Category Archives: gardening

Learning about dyeing with plants

Coopworth roving dyed with dried Japanese Indigo leaves

I’m loving this learning about dyeing with natural materials. Except that the learning curve is so very steep. The really great thing, though, is that even when I don’t get the colors I expected, I still get really beautiful results. BTW, the beautiful and saturated blues I got in the picture above is my beginners luck experience.

I’m a proud producer member of Three Rivers Fibershed. Though I had been interested in the idea of natural dyes prior to joining them, it is really the Fibershed ethic of Local Labor, Local Fiber and Local Dye that encouraged me to begin this journey into local dye plants.

I began raising Japanese indigo several years ago. I have tried to master the fermentation techniques that are a common way of extracting color from indigo, but have not had success with that…yet! I will continue to experiment this summer, but with tiny jars until I gain more confidence. Sea Spell Fiber’s over-extraction stories on Instagram have been invaluable to learning the process.

Japanese indigo extraction experiment
Japanese indigo extraction experiment

Happily, I have had success extracting color from indigo by two other techniques – the dried indigo technique that I first learned about from Deb McClintock’s webpage. And the fresh leaf technique that is like creating an indigo smoothie. You just swirl it up and shazam, it turns the wool a beautiful aqua blue green! Watching the oxidation take place before your eyes is really cool too. I did this experiment with my niece and her good buddy since it involved nothing but indigo and water. And, I’ve learned that where indigo is native, it is considered to be really healthy stuff. In fact, if we are wearing clothes that are dyed with real indigo leaves, the clothing may be healthful to our skin!?!

Fresh Japanese Indigo “smoothie”
The results of dyeing with that indigo smoothie – it is after that when I learned about the wonders of using a paint strainer to keep the plant material away from my wool.

I’m probably most excited about using things that are either food waste or plants that are less than desirable in my environment. In the food waste department, I have worked with avocado pits and skins and onion skins. And, in the less desirable plant department (weeds, non-native invasives, etc.), I have so far done dye experiments with curly dock seeds, stinging nettle leaves and tansy blossoms.

The experiments will continue. My knowledge will grow. The highly enjoyable journey continues! If you would like to get your hands on a skein of naturally dyed Coopworth yarn or roving, have a look at the ever changing color lineup in my online store. And watch for posts of my dye journey on Instagram

Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy.
Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy. Coopworth roving.
Autumn aspen leaf dyed Coopworth yarn
Hollyhock blossom dyed Coopworth yarn and roving
Elderberry dye pot
Elderberry dyed Coopworth yarn – berries tend to be “fugitive dyes” – not likely to stay this lovely pink long-term. They will fade to a pleasing blue-grey.
Marigolds, rudbekia and calendula destined for drying and later wool dyeing.

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Filed under Family and friends, Farm, Fermentation, Fiber Arts, Fibershed, gardening, natural dyes, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability, Wool

Winter is certainly here!

But, it took a long time to arrive.

I timed my final harvest of carrots down to about the last possible second.

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This was the first week of December and the ground hadn’t yet frozen.  If I had gotten to this job just a day or two earlier, it would not have involved snow.

As you can see, the chickens have been moved into their winter quarters inside the garden fence where I can run an extension cord to plug their coop in for supplemental light and a heated water dish.

The garlic seed is snugly tucked into the ground and poultry net has been strung around the garlic beds in case the chickens get over exuberant.

At this point, the sheep were still getting most of their nutrition from grazing.  As you can see here, the lawn was still quite green.  Plenty of forage was available in most of the pasture.  This is really remarkable.  Often, by mid October I am feeding hay because there is no forage left, but this year it just kept right on growing until it got covered with snow in early December.

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I take pasture photos at 6 standard locations on the first of each month as a form of research and record keeping.  This was the 12/1/16 photo of Paddock 1.

Today, we are experiencing a real winter deep freeze.  The benefit of weather so cold that I’m reluctant to step outside is that I do finally get around to the paperwork and computer projects that had been languishing when I was working on outside projects.

I’m very pleased to have finally made a bunch of updates to my little online store.  Have a look: https://squareup.com/store/autumn-larch-farm-llc.  There you will find soaps, sheepskins, raw fleeces, roving, yarn and more.

If you live nearby, save the postage and contact us to set up a time to stop in and do your shopping in person.  If you live farther away, this little online store is a great option for having a look at the products available and getting them delivered right to your door via USPS.

Stay warm and enjoy the vibrant sunshine that usually comes with the bitter cold.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, gardening, Getting Organized, Research, Seasons, Sheep

Garlic

Having spent much of late July and most of August harvesting, curing and cleaning garlic, I am happy to report that the 2016 garlic crop is now ready and available for sale!

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German Red Hardneck garlic

I raise three different varieties: German Red, Russian and Inchelium Red garlic.  The German Red and the Russian are both hard necked rocambole varieties (A. sativum var. ophioscorodon) and the Inchelium Red is a soft necked artichoke variety (A. sativum var. sativum).  The German Red is the variety I raise in the largest quantities.  The Inchelium Red is the only softneck and I generally braid some of it.

German Red Hardneck Garlic

German Red Hardneck Garlic

Inchelium Red Softneck Garlic

Inchelium Red Softneck Garlic

My garlic is planted in mid October, mulched heavily with dried leaves and wood shavings and left for the winter.   It begins to emerge just as the soil begins to warm in the spring at about the same time as the crocuses.  The hard necked varieties develop a scape or flower stalk which I remove when they have developed sufficiently to create a loop – if I snap them off any sooner, the scape will often continue to grow and I would rather have that energy go into bulb development.  The scapes are edible.  I use them similarly to green onions.  They are great in soups and sautés.  We are quite distant from major population centers, so it has been difficult to develop a market for the large number of scapes that are produced here, but in some places scapes are highly sought after.  Besides using them our own cooking, I have discovered that my sheep enjoy them as well.

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German Red garlic

Weeding is critical and can have a major impact on the size of the bulbs, as can soil fertility.  I leave the mulch in place in the spring and this helps to reduce the amount of weeding required.

In mid to late summer depending on the growing conditions, the leaves of the garlic plants begin to die back, starting with the lowest leaves first.  When about 3 of the leaves have died back on each variety, I begin to dig a few bulbs to see if that variety is ready to harvest.  The soft necked garlic is always the first to be harvested.  I try to harvest when the soil is dry because this makes curing and cleaning much easier, but this isn’t always an option in our temperate climate.

I tie the garlic in bunches of about 20 bulbs or so and hang the bunches in our barn to cure for a couple weeks.  Then I bring the bunches back down and prepare them for sale.  The Inchelium Red is sorted by size and condition before the tops are trimmed in order to select the ones I will use for braiding.  The rest are trimmed (roots and tops) as soon as I bring down the bunches.

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Garlic hanging to cure

Since reading GROWING GREAT GARLIC by Ron Engeland, I have been using a simple tool described in the book for sorting the garlic by size.

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Simple tool for sorting garlic by size

It may seem ironic to put the very best quality garlic back into the ground, but by saving and planting the best garlic each year, I have continued to improve my crop year after year and have developed varieties that are perfectly suited to my growing conditions…and to receiving ribbons at the county fair 🙂

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Filed under Farm, gardening, Local Food

Update on Organizing

A number of you encouraged me to post photos to document my progress in getting organized.  I think this is a good way to keep me on task.  This can be the first installment.

First the office space:

All moved in.  I’ve got a punchlist of items to complete and I continue to chip away at it – going through remaining files, etc.

And the barn sheep handling space:

I got it ready to hold sheep just in time for shearing.  It currently is a sheep holding area and the punchlist for that space is to complete the sheep handling capability by adding a hog panel and gates to create a chute that we can move them through.

And here’s a project that hasn’t yet gotten rolling:

This is the garden path cleanup that I wrote about earlier.  North, East, West and South.  What a mess!  Very soon I’ll start.  Right now, I’m tilling garden beds and staying ahead of the dandelion blooms.

Happy gardening!

 

 

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Filed under Farm, gardening, Getting Organized