27 January 2012

I did it. I really, really did it.


Those are my hands, holding the book that I wrote.

It’s got my name on the front.


It’s got my words inside, and the patterns I designed, and the pictures I took of the things I knit from those patterns.


I did it.


I published a book.



22 January 2012

Apparently I needed to start some new projects

Two pair of Mrs. Beeton fingerless gloves, made from the leftover Fleece Artist yarn (used to make the Home Safe Home pillow)


I only meant to make one pair, but see, after I finished the first pair I realized that I’d made long ruffles on one and short ruffles on the other (in fact, each glove should have one long and one short, but that’s another issue entirely). So I had to make another pair just like the first, and then switch them about so that there were two matching sets. The angora and sock yarn combo is absolutely delightful, though, I have to say. What a great pattern for a little bit of leftover luxury yarn!

Speaking of luxury yarn, this is a hat (well, it will be, it’s about half done) in a mix of angora, silk, and bamboo. Oh yeah, it’s soft.


This is modified from a very old Paton’s pattern from a booklet my aunt sent to me. It didn’t need a lot of changes, just modified to work in the round instead of flat and seamed, and I’m doing some different things with the yarns involved to make some interesting patterning in the fabric.

Today, in the mood for something a little larger but still easy to work on, I have started designing a side-to-side sweater. I think I’ll call this one Lateral Thinking:


Sleeve one underway: seed stitch cuff, linen stitch knitting, side to side construction. Should be interesting to see how it turns out.

Yes, the pattern books are all there because I have been having a lot of different inspirations for knits … which means I go digging about for more inspiration, take copious (sometimes only half comprehensible) notes, and occasionally try something out. Sometimes the notes sit for a bit, and I come back to them later … sometimes the pattern ends up not working, or it morphs into something completely different than I’d originally intended.

Ah well, I need a stash of ideas for the second book, now, don’t I?

17 January 2012

Grow garlic on your windowsill without dirt

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When I set up my hydroponic WindowFarm, I bought a great big bag of something called Hydroton. It looks like fifty litres of Chocolate Covered Sugar Bombs, but really they are clay marbles, more or less, manufactured with a special process that makes them hold water and nutrients but still allow plants got get lots of air.
You see, plants drink lots of water and nutrients through their roots, but the roots also need to be exposed to air or the plant will suffocate and die. This mix of water and air is essential to plant health. Hydroton neatly solves this problem – and, it solves one of my problems, too. This stuff is easy to pick up if you spill some on the floor, unlike potting soil. (I’m a bit clumsy, so this is a bigger advantage than you might expect.)
Thanks to the kind and wonderful Ev, I have a little bag of garlic that I intended to plant in the fall, but didn’t manage to get in the ground before the snow came. When I stood there, staring at this giant bag of hydroton and wondering what I could possibly plant in it that would grow right now, I remembered I had garlic. Wonder if it would grow in this stuff?
So, I filled a pickle jar with hydroton, stuck a clove of garlic in there, green tip up, and put more hydroton around it to hold it upright. Poured in water about halfway up the side of the garlic and waited.
Look what happened in just a few days!
See those roots, reaching into the spaces between the clay marbles? Cool, eh?
I should technically have this covered up so that algae doesn’t grow in the water, but it’s too much fun to watch the roots do their thing. I’ll probably get organized and make a jar cover (which would be prettier anyway) at some point, but there’s no algae yet. I can probably speed the growth by adding some of the hydroponic nutrients (liquid fertilizer) but for now I’m waiting to see what water alone will do. Between evaporation and the garlic drinking the water, I’ve had to top it up a couple of times already, but the  nice thing about hydroton is that it buffers the plant from water stress. If I forget and the water level gets low, the plant has some reserves of water stashed in the clay and can get to that until I clue in. When I do top it up, I just fill the jar until I’ve covered all but the top part of the root system – I want it to be able to breathe, so it doesn’t get filled right to the top.
I do have another pot in a different window that uses a wick: this is what people usually call a ‘self watering pot’, which is, of course, a misnomer as they don’t walk themselves to the tap every time they need a drink. A wick pot is really simple: just take your average pot-with-holes-in-the-bottom and tear a strip or two of rags from something, probably cotton or something else that gets good and soggy when wet, about half the height of your pot plus a couple of inches. Stuff the wick through the hole in the bottom leaving an inch or two dangling out (if it’s a big pot use two or three wicks) and then put in a bit of not-dirt (perlite/vermiculite/peat moss mix, the soilless mix you can get in bags at the store).
(Yeah, I spill this stuff every time. Get a broom, you’ll probably need it too.)
Pull the wicks up a little bit so that they reach at least halfway into the pot, then fill the pot the rest of the way with your soilless mix and add your plant (garlic works great!). Now set your pot on an inverted canning jar ring (or some other device to raise it up a bit while allowing the wicks to dangle through) in the bottom of a bowl. I have a few cereal bowls with chipped edges, so I’ve repurposed them as pot saucers for my wick pots, which are just regular garden centre plastic pots, nothing special, but the bowl improves the overall appearance quite a bit.
Pour water into the bowl so that it just comes to the bottom of your pot (but doesn’t soak it, you don’t want it always sitting in water). Now, thanks to the wonder of capillary action, water will move up the wick and into the soil at just the right pace for the plant. The perlite/vermiculite in the mix help keep the soil aerated and the peat moss helps the moisture move throughout the whole pot (hydroton is great for holding moisture, but doesn’t wick it up from the pot very well, so you can’t use it for this kind of thing). All you have to do is put water in the bowl whenever it gets dry, and not soak your plant, although the first time you water the plant you should also water from the top to make sure all the soil has been dampened, that helps kick start things.
Technically, both of these processes fall under the category of passive hydroponics. If you live in a cold climate, have nowhere to garden, love growing things but hate spilling dirt on your floor … maybe give this a try. It’s pretty easy.
Plus, how could anyone not be thrilled to be growing garlic in January when it’s –40 outside?

15 January 2012


The final draft is done and has been submitted to the printer!


We are on track for the official release date of February 14, 2012 …


In case you are curious, the cover image is a shot of the final project in the book – the Lighthouse Shawl. I designed it, knit it (all bazillion stitches of the thing), photographed it, and then used it as the background for the cover design which I worked up in GIMP – thanks to the help of The Boy who showed me this cool (free) software.

10 January 2012

Final Edits


It doesn’t matter how many times you go over the manuscript on the computer, the last round of edits just have to be done on paper.

Having accidentally discovered the Staples Online Print Centre, I was able to upload the files from the comfort of my kitchen table late at night, then pick up colour copies of the cover proofs and a coil bound copy of the text when I went to town for getting groceries and chicken feed. It’s funny the things you notice on a hard copy that you just don’t see on the screen: parts of the image where the resolution wasn’t right, bits of wording that just don’t flow correctly even though they seemed fine a day ago, fonts that don’t match.

So, my trusty mechanical pencil and cylindrical eraser and I are working on the final round of edits. I talked to the printer today, and, God willing and the creek don’t rise, the book should be available right on schedule: on February 14, 2012 … the day that would’ve been Jessica’s seventeenth birthday.

We’re almost there.

05 January 2012

Windowfarms: grow food all year

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There are some really cool ideas for growing food indoors at the Windowfarms website. The basic idea is to take a series of pots (frequently built from pop bottles or other repurposed containers) and suspend them, one above the other, in a window, then use a drip irrigation system to run hydroponic nutrient fluid through the pots to feed the plants. Voila: your downtown apartment now has a garden in the window!

This is indeed a very cool idea. I have a really (really) big front window that is just begging to have some plants in it: it faces south, gets full sun all day, and is behind the couch so if there were plants there they wouldn’t be in anybody’s way and would add some nice visual interest to the room. Plus, I love growing things. And I love eating fresh salad. And I have the gardening bug worse than usual this year.
So … I set about designing a windowfarm that would work in our house. First of all, no pop bottles. It needs to be pretty enough to look at regularly and not upset the rest of the household with my weird experiments. The Widowfarms kits are lovely, but pricey, and anyway, I have room for a lot of plants - the window is seven feet wide. I did a lot of research into hydroponics setups and found that a series of troughs set one above the other with each trough on a slight incline is pretty common: you put water in the top and it runs down each channel into the next and ends up in a reservoir at the bottom, kind of like a marble-run.
Aren’t these gorgeous? They are from a company in California, Vertical Earth Gardens.

So, after several nights lying awake and pondering options, I decided to make a trip to the store and see what I could find that would work.
I was going to use PVC piping, like the Vertical Earth Garden, but the first store was out of the size I needed and the next place had the pipe, but didn’t have enough end caps. Then I remembered that some people use vinyl window gutters instead, so I headed to the lumber aisle and found those. Same price as the PVC, even with the end caps – and this way I wouldn’t have to cut any holes and I would be able to easily clean the troughs when the time comes. The nice man cut the 10’ lengths in half for me, so I had enough materials to build four troughs.
I also picked up two metal shelf supports to mount in the space between the window panes: I needed something to hang the troughs on, and though I intended to use the little shelf support things that come with the metal rail, they are too wide for my purposes. I found a different solution, which I will explain below.
Next there is the water: most hydroponics setups use a pump to get the water from the reservoir at the bottom back up to the top to make another run. These are usually put on a timer, and depending on the plants you are growing, how big and thirsty they are, and the type of growing medium you have them sitting in, you run the water through the system anywhere from constantly (as is done in the nutrient film technique) to once or twice a day (as you would with an ebb and flow system). Well, I don’t want a pump going all the time, so NFT is out. Due to the fact that we have a farm and animals, someone is here every day anyhow, so a manual system (perhaps with a pump for backup in case of long absences) is workable … and affordable. So, gravity feed is our starting assumption, and the growing medium needs to be selected to provide reasonable water retention while not drowning the plant roots. I found a hydroponics shop in the city and made a trip there to pick up some Hydroton growing medium: a big bag of clay marbles, basically. They hold water and nutrients while allowing air to get to the roots. I also got some rockwool cubes to start the seedlings in, though I will probably use peat pellets later on. Rockwool is a really good starter medium as it also holds water, air and nutrients really well, but the spaces between the rockwool threads are very tiny, so the little seedlings can get a good start. Once they have roots sticking out of the cubes they can be nestled in among the Hydroton pellets but for starters, the seedlings need a bit more coddling.
Okay, I had my supplies and it was time to start the construction. The troughs had to be put together by attaching the end caps to each end of the gutter and sealing with silicone, and then drains added by drilling a hole in the bottom of one end and fixing a piece of tubing in place with more silicone.

At the upper left of the window is the top reservoir, where the nutrient solution (water with fertilizer in it: for starters I bought stuff from the hydroponics store, but come summer I will brew up my own with compost tea – I am not doing that now, as it would stink up the house to brew it indoors and it’ll freeze outside!). The reservoir is a black plastic jug that held protein powder, suspended on a curtain rod hanger mounted inside the window frame. In the bottom of the jug is the business end of an IV drip set: there are some advantages to living in the same household as an EMT when it comes to drip irrigation systems! Right now the tube is dripping into the bottom plant tray, because the top two trays are empty of plants.

The troughs are supported by loops of metal cut from an old venetian blind wired to the shelf brackets. By adjusting the length of the loops a bit of an angle can be created so that the water will drain down and do the marble-run thing.

Until the seedlings get roots long enough to reach the bottom of the tray I will need to give them a bit of water through the top of each pot. The hydroton will wick some of the water from the tray, but it’s not a very deep stream of water and they may get thirsty without some help. There are only three seedlings so far, so it’s easy enough to help them out.
The other seedlings are in their rockwool cubes in a turkey roasting pan that the Reluctant Farmer got for me at the grocery store, on sale for $1.90, complete with plastic lid! It’s the perfect seedling greenhouse, and because the tray is metal, I can set it on top of my gas stove where the pilot lights give off just a bit of warmth. Once those seedlings are established and have roots sticking out of the cubes, they can be nestled in the trays as well, and then we’ll start the water flowing from the top and doing the full marble-run routine.
The system’s been well flushed now, and I think it’s time to mix up the first batch of nutrient solution and feed those little pea seedlings. Then it’s time to get back to knitting … there’s a book deadline coming up!