25 July 2010

Working in the Garden with God

I usually spend summer Sundays in the garden – the nearest Quaker Meeting is more than an hour away, and as that doesn’t seem like a good use of fuel or time, we are “Isolated Friends” … still Quakers, but not in regular attendance at our nearest Meeting.

So, I listen to God in the garden while I work.

Today’s message was clear:

Genesis 3:19: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

See, in lots of gardening books, they say “just turn over the sod, and next year, you’ll have a perfect spot to grow your garden”. So that’s what I did. I turned it. It was pretty and brown. Then, before I knew it, I had knee high grass growing where I meant to put plants! I didn’t realize until just this year that it’s not sod that I am working with … it’s ancient pasture grasses, with a thick matting of roots sheltering the rhizome root system of quackgrass.

Now, I readily admit that it’s lovely stuff for the sheep to eat … but this stuff does not go away just because you faithfully turn the soil over. It spreads by the roots – so any little piece of root left in the dirt just becomes another plant. Rototilling is a means of plant distribution – not destruction.

So, I spent the day as no doubt many of my ancestors have done, on my knees in the dirt, digging up invasive roots with a mattock and my gloved hands. Once an area of dirt is mostly cleared of roots, you can grow other things there. You’ll have to keep pulling the quackgrass that makes it through, but eventually, it’ll die off if it hasn’t got any leaves above ground. The runners spread up to a metre though – so you need a good clear boundary around your plants.

Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I’ve got a plan. It involves a lot of digging, mostly.

I did pull out some high-tech tools – I’ve put landscape fabric down in many spots. Some of the fabric is covered with raised beds filled with screened dirt (filtering out the quackgrass rhizomes, so that the plants get a bit of a head start and can hopefully outcompete the grass), and some – particularly the areas along the of the garden (where the grass works it’s way in from the adjoining pasture) are covered with a heavy layer of straw mulch, with a spot of dirt every so often containing a transplanted calendula flower and sprinkled with a few more flower seeds in hopes that something pretty will grow.

So, it was a long day of digging, but it’s the first step towards a truly productive garden. Get the nasty stuff dug out now, and although I’ll always know the sweat on my face when I work in the garden, there’ll be a little less of it – and a lot more harvest.

The garden teaches both consequences and grace: don’t keep up with the weeds, and as a consequence, there’ll be less food to eat … but then, even if the weeds have gotten ahead of you, you can change your ways now and see a better harvest. Grace.

23 July 2010

Blog people are real people too!

I got to meet a fellow blogger in real life this past week – she was looking for some wool to try felting with, and she lives not too far from me … so … I got to meet her live and in person, demonstrate a bit of spinning, talk about felting, see her amazing front yard garden, and barter some wool for (truly amazing) fresh veggies, jam, salsa, chutney and pickles! (Her spicy bean pickles are reaaaaaaally yummy.)

Check out her fun blog – complete with a ‘test hat’ made from our sheep’s wool -  here!

18 July 2010

Sometimes, things just move slowly

This year, lots of things seem to be moving very slowly. The garden is taking ages to get up and running – things don’t want to sprout (except the weeds, they do fine), and the stuff that does come up grows in itty bitty fits and starts.

The lambs are getting bigger, but Icelandics are slower growing than the Columbia/Hamps we had before, so it looks like they aren’t growing at a good pace (even though they are fine).

The knitting projects are coming along, but I spend so little time actually with needles in hand, that there’s not a lot of progress (go figure). I did get a good chunk of knitting time in today – I needed a day of peace and quiet, The Boy needed money, so I paid him to do the jobs around the house I would’ve done otherwise. He was happy, I was happy, knitting was accomplished. Yay.

The chickens are hiding their eggs, so egg production appears to have slowed – which is not, of course, the real problem (there is no way that the number of hens we have laid only 5 eggs in one day) … but where are they hiding them? Haven’t found them yet … I put a bounty on the nest, maybe that’ll encourage more searching among the younger members of the household. :)

Mackenzie’s wounds are healing slowly – but his condition is improving noticeably. He’s on the doggie version of Keflex, which knocked me on my backside the last time I had to take it, and may explain why he is so tired and lethargic (I could barely walk from one end of the house to the other without needing to sit down and rest, and that was after the infection was under control and all I was dealing with were the drug effects). Mac’s wounded skin is looking healthier by the day, though, lethargy aside – I believe the intensive treatment with steroid/antibioitic cream (the first day) followed by calendula/plantain ointment several times a day for the next four days helped get things off on the right track, and all the resting he’s been doing has surely allowed his body to put all effort towards healing. I’m fairly sure the mudbath Mac gave himself on the second day (when he worked up enough gumption to chew through is leash and go walkabout) did not help matters, but he probably thinks that’s the secret to his healing. Hmphm.

Ah, another thundershower has arrived. Thanks for watering the garden, God, I didn’t get to that today. Appreciate the help!

13 July 2010

Do you have a dog with lots of fur who spends time outside? Had wet weather?

If you this sounds familiar … please do yourself and your dog a favour.

Check through his coat. Just … go look. Really, it’s a good idea.

See, I have a dog with lots of fur: Mackenzie, the Great Pyr. Mackie is a livestock guardian dog, so he spends all of his time outside. He lives with the sheep: they are his pack, he loves them and he protects them. He spends all his time with them. Buildings freak him out – usually, he won’t even go in the barn – he’d rather be with his sheep.

And, we’ve had lots of rain. Days of rain, then hot humid dampness, then more rain. This much humidity is really unusual here – I had noticed the humidity because the herbs I hung up to dry seemed way too soggy for the amount of time they’d been hanging. And, of course, my hair is out of control with frizziness. However, I still hadn’t put two and two together.

You see, when you have lots of rain and then some warm days and then some more rain, those outside dogs with lots of fur don’t really get a chance to dry out completely. This is especially true if, like our Mac, they are in the process of blowing off a winter coat and have patches of thickly matted fur that hasn’t quite worked it’s way loose yet.

What happens then is that the flies arrive. The flies see this nice warm damp spot and …

I’ll spare you the details. It’s horrible. It’ll give you nightmares. Everything that brushes against your skin will make you squeal like a teenage girl at a horror movie. And that won’t be an overreaction.

Mackenzie is now in the barn, willingly (which shows you how sick he feels), with the worst haircut you can imagine and huge patches of raw, sore, damaged skin. Home made salve (olive oil, calendula, mullein and beeswax) plus oral antibiotics and topical steroid/antifungal/antibacterial ointment (courtesy of my fabulous vet, who will provide me with medication and guidance based on a phone conversation, rather than requiring us to transport a 125 lb dog who panics when he is confined or forced to walk into a building) are easing his pain and helping him on the road to healing.

So, yeah: today’s message is check under the fur.

If the worst you find is dirt and guck and maybe leftover bits of grass … be grateful. If you find something worse … well, at least you found it and can treat the problem.

Sleep well. :)

05 July 2010

Freezer as Fridge, Revision 2.0

This post is a belated response to a question from Chile, over at Chile Chews, about our freezer to fridge conversion.

Many folks trying to reduce energy usage (for running on solar power, or just to be more responsible) have used a chest freezer converted to a fridge via external thermostat.

We used ours for four years, and it did work well - however, getting food out of the bottom was always a challenge, and the moisture that gathered in the bottom was a hassle to deal with as well (a centimeter or so would collect every few weeks, and it had to be sopped up with a towel ... after gucking up a bunch of stuff that was in there). Plus, it was a bit small for our family (which grew by one adult and 2 kids when the Reluctant Farmer and I got married).

What we ended up with is a bit of a compromise: we have an upright freezer, the kind that looks like a fridge, and are using the same thermostat widget on it. The ice forms on the top shelf, and moisture that drips down is easily wiped out by just pulling out the bottom drawer and swiping a towel along the base. Everything is easy to reach, and we even have door shelves for the mustard and pickles, yay! I missed those.

Power consumption according to the Kill-a-watt meter is 6.12 kWH over 351 hours ... which is, 6120 watt-hours/351 hours = 17.4 watts, or 418 watt-hours per day. If you work it out for the year its (0.418 KWH/day)(365 days) = 153 kWH per year. An energy star fridge (no freezer) of about the same size is listed at around 315 kWH/yr.

Half the power consumption is good. :)

Now, for a comparison from the old chest freezer/fridge to the new one:

The old freezer was a Kenmore 7.2 cu ft plain jane chest freezer, rated at 279 kWh/yr used as a freezer.
Used as a fridge, it needed 1 kW over 79 hours, which would be 1000 watt-hours/79 hours = 12.65 watts, or 303 watt-hours per day.

The new one is also a Kenmore, but bigger: it's 13.7 cubic feet, so almost double the size, and rated at 442 kwh/year used as a freezer.
Used as a fridge, at 6.12 kWH over 351 hours, we got 17.4 watts/hour, or 418 watt-hours per day.

So yes, overall usage went up … but on a per cubic foot basis:
Old freezer: 12.7/7.2 = 1.8 watts/hr/cubic foot
New freezer: 17.4/13.7 = 1.3 watts/hr/cubic foot

03 July 2010

These boots were made for walkin'

(That was the title of our boot making class at Fibre Week, taught by the fabulous Tracey Kuffner.)

The boots now have the completed outsoles in place:

Outsoles are cut from a sheet of felt (not quite as hard as the boots themselves, but definitely felted to a tougher consistency than the insoles), and have a thin layer of silicone spread over the bottoms for traction.

Attaching them to the boots was fairly easy - starting on one centre side, they were stitched down with blanket stitch, then folded across the sole and measured (and trimmed as need be) then attached to the other side. I gradually worked forward and back to the toes and heels, and stitched those last, easing in the fullness and stitching well.

With about a centimetre of wool between my feet and the floor, they feel fabulous.

02 July 2010

Images from Fibre Week

I want to write more about what I learned, but I’m a bit under the weather so the pictures will have to do for now.

Felted boots start off like this:

Then after much smushing and rolling, they look like this:

It’s difficult to tell the scale, but that boot would be too big for my Dad. Dad has big feet. I do not.

The little wooden scrub board thing fits comfortably in the hand, it’s a little bigger than a full bar of soap. That’s a huge boot.

After more rolling and squishing and rubbing on a washboard and scrubbing with the wooden thing, you get this:

Almost  the size of my shoe, now.

Further scrubbing (while wearing the boots, actually – I had no idea foot massages were included in tuition) you get this:

A pair of boots perfectly moulded to my feet. I also made enough felt for a pair of insoles, and a pair of outsoles (which will be coated with anti-slip stuff).

The whole class had finished boots when we were done, all different:

And, as a representative sample of what you see all over campus during Fibre Week, here is a happy knitting type person, showing off a stocking she made:

She said, “Making it took me to my happy place.” It shows, eh?

Fibre Week is awesome.

01 July 2010

Without fibre arts, we would not have civilization

So said Cat Bordhi, in her keynote speaker address at Fibre Week.

You don’t agree?


Fine, take off all your clothes.

Still feel civilized? :)