Friday, April 30, 2010

Sarah's woad seed for sale

Sarah does have woad seed for sale.  There are two strains of woad available.  "Birmingham" is the strain grown in the UK.  This has been grown out for 3 years in Canadian Climate zone 3 and is selected for increased indigo production and yields indigo in marginal climate.  Its leaves give pink, after the indigo has been expended.  There are only a few packages of Birmingham left from 2009's seed harvest.

The other variety that Sarah has is "Toulouse".  This is the strain grown in Toulouse, France in the Bleu de LeToure project.  It has been grown for 2 years in Canadian Climate zone 3 and is selected for increased indigo produciton and yields indigo in marginal climate.  Its leaves give beige, and yellow after the indigo has been expended.

A package of seed contains approx. 50 siloquated seeds and is $5.00, including shipping.  

We have not yet planted our 2010 woad plants so there's still time to get your plants in.  And you can now download the extraction instructions directly from the website in a pdf file.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Woad to a Sustainable Blue -- The Project

The homeschool student is still working on the woad project -- Phase 5 this year. In Phase 4 she tested her hand hybridized woad strain for indigo yield in our Canadian zone 3 climate. She is getting better indigo yields than the commercial woad production in Europe with a higher purity.

Last Spring, the student won two silver medals at the National Science Fair in Winnipeg, coming in second to the platinum medal intermediate project. However, due to the nature of regional science fair competitions run by public school teachers, the homeschooled student decided not to compete at the regional science fair this year. Instead she is quietly continuing to work on her results, improving her indigo yields and her growing and extracting methods in the hopes of publishing her findings in a book, for the benefit of the fiber arts community.

This week she harvested the leaves from 3 year old woad plants -- before pulling them out of the garden. The 3 year old leaves yielded a nice sky blue colour at 1 kg. of leaves per 100 grams of wool/mohair yarn. Not bad for a biennial that only yields blue in the first year leaves!

Two significant figures in woad research passed away in the last 12 months -- John Edmonds, (The History of Woad and the Medieval Woad Vat) and  Henri Lambert from Toulouse's Bleu deLectoure.  Will the next generation take up the quest on the Woad to a Sustainable Blue?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homestead Music -- Pacabel's Canon in D

We do a lot of music making, here at Joybilee Farm. And one of the pieces we've worked on is Pacabel's Canon in D. Here's a comic rendition by Pagagnini.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day at Joybilee Farm

This is Paco practicing his back flips and David watching.
  Our WWOOFers taking a break from the work at Joybilee Farm.

Making a difference.  We approach Earth Day differently than most -- In our world view, the Earth is to be cared for because it is God's creation and exhibits God's message to mankind --  Job 12:7-9  "Ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.  Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?"

This is our motivation for caring for the earth, reducing our consumption of plastics, chemicals and limiting our "carbon footprint", being kind to the wild creatures and domestic animals that dwell here with us at Joybilee Farm.  This is our impetus to share our knowledge about ecological farming through the WWOOF program.  This is also our motivation for using natural dyes. 

The colours that are inherent in natural dye plants are unlike chemical colours -- they exhibit complex hues rather than a single colour molecule and have stood the test of centuries of time.  When I see natural dye colours it reminds me of providential grace.

Today we head to the Grand Forks Art Gallery to demonstrate the fiberarts to groups of school children that will be coming through for Arts and Culture week.  We will make felted bracelets with them, and introduce them to the wonders of wool and natural dyes.  The Weaver guild has set up a loom, which we will also demonstrate to the kids.  And we'll have a few drop spindles to show how wool fibers are made into yarn.

In the studio, today the madder dyed yarn is a brick red colour (day 5)-- not really as vibrant as the flash picture shows.

Yesterday, Sarah did a woad vat using the Spring leaves from 3rd year Isatis tinctoria plants at a ratio of 10:1 leaves to fiber.  The colour is a sky blue, after a rinse in vinegar.  It seems like a lot of leaves for a very small amount of colour, but since woad plants are biennial its quite astounding to be getting any blue at all from 3rd year plants.  We've had about 5 days of warm Spring weather and the snow is gone -- so we'll be pulling up all the woad plants that we don't want to go to seed.  These are the leaves that we will dye with over the next two weeks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Joybilee Farm studio

The studio is almost organized.  I still have to hang the naturally dyed silk scarves and organize the yarn into colors.  But here's what it looks like so far.

The ajraks add an inspiring feeling of the high potential of natural dyes.

Madder in the pot

Here's the madder in the pot on the wood stove.  I heat the pot in the morning to about 120F and then take it off the stove and let it sit for 24 hours.  The madder is in a bag in the pot with the yarn and every time I walk past I squeeze the bag.  Our water is full of calcium, magnesium and other minerals.  It is pH 7.  It should give good reds but I only seem to get burnt orange.  This morning I added calcium carbonate (chalk) to the vat.  This is day 5.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More about Ajraks and Natural Dyes

Jenny Dean posted a detailed description of how Ajraks are created on her blog today.  Well worth the look, especially of the beautiful double sided Ajraks in her own private collection. 

Jenny Dean is the author of "Wild Colour" -- a great resource for natural dyers, and newly re-released.

In my own studio, I have a vat of madder on the wood stove, gently warming.  Madder changes from reds to browns if it is overheated.  It seems to need a long time to adhere to the yarn.  I have a bag of the madder in the pot, and the yarn beside it.  This is day number four and the yarn is a dark, pumpkin orange.  Each morning I warm the pot and then let it sit off of the heat.  I squeeze the madder bag every time I walk past the vat and the yarn absorbs the madder an hour later.

My other job for the day is to get the fiberarts studio ready for the opening on May 1st.   The inside studio looks great but the outside needs some work.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amazing Ajrak Table Cloths dyed with Natural Dyes

Maiwa in Vancouver just got in a shipload of the most amazing Ajraks from India, dyed with natural dyes on certified organic cotton.  I got their blog post on it on Thursday morning, and since Robin and Sarah were going to the coast on Thursday afternoon to see Robin's brother John, I called the store on Granville Island and asked the young woman there to set aside some Ajrak table cloths for Robin to choose from.  They were still unloading boxes of Ajraks at the Maiwa East store when Robin visited on Friday afternoon.

Robin brought home 4 absolutely beautiful Ajrak table clothes (60 x 90 inches) to use for the studio display.  Two are dark indigo blue and madder red and two are paler medium indigo with a yellow -- probably myrobolan or maybe pomegranate rinds -- for a green shade.  The Ajrak is a traditional Indian cloth that is block printed with natural dyes.  There is a long tradition and lots of skill behind each cloth -- in the carving of the printing block sets, the stamping of the cloth with resists, and the natural dyeing.  My table clothes are one sided but there is a masterpiece that is a double sided Ajrak on display for the discriminating collector at $999.

The Ajraks are made by a village of Muslims in the kutch desert and their designs reflect the mosaic patterns of the muslim culture -- precise and mathematical and aesthetically pleasing.  Done in natural dyes they exhibit a depth of shade and tonal colour that is amazing.  I treasure the 4 table cloths that Robin brought home for our studio.  They will be an inspiration for my own natural dye work.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Septic Saga continued

The septic was pumped yesterday.  It didn't need it.  The technician said we could have gone a couple more years and it looked healthy.  But the water in the drainage field remained.  Total cost: $250.

It seems that the problem was that our drainage field was half frozen, due to the time of year.  So instead of a 50 foot field we had a 25 foot field that was unable to handle the extra people on the system over the weekend.

But the field may have failed eventually due to the roots around the field, so we now have to dig up the entire drainage area, till out the grass roots and add a few extra feet of soil over the surface to decrease the depth of freeze.  It will take several hundred manhours to accomplish and lambing starts in two weeks.

The septic guy also recommended flushing pure nitrogen fertilizer into the drainage pipes to burn out any roots that have gotten into the system.  Not exactly an organic solution is it?  We'll have to plant a garden over the field to absorb the excess Nitrogen so that it doesn't drift into the aquifer.

And since we have had the tank pumped prematurely, we have about 2 weeks to complete all the work before the tank fills up with water, that has no place to go.

The good news is that there was no effluent in the drainage field.  And the problem seems to be with the volume of water that went through the system last weekend.

So we are doing maintenance on the septic field that would have eventually needed to be done -- Maybe.  But now we have a deadline which we didn't need at this time of year.  Thankfully, we have 3 great WWOOFers here to help with the chore.  God sees the end from the beginning and had things in place to help us, before we even asked Him for help.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Country Life -- Septic system failures

We had 10 people staying here last weekend.  That's 10 people taking showers, using the toilets, doing laundry and eating (think washing dishes and dumping water). Add to that 3 loads of towels and a load of sheets through the washer and Monday morning the septic system failed.  It can't handle anymore water going down the drain.  There is a puddle in the drainage field.

People who live in the city may not realize that when you live in the country you are responsible for your own waste.  No one is going to take it away for you.  And when you visit someone in the country they become responsible for your waste, too.

A septic system is a finely balanced eco-system with just the right amount of bacterial action to handle the usual waste products of a household.  Double or triple the number of people on a septic system in a short time -- say a weekend -- and the whole system will fail.  As ours did on Monday.

The solution is to have it pumped and then try to restart the bacterial action.  And hope that the drainage field was not compromised.  If it was, its several thousand dollars to have it excavated and retiled.

But being in the country it takes several days to get someone to come out and check it out -- and you pay mileage from when they leave home. It much easier to ensure that it doesn't fail by limiting water useage.  There's a laundry mat in town, afterall.

Well, now that it has failed we need to trouble shoot what went wrong.  I found a great website with a chapter from The Septic System Owner's Manual  online.  It tells me that the problem is with the drainage from the septic tank. 

So 4 guys spent a whole day removing weeds and grass and some small trees from around the septic drainage field so that they could dig out the drainage pipes and have a closer look.  We found the distribution box, where the water was seeping up to the ground level.  It is not compromised, so the problem is with the pipes going out of the box.  Or just plain, too much water through the system.

Next we will check for roots and debris in the pipelines.  And clean up the drainage field of roots, take down the trees that surround the drainage field and maybe replace some pipes.  It will be several work days to get it fixed up.  And hopefully that will solve the problem. 

The alternative is hiring a septic engineer and designing a brand new septic field that can handle the higher levels of water that guests create.

Maybe we should just build an outhouse.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Preparing Fleece for Spinning

Spring shearing at Joybilee Farm takes place tomorrow.  In anticipation we have kept the goats and sheep in the barn to keep them dry during this weeks snow and rain.  And we prayed for dry weather.  Yesterday, the Lord sent a heavy wind to drive the clouds else where.  The 4 day forecast of rain and snow changed in the afternoon to clear weather.  Yes!  Sheep should be dry when sheared.  If your sheep are wet -- don't shear them if you want to save the fleece.  A wet fleece will rot in storage and could spontaneously combust.

The first step in fleece preparation is getting the fleece off of the sheep.  This is the most important part because how the fleece is sheared makes the difference in a highly desireable fleece and a fleece that is ready for garden mulch.  You will want extra help to make the day go smoothly -- someone to sort the fleece, someone to roll the fleece and bring it to the sorting table, someone to bring the sheep to the shearer and sweep the board between sheep.  So a minimum of 3 extra people plus the shearer is good. 

The fleece should be shorn without second cuts -  that's when the shearer goes over the same area of the animal twice, cutting the lock in half and making extra bits of wool on the second pass.  If your shearer does this consistently, explain that you are planning to spin the wool into yarn.  If he says it can't be helped -- find another shearer.  Cutting the lock in half perhaps can't be helped, but the second pass that results in second cuts can be avoided.

The next step is fleece sorting.  The board on which the fleece is sheared should be swept clean between each animal to ensure that each fleece is laid on a clean board.  Then the fleece should be rolled up in a neat package to be taken to the sorting table.  Don't package the fleece with the dags, but rather sort it right at shearing time.

To roll the fleece, tuck in each side into the middle and roll from neck or tail end, as if you were rolling a sleeping bag.  Unroll on the sorting table, cut side down.  This will allow any second cuts to drop through the mesh on the sorting table.  (Even a very good shearer may leave a few second cuts.)

The next step is skirting the fleece.  To do this walk around the fleece pulling off belly wool, neck wool and manure soiled edges.  Be ruthless.  I also remove the shoulder wool that is contaminated with hay bits and grass seeds.  A 10 lb. fleece will be reduced to 5 or 6 lbs. after the skirting.  The contaminated wool can be used in garden mulch or to line plant pots.  Its rich in nitrogen and holds in moisture.

Once the fleece is skirted, I bounce the wire mesh of the sorting table a few times to get rid of excess dust and dirt.  Then fold the edges into the middle and roll it up from one side.  Bag it, label it with the name of the sheep, weigh it and its ready for your next project.

Next time I'll talk about how to wash the fleece to get it ready for spinning.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Workshop with Photographer, Jason Coleman

"Using your digital camera to photograph your work" with Jason Coleman.

Get the most from your digital camera and learn how to best photograph your artisan work for websites and portfolios, at this workshop with Jason Coleman, professional art and fashion photographer.

Friday April 14 7 to 9 pm at the Grand Forks Art Gallery
Grand Forks, B.C.

Members of the Boundary Artisan Association and their spouses $15 per person. Nonmembers, $25. Call Chris at 250 445 9907, to reserve your spot.