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When it’s over…over…over

norwichgarden-end Well, with night-time frosts banging on the door, we harvested everything harvestable in the big garden (the test garden, which, if you’ve been following had four beds with different soil treatments: buckwheat, mustard, black plastic and nothing). And in the interest of completing as ‘scientific’ an analysis, the DH and I hauled out big cardboard boxes which I dutifully labeled and set them at the ends of the appropriate rows. Everything that got taken from the buckwheat row ended up in the buckwheat boxes and so on. When we got everything home, we washed it all carefully, counted items, weighed them and tabulated the results. (more…)

Something to relieve the boredom

rose cuttings1 At this time of the year, we’re either weeding, watering or picking veggies out of the garden. We’re inundated with hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes and zuccini here at Chez Siberia and lots of what we put into the beds at the property to test out soil treatments (as you recall, we did four beds: black plastic, no treatment at all, mustard and buckwheat) are maturing. Frankly at this point in the cycle, I can say, without any hesitation that the mustard treatment won. Hands down. Now, it might be difficult to measure that, though I did get out there with a measuring tape and measured the corn and the sizes of the squashes and pumpkins. Every other bed is behind the mustard-treated bed. I’ll even forgive the deer (or the ground hog or whatever it is that ate half a squash that we discovered). But we now know that growing mustard, chopping it up, tilling it in and waiting two weeks after a rain just was fantastic – at this point, even though everything was planted the same way, on the same day, and treated the same way (that is, we watered everything in well on the day we put in the seeds), everything in the mustard-treated bed is bigger, taller, and more mature (like, the corn in the mustard bed has brown tassels and ears which are filling out – in the other beds? Meh). No way to argue with that.

But I’m sure no one wants to read about my adventures with weeding and shoveling wood chip mulch on all of my flower beds, right? Right? (yes, you in the back; no – I can’t think of any discussion more boring than mulch at the moment) So, instead, we’re going to take about taking cuttings. (more…)

If you have garlic.. like I have garlic…oh…oh…

garlic1Well, it’s that time of the year again. Or actually, it would be that time of the year in several weeks except that with the hot and extremely dry weather we had this summer, the garlic (as you can see from the photo) basically gave up the ghost and went ‘toes up’ (as we say here in the country) about 2-3 weeks early. We were trialing the two ‘winners’ from last year (Susanville and Vietnamese Red) against three ‘new’ varieties, Music (which actually we’ve grown before), Premium Northern White (which around here is the standard garlic grown by market gardeners) and Early Italian Red. Well, the growing season threw us and the garlic bulbs a complete fluke — hot and incredibly dry from the spring through frankly this weekend, when we finally got some concentrated rainfall for two days. (more…)

Olla! Olla!

waterdivitYour Dear Old Aunty is getting mighty tired of reading headlines saying “Hottest (pick your month) Ever!”

Well, of course it IS. This is what climate change is all about. (more…)

Tool for the job

pruner2You would think that your dear old Aunty would never admit to doing this, but I did.

I was seduced (seduced! I say) by marketing copy and price. “These pruners are designed for comfort for people with small hands.”

Small hands.

Yes, they were comfortable and I do have small hands (not small for my size, actually – I’m pretty short and the hand size goes along with that). And I have to admit that they were referred to as ‘light duty’.

‘Light duty’ must have meant ‘trimming the spent heads off perennials’ of some such thing because as you can see from the photo at the top, they gave up the ghost.

For a closer idea of what happened, here is your requisite close up:pruner1Steel casting that just frankly got pushed beyond its spec. Which must have been something like 1/8″ in diameter.

OK, I admit it. I push tools long past their useful life. I have a tendency to ‘horse’ (as my dear departed father would express it) the thing around and then when the handle flies to pieces or something gets bent, well, I have no one to blame but myself.

So, I bought myself a new, bigger set of pruners (with the new! improved! rotating handles which will be so much better for my ‘small hands’), which are specified for 3/4″ diameter branches.

Do you have any idea who small a 3/4″ diameter branch actually IS? That’s smaller than the diameter of your thumb. 80% of what we have to cut back and cut down (fie, honeysuckle! Fie!) here at Chez Siberia qualifies as being over 3/4″ in diameter.

What to do?

Well, our next ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is the set of loppers. loppers We own a set of these and although they say they will handle anything up to 2″ in diameter, I have to tell you that anything over 1″ requires some rather interesting body mechanics on my part so that I can wedge both handles into my chest so that I can use the force of both arms. It works but it…leaves a mark.

Another option for the 2″ plus is a pruning saw, and we’ve found them to be both easy to use and very effective, even on branches which are 3″ in diameter. I happen to like the folding one (that is, the blade folds into the handle), which makes it easier to slip into a pocket. The teeth on these are rather impressive and we use them to cut right to the trunk, which makes pruning fruit trees a lot more effective.

Finally, I have to bring up the last and most destructive (and frankly, most dangerous) tool to cut off branches: The powered chain saw. There are models on offer which are so small that one might be tempted to try to use it one-handed (ack!). If you have a lot of nasty huge bushes (with big 6″ trunks to get through), a chain saw is your tool of choice unless you go for an axe (which has it’s own skill set and dangers as well). Anything with that level of power can cut off pieces of bodies very easily and if you are considering getting one, find a dealer which offers a workshop on using one safely. The DH wears a helmet (with a face shield, metal screen and ear protection) and Kevlar chaps whenever he uses our chain saw and I think everyone should wear safety equipment when they use anything like that. He also wears steel-toed heavy boots with thick soles and wide heels to give himself a solid position when he uses it.

In the end, however, the point is this: Don’t try to use a tool for other than its intended use and buy the size for the job.

Better Late Than Never

wateringAs I discussed last time, we’re late, late, late in getting the experimental garden in. Actually, looking around at what’s happening to the corn fields in our area, we’re not the only ones who got ‘the garden’ in late.

Timing, is everything, but again, as discussed, the weather this spring (thank you El Nino) was horrific. Too cold and wet at all the wrong times. The farmers are feeling it too. I have seen very few corn fields out there where the growth is uniform and uniformly bright green. I’m seeing lots of stress. (more…)

Can out in the field can be put to use in the garden?

mustard1The DH and I went to a conference run by NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association. Are we Farmers? Not yet – but working on it. If you have the chance to go to a conference like this, I encourage it – it’s the fastest way for you to get immersed in information that might take you years to winkle out. We took workshops on growing grains, beekeeping, mushroom growing (yes!!), growing organic oats, organic orcharding, marketing and I’m sure I’ve forgotten the rest. One class I took which was completely fascinating was using mustard as a biofumigant for soils.

Seeds, glorious seeds

appleseed2The simple act of pushing a seed into some dirt, watering it and having it come up is still pretty much magic to me. Whether it’s from a plant where the seeds are so small that basically, you water the dirt first and then scatter them on top and hope for the best, or plain old bean seeds, the whole act of burying them in the dirt and then their coming up is really an unceasing source of rather childlike joy to me. (more…)

Water: Where the rubber meets the road

soil1 4-22 That’s the dirt in my garden. Right now. After two days of light rains here. Doesn’t look terrible, but it’s not great.

Climate change is not just ‘it’s a lot hotter now’ or ‘this month is the hottest xxx every recorded’ (and every month now is the hottest xxx ever recorded – get used to it. It is not going to change). It’s also ‘we’re not getting rain/snow the way we used to’. And for people who farm and grow gardens, this is a huge issue.

Soil is something that you can improve. If you have too much clay and what rain you get sits there in puddles, then you can put in compost (or barring that, put in bags and bags of peat moss); if your soil has too much sand (hello, Florida, New Jersey and Long Island, New York) and the rain just washes through, then you can put in … compost (sorry, but organic matter is the universal ‘fix-it’) or bags and bags of peat moss. Plants, like people, are mostly water. If there is not enough water, they won’t grow. If there is not enough water when they need it, even if they have grown, they’ll transpire whatever moisture they’ve got through their leaves and droop and perhaps die. The name of the game when growing plants is keeping the water in the soil so that the plants have access to it. (more…)

Buttons and zippers will break you

shirtWhen my Great Aunt Lily died, I inherited a suitcase filled with trims and notions from her. Inside it were bundles carefully done up with ribbon of metal-toothed zippers, and little bags of buttons. All sorts of buttons. It was also obvious from the condition of everything that these are not brand new stock that she’d bought and hoarded.

She’d removed them all from clothing that she and her sister had worn out.

This was a real head-scratcher for me until I asked my dad about it. Why would anyone save used zippers and buttons? He explained to me that all of those notions were expensive – and replacing broken zippers or lost buttons got expensive.

Do you remove zippers or buttons before you send clothing to the rag bag? Good question.

But buttons and zippers, for us home sewers, get expensive. So, one of the ways to reduce the expense of sewing your own is: sew clothing that doesn’t require a zipper or buttons to close.

Now, if you sew knits, depending on the pattern, you can definitely get away with no buttons or zippers, unless you are making a jacket.

But if you want a shirt. A woven fabric shirt. This can get dicey. So, I’m always on the look-out for patterns for woven fabric items which basically pull over the head. I got one last year when we were in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I think you can find this company’s patterns in the US and other countries as well.

Here’s the pattern, called ‘The Factory Dress’: Merchant and Mills Its’ a multi-sized pattern (it’s in UK sizing, which for US sewers, means that if you take a US 12, then you need to use the size 14 lines). The thing that makes this dress really useful is that it has a separate bodice and skirt. (cue triumphant music here)

That means that I could take the bodice part, do a bit of magic on it and make a ‘pull-over my head shirt’.

Now, this pattern only has bust darts, so I had to do a little ‘split and add tissue’ in the front to deal with my rather luxuriant boobage, but other than that and lengthening the pattern to 27″ from shoulder to hem so that I’d be able to tuck it in once I was finished, that is all the change I had to do.

One other item, and this is my own particular bias: This pattern calls for a back neck facing, something which I hate. I hate them. If every grain of sand in the Sahara Desert had the word ‘hate’ printed on them, it would not equal 1/5th the amount of hate I have for back neck facings, which flip out, look yucky and are a pain in the neck. So, on the necks and collars of woven tops, I do a Hong Kong finish. Neat, tidy and.. no back neck facing. It ends up looking like this: shirtneck What I do is:
1) Make the collar and turn it right side out. Poke out the corners (and these are usually just little collars – not the righteous collar and neck band variety)
2) Zigzag across the bottom of the collar and pin it to the neck edge. Match all the notches and dots and what have you.
3) Baste the collar to the neck edge, pretty close (I use a 1/4″ seam)
4) Either use bias binding or self-fabric bias (1″ wide) as long as the collar edge is, plus 1″
5) Putting right side to right side, sew the boas along the collar edge/neck edge.
6) Fold down the unsewn edge and roll that over the collar edge/neck edge to completely encase it. Pin that down and sew it down. You can do this by hand or with machine.
7) Follow the directions for any front facings extending to the shoulder seam. Once you are done, you will see, Voila!, that the ends of your Hong Kong finished collar seam is neatly and tidily covered by the front facing. No back facing.

Anyone else have any tricks to save money on sewing clothing?

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