Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winter gardening at 2700 feet

Winter gardening in the Canadian mountains? On the coast we had an actual, in the ground, protected by cloche, garden that produced kale, carrots and sometimes beets in January and February. Nothing really grew due to the low light levels, but you could harvest into the early Spring, when growth would resume. That was in a zone 7.

Here in my zone 3 mountains winter garden is either in the house or in a heated greenhouse by necessity. The greenhouse hasn't been built yet. So the winter gardening is limited to sprouts on the kitchen windowsill.

So here's a really simple, economical way to enjoy fresh sprouts in winter. Using a wide mouth pint or quart mason jar with a ring -- cut a piece of fiberglass window screen to fit over the mouth of the jar and into the lip of the ring. You now have a sprouting container.

Fill the container with 2 tbsp. of sprouting seeds (alfalfa, radish, fenugreek, mung bean, wheat etc.) I get mine from West Coast Seed but most bulk food and health food stores carry sprouting seed. Fill the container with warm water (never hot). Let soak for 4 hours and drain. Then rinse the seeds and drain every 8 hours over 4 to 6 days.

After 24 hours you will see the seeds begin to sprout. In 3 days the first leaves begin to form and by 4 to 5 days they are ready to eat. Start a new batch when the first batch is at 3 days and you will have a continuous supply of fresh sprouts all winter.

I get window screen to make handmade paper, and to use for silk fusion. It never wears out and can be successfully disinfected with bleach or vinegar to keep it fresh.

My West Coast seed catalogue had a new winter gardening concept -- micro plants. Much like sprouts but you use a small amount of soil and put the plants under a light -- or if you are further south, in a sunny window. Then you harvest the top leaves for eating. More work than sprouts but a higher yield per seed, too.

This is the time to start onions in the house, in my area, for transplanting out in May.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Planting Linen seed (Fiber Flax)

There is a discussion in the comments section of this blog on sources of linen seed -- Joybilee Farm offers three varieties of linen seed for sale in 250 gram bags ($10 CND) plus shipping. A 250 gram bag will plant a 10 x 10 plot for fine fiber production or a 20 x 20 plot if you are looking for coarser fiber and want to produce more seed -- for oil extraction or to increase your seed supply.

But there are two other sources of fiber flax seed for sale in North America. One is Richter's seed in Ontario. Richter's sells "Evelin". I have grown this variety in my CND climate zone 3 and it performed well for me, producing 3 foot stalks in 100 days and adequate seed production to grow for a second season.

Another source, sent to me by Linda Heinrich, is the Landis Valley Museum, heritage seed project. They carry "Marylin" from Holland. Linda is the author of "The Magic of Linen" which is revised and due to be reissued this Spring. Looking forward to seeing the new edition with extensive revisions on the linen industry today.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rigid Heddle weaving with handspun linen


Linen is not the easiest yarn to weave with. It lacks elasticity, is sensitive to room humidity, and doesn't have any memory. It is also very absorbent and a plant fiber that we can grow in Canada (no way will cotton grow here, outside of some very tender care and a green house). So its worth learning some easy special techniques to deal with linen's idiosyncrasies.

First spinning linen isn't too difficult. Some tips to remember:
It has a longer staple length than most other fibers so you need to keep your hands farther apart when spinning -- that may mean 15 to 20 inches or more.

Linen should be wet spun for a smooth yarn. I have a small 2 inch pottery vase that hangs on my Ashford Joy wheel's threading hook, suspended by a crocheted linen bag. Its easy to slip my fingers into the top of the vase to moisten them while spinning.

Linen can be controlled without using a distaff by wrapping the bundle of combed fiber in a towel and taking only a few fibers at a time into the drafting triangle.

You will use a different draw than when spinning wool, feeding in only a few plant fibers at a time for a fine yarn. Keep the twist out of the fiber supply, dampen your fingers and smooth the twist into the fibers. The twist will grab more fibers from the fiber supply as you go and the yarn will stay even. If it seems too thick, take less fibers into the drafting triangle. Linen needs less twist than wool to hold it together but twist gives the thread body and strength.

Don't try to break your handspun linen yarn with your hands. Cut it with scissors. You will be surprised at how very strong it is.

Traditionally linen singles were spun counter clockwise to take advantage of the way the plant grows naturally. But if you've started spinning clockwise it won't matter. Different affects can be achieved by combining z and s spun yarns in the finished cloth.

Linen traditionally was woven as a singles in both warp and weft. You can ply it though, if you feel more secure using a plied yarn. Yarn intended for knitting should be plied.

After spinning it is important to thoroughly wash the thread to get rid of any left over pectins and then dry it thoroughly before warping your loom. I abused my handspun linen yarn by wacking the yarn against a table many times while it was drying. This softens it up considerably and make it easier to work with.

I don't have much experience weaving with linen so I am learning as I go. I am weaving my linen into washcloths on the Ashford knitters loom. I warped the loom with 2ply handspun linen (17 wpi) for 6 feet of warp, 8 inches wide, using the 7.5 heddle. You can use a finer heddle if you want a thicker washcloth or if your yarn is finer.

The linen was a bit finicky to work with.

The tension was difficult to maintain when the shed was open. The bottom threads would get very loose while the top threads were tight. A spritz over the warp, with a spray of warm water had a miraculous effect in keeping the tension just right.

To add interest and a bit more bulk to the washcloth I picked up loops with a knitting needle every 6th pick, making a loopy texture on the surface of the cloth. The loops tend to drop through to the other side, too, putting the texture on both sides.

The rigid heddle is a bit abrasive on the warp threads, so if you want to try this with a singles yarn you may want to treat the warp with flax jelly before you weave. Threads that begin to abraid can be reinforced with flax jelly, as well.

Flax jelly: 2 tbsp whole flax seed and 1 cup of boiling water, boil together until mixture is thick. Strain and allow to cool before brushing on your warp. Allow to dry before weaving.

The last step is washing the cloth to wet finish it and then pressing with an iron on the smooth side. Mine is still on the loom so I'll let you know how it worked when its finished.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Website Update


I've been working on the website updates this week. My eyes go wonky working at the computer for more than 2 hours at a time.

But the website now has linked pages to Our virtual linen demonstration gardens and for the first time we have fiber flax seed for sale -- 3 European varieties available. I'm thrilled about that.

When I first wanted to grow flax I had a very difficult time finding linen flax seed in North America. I ordered from Richters Herbs, only to be told that they were "sold out". Then managed to order earlier the next year and got some, which grew fine in my climate -- Canadian zone 3 with summer frost and hail.

But now we have fiber flax seed available -- 3 varieties -- so everyone who wants to try growing there own local fashion can -- shirts, towels, table linens, hats, bedding, skirts, pants -- what an inspiring experience within the flax seed.

I have some woad blue and natural linen tea towels in the works -- the handspun, woad dyed linen thread is hanging in the studio as an inspiration, waiting for the flax break to be repaired (it broke at the Rock Creek Fair in September). But it will be done in early Spring and the flax breaking and spinning will resume. If you visit Joybilee Farm in the summer, you may find me weaving the towels.

The 3rd Annual Linen Festival at Joybilee Farm takes place on August 7th, 2010. Mark your calendars now, so you won't miss it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Raining in January

Yes, its true. Its actually raining this week in the mountains. Well, I can see the snow line from my kitchen window and there is snow all over the ground, with a very slick, icy smooth surface. The driveway is a slick, thick ice rink -- all down hill -- or up hill, depending on your perspective.
(Its ideal avalanche creating conditions. Be careful in the back country this winter!)

Not my idea of the best weather for the last day of this trip around the sun.

Tomorrow is a workshop on Cultural Tourism in Grand Forks that we are attending. Its part of a group of workshops that Community Futures Boundary has put on since the Forestry industry collapsed in the area two years ago. The mill has been back up and running since November but the community is still feeling the depression. Anyway, the workshop is all day and not my idea of the best way to spend my birthday -- especially having to drive over the summit in the rain/ice/slush/snow/fog to get there and then home again after dark.

Sometimes I'd just like to sit by the fire and spin or knit -- drink tea and listen to an audio book, with a pot of soup simmering on the wood stove and bread smells coming from the wood oven. And everybody happy -- no fighting, no arguing with the teenagers for a whole day. That would be my ideal birthday -- but it aint gonna happen so I'll suck it up and be happy with the day that is given to me. You see, I'm planning ahead.

And on Thursday its back to work -- I'm planning a complete overhaul of the website -- removing products that we don't want to make anymore, adding the new products, updating the links and contact information -- maybe even a fresh look. And I have two custom orders to finish in the next week.

Then on to working through the back log of mohair, angora and wool fleeces in our mill...plucking angora bunnies...and warping the looms -- one for mohair throws and the other for origami bags. Then on to the rugs, while Robin does the year end financial reports and inventory and then starts to make soap for the new season.

Spring doesn't come until May this year with our first lambs and kids due at the beginning of the month -- quite a bit later than usual. But at least the grass will be ready for the nursing mothers.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Learning to cook on a woodstove

The wood cook stove was inspected in November and we've been using it for most of our cooking since then. Its not as easy as I imagined it to be.

Here at Joybilee Farm most of the available wood is spruce or pine. Unfortunately, its green and when it burns it smokes and doesn't give off enough heat to cook by (or even heat the room). In order to cook I need to fill the fire box with dry larch, or maple, or birch. But of course, we didn't realize that when we were filling the woodshed in September. So we have no maple or birch and very little larch. That explains why the little wood heater in the studio doesn't give off much heat -- its the green spruce we've been burning. Duh!

New Lesson learned: Prepare for winter with larch, and birch -- forget the pine and spruce as it doesn't heat the house.

Baking or roasting on the cook stove has its own learning curve. Unlike the electric stove, where you just set the control and the timer and walk away, the wood stove must be fed during the cooking time (did i mention the larch?). And fed carefully so that it doesn't over heat (Did I mention that toast can get quite black and set off the smoke alarms in 30 seconds when the oven is at 600C). But the cookstove will boil coffee and make toast in a power outage -- of which there has already been one in 2010--so there are advantages.

And when everything is working as it should the wood cookstove is shear magic -- meat is roasted tenderly with a dry heat that enhances the flavour. Bread has a toasty, crisp crust and soft tender crumb. And the warm joy that fills the house with the stove at its peak performance beats the january cold. If we could only get some dry larch.

And the stove has a water resevoir that keeps water at 90C for tea or washing, so no more need to radiate water for a cuppa now and then. In fact we have plans to remove the microwave and its radiation from our home this winter.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Handmade gifts -- Something I forgot to mention


There is the risk when giving something handmade to someone, that your gift may be cast off as trash. Hopefully the recipient of the gift has enough good manners not to let you know that they plan to regift it, use it as a trash recepticle or fire starter. But if not, you may face the severe negative emotions of rejection.

Pop psychology says that you have a choice in your reaction when this happens. You don't have to feel hurt, rejected, depressed or suicidal, when the object that you invested yourself, your time, creativity and resources in is re gifted, cast off or disdained. (They don't know much about human nature, do they!)

On the other hand, the Material world view (aka. Carl Rogers and Abe Maslow) says that your reaction is programmed into your psychy and you have no choices and no free will. That free will is an illusion. Your highest end is to self actualize so if other people are getting in the way, triggering negative emotions by rejecting your gifts, you should remove the offending object from your life and continue in your quest to meet your highest good -- develop your full potential. Lots of divorces have been caused by this kind of thinking, while lots of selfish people are self absorbed in self actualization.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, demands that you love those who hate you and pray for those who despitefully use you. And that although your natural inclination is to withdraw and protect yourself from future hurt, your duty is to continue to love and give, without thinking of yourself. This is a high ideal, but impossible without some supernatural help, since we are born sinful, and selfish, as every mother of a two year old can confirm.

My view is that when you buy a gift for someone you are only giving them money. A person can always make more money, so giving a money gift is just an exchange of goods. Pretty safe and rejection free for the giver and the receiver's response to the gift doesn't matter. The obligation to give a gift in exchange for a gift received, has been met. End of story.

But when you give a handmade gift it is costing you not just money, although that is involved, too, but also your time and all your talents and skills that you've honed over the decades of your life. So when that gift is rejected or regifted it is very personal. You can never make the time that you invested back. Once time is spent its gone forever.

The rejection of a handmade gift is the rejection of the person who gave it. The rejection felt is proportional to the importance of the person to whom the gift was created for, in the giver's life. And if that person was a close family member, the giver must be a very strong person not be feel crushed beyond hope.

In December, I shared with you that our family tradition is to give handmade gifts. But I failed to warn you of the possibility that your gift might be received with disdain and rejection. I'm sorry if I led you down the wrong path, and feel personally responsible for your hurt if your gift was rejected. I should have added that it is very important that you choose the recipient of your handmade gift carefully.

Those who would disdain a quality, handmade gift, created with skill and love, aren't worthy of your priceless time. That's who gift cards were created for.