Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Garden Update

I promised y'all an update on the winter garden.  I am a woman of my word.

So far so good. Last night got down to 20, the night before the temp was 18. Everything in the little hoop houses is still growing. This morning I found a little green caterpillar in the lettuces. If that little guy can survive then the concept is working.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spread the Word...Ambrose Farm needs your help!

This story is shocking to say the least. Here's the scenario...a wealthy former nascar driver builds himself a home in the country. Then he decides that the farm next door is just too noisy and too messy for his liking. The farm was there when he moved in. You can't miss it, it's that big green and brown thing next door. So he files a lawsuit to shut down the farm, which is a U-Pick/CSA local food producer that's been in operation 35 years.

If you are a locavore, a foodie, or you just like to eat, please spread the word on this outrage. If Irvin wins all the farms in this area will have to cease operations. Presumably so more wealthy people can build McMansions where the U-Pick used to be.

You can see I'm upset so I apologize if my words are too harsh. Here's the Facebook group that's been formed to muster support.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Winter Garden? AKA Itching To Plant

Winter has finally arrived here in my little goober town. There was a heavy frost last night and lows in the 20s are expected through the next 3 days.
Winter is always a hard time for me. I have little extended family left. My mother, my grandmother, my only aunt and all my great aunts and uncles are gone now so the family rituals are hard to maintain with just the kid and me. Winter is also the time when I don't get to play in the dirt.
Maybe staying indoors deprives me of Vitamin D from the sun but I hate being cooped up in the house. I search the web for more seed suppliers, researching veggie varieties I have not grown yet. I make little scale drawings of the garden space trying to figure how many more raised beds I can fit before I run into the neighbor's fence (do you thing he'd let me plant stuff in his yard too?). 
These beds have been awesome. So far they've been completely free of Bermuda grass. Very few weed seeds have made it into the raised beds and I keep the stuff that doesn't need polinating covered to keep the bugs off.   I built these beds early last Spring.  Here's how. You'll need 8 cedar 1 X 12s for every three beds, one cedar 2 X 4, landscape cloth and rust proof screws. Leave 6 wide boards full length, cut the last 2 wide boards and the 2 X 4 into 30" pieces.  Dig out a hole 31" X 8'2" and 3" deep. This step really is worth the effort. Line the hole with landscape cloth, extending the cloth at least a foot beyond each end. Screw two full length 1 X 12s and two 30" 1 X 12s to make a rectangle like in the photo. Place one 2 X 4 in the center as a brace and securely screw to the frame. Lower the frame into the hole you dug and backfill around the outside edges. Fill with garden soil, humus, compost, whatever combination you like to use as a growing medium.
The hoop covers are made from black plastic irrigation pipe. I cut 6 to 7' lengths and just pushed the ends into the soil. I tied the intersection with twine for stability. This one here is covered in cheesecloth 'cause I live in the boonies and couldn't get any tulle. But polyester bridal tulle makes a great row cover. It keeps the bugs from munching on your tasty plants and eliminates the need for pesticides.

That's all well and good but what about WINTER? Here's my experiment...cover those same hoops in plastic and grow cool weather veggies. It's still at the experiment stage but here's what the same bed looks like today.

Those lettuces look pretty darned happy. The plastic also keeps them from being injured by the dry winter wind. If they survive the next few days of cold nights I'll be able to declare a success. I'll report back to let y'all know how it goes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Molasses In My Coffee

I just had to show you all a photo of my little Asian pear tree. Cross your fingers that I planted it correctly. The 14 yr old, AKA EmoCracker, loves Asian pears and at 1.50 apiece I thought growing them would be a good thing.

I learned some new things today so I thought I'd pass them on. For a year or so I've read here and there about the 100 mile diet. For a lot of folks it is a great way to lessen their carbon footprint and raise the quality of the food they eat. I don't worry too much about it. I grow everything I can out back in the yard. But I can't grow anything that can be used as a sweetener.
I know, I know, I could start keeping bees. I don't know beans about keeping bees so I've decided that project will just have to wait.
So I decided to try putting molasses in my coffee. I have some that is produced across the river in Kentucky so that's within the 100 mile limit. I tried it and it was goooood. Then I read the label, 'cause I'm a Mom and that's what we do. Turns out molasses provides potassium, magnesium and iron.  WHO KNEW? Yes, it does have sugars but the fact that I'm getting a little nutrition from my sweetener thrills me to no end.

I do realize there is no coffee produced within 100 miles of where I live. I've decided my coffee consumption is medicinal and therefore does not count.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Fine Art of Stabilizers

Recently I was invited to Jackman's in St. Louis for their November Embroidery Club. First let me say that it is a fabulous store. The staff is experienced and knowledgeable, the fabrics are gorgeous and they carry the very coolest buttons and trims.  I just wish I lived closer so I could hang out there more often.

I've made a lot of cool stuff (its what I do) to show them. But the same question came up over and over again. "What stabilizer did you use?" So I'd like to give y'all a little bit of what I've learned about stabilizer.

First of all, do not cheap out and use paper towels or used dryer sheets for stabilizers. I've seen that suggested as a frugal alternative. Don't do it. Your time, your threads, your garment or project are worth much more than a little sheet of stabilizer so please use the real thing.

The function of stabilizer is to counteract the pull of the threads (ahhhhh, physics!). A very dense design will need more stabilizing power than a loose or "airy" design. A base fabric that stretches will have less ability to resist the pull of threads and will also need more stabilizing power. A stretchy base fabric that will be washed a gazillion times (just think of the things babies do all day) will need more stabilizing support than a project that hangs on the wall to be enjoyed.

That said, there are three basic types of stabilizer: Tear Away, Cut Away and Wash Away. In general Tear Away is for woven fabrics, Cut Away for knit or stretchy fabrics and Wash Away is for items where the threads cover the raw edge of the fabric, like an embroidered scalloped edge.


These stabilizers come in different weights.  Light weight for light weight fabrics or "airy" designs, Medium weight for heavier designs and Heavy Weight for really dense designs. Here's an example...most of my embroidering happens on lightweight cotton quilting fabrics so I use a Tear Away light (woven fabric, lightweight, not too dense design). If I were stitching on a sweatshirt to give to my favorite nephew I would use Cut Away Light or Medium (stretchy fabric, weight depending on how dense the design).

The other question that came up was "What brand of stabilizer do you use?" I've used every brand out there at one point or another. While at Market this past Fall I met some folks who manufacture some truly awesome stabilizers. I haven't talked much about them until now because I wanted to make sure that I had thoroughly tested every single product they make. I've done that and I can tell you every stabilizer they make is top-notch first quality!

The company is called Bosal, there's a photo of some of their goodies above. I like the products and I like that they use a minimum of packaging which is better for the earth. I couldn't find it locally (I live in the boonies, remember?) so I will be carrying their products for you to order. Call or email me if you'd like some. I hope to have it up on the website soon.

This is just a little overview of stabilizers, I'll be posting more as I write some tutorials on specific techniques.

Check back soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How To - Reuseable Produce Bags

Here's a photo of my newest project. No, no, not the cat. The bag behind the cat. Frugal living is very fashionable these days. I think it may be a good thing. Sort of a collective attitude adjustment.

We're also trying to add more fruits and veggies to our diet. But what about all those plastic bags we bring home from the market, too flimsy to reuse but still made from oil based chemicals.

Here's my solution...Trot down to the local Thrift Shop and score some old window sheers. They're made of a sheer nylon fabric and even come in pretty colors. Please wash them first then make some cool reuseable produce bags out of them. Here's how.

Lay the sheers down so that the hem is laying horizontally across the top. Cut a rectangle 22" X 14" with that hem along one of the 22" lengths. Fold in half wrong sides together to create an 11" X 14" rectangle. Stitch across the bottom and up the side with the raw edge. Turn wrong side out and press those seams. Stitch along those same two sides again to enclose the raw edges in the seam.

Topstitch along the hemmed opening of your bag, one inch down from the edge. Cut two small holes in the hem, below the topstitching, one inch on either side of the side seam. Run a length of satin ribbon or a shoelace through one hole, all the way through the hem to the other hole. I like to tie a knot in both ends of the ribbon. Now you have a drawstring for your bag.

Turn right side out.


You now have a washable, reusable produce bag. The fabric is sheer enough that the checker can see the code on the fruits but sturdy enough that you can wash it over and over again. As you can see from the photos above, Sugar the cat has thoroughly inspected my produce bags and she approves. That was easy now, wasn't it?

Winter Crafting AKA Making Cool Stuff and Being Green

It's the end of November here at the cat ranch. The sky is gloomy and it's too chilly to play outside in the dirt.

Yep, it's the perfect time to make cool stuff. I've spent my whole life making stuff so I know that winter can be my most productive long as I turn off the TV.

So what kind of stuff have I made lately. Well, since you asked. There's a new Celtic embroidery design collection. I named it Eire just to keep it simple. But the designs are sooo pretty with some big knotwork patterns and lots of designs that can be used for in the hoop quilting. I've been quilting for 30 years but doing it in the hoop on the embroidery machine is just too much fun and easy enough to be accessible to everyone.

I also find November is a good time to reassess the garden space and to take at look at what I'm doing in my efforts to be green. Being green, what is that? I hear it all day now; on the news, in the paper, everywhere on the web. When I first started going green I found an endless list of ways to do it right. Yes, it was intimidating. It seemed every effort I made to live sustainably came under fire from someone who thought I wasn't doing it right.

Kinda made me want to give up...but I didn't.

First I decided to follow my own path towards green living and tune out the critical voices.

I picked one thing to change, just one thing. I switched from regular light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. Did I spell that right? They were a little pricey but they last a really long time and save money on the electric bill.

Next I got rid of the dryer. Well, I just didn't get a new one. My dryer died just before I moved here so I didn't replace it. I have a clothesline. It took some getting used to. Let's just say the Weather Channel is my new best friend. I have to pay attention to the weather forecast because rain=no laundry. I take that back. I can dry a load or two in the house. I went to WalMart (the evil empire) and bought a retractable indoor clothesline. I set it up on the utility porch in case I need to do a load and the weather is not cooperating. I also use that line to dry my undies. The idea of my unmentionables swinging in the breeze for all the world to see is a little more than I can bear.

BUT, and its a big but, I figure I save about 20 bucks a month on my electric bill and avoid 4lbs of CO2 for every load I hang on the line (that's how much CO2 every dryer load produces). That's worth a little advance planning.

What's next? Winter has just begun so we'll be making lots more cool stuff. There's a garment embellishment kit based on the applique border in that Sakura quilt. I love putting cool designs on my clothes and this kit comes with dupione silk and a lovely polished cotton.

Check back soon for more updates on making stuff and results for The Great Winter Garden Experiment.