19 May 2011

Tea on a hot day

It’s been getting quite warm in the daytime – though at night it still drops to freezing – and so I’ve been making sun-tea.

I tried to grow a few things for tea last year but most didn’t take, so I put two decaf tea bags from the store into a glass milk bottle along with a few pinches of dried chocolate mint, which did grow nicely in the garden last summer and which I dehydrated in the fall. Placed in a sunny window or outside on the deck during the day, the water heats and the flavours blend … strain it and put it in the fridge and voila, you have a lovely refreshing beverage for the next warm afternoon.


14 May 2011

Quack grass is not a weed…

… it is a force of nature, in the same category as rivers and wind. It will grow through anything – clay, soil, landscape fabric, your carrots and potatoes. I’m convinced the stuff would grow through concrete given half a chance.

This year is the year that I finally take on the quack grass in the garden. You see, up until last summer, I thought I was dealing with some form of “sod” out there – you know, just grass of one kind or another (or more likely, several kinds mixed together – this is old pasture land after all). The conventional wisdom when gardening over sod is “dig it up, turn it over, put more dirt on top, mulch around it, and it’ll just compost down into the soil and you’ll have a lovely garden in no time!”

This does not apply when the grass in question is quack grass.

Quack grass forms long (and I mean long, we’re talking metres long) roots with nodules on them that run along under the soil and pop up new shoots every so often. You know you are dealing with quack grass when, upon pulling out a sheaf of the stuff, you also get a handful of dirt trailing stringy, tough, long white roots that are a good two millimetres around with periodic little bumps on them. If you see that … give up any ideas you may have had about mulching, turning sod, raised beds, and landscape fabric. You need a whole different strategy.

First of all: you have to clear the space. All of it. You can’t have grass walkways between your beds – that just gives the quack grass a source of nutrition for the roots that will reach from the walkway into your garden bed and crowd out your vegetables. You need to clear the entire garden area and at least a 1 metre border all around – two is better. If you can do this in late fall, that’s great, early spring works too. Start by tilling it all up: rake out any big chunks of roots and nodules and toss them outside the garden, then let the turned earth and roots dry out in the sun and wind for a week or two … then do it again. The idea is to kill off the new plants as they get settled in, cutting them off from their source of energy before they get a chance to feed the roots and start again. Eventually, you’ll have brown dirt with just a few quack grass plants popping up every so often. Pull them out when you see them, or slice them off with a hoe – the objective is to starve the root system by removing any green leaves as soon as they appear. This will be your ongoing job … if you let it take hold, before you know it the entire garden will be overrun and you’ll be back at it again.

Don’t despair if you get a little behind though … I noticed that the areas that had never truly been cleared were far worse to dig out than the areas that were clear last summer, but had gotten over grown by fall. Stay ahead of it as much as you can, knowing that the longer you keep the entire area clear, the more likely you are to truly eradicate the stuff completely.

I’ve given up on raised beds in my garden and am going with raised rows instead: when the weeds come up along the edges of the raised beds, you can’t easily attack them with your weeding tool as the wood of the raised bed gets in the way, so the weeds take root and then you’ve lost that part of the battle. With raised rows, the edges of the rows just gradually fall into the paths between the beds – you can dig weeds out of the paths as well as the beds with the same ease, and walking on the paths compacts them and defines them in contrast to the raised piles of soil that form the beds themselves.

My research tells me that the most important thing with quack grass is to keep that clear perimeter: if you can keep one metre around your garden clear of the stuff, then it won’t poke up between your garden plants, and you can harvest carrots that don’t have stringy quack grass nodules growing through them like some kind of alien tentacle. I’m going to try growing potatoes in the perimeter: since you have to hill up the ground over the potatoes during the growing season, you’re weeding as you do that anyway – and apparently they can outcompete quack grass to some extent anyway. I’m sure I’ll have a few tubers with weird tentacles grown through them, but I can live with that.

So far, I’ve completed most of the tilling: about 800 of the 900 square feet of my garden has been cleared and is presently drying out in the sun and wind. Landscape fabric was the worst mistake I made: it didn’t work, as the roots of the quack grass had just grown right through it, and removing it was hard work as the soil on top was so heavy that lifting the fabric just caused it to tear and hacking through it with the mattock just resulted in tangles of fabric and roots. Ugh. I won’t make that mistake again. When there’s quack grass near your garden, you want a free hand to get down into the dirt and pull the stuff out – landscape fabric and raised bed borders just get in the way.

It does feel good to see so much clear brown dirt out there. With my new arched row covers that The Boy made me for Christmas, I can probably even plant a few cold tolerant things this week!

Once I get the garden cleared and re-fenced, I’m seriously considering housing some geese in a moat around the outer edge. They eat grass shoots, I hear…

11 May 2011

Aubertin, the tiny spinning wheel

Through the amazing Ravelry network, I am now honoured to be the caretaker/owner of Aubertin, a very small little wheel from France.

Here’s Aubertin at the start of his journey, in a backyard in France:

There is a LOT of shellac on this wheel. It took a lot of scrubbing with methyl hydrate to uncover the wood beneath – which is beautiful – and in the end, I gave up and left quite a bit of the shellac still there, as I was tired of scrubbing.

There were quite a few small repairs needed, which I knew when I got the wheel – the lady in France who found the wheel and shipped it here had my tiny budget in mind as she searched, and we both knew that with the bargain basement budget I had, repairs were going to be part of the project. That’s not a problem for me, I think they are part of the fun!

The mother of all was nailed in place, for starters, which would make tension adjustment impossible… and the nails were embedded right into the wood. Fortunately I was able to slip a hacksaw blade in the gap between the supports and the mother of all and cut it free, which was interesting. There were quite a few cracks and one large break that had to be glued and clamped to stabilize things, and another large break that needed wired together for better bracing and support. All that was fairly straightforward, though, and with a generous coat of tung oil after hours and hours of scrubbing off ancient shellac, the wheel is beautiful.

The little cup is for water – not for drinking, but for dipping your fingers in. This wheel would’ve been used to spin flax, and you need to wet your fingers periodically when spinning flax to smooth it down, so flax wheels often have a cup or a little dish to hold water. The tiny white nubbins on the wheel and decorating the ends of various sticky-outy-bits appear to be ivory – I’ll have to look closer, but when one of them popped out today,  the underside looked a whole lot like a tooth that’s fallen out, so I am leaning towards ivory rather than bone or antler, though any of those materials would be common.

And, despite the very rusty and wobbly flyer hooks, I was able to spin too! Super exciting. It treadles way more easily than I would have expected, and although it is a fragile little thing, it definitely was built to work. It’s not as odd as you might think having the orifice down so low – the angle of entry of fibre into the orifice of the wheel doesn’t really make much difference for most spinning (big bulky art yarns might be an exception), though modern wheels almost always have the orifice up near the level of your hands.

I used a blue drive band because blue seemed like a good French colour – I imagined an artistic gentleman walking to the cafĂ© on the corner for his morning croissant and lattĂ©, wearing a blue beret. You can see the  stamp of the maker’s name on the back bar – it says Aubertin, which is where the wheel gets it’s name. I have no idea who Aubertin was, or how old this wheel might be … I’ll see if I can find anything out. (Oh yeah, ignore my toes in that picture too … I didn’t notice they were in there until after I posted the image!)

The wheel is really, really, really tiny – tinier than you’d expect even from the pictures. Here is a group shot, just for perspective:

Before you ask, no, not all of those wheels are mine … although more of them are than I would’ve thought  possible a year ago. The great wheel is Grandma Shirley, then there’s Jacqueline the CPW sitting between another CPW and an upright castle wheel that are both being delivered to their new owners in a month or so, the little LIthuanian wheel, which lives here, and the Czech Republic wheel that is looking for a new home. That’s a lot of wheels, eh? Wow.

My next adventure will be to complete the refinishing of Grandma Shirley the great wheel: the verathane is mostly off but I need to sand it clean then finish with a coat of tung oil. I now have a minor’s head (no, it has nothing to do with the cranium of a very young kid nor one who digs coal for a living) and am anxious to learn the great wheel spinning dance.

07 May 2011

Another graduate of the Home for Wayward Wheels, ready to go out into the world!

One of the Czech Republic/Sudetenland (1930's era or thereabouts) lateral treadle wheels is now ready to go to a new home!

The wheel originally looked like this, when I rescued her from a garage attic:

This wheel is bobbin-lead, flyer-brake, and you sit at it side-on. You can treadle with either foot, left or right, though treadling with the right tends to keep your body offset nicely so that the yarn heads into the orifice cleanly. It's really nice to be able to see the yarn winding onto the bobbin as you spin, and the angle of entry to the orifice doesn't seem to do anything strange to the yarn.

An interesting feature of this wheel is the original sliding hook flyer. It required a bit of fiddling to figure out the best way to thread it - the way I have it pictured here seems to work well. Even cooler, Kromski bobbins fit on this wheel, meaning you don't have a one-bobbin problem! (although it only comes with one for starters, you can easily acquire more). The bobbins do need buffering to prevent chatter: I've included removeable plastic sleeves for the flyer rod that work quite nicely, and since they are removeable, you can switch the flyer end for end if you want to use the smaller whorl. If you intend to do that often, one of the stretchy drive bands would probably be a good idea - currently, the wheel has a wrapped cotton band in place.

Here's the wheel as a whole:

There's a 'sweet spot' for your foot: heel in the little circle, and treadle just on the down stroke. The wheel itself has awesome momentum, so do watch out for continued spin when you stop. I would suggest this wheel is ideal for spinning low twist yarns, or for someone who drafts fairly slowly and wants time to see what they are doing. Then again, I use a CPW most of the time, so my sense of 'normal drafting speed' is a little bit warped. :) Despite the weight, I think it'd be an excellent wheel for taking places because it's so sturdy - you wouldn't worry at all about it being damaged, and the flyer comes off easily so you could pop that in your spinning bag, haul the wheel to where you're going, and then sit down and spin. Okay, you aren't likely to want to take it on a plane or lug it too far across a parking lot, but for your average spin-in-public thing, it'd be very cool. Especially 'cause it's so unusual!

There are worm holes, but no worms (one advantage of being stored in a garage attic through several cold winters!). The verathane has been removed (ugh), and there are traces of green paint/preservative that refused to come off - I believe it is stuff that was used to prevent the worms from doing more damage. Several coats of Danish oil have been used to bring the wood back to life - the last coats were Watco Dark Walnut, but for future maintenance, plain tung oil or whatever wood oil (Woodbeams, Howards Feed ‘n’ Wax) that you normally use would be healthy. Of course if you have Watco in the house, a coat every so often will bring out the shine, but it's not necessary.

Asking $325 for this wheel: pickup anywhere in the Edmonton(ish) area is easy, as is delivery to Olds Fibre Week, or Calgary. I'll be happy to pack and ship - this wheel's quite sturdy, and I think it would probably survive a trip on the Greyhound/Canda Post without incident (well packaged, of course). If you want to estimate shipping, go to CanadaPost.ca and use a weight of say, 20 lbs, and dimensions of 22x18x36 - to southern Ontario, for instance (I happen to remember my Grandma's old postal code!), the postage is about $80. The wheel itself weighs about 15 lbs, and is approximately 20x16x34", so round up for packing materials etc.

Happy to answer any questions, as always!