Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dye Classes!

I'll be teaching two classes this June 27, 2015 at White Violet Center in St. Mary of the Woods, Indiana [just northwest of Terre Haute].   This is a great opportunity to come and learn how to dye protein [animal] fibers in a very fun and friendly place.

Full details are here:

UPDATE 4/16/15:   There is usually a registration link on their page, but it seems to be missing.   To register, use this contact info until they get the registration link back up on the Events page.

White Violet Center for Eco-Justice:  Event Registration

Color Basics and Harmonies:
Take the mystery out of putting colors together. Learn how to combine colors in beautiful ways. Topics will include basic color theory, using color tools, wheels and books, classic color combinations, etc. Spend time making your own color notebooks. Expect to get a lot of practice putting colors together and using your new skills. This class is indispensable for anyone who works with color–artists, quilters, knitters/crocheters, sewers, interior designers, even gardeners!

Dyeing Animal and Protein Fibers:
Explore the use of acid dyes to turn your stash of ‘boring’ protein yarns and fibers into designer yarns and fibers that you will be excited to knit, weave or spin. Using safe and mild acid dyes, students will learn how to put several colors onto a skein to make variegated yarns. Students may bring their own wool, mohair, alpaca, soy silk, or silk fibers and yarns to work with. White or light colors work best.
[These dyes will not work on cotton, rayon, bamboo, tencel, acrylic, cellulose or synthetic fibers.   Make sure you bring animal fibers!]

These are some of the most fun classes I teach all year.   I hope you can join us for a really fun day.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

New Wood Stove

Early in March, they finally installed our new wood stove.   It is a Vermont Castings Encore. 

The day they finished the installation, we turned the furnace down to 55 and it has never turned on since.  We've gone through about a face cord of wood [4 x 8 x 18in] in a month.   It's good to know this so we can plan for how much wood to have on hand at the beginning of every winter.

I cannot say enough nice things about this stove.   It was worth every penny [and there were a lot of pennies!].   It's easy to learn, easy to control and keeps the space very cozy.    I love it. 

I bought two fans for the top.   They are pricey, so wait until you find them on sale [I got mine 1/2 price at the end of the season].    These really move the warm air around the space, which keeps the corner from overheating [you can put your hand on the wall behind the stove and it's warm, but that's all] and helps direct the warm air where we need it.   I love them. 

I also got a second ash pan so that when the stove is going non-stop, we can switch the full ash pan out in the morning and let it cool before we have to empty it.

The stove will stay in this space in the house, but the house will drastically change around it.   We used this opportunity to try out the white subway tile [on sale!] on the walls and the lighter grout on the floor.   I'm not thrilled with either, so it was nice to be able to try them in a smaller area, live with it for a while and know what adjustments to make for the long haul [darker grout on walls and floor, probably different tile on the walls around the stove.   I love the white subway tile for a bathroom/kitchen though [with darker grout] and I love the floor tile and will use it everywhere we have tile floors in the house]

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Fiber Event at Greencastle

It's almost time for one of the best fiber shows of the year and we've been busy dyeing!  The Fiber Event at Greencastle, Indiana has three areas bursting with fiber, fleeces, rovings and yarns of all types and colors. Plus! equipment, books and tools for all kinds of fiber arts.

 The Fiber Event at Greencastle
 Friday April 17, 2015  10:30am - 7pm
Saturday April 18, 2015 9am - 4pm

Putnam County, Indiana  Fairgrounds
Free admission, free parking

We'll have a booth there and you can see all of the newest yarns and come chat about your current projects.  Look for our booth in the Community building right in front of the stage.

We'll be bringing some new yarns again this year.   Check these out!
  • Organic Cotton Boucle,  [sport/worsted weight].  225 yd skeins.  I'm dyeing the first 6 colors now to bring to the show. 
  • Dove, cotton/rayon spiral, [fingering weight]. 300 yd skeins.  Beautiful, soft yarn with a thin rayon stripe running through it.  This is a perfect yarn for weaving lightweight, hot weather items.  I'll have the first 6 colors done for the show.
  • Starlight,  rayon boucle yarn, [fingering/sport weight]. 150 yd skeins. This yarn has a lot of shine and twinkle in every loopy, twisty inch.   Great novelty yarn to pair with smoother yarns.   I love this stuff!
  • Scribble, rayon boucle, [sport/worsted weight].  150 yd skeins. Very similar to the Organic Cotton Boucle, only this is all rayon.   Great sparkle, great drape.  
  • Moonbeam, rayon tape/ribbon.  150 yd skeins.   I've had a bunch of requests for this yarn in smaller quantities, so here you are!    This is a great yarn for kumihimo.

In addition, we'll be emptying our Etsy store and bringing it all with us.  Hand dyed yarns of all types!  As always, we'll have a bin or two full of beautiful hand dyed cotton rovings and tencel rovings, too.   A lot of people have been using these with needle felting - including in dreadlocks!

We hope to see you in Greencastle.   Please stop in and say hello!

Monday, April 6, 2015


Arugula is one of our favorite greens.   It grows like crazy here and self seeds readily.   In mild winters, it stays good enough to harvest through the whole cold season.  

We planted this in the fall in a cold frame and it died way back when the temps fell to the minus teens.   However, once the days start to lengthen and the temps warm up a bit, it greens right up and soon will be big enough to start harvesting.

In the meantime, now's a great time to plant a few more rows for harvesting later in the spring.  If it bolts in the heat, let it go to seed and you'll find another row of it when the weather cools in August and September.

Friday, April 3, 2015

New Berry Patch

Last fall we moved the hives from our west hill to an area not far from the veg garden.   Over the winter, we built a berry patch around the new site. 

I decided to orient the hives to the south.   They're already in full sun so it's a bit of overkill during the summer, but hopefully this will help keep them warmer during the winter.  

I also put them close enough together so that I can stuff insulation between them and they can borrow a bit of heat and shelter from each other.  Packing them closer together gives me enough room for 4 hives in the row.   I'm getting two packages at the end of this month and two nucs in May. 

If I'm lucky and a swarm moves into one of the empty hives before that, then we'll use the horizontal hive, too.   You can just see it on the far side of the picnic table.   It has a window on the back and we'll keep that hive on the table for a while so it's easy to see into. 

That picnic table is extra tall. It makes a nice boundary for the bees and a great place to stand behind to watch the fronts of the hives.   The bees fly up and over it and don't bother observers at all.  

The berry beds are in a U shape.  I have 2 blueberry bushes, and a whole lot of blackberries and raspberries [red and gold ones].   I'm really looking forward to these berries so close to the house.   We have a few acres of wild ones, but they're not very big or very sweet.   These should be much better berries.    Some will bear this year, some we'll have to wait for. 

If the deer bother them, The patch is easy to enclose with those 16 ft animal fence panels, which will be both deer deterrent and make for a great wind block in the winter - all you have to do is throw some cheap tarps over them and zip tie them in place.   I'll probably put the fence up just for that. 

At any rate, it feels like a real accomplishment to have this done and mulched and the hives all ready for the bees when they arrive.   In the meantime, the neighborhood bees have been robbing out the honey and pollen in the hives and it's nice to see a little bee action while I'm waiting. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Greens

Some of the baby lettuce coming up under the cold frame.   It's looking pretty happy about the [slightly] warmer weather. 

Me, too. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

New Addition

Meet Pepper.   She the newest addition to the farm.

She's a lab/German shepherd cross - just about 2 months old now.  She's going to be huge.  We've been waiting and waiting for the right puppy to come our way and when this one did, we snapped her up.  We are delighted with her. 

Tibby, predictably, is not thrilled.   It'll be a while before they're friends. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


My favorite early spring flowers are up - Scilla [Siberian Squill].    I love that color.

Usually the bees are all over it, but this year the wild bees [or neighbors' bees - no way to tell which] are robbing out what's left of the pollen and honey in my hives instead.   

I'm OK with that.  I'm hoping they're wild bees and when it comes time to swarm, they'll move right in to one of my empty hives. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Garden Huckleberries

Garden HuckleberryI'm trying a new fruit this year in the veg garden - garden huckleberries, Solanum melanocerasum. [Pic:] These are different from the wild huckleberries of the mountains, which are related to blueberries.  If you go to the link above, make sure you read the reviews carefully.  

My neighbor grows these regularly and has had good success so I thought we'd try them, too.   I'm planting them next to tomatoes and basil.    

Garden huckleberries are native to the tropics [Africa] and are grown as an annual here.   They are relatives of tomatoes and peppers and cultivation is similar.   The bushes get 3-4 ft high.  They like rich soil and sun to partial shade.  The fruit is frost tolerant and should be harvested after the berries turn soft and matte [dull] instead of shiny.  The bushes are reputed to be very prolific and self sowing.  These berries aren't very tasty unless you harvest them after frost.  Do not eat them fresh!

 Here's a method for preparing them that I've seen linked to in several places:

Via Sandhill Preservation:
"Garden Huckleberry Recipe:  Place 8 cups of berries in a non-aluminum one gallon size pan and add enough water to not quite cover the fruit. As they begin to boil add a total of 1/3 cup of baking soda (a little at a time) and stir continuously. As you add baking soda, green foam will appear. Be sure to watch this carefully as it will foam up quite a bit. After adding the baking soda, cook for 10 minutes at a low boil. The mixture will continue to foam quite a bit as the berries are cooking. After they have cooked for 10 minutes, drain this solution off and rinse with clean water. The berries will still be somewhat hard. Next return the pan of berries to the stove, add 1/3 cup water and 1/2 cup lemon juice. Watch with amazement as the mixture changes from emerald green to a royal purple color. Cook an additional 35 minutes until the berries are tender and then add 2 3/4 cups sugar, 1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon extract, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup tapioca. Pour the above mixture into two 8 inch unbaked pie shells, then add a top crust or lattice and bake as you would a blueberry pie. You can also omit the tapioca and just eat the sauce or use it as an ice cream topping."

Here's a page from Heirloom Organics with growing information.  And another post from Garden Web with some interesting information.

And here's another page with growing and harvesting info from Mother Earth News, with a couple of recipes thrown in.

I've got my seeds started in the cold frame now and I'm looking forward to our first harvest in the fall.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Liquid Soap

This is a batch of liquid soap paste.

Making liquid soap starts with the same basic process as hot process bar soap [only with potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide].  You mix it, then put it in the crock pot to cook for a few hours until it looks like dark vaseline.

Then you dissolve it, neutralize it, clarify it, sequester it, thicken it and a bunch of other stuff that is way more complicated than just cutting and drying it like you do with bar soap.

I'm slowly wrapping my head around it.

This is my 4th batch of liquid soap and it turned out just fine.  I used the jojoba recipe from Chickens in the Road.  This is a terrific tutorial, but it is very comprehensive.   I had to read through it several times just to grasp all the different things you can/should do AFTER the soap is made. [Neutralizing, sequestering, clarifying, thickening, etc.]

My advice is to choose a recipe and make the paste.  Then dissolve it. Then neutralize it so you can use it right away.  Then take a break of a few days and think about the other options.

In the end, I made the jojoba recipe which goes cloudy.   I could have tried clarifying but didn't want to add more stuff to it, so I'm leaving it thin and cloudy.   It has a pH of 8 which is perfect and I'm calling it finished.  We use it in the kitchen for hand soap.  It's fabulous.

As I mentioned before, this was my 4th batch.   The first one was a total fail.  The second and third ones were useable. This one was just what I expected. On the road to this batch of soap, I learned a bunch of stuff.

1.   ONLY use distilled water when making liquid soap.    It really matters.   We have hard water and I get by using that for bar soap, but the liquid soap never turns out unless I use distilled.

2.  Dissolve the soap in the crock pot on low.   It takes about 5 hours.   Try to ignore it while you're waiting.   Neutralize it while it's hot. 

3.  You can use old citric acid solution cold to neutralize your soap once it's dissolved, as long as the soap is still hot.    The acid will immediately go white and clumpy, but don't panic.   Just stir it in and it'll be just fine.  The clumps will melt into the soap pretty fast. 

4.  Once the soap is neutralized, you can use it right away.   The thickening, clarifying, etc. is cosmetic [pun intended].   It makes your soap prettier and more store-bought-like, but doesn't improve performance.    'Neutralize' does not mean getting a pH of 7.   It means bringing the pH down from 9-10 to 8 or so.   Soap is supposed to be a bit alkali; that's why it works as soap.

5.  Take some notes with each batch.   They'll pay off later.   Really.

I have just ordered this book [affiliate link]:

Rumor has it that it is the best resource for learning all the ins and outs of liquid soap making.   I'm excited to try some more liquid soap now that I can turn out a basic one.  Maybe a shampoo?  Bath gel?  Something clear? 

It's going to be fun.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

More Soap Experiments

A long while back, on a whim, I ordered a block of cocoa butter to use in soap.   It came.   It smelled divine.  

Creamy white chocolate heaven.  I left it on the table for 4 months just so I could smell it.

Eventually I hunted down a recipe for cocoa butter soap and tried a batch.   Fail.  

I had used crio grounds from our favorite winter drink [Vega Real and Cavalla are my faves].  Even though I used the dried, unused grounds and added them after trace, they soaked up the alkali and never saponified, so that batch of finished soap had tiny pockets of lye everywhere the grounds were.   Weird.  Caustic.   I pitched the whole batch. 

So this time we left out the crio grounds and used cocoa powder to color the soap instead.   Worked just fine.   We made some beautiful soap that is very hard.  [That's one of the characteristics of cocoa butter.]

Notice the lighter centers?    I have no idea what did that.   We'll see if it stays that way over time. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Soap, Soap, Soap

The weather put the kibosh on some of our plans last week, so Claire and I seized the moment to make a couple of batches of soap. 

This was a really fun one.   We tried three new things:

1. A new recipe using  a lot of rice bran oil.
2. Coloring using alkanet.
3. Coloring using charcoal.

Rice bran oil makes great soap.   I highly recommend it.   I love this soap.  We mixed it with coconut oil, canola oil, olive oil and veg shortening.   The canola oil really slows the trace, which was lucky in this case, because we divided the batch.  We finished the pink stuff first, and then decided to add the charcoal to the rest.  And then we decided to add more charcoal, so that stuff almost seized before we got it into the mold.  It turned out really pretty though and it smells fabulous.

To use alkanet to color, we had earlier put a tablespoon of dried alkanet into a pint jar of canola oil.   It colors the oil a deep dark red.    The red turns to a medium blue during the mixing.   The blue turned to light pink during the drying.   Interesting. 

Charcoal is easy to use.  We bought ours ground from   Started with 1/2 tablespoon and wanted it darker, so we added more.    It would probably have been better if we had stirred it in by hand instead of using the stick blender.   Things go really fast with the blender. 

Friday, March 6, 2015


It's easy to overlook things.
There are good reasons for overlooking some things.   Focusing on the negative only leads to unhappiness, so it's a good idea to overlook little things that would otherwise harsh your mellow.

Since winter here has been intense, I thought it would be a good idea to pay closer attention to some little things that might help mellow the harsh.  Like frosty dogwoods.

I really love dogwood twigs.   They look like hands reaching up.  And I love dogwood buds because they form early on and are a constant reminder that it won't be icy forever. 

I feel my harsh getting mellower by the minute. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Few Other Rural Blogs from around the World

Winter has decided to stay for a while longer here.   In the meantime, I'm catching up reading some other terrific rural blogs from around the world that you might like, too.  All of them are guaranteed to make you feel good about life.

Wellington Farm is a blog out of Canada.   Sherrie is always cheery and is a wonderful photographer.   They have just moved to the farm so there aren't many posts at the new site, but her old site, Twenty Two Pleasant, is just as wonderful and full of fabulous things.  

Foxs Lane is a blog out of Australia.   The photography is beautiful and it's an extra bonus that they're in summer right now.    It does my heart good to see fruit and flowers in season while it's snowing here.   She's a farmer and fiber artist, too, which is an extra bonus for me.

Manger is a blog out of Medoc, France.    Mimi wrote the cookbook 'A Kitchen in France', which I borrowed from my library and loved.   The photos are beautiful and aside from a celebration of good food, it's a book and a blog that celebrate rural life, rural people and basic elements of living.   She's happy and that overflows in her writing.

Check them out and let me know what you think.   And if you know any more blogs like these, let us know in the comments.     Happy reading!

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