April 25, 2015

In which I once again am reminded not to be a jerk

I don't know why I need constant reminders not to be a jerk. You'd think that one of these days, maybe, I would learn that lesson and it would stick. I suspect the truth is that I am one of natures jackasses. But I haven't given up! I strive to be nicer and it's helpful that I'm married to a man who's superpower is empathy. Some of my friends have that superpower too and usually keep me in line by gently pointing out that I'm being a jerk. Again.

Anyhow, the other day I was talking with a friend about how our toddlers say these crazy and confrontational things. For example her daughter, when walking past a smoker, dramatically coughs and gags and says "smoking is so bad for you" or the like. My friend, being a non-confrontational person, tries to gently and quietly say "yes, you're right but we don't need to make a scene". She said her husband on the other hand says (at normal volume) things like "you are absolutely right! Smoking is completely disgusting!"

Small has taken to saying things like "we never ever eat candy because it is soooo bad for you" and I have traditionally responded rather like my friend's husband and said "you are absolutely right! candy is a totally unnecessary food and it will make you less healthy so we don't eat it" regardless of who hears me.

And here is my latest reminder of why I am (constantly) in the wrong. This piece in Huffington Post is about explaining to privileged kids what it means to be working poor. It's only tangentially related to the conversation my friend and I were having but it talks about food deserts and that reminded me that I have no idea why people make the food choices they do. I can say "well there's never a reason for candy" but if I try (if I use the empathy I often neglect to employ!) I can come up with all kinds of reasons why giving that kid a piece of candy is the compassionate thing. Maybe he has a rough time and not much food and yes, candy doesn't help with that, but maybe it provides a little brightness. Maybe he has major food allergies and the usual, more acceptable, maybe more nutritious treats are off limits and that candy makes him feel normal and included. Or maybe the parent is creating an off-the-wall sugar monster who is going to grow up with a craving for sweets and no taste for nutritious foods who will be diabetic by 35 but the point is I have no idea what is going on!

Non-judgement is always the appropriate response but I can't seem to remember that from one week to the next. I'm not going to lie to Small. We will explain the reasoning for our food choices because we want him to understand. I might even think that others, in general, would be better off if they ate food like us. But I shouldn't judge others for the choices they make because that way lies all the bad things. Life (and parenthood) is hard enough without me making others feel bad about the things they do.

And speaking of regular reminders, Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth is one of my favorite books ever and I feel like I should probably read it daily to become a better person. It's the story of three siblings and their new friend Stillwater (a panda). Each child's interaction with Stillwater provokes him to tell a story and each story is a beautiful nugget of wisdom about how to live a contented life. So lovely.

March 13, 2015

Links and Things

Links and things. 

  • A few weeks ago I was talking about how I didn't want to use quilting cotton anymore because it's not the best for garments. It is definitely not the best for the types of blouses I'm making at the moment but I've used it successfully for garments where the stiffness and lack of drape usually found in a quilting cotton works to the advantage of the pattern (as long as it is good quality quilting cotton... a lot of the super cheap stuff I used to buy was horrible but I've found lovely fabrics in that genre as well). Tilly and the Buttons has a nice post on when and how to successfully use quilting cotton for garment sewing. 
  • I think I'm finally going to get around to making some mustard. Maybe I'll start with this Brown Maple Mustard. (on Putting Up With Erin)

March 4, 2015

More Sewing Things and the Weather

I went to Joann's yesterday hoping to find some inexpensive cotton voile (or any voile actually) to make muslins out of and I thought maybe I'd pick up some voile, lawn, and chambray to use in my final garments. I've been swatching gorgeous, fine cloth from various online sources but a few less expensive basics would not come amiss. 

Yall, the amount of polyester in that store is out of control. 

If you are a lover of polyester clothing then I envy you. If I felt comfortable in polyester my wardrobe would be easier and cheaper. Alas that is not the case. Anyhow, I really couldn't find any fabrics, synthetic or otherwise, that I thought would mock up with the drape similar to the fabrics I'm planning to order for my final garments (I am in love with this one, this one, and this one for starters and this one is going to be used for a small yardage project because extra pricy!). So I ended up buying the finest muslin I could find and calling it a plan. I also found these:
A light smooth tealish green gingham in the sale section with just shy of 2 yards on it. I don't know what I'll do with this yet. 

Also this linen/rayon blend (45/55 or was it 55/45?) which I'm going to make into a skirt. Hopefully it works out. My experience with rayon is that it shrinks a ton (I'll pre wash it of course) and stretches like crazy. And of course linen has a growing nature as well so we'll see. I decided to risk it because I love the print! Let's just deal with those colors for a moment. I could wear any color shirt with a skirt made from this. 

The moss shot cloth for the Ashland tunic
I also had a 50% off all regularly priced notions coupon which was very helpful. Not only did I find the perfect match for the green shot cloth in those expensive tiny Gutterman spools but I then got them half off. Also stocked up on needles because now that I'm doing this sewing thing for real I plan to approach it professionally which means changing the needles after each project. There were lots of other notions in the basket including a tube turner (because after trying the safety pin method on the narrow loops for the Gathering
Apron I was annoyed) and more glass headed pins, but not the extra fine ones I already had. Those were way too thin for the wool I just worked with and they were kind of a pain! Since there is more wool in the sewing stack, I needed a more substantial pin.

In other sewing news, I've been reading everything The Curvy Sewing Collective has written in addition to some of the contributor's personal blogs. The Collective rocks. Their pattern reviews are incredibly helpful since they give their measurements, describe their shape, and then talk about how a pattern worked for them fit wise and what they had to change. I narrowed down my pattern options a lot after reading all that. They also have great tutorials like how to do a full bust adjustment in general and how to do them in special circumstances, fitting sleeves when you have big upper arms, and more advanced techniques (or at least advanced for me!) like making a pocket stay. Also, while I love all the contributors, Mary is my favorite. I think her writing is hysterical!

In gardening news, the grass (and "weeds" which we love) are growing, the air smells sweet, the high today is 82 degrees... and the low tomorrow is 32 degrees. Texas be crazy. 

If all the flowers don't freeze off (and there are a lot of flowers in bloom) I'm going to take a bunch of pictures and show you what early March is like here. I've been trying to teach Small the names of the spring "weeds". So far we've done vetch, chickweed and henbit. He knows all the vegetable plants we grow so the weeds should be no problem. Pop quiz when he gets home today after MDO!

March 1, 2015

Another Q&A: Drip System Blues

And another question to the garden agony aunt from the "I Love My Farmer (Local Farmer Fan Club)" FB page of days gone by :-)

"Drip System Blues"

Dear Local Farmer,
The joints at the main line and the drip lines WILL NOT stop leaking (it's a pretty bad leak). I just replaced the main line and carefully reattached the drip lines. No luck. Same shit. The drip lines are fully connected to the connector piece. Help! This drought it killing us! 

Water waster

my response:

Dear Water Waster,

I assume we're talking about T-tape and not aquapore. My T-tape system always leaks at the intersection of mainline and tape. It is definitely a design flaw and it drives me crazy as well. My only suggestion is to try and make the h
oles you punch in the mainline as small as possible (while of course still big enough to put in the barbed tape-attachment piece...which is often a frustrating operation in and of itself).If you need to re-punch the holes, dripworks.com sells "goof plugs" which are supposed to patch the old holes (i need to order some myself)

And if all else fails you can think to yourself "At least we're not wasting as much water as if we were using sprinklers" and put a water loving plant in the ground right under the leak.

-the local farmer

Oliver + S School Days Coat Pattern and Cabbages

OF course I didn't follow my original order-of-garment-sewing plan. I made a muslin of a Butterick kimono top, a wearable muslin of the Lane Raglan by Hey June, and the Gathering Apron by Sew Liberated. Then I made Small the School Days Coat by Oliver + S. I have never sewn a coat or anything with this kind of lining and since I want to sew a coat for me this year I decided that starting with a kiddo version was much lower stakes and great practice. 

This coat is a FABULOUSLY written pattern. Having just sewn an apron with poorly written instructions this was delightful. Everything was clearly illustrated and explained in great detail. Love it! I'll definitely be sewing Oliver + S patterns again!

The exterior fabric is a poly wool coating in red, yellow, and blue plaid that I got on sale from fabric.com. It was a little thinner and floppier than expected but it worked well. It's a pretty loose weave though, so there was much fraying if I wasn't careful. The body is lined in a dark green cotton who's origin is lost to the mists of time. The hood is lined with a cool pinwheel print quilting cotton from my grandmother's stash. The sleeves and patch pockets are lined in a mustard yellow broad cloth I bought from a fabric warehouse in TN 12 years ago. I made the toggle cording from some bright yellow bias tape I've had in my stash for years. I didn't have toggles and didn't want to go to the store so I used some vintage buttons from Stitch Lab and made my own. Other than the fact that I made the closures too short (not paying attention!) I think it turned out great! I sewed up a size 5 which is a little large for Small so the shortness of the closures is ok for the moment. I'll fix it later when he grows fully into it. It took about 14 hours to make and I do not, by the way, recommend that much sewing in one 24 hour period.

In other sewing news, I'm about to trace and cut out a muslin for the Ashland Dress (I'll make it tunic length though) also by Sew Liberated. We'll see how this pattern turns out. The apron pattern had "basic written instructions and assembly diagrams" and then you can access videos online for further instruction. Um... no. I'm pretty sure I'm not a beginner sewist but these instructions were terrible. Not fully illustrated and not complete basic instructions. I also don't want to have to watch online videos even if I was a beginner. I want to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer or listen to Savage Love while I'm sewing. Sometimes I want to enjoy some peace and quiet. Patterns should come with instructions. If this one isn't easier to work with than the apron pattern was I think I'm done with Sew Liberated. Anyhow, I'm planning to make the final version out of Kaffe Fasset shot cloth in Moss. I got swatches of moss, viridian and Aegean last summer at Stitch Lab and I've been waiting impatiently to bring these colors into my wardrobe because they're gorgeous. 

In gardening news the cabbages are getting to a harvestable size and I've already made (and consumed!) a half gallon of sauerkraut. There is another half gallon on the counter just starting to get fizzy. The broccoli harvest has also been amazing this year and the greens as always are chugging along nicely. I planted new lettuce a few weeks ago. These were plants I started myself so they shouldn't bolt prematurely like the ones I got from the nursery (really not impressed overall with this organic nursery near me). The onions and celery are also doing well. The yellow snow peas I planted are growing fantastically but they aren't sweet so we're mostly not eating them. Ill harvest a big batch of them soon, as they are now long in the tooth with fully developed seeds, and use them for soup. Our tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, as well as spring herbs
and flowers are ready to go in the ground when the weather warms and stabilizes (a few weeks). I didn't grow eggplants because I normally find eggplant varieties I like at the store. I usually buy jalapenos and serranos from nurseries as well.

We also planted 2 Fuyu persimmons, a Golden Dorset apple and a Japanese plum. Added to the 3 figs, 2 mandarins, a loquat and a kumquat, I'd say fruit abounds on this property!

And just because I think his ability to curl his tongue is amazing, I give you Small.

January 18, 2015

January Projects

The greenhouse in the garage
It is January so I recently started most of our seedlings for spring. The little greenhouse I made last winter in my closet got moved into the garage during our recent major clearing out. Last year I just used the enclosed space of the closet plus the closet curtain to keep it warm since the house was relatively warm anyway but now that it's in the unheated garage I needed to enclose it. A quick search for a roll of plastic that I swear I saw last week lead me instead to the box of drop cloths (old sheets). They seem to be working well. Growing in those flats are all the Solanaceae (except for some pepper seeds I got in the mail late) and the early spring planted greens (more of what was planted in the fall). In a week or so I'll start flowers, herbs, warm(er) weather greens, and a few other things.
tomato seedlings under lights

We've spent some time this winter taking down trees. There are a lot of trees on our acre and we aren't people who usually chop everything down but, after a while, trees die. We prefer to leave them standing because it's fantastic habitat for all sorts of creatures (and insects that creatures eat), particularly birds, but when a dead (or dying) tree is near the house or my son's play area we have to take it down for safety. Fortunately, most of the trees we have had to fell are the exotic invasive tallows. There is one pecan tree with significant rot extremely close to the house that is coming down once we get the bees moved out of the base. All these trees mean lots logs and branches. Our branch pile for the birds is already enormous so we're going to grind everything from this round of urban forestry into mulch. Wood from the pecan is great for cooking with not to mention woodworking so we'll save those but the tallows are not good for much of anything. They break down very very quickly and giant logs, within a few years, get so punky you can step on them and crush them to dust. That's a handy trait when you want to get rid of a bunch of logs! So, in a weird hugelkultur variation, we have created some new beds with the usual cardboard on the bottom, then filled with logs, and then densely packed with mulch in all the crevices. I'll gradually add amendments to this and in a few years it's going to be an amazing place for vegetables. 

Greens from this winter's garden in the sink for cleaning.
Last summer we got some tree guys in the neighborhood to drop us off a double load of wood chips. Gradually the pile has diminished but now it's crunch time... we finally had a few frosts and warming weather is 4 weeks away so I need to heavily mulch (and amend) the entire vegetable garden before spring planting. The mulch pile will soon be gone (sad face!) but hopefully the spring leaf fall (yes, we have a spring leaf fall when all the evergreen oaks replace their leaves) will be a good one and there will be plenty of leaf sacks on the side of the road to replenish our mulch pile for the summer. 

We are hoping to put in a few new fruit trees this year. Over the years we have planted 3 figs, 2 mandarin oranges, 1 loquat, and 1 kumquat. I hoping to get 2 persimmons, a plum or two, a limequat if I can find it, a lime, and a red grapefruit. We'll see what we can get a hold of. 

August 31, 2014

Q&A "Tomato Sex"

I just rediscovered a series of Q&A my friend and I did on the "I Love My Farmer! (Local Farmer Fan Club)" Facebook group I created years ago when I was operating an organic microfarm. I thought some of you might find them useful:

"Tomato Sex"

Dear Local Farmer,
My tomatoes are blooming big time, but no tomatoes! Same goes for by beans, cucs, and squash. I put out sugar water to attract bees, but no luck. I tried brushing my fingers lightly on the blooms....in an attempt to help them get it on.....any advice????

---Low-libido tomatoes in Austin

my response:
Dear Low-libido tomatoes,

While bees will appreciate your sugar water when they find it, there may just not be any bees near enough to your garden. Bees will only fly a certain distance from their hive to forage for food.

However, beans and tomatoes have "perfect flowers" (the flower contains both a stamen and pistil) and so self pollinate. You should be getting fruit in spite of your lack of pollinators. Good idea to brush the flowers although you don't have to try an transfer pollen between them when you do. Suzanne Ashworth in Seed to Seed says that tomatoes "will set more fruit if the flowers are agitated...this increases the amount of pollen traveling down the anther tube...daily shaking can be used to increase flower set in caged tomatoes." I met a guy who told me his grandmother went out each day and beat the crap out of her tomatoes with her cane claiming she got more fruit that way...maybe there is something to it. Other things could be at issue though.

Lets look closer: How long have the flowers been blooming? Have they had time to begin growing the fruit? Are you seeing dead flowers followed by no fruit or are the flowers still all fresh? What are your night time temperatures? Tomatoes have a hard time setting fruit if the air temperature doesn't fall below 75 deg for a number of nights. It's not impossible, but they will become distinctly less fertile. Tomatoes also need 8-10 hours of direct sunlight. Less can cause poor fruit set, although with all those flowers, they are probably getting enough light. Also, you might try spraying the plants with a solution of epsom salts... 1 tbl salts in 1 gallon of water. I'm not sure if your soils are magnesium deficient (or if the magnesium, while abundant, is inaccessible) but since that nutrient is so important to the formation of fruit, people often find epsom salts instigate fruit set.

As for the beans, how long have they been blooming? I find that fruit set on beans just takes longer than I think it does. It will seem like the plants have been blooming for a month before i see beans. Also, there are often tiny beans growing that I just don't notice for a few weeks until they're bigger so it seems like they're not setting. Look closely. Other than that, are the plants themselves looking healthy? No stunting or chlorosis (yellowing in the leaves)? If all looks well, I would say wait a bit longer and see what happens.

Cucs and squash: These guys do need insect pollinators and so the lack of bees could be an issue. They can be pollinated by hand (although it might be a pain in the case of the cucumbers since they develop so many blooms and the blooms are so small). First you need to identify the male and female flowers. The female flowers are sitting atop the ovary which is (and looks like) tiny immature fruit. The male flowers are sitting on a straight stem. In the morning, after the dew has dried, pick the male flower with the stem attached. Strip the petals and holding the stamen by the stem end rub the pollen on the stigma of the female flower. Apparently pollination is more successful if several male flowers are used to pollinate each female flower. With the cuc flowers, since they are so small, it may be easier to use a very soft bristled tiny paint brush to transfer pollen. I would try gently inserting it into male flowers and then inserting it into female flowers and see what happens.

I hope this helps!

---Local Farmer

and her follow up:

Thank you, Local Farmer!
Ah-ha! I shook them up and now have a plethora of baby tomatoes!

---Low libido tomatoes in Austin