Saturday, 30 July 2011

Chooks and the Big Wide World, and stuff

First day outside.  Only one brave chook standing on the grass.
Well, not all that bit, but out of the coop at any rate.   We put up a small, portable fence outside the coop door to let the young girls out sometimes.   Their first foray into the new space was so much fun to watch.  All but the bravest few spent the first few minutes just peeking out the door.  The brave ones stood on the little cement pad in front.   They'd step off the cement onto the grass, jump in surprise and hop back on the cement.   Soon they were a few feet into the grass, hopping up with every step.   So much constant movement that I couldn't get a clear photo of them.  Every photo was blurry as they were non-stop moving and if one was in focus, the others weren't. 

They've settled down now.  Each morning, they wait at the door for me to open it and let them out.  The silly girls follow me around, getting underfoot and in the way.  I've taken to tossing a little bit of scratch out in their  chicken yard, so I can do the inside coop chores without tripping on the silly creatures.   It's so much easier when they are occupied.  I gave them a wayward cob of corn yesterday and they devoured it like the little raptors they are.  Too funny to watch!

They have found a good spot in which to dust bathe and don't seem too fond of the midday sun, although a couple of them can be seen sunning themselves a little later in the afternoon.  Sometimes they are all huddled in the small, shady spot, waiting for the shade to cover their area, about 5 pm this time of year.

One of the girls is a flyer.  She wings her way over the fence and lands on the other side, trying desperately to figure out how to get back in with her cronies.   She walks back and forth along the fence until she sees me.  She then makes some sort of ruckus to catch my attention and waits for me to lift the portable fence, so she can get back inside.   Every single morning we go through the same thing. 

  A couple of weeks ago, two of my boys went on a hike with me.   It was at a local , well groomed trail.  It was a very short hike because the mosquitoes were huge and hungry!

On the way out of the trail, there was this small fern, growing out of a crack in some cut rock stairs.  It never ceases to amaze me how resilient Mother Nature is, despite human  needs to tame and make comfortable, some of our non-urban areas.

The Rudbekia are blooming.  There are a couple of small plants.. more I think the wild Black Eyed Susan than the gloriosa daisy varieties.  They are still pretty, though not as prolific as something like Rudbekia Goldsturm.

Off for holidays.  It was supposed to be one week, but my sweetie made a rather magnanimous suggestion that he spend his holiday weekend packing the truck, driving down and dropping me off, driving home and coming back next weekend when we were supposed to go.   I took him up on the offer, despite there being tons to do.  I've left instructions on how to freeze green beans, zucchini and tomatoes, how to harvest and freeze the Dyer's Coreopsis and the chook duties for my boys.   We shall see what happens.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Coreopsis Tinctoria plants
Some years ago, in the spring, I travelled around to both main stream and more specialized garden centres looking to establish a dye garden.  I had in my hand a list of suitable plants with both their common and Latin names, so as to be able to easily find exactly what I was looking for.  It was a somewhat difficult task.  Many mainstream garden centres had front of store staff with little knowledge.  The more specialized garden centres  just didn't carry many of the plants  I was looking for, although they had a few of them. Several referred me to Richter's Seeds, as the best place for me to find what I was looking for.  They were right.

Coreopsis Tinctoria
I've had great luck with many dye plants over the years, but the one that has eluded me is Coreopsis Tinctoria.  I've found a great number of varieties of Coreopsis out there but never actual Coreopsis Tinctoria.  Tinctoria usually means that the plant will have very good dye properties.  I'm thinking that the current trend to low maintenance, highly hardy perennial gardens may discourage plants like Coreopsis Tinctoria, since it's an annual.   The only place I'd been able to find them was Richter's, which indeed does have a more than amazing selection of wild flowers, herbs etc.  I would highly recommend them as I've had spectacular service from them over the years.  I've had problems in the past with getting Coreopsis Tinctoria seeds to actually germinate and if they do, staying alive long enough to get them in the ground.

Coreopsis Tinctoria all red mutant flowers
This year, my Coreopsis seeds germinated beautifully.  Not so in the past, but research suggests that they actually germinate in the fall and overwinter as rosettes, before flowering in the summer.   I'll plant next year's crop this fall to see if it works.   However, I got seedings this spring. They survived and I stuck them in the ground.  They loved our nasty, cold, wet spring and they flourished.    They are a bit leggy, with delicate leaves and pretty bi-coloured flowers.  Each morning, I pop out and pick all the flowers which are fully opened, tossing them in the freezer for future use.  I will leave a few flowers to go to seed, for next year.  Several Two of the flowers have virtually no yellow on them.  The petals are the deep red/burgandy colour of the centres.   I'm also letting these go to seed and planting them separately.   If they carry on the burgandy colour to their offspring, it would be interesting to see if there is a colour difference in the dye.

Some variety of perennial Coreopsis
I've some perennial Coreopsis in the garden as well, both a double and a single flowered type.  I'm also collecting these flowers to use as a comparison with the Coreopsis Tinctoria to see if it is worth the extra effort.     Regular Coreopsis give yellows with alum and oranges with iron mordants.   Coreopsis Tinctoria is supposed to give deep, rich oranges with only alum.   I guess we shall see later this summer when the plants stop flowering and I have enough stored flowers with which to dye.

I treat my dye plants as I would any other crop plant I grow.  When the fruit or in this case the flowers are are ripe, I harvest them for the purpose.  I won't wait until the flowers dye back  in case it lessens the pigment. Instead, I have flowerless dye plants.  I was once told, that this was a little odd.  However that is the purpose that I grew the flowers for, so I use them that way.  Anything else would feel odd to me :)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Solar Dyeing Addendum

I was thinking about Helen's comment about how she uses glass jars and sometimes leaves them as long as a year.   I realized that perhaps climate has something to do with the methods we choose when using similar techniques such as solar dyeing.    Our winters are on the harsh side.   They are cold and can be long.   Our first frosts come in September.  We can have snow, which stays as early as November.   I have a high/low thermometer in the greenhouse and during the winter, there is little advantage even there.  If it is -15C outside, it is -15C in the greenhouse. I've only vaguely thought about using glass jars.  Large ones are hard to find these days and I would have to bring them inside during the winter.  If I were to leave a full glass jar outside, it would likely crack from the frozen liquid expanding, unless I was certain to leave enough space in the jar.  Even then I'd worry about it just from the freezing and thawing that might take place at various times, from temperature fluctuations.

   Even our summer weather can be erratic.  We're having extreme and unusually hot weather, but often we get very warm days and cool nights.  I was doing some Indigo fermentation one year, starting early in June to take advantage of a few really early, warm days.  I had 2 white buckets and one which was blue and white.   After the 2 warm days, I noticed that the water in the buckets had cooled down noticeably.  The outside of the buckets were almost cool.     In thinking about this, I sat down on some plastic bags of top soil and compost and found that it was hot, very hot in places, which were the black writing.   I immediately spray painted my buckets black and a few hours later, the water was steamy warm.   I'll have to do some checking on water temps.  

Bettina -  my regular old water is well water.  Our water is fairly heavy in iron, so we filter it somewhat.  Not sure about the hardness factor.  I don't think it's super hard, but at least is free from chlorine.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Solar Dyeing Experiments

A couple of weeks ago, I had this urge to do some dyeing.   It's been so hot though, that there is no way I want to do it inside and sitting by a fire, in the blazing sun, when it's this hot out,  just didn't seem like a lot of fun.  I checked the cupboard and sure enough, my tin of black spray paint was there.   I grabbed a couple of empty, kitty litter pails and spray painted them black.  I added water from the garden hose.   The hose is long and the sun heated the water in the hose to about 130F., which filled the first bucket completely with a bit left for the second bucket.   After they were filled, I checked the temperatures.  The second bucket was at about 90F, after cooler water started running in the hose.

I decided to use extracts because I had some which I don't really use and they were probably at that needing to get used stage.  I added some Madder extract and Alum to the one bucket and some Cochineal extract and Alum to the second bucket.   I left the buckets sit in the sun for a bit while the extracts dissolved.  A bit later, I tossed in some pre-wetted Shetland fleece.  I've gently stirred it twice a day.  It certainly isn't instant gratification, but it's been an interesting experiment.  My previous solar dyeing experiments have all been Indigo fermentation vats.  

I'm not fond of Cochineal extracts because I've only ever gotten purples and pinks with them.   I'd have added some cream of tarter in hopes of pushing the colour to the red spectrum, if I had any.  I didn't feel like taking a trip to town just for cream of tarter.   The Madder started of a dull orangy brown but the reds are starting to show through.  So far in my experience, Madder goes toward the orange end with slightly acidic conditions.  I wonder if it is too late to toss in something to push it a bit alkaline?

I'll keep stirring and checking the colour twice a day until I get something I am happy with and then rinse, rinse, rinse.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Slowly but surely

It is hot for this area.  We've had day after day of very warm weather, with no rain for relief.  If this were our normal weather, we'd probably want A/C, but right now, we've got a trusty fan, which blows the hot air around.   The ground is rock hard and weeding has been next to impossible.

While it's been a bit on the warm side for spinning and working with wool, I did get most of two bobbins plied early one morning.   Now to just finishing winding it off on to the niddy noddy.   This is half of what is on the jumbo bobbin and I'll finish it up when if it cools down this evening.

I dug up part of the garlic this morning.   It's out drying.  I decided to wait a bit to dig up the other half of the garlic bed.  While the first row of garlic was mainly comprised of large, full heads, the second row was a bit smaller.  I'll wait another week or so to dig up the rest.

 The colourwork sock is coming along.  I'm almost ready to do the toe.   The yarn is Scheepjes Invicta Sock and it has been a joy to knit with.   It has a fair bit of sproing factor to it, which really helps with the fitting.  It is easy to knit, wasn't very splitty (when the yarn seems to split and get caught on the needles when taking a stitch) and is relatively inexpensive.   It doesn't come in pink though :(   I've learned and relearned a bit about stranded knitting too.   The difference between a sweater and a sock is a bit more than I anticipated, simply because of the size I think.  If I'd kntted it any tighter and the yarn didn't have a bit of sproing to it, I don't think that this oen would have fit.  However it does, nicely, so I'm happy with the results - upside down pattern and all.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Garden update...

The hot weather has set the garden to growing.  Last year our tomato plants were huge, green vines with little fruit which then got attacked by blight.  Apparently blight is an issue in this area.  I had planted the tomatoes in the new garden, which was heavily mulched and probably nitrogen heavy due to the loads of composting leaves and grass clippings.   This would have resulted in the massive amount of green growth with little fruit.   I moved the tomatoes to the old garden this year.   I lightly composed it before I planted the seedlings and have heavily mulched it with straw.   I worried that the plants were hardly growing, but most of them have started to catch up.  Next year I'll remember to provide early protection; planting them under plastic or insulated in some way.    There are 4 different varieties of tomatoes - a small fruiting hybrid which has mega disease tolerance, including some blight resistance.  It's fruits are bigger than cherry or grape tomatoes, but smaller than regular tomatoes.  There are plum tomatoes for freezing and canning, orange and sweet 100's cherry type tomatoes for general salads and out of hand eating.   We'll see what happens this year.  They are well spaced for air circulation in order to combat disease and I'm hoping the straw mulch will have a 2 fold benefit.  First of course is helping keep the weeds down.  The second is that disease like blight are supposed to be soil borne, and splashing of the dirt on the leaves helps cause it.  By putting a heavy layer of straw down, I'm hoping that the soil won't splash on the leaves, thereby helping the plant avoid soil borne diseases.

In previous gardens, the only peppers I've had do well, were some hot peppers which were purchased by accident.   I'd tried them covered with a makeshift plastic dome and they did fantastically.   This year, I planted 2 types of peppers - sweet yellow banana peppers and a shorter season sweet pepper, which unfortunately happened to be yellow as well.   I'd forgotten that when I purchased the banana pepper seedlings.  I was going to put them all under plastic, but just after I'd planted, there were a couple of days of hot, hot, dry weather, which stalled my doing so.   The weeks of cool, wet weather right after slowed things down, but I think the plants are catching up.   The banana peppers are loaded with fruits and the other peppers have just started flowering!

The peas are almost done fruiting.   I've had a tasty snack every day for a week and a half.  Yesterday there were enough ready to harvest to add to a tasty bulgar salad for dinner.   I shelled over a cup of fresh peas, which were so yummy.

The Scarlet Runner beans are flowering.   The yellow pole beans are about to flower and the regular green pole beans are slightly behind that.   There are only a few yellow beans because the wild beasties seemed to enjoy feasting on the seedlings as soon as they were sprouting.

The first zucchini should be ready to harvest soon.   I hand pollinated it just to be certain.  :)   The cucumbers have started producing as well.  These are regular old Straight Eight's, a reliable standard.  The fruit will take a bit more time to mature though, since it's a regular old slicing cucumber and nothing fancy or special. 

The rest of the garden is doing just as nicely.   The beets are growing well.  We might have some carrots too.  The potatoes should be ready to harvest in a few weeks and the garlic is almost ready to dig up and dry.   The early lettuce I planted has been delicious.  We've eaten salad almost every day.  I'm amazed that it still isn't bitter or going to seed although the second crop is growing.   We've harvested more arugula from that and the lettuce may be ready to start harvesting next week.   We've eaten radishes (daikon yum), fresh onions and will harvest some Swiss chard for dinner tonight.  Since I didn't have any Swiss Chard seeds and there were none available when I looked for them, I've no idea how it got there.  However I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth - we'll eat it anyway, despite my not planting it and it being in not quite the spot that I'd have chosen.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Last weekend I started a new pair of socks, using a colourwork stranded technique.   The last pair of socks I tried with this method, stymied me.  I know now, it was because the chart needed to be redrawn.   On July 1st I tried again, with a different design.  I pulled out the design I really wanted to do and decided that perhaps it was a tad too ambitious for a first project, or at least first stranded colourwork in 25 years or so.   I found a slightly simpler pattern to start with.   I pulled out the yarn and started knitting in a bit of down time.  I got the cuff and first border done before camping with a ton of friends became distracting.  When I got home, I decided that it was enough practice and ripped it out, going back to the the first choice design.   Half-way through the pattern, I found an error that I couldn't correct since I'd managed to do a half pattern for one of the repeats on the wrong row.  With no lifeline to rip back to and save the stitches or a gazillion miles of tinking (reverse knitting, stitch by stitch), I ripped it back and returned to my original pattern. I won't tell you how many hours and restarts it has taken to get this much done though, because I don't want to know.  However it is the only project I've worked on this week :(    At least it has been fun.   I'm fairly happy with the outcome although I think I want to do a few more colourwork/stranded knitting projects just to finesse my technique a little lot more. 

The orange lilies are out.  We always called them Tiger lilies as kids.  They've naturalized everywhere and there are huge swaths of them along the roadsides.  This patch is just at the front edge of the property and while not as large as many of them, it's still pretty impressive.   Being day lilies, they won't bloom for all that long.   I noticed that not only are they blooming but the beautiful clear blue flowers of the Chicory have just started as well as the Queen Anne's Lace.   Summer is definitely in full swing.   All these flowers are just screaming out for a dyeing session.