at any time.

I went outside to the chicken coop last Monday and found this. The tree was part of a larger maple tree with 3 trunks coming up.  Well only two now :). It missed the greenhouse and missed the chair my sweetie was using for last weekends syruping.    It fell right in between the two, only managing to take out the wheelbarrow.   It was the best place for one large maple tree trunk to fall.  I'm a bit sad because I know that shopping for a new wheelbarrow isn't likely on the schedule until after we're vaccinated here as we just aren't going out much at all.   It means a little more effort will be needed  to expend for gardening chores.      The tree trunk is already cut, split and in the drying stacks for future use.

I've moved the winter sowing containers from the deck to the edge of the garden, where it gets a lot more sun. They're on a bench in hopes of protecting the containers from chooks and curious other creatures, including a rather oblivious guy on a lawn mower, just in case we get to that before planting.

   Right now there are 2 containers of woad, 1 of chives, 1 of dyers coreopsis, 1 lettuce blend,  and 1 with just a couple of tomato seeds.  I still have a few more seeds to start outside and the rest of my tomatoes will be started indoors. 

 I like the winter sowing experiments though, because I get to plant things earlier than I can start things indoors.   My experience is that indoor started plants tend to get very leggy and weak stemmed if started too early, without enough additional lighting.  This year, I definitely don't have enough additional light.



March 14, 2021

Time consuming projects

These are the new tea towels on the loom.  They are a huck variation pattern.  Not only are they fairly quick to weave off, but they look much more complicated than they are.   The bonus is that the weft colour has a significant influence on how the towels look when done.  Each towel will look quite different depending on the weft colour chosen.

I'm betting lots of people have done these towels.  The pattern was in an issue of Handwoven Magazine a number of years ago, and here is a similar, if not the same project free to download.   I'm sure everyone and their sister has made these towels.  I even was inspired colour wise by a guild project a couple of years ago.  The grey and navy works with so many colours and the light and dark stripes add a lot of interest.     One towel down, and only 4 more to go.

 

A while ago I made this hat.  It's knitted and then felted.   I made some proddy flowers for a demo I'm doing and they were perfect to display on the hat.  It makes the hat really fun.  Right now the flowers are just  pinned on the hat with straight pins.  The hat is thick enough that the tips bury in completely.   Once I feel comfortable going out to get crafts supplies, I will get some pin backs and finish the flowers off properly.  Alternatively, I could just stitch the flowers down permanently.   

I wore the hat on my walk the other day and it was super warm, despite not covering my ears.  Like really, winter appropriately warm.    Yay for that!

 

We did our first sap boil this weekend.  We had about 120 litres of sap, which boiled down to almost 3 1/2 litres of maple syrup.  It should have been a full 3 1/2, but I misread the thermometer and I finished it at a degree higher than it should have been.   Sadly, only 3 of the 500 ml jars sealed, so tomorrow or Tuesday, I will empty them into a pot, re-heat them and then reseal them in clean jars.   

It's really good this year and my temperatures mistake means it's super thick.   I admit that I licked the spatula when I was done scraping the last of the filtered syrup into the pot for reheating, before canning.   YUM!

It feels like I should have gotten more done this week, but all of these projects took way more time than anticipated.  Well, the syrup boiling always takes a long time, but the flowers were part of a demo which will be done with a power point. It always takes me more time than expected to put one together.  Dressing the loom is always a bit of a slow project.   Too many distractions :)