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August 2, 2018 - Abundance!

Campfire RoseLife is so wonderfully full, especially in the summer! There is so much going on to share with you and so little time to do the sharing. I know we'll catch up come winter and I expect your lives are equally full so just a few photos and words to let you know we're still here and enjoying the abundance of summer. Food certainly, and the garden is feeding us very well! But there is so much more.

Populations rise and fall naturally with the years and usually adjust themselves without any attention from us but we do tend to mostly notice the extremes of the peaks and valleys. Here on the homestead this past year has been a record high for voles (and I'm sincerely hoping they are on the downswing now -- at least in the garden and orchard. But I'm sure there are those who are happy with the abundance, such as the resident Barred owl, weasel, coyotes, fox, and our own LilliB.) Equally noticeable has been the unusually low population of flying insects, which means a low population of birds who depend on those insects for food. We miss having so many birds -- but we haven't missed AT ALL the usual abundance of black flys and mosquitoes. We do have birds, just not as many. Some, like the trees swallows, simply came, checked things out, and went elsewhere where the food was more plentiful (I'm guessing), though they stayed around long enough to harass the bluebirds for awhile. Some just didn't show up, like the sparrows and juncoes. Others it seems we have just one family instead of several families - robins, bluebirds, hummingbirds, gold finches, wrens, chickadees, indigo buntings, catbirds, cedar waxwings, and the hard working friendly co-gardeners Chipping Sparrows. And others. Life wouldn't be much without the birds. I don't even mind sharing some fruit with them (well, within reason!) (my reason, of course, not theirs).

bees in dill flowersBut the other big absence has been pollinators -- the many kinds of bees, wasps, hornets, others. And butterflies, too. Since their numbers are so down it's a special joy to see them busily supping at the variety of flowers this time of year. I'm happy that what I'm growing in the garden and orchard is popular, from dill flowers to catnip, each with their own admirers. And with much sharing between species, like the fritillary and bee on the echinacea. Now, personally, I think the Campfire Rose (above) is much more attractive and catches my eye every time I walk in the garden, but I don't often see insects on those bees in catnipflowers. While the very understated small hardly noticably flowered (but prolific and quickly overgrown!) catnip is always humming with many busy bumbles the moment the first flowers appear and is never without attendance. So I allow too many to grow in the garden, brush by carefully as it grows with abandon into the paths, and weed out the many progeny.

 

But there are also many flowers that both the pollinators and us enjoy and I'm having a good time adding to the mix. Most are wildflowers such as the fritillary and bee on coneflowerPurple Coneflower, and some are imports that wouldn't survive without the gardener's help. We all enjoy them each in our own way and every time I see a "bee" working diligently on flowers tiny or large I marvel at their ways. It makes the flowering time of year so very special. 

 


June 28, 2018 - Then suddenly another month has gone by...

Those beautiful blossoms below have turned into steadily growing little fruitlets -- those in the large tree becoming 1" cute (but inedible) mini-pears, to be thrown over the fence for the deer. The smaller tree on the right, a Stacey Pear, has set a full crop - its first - a great cause for celebration! The fruit is very good (we've had a few small harvests previously) and I'm sure looking forward to harvest time. There is so much anticipation this time of year; so much to imagine, look forward to, and appreciate. It's great just to step outside, which we're doing a great deal of now. Steve is just about done cutting hay and I'm well on the way to transferring said hay to the garden and orchard trees, helping to keep what moisture we have in the ground for the growing plants. It's been rather on the dry side here, especially compared to the extra wet season last year. But no matter what weather we get we all settle into it and do well one way or another. It's always interesting, and things always grow.

pear graftOne, of many, joys of early summer for me is watching our current season grafts for signs of life - that wonderful little bit of green in the scion buds that says "there's hope!". Slowly, growing and unfolding, there's a small leaflet - "there's a good chance now!". A few more leaves, more buds popping - "Yes! It's likely a take!". This is where we are now - 46 grafts at all stages - apples, pears, plums, cherries - including some that haven't shown signs of life yet (but there's still hope). There are a lot of variables involved in grafting. As with all young things, the first months, and years, are very undecided. Some stay for the long haul, some don't make it past the first year, but the beginnings are all so very sweet and exciting.

Earlier in the month I looked out the front window to see a beautiful doe step carefully out of the brush and brambles into our mowed front path, looking back and I thought about ready to maybe scratch or lick a back leg or something. Then the brush wiggled and out emerged the smallest fawn I've ever seen, stumbling a bit over the growth. It had to be very young but it was mobile! Mom and baby soon disappeared back into the safety of the brush. A special moment. A few days ago I was walking through the area north of the garden, stopping to pick up a branch in my way and casually tossing it aside. Up jumped a larger fawn, leaping away from this woman throwing branches at it! I apologized. I also know it didn't go far. A reminder to watch our steps this time of year. Was it the same fawn? I don't know, it was well able to jump through the underbrush so my guess it's an older one. We often have several does with their fawns sharing our homestead, though we don't see them much. There's room for all of us. And a wonderful welcome to summer they are.

 


May 25, 2018 - Summer Already?? What Happened to Spring?

pears in bloomWinter was reluctant to let go but the first half of May had some nice warmer weather along with some low 20's freezes to keep us in our place. It appeared it was just going to be one of those years when planting would be later rather than earlier. That was OK, we enjoyed the leisurely slide into spring. Then Mother Nature must have heard some of the grumblings about how slow things were to warm up, so decided to fast forward to summer, might as well skip spring. Suddenly we had day temperatures in the upper 70's (this is hot for us even in the summer let alone in May!) and nights in the 50's, dry with no spring rains. Things started leafing and blooming one after the other with hardly room to admire one before the next was on stage, birds and insects returning on each others heels, every moment an explosion of something new and fresh. And these winter-white Yoopers have been soaking up every moment possible, reluctant to come inside, reveling in the expanded hours.

You could say we've been working hard, but we know we've just been thoroughly enjoying life on the homestead. Steve's just finished a long and large clearing project, trying to reclaim a bit of open land from the enthusiastic white pines and wild black cherries. At the same time (well, in between times) working long hours on the boat project -- designing and building to turn our row boat into a sail boat. It's coming along so I need to find a rainy day to make that sail very soon. And the orchard and garden has claimed me for their own, with no complaints from me. The greenhouse is now cleared out, we're eating fresh greens and rhubarb from the garden, the weeds are receding as seeds and plants take their place. The orchard is greening and blooming and we'll be grafting next week. And we got some well appreciated rain today -- hurray!

Other life continues as well. We've had two fun weeks playing music at the summer Manistique Farmers Market already (where temperatures are at least 10 deg cooler there on the Lake than here inland), the local Lake Effect Art Gallery starts summer hours tomorrow with their annual Spring Open House, and the first of three Fur & Feather Swaps in Trenary is tomorrow where we'll be playing music with our friends Sharon and Tom and enjoying the people, the event and the many animals. Summer has begun! 


April 22, 2018 - Spring! Once Again

receding snow shop April 22Beautiful warm (almost 50!) sunny weather has melted the newest snow and is fast working on the old. More ground is emerging every time we look, and crocus gems popping out here and there with little bursts of color. Lilli now comes inside Lilli cat on bare groundonly for a quick bite and a nap, then out she goes to do her duty keeping rodents under control. She's one happy cat! We changed boots for tennies for a walk down the bare road (ahhhh) (though it was still boots and snowshoes to get up to the road out of our snowy valley). It'll be awhile before we're driving down to the house but meantime we're enjoying the emerging world and will be working outdoors soon. 


April 20, 2018 - Happy Nasturtiums

greenhouse nasturtiums more flowers

The greenhouse nasturtiums don't care what is happening outside - they are celebrating spring and going all out to make their, and our, indoor world bright and colorful. What great companions they are in the greenhouse (and the outdoor garden, too!


April 17, 2018 - A Week Later...

April 17 snowMaybe it's not time to start planting in the garden after all, now, but it's beautiful! We had a gentle time with this storm, nestled in our valley in the woods, protected from the winds. Saturday was looking like spring with even more bare ground than a few days before. LilliB made good use of almost every minute, exploring and hunting and walking on every inch of bare ground. She didn't take her usual, many, nap breaks. Maybe she knew what the next few days would bring. It wasn't a blizzard for us, it just snowed. And snowed. And snowed. Final count - 10" of new wet white. LilliB spent almost all day Sunday sleeping (ignoring the snow?), and now spends many hours staring out the window, keeping entertained by a lone hardy Junco who arrived yesterday, both waiting patiently for this newest (and the oldest) snow to melt.


Above Freezing! - April 11, 2018

It was a beautiful sunny day today and we finally made it into the upper 30's! I'm sure it was low 40's in the sun (and out of the wind). It had that smell of spring coming. Even though there are predictions nasturtiums climbing in greenhousefor more snow this week it will land on the ever expanding, warming, bare ground so won't likely last long. All of us were in and out often just to savor the day. Lilli in particular has been thoroughly checking out every new patch of snow-free habitat, and nasturtium flowers greenhouseenjoying it just as thoroughly.

In the greenhouse the nasturtiums helped the celebration by opening more bright cheery blooms. This was a little remnant I'd transplanted from the garden last fall. It held on through the short, cloudy days to go all out this spring. I also stuck some seed in the bed and those have been growing enthusiastically, too. So much so I had to put some bamboo poles in to keep them from pulling down and covering up everything else! They appear to love the indoor climate.


Bread Time! - small round bread bakedApril 6, 2018

It’s April, we’re still getting snow, temperature lows often diving down to zero and highs are having a hard time getting above freezing. Might as well bake some bread! Well, I bake bread almost every week but having the wood cookstove going and the smells of baking bread seem most welcome when winter is reluctant to give way to spring.

My first home baked bread was more than forty years ago when we were living in the city, dreaming of our future homestead. We bought a grain mill to grind our own flour (which we still have and use) and that first loaf turned out! We were hooked.

Many hundreds of loaves, many variations tried, and many decades later I still enjoy baking bread. It’s so easy, and so satisfying. For years it was all wheat, then rye and barley joined in. At some point I changed from wheat to spelt. A small amount of buckwheat usually. This has been my basic flour mix for some time, making a nicely dense, tasty bread. Sometimes it was made in a regular bread pan, sometimes rolls, most often a long “roll” on a cookie sheet. I found this to bake the best and became my standard. But nothing ever stays still. How boring it would be if it did!

This year my mix became more multi-grained with additions to the above of oats, millet, quinoa, corn, and always a few tablespoons of fennel. The smell of fennel fills the air when the mix is grinding! Maybe I got a little carried away when I ordered the grains, but we like the resulting flavor and texture.

I found early on that bread is really quite forgiving. I did make a couple of compostable 'bricks' in the early days learning to deal with the vagaries of a wood cookstove. But soon baking bread of whatever shape or design became a simple chore, easy to fit into our busy schedules. It was like any number of things that you do again and again. You soon become a “master” of your own recipe and it is no longer difficult. But with changes comes the chance to learn some new tricks. And with my new flour mix I had need for some new learning.

I wanted
a lighter crumb; something with a moderate amount of holes, small ones, something that would trap the jam when you wanted to make a PB&J sandwich and eat it on the road and not have jam squeezing out on your lap or hands. My regular bread just wasn’t very good at that.

So I did some searching online. Wow, what a big bug baking your own bread has become! That’s great, though I find some of the rules and have-to’s to be quite tiresome. Bread baking really isn’t that difficult! Nor that exacting. However, I did get some hints. Mainly, make the dough wetter. Mmm. OK, I can do that. I’ve never been a big fan of kneading so always did the minimum anyway but now I skipped that part. It took me a few tries to get what I wanted but this is my current regime:

* Put 2 cups of warm water in bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp bread yeast across surface.
* Add/mix in flour until sort of like thick cream soup.
* Cover and let set for awhile (likely a few hours) until it’s working (bubbles in surface).
* Stir in some oil, maybe 1/4 cup. Add flour until the dough is sticky but holds its shape (if the bread doesn’t come out the way you like it next time try wetter or drier dough - this is what took me a few tries to get right.)
* Scrape into well oiled pan(s)/baking dish(es)**.
* Pat/push/flatten/shape however you want the top to be. I like a flat top so I flatten/smooth it with a wet spoon.
* Cover and let rise. Mine doesn’t double, maybe rises a quarter. Maybe takes a few hours.
* Bake in a fairly hot oven for 40-60 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil when the top is lightly browned and getting hard. Bake until it is nicely browned around the edges.
* Let it set a bit, run a butter knife or metal spatula around the edges, then turn it out onto cooling rack.
* Let it cool before cutting and eating.

whole grain baked bread** Baking pans - My former cookie-sheet method didn’t work so well with the moister dough. It just slowly spread out instead of rising up making a nicely baked but very wide short “loaf”. This was OK for single slice eating but it didn’t get high marks for sandwiches. So I dug out the old bread pans I had. They worked OK for baking the bread but didn’t do so well for getting the loaf out in one piece. My usual method of oiling the pan with vegetable oil apparently wasn’t enough. But I didn’t find any other suggestions that I cared for. so I figured it was time for a new bread pan. Mine were pretty well dented and scratched.

At about that time I spied a small clay bread pan at the thrift store. I’d read about them and thought I’d give it a try. Oiled it well, filled it about 3/4. Had dough left. Mmm. Grabbed a small Pyrex mixing bowl, oiled it, put the rest of the dough in that. It would do I figured. Well, they both ‘did’ and very well at that! Just right for this bread. Baked well all the way through with a very nice crust, and came out easily in one piece! I might get another clay/stoneware bread pan, but then again, maybe not. I rather like the round loaf from the Pyrex mixing bowl.


april 1 snow

April 1, 2018

One has to love the Upper Midwest weather humor. Snow of 8" and temps below zero this morning. A reasonable welcome to April and Spring I'd say. But I planted my tomato seeds yesterday and they're comfortably cozy warm by the woodstove, knowing, as we do, that it won't be long before the ground is bare and green things growing.

So, Happy Easter and Happy April to all!


Sailing Dory is now a Project - March 29, 2018Sailing Dory Page

Over the last couple of months I have made a few posts here in the 'Blog' about the impending conversion of our rowing dory for sailing. I have begun a separate page for this project where I will be posting the progress on the conversion. I hope you will check it out and let me know if you have any comments or suggestions via the contact page.


Carved Black Cherry Bowl - Progress Report - March 24, 2018

Cherry bowl,  completedThe cherry bowl I began back in February is finished and ready to go. Since the last update back on February 15th I let the bowl's moisture content slowly normalize to ensure that it would not check. It is always interesting to watch this process; the bowl closed up a bit as it dried and is probably 1/4" narrower than when it was first carved.

Once it was dry I reshaped the rim including the 'dips' at the ends, again, to reduce any stresses that might be caused by changes in humidity. The bowl is finished with 100% tung oil and a natural resin varnish. Both of these finishes allow the wood to breathe. You can view some larger images on our Bowls by Steve  web page.


Treadle Lathe Video - March 22, 2018

View Treadle Lathe videoWe have heard from several folks who were interested in more information about my foot-powered treadle lathe so I created a brief video showing it in in action. You can check it out here. I plan on putting together two more lathe-related videos soon; one on turning a green wood spindle and another on turning a small dish from fresh-cut black cherry. Click for more information on my book: "Make Your Own Treadle Lathe".


Prius 200,000 - March 21, 2018

Prius turns 200,000 miles

Just a quick note to include you in the celebration of our 2007 Prius reaching 200,000 miles. It has done so quite gracefully. We bought the car about seven years ago with 48,000 miles on. It was owned by a commercial pilot who had maintained it meticulously.

We are still enjoying this car. It has never let us down and continues to get 47 - 52 mpg. As you can see above, as it turned over 200,002 miles it was getting 50.4 mpg. The photo is of the salty/dusty car in front of the garage at the top of the hill. Yes we still have lots of snow down in the valley.

Lots of miles left in the car. A friend has over 300,000 miles on his Prius and it is still going strong. Interestingly, Toyota must not have thought that a Prius would last that many miles; the odometers stop at 300,000. Toyota gave our friend a new instrument cluster so he can continue on with his car.


frost sparkled bushes

Happy Equinox! - March 20, 2018


Almost Spring! - March 10, 2018

daffodils blooming greenhouseIt may be cold and snowy outside but it's spring in the greenhouse with the first daffodils blooming and more to come. And the greens are certainly perking up and enjoying the longer days. Maybe it's not quite "almost spring", the woodstove is still going, but the chickadees assure us that it's coming. Meantime we're enjoying our indoor projects and aren't ready to focus outside yet anyway. 


Sewing Leggings - March 3, 2018

March has arrived mildly with beautiful sunny skies and moon filled nights. It’s even been getting above freezing during the day. This morning was a cool 5 deg and it froze the previously soft snow hard enough that you could walk anywhere on top without snowshoes. We and Lilli enjoyed that.

I continue working through my “saved for winter” sewing pile, and have had some nice fairly quick successes these last few days. Quick if one doesn’t take into account the many weeks it took me to come up with my pattern! I just wanted to make some simple leggings. One pair (purple) for kayaking and one pair (black) for dance. With some nice sturdy but stretchy lycra fabric on hand I figured it wouldn’t take long. Well, it didn’t, in the end. But I sure put in the hours fitting and stitching and seam ripping, and adding pieces here and there, then putting it all back together, making the adjustment each time on the paper pattern, over and over. Leggings ARE easy, but I’m rather picky about comfort and I wanted these to fit just right - just tight enough to look good but not so tight for comfort. Add a little here, subtract a little there, add more there, move the wrinkles around until eventually they (mostly) disappeared.

leggins and shortsOf course, I should have had some ‘scrap’ fabric to make the trial pair, a proper ‘muslin’. It would have been a lot easier as I wouldn’t have fussed about the neatness and look of every change. But I didn’t - I used the purple fabric that I had bought for my kayaking leggings, and only had enough for the one pair. So it took longer, but in the end I had a pair of acceptable leggings (even if they do have some extra pieces set in the calves and back end), and a workable pattern. The last few days I cut out and sewed up the black lycra fabric using my new pattern. It didn’t take long, and to my relief, they fit. The pattern was good. I now have some nice, comfortable leggings to wear under my dance skirts when the hall is cool (until I warm up by dancing!). I had fabric leftover so I made a pair of lycra shorts, too. Unfortunately, I really don’t need any more stretch leggings or shorts But that’s the way it usually goes. I’ll still have the pattern if ever I want another pair though.

leggins seamsOne-seam leggings are quite simple to sew up, once you get used to the stretchy fabric. If I’m not sure of the fit I use a wider seam allowance and sew the first seam stitches with slightly different color thread - just enough contrast that it’ll be easy enough to see if you have to take the stitches out. But not such a contrast that it’ll glare out loudly if the main stitches give out and this second row is on the line. I know, seam stitches aren’t supposed to show but with stretchy fabric like leggings are made of they tend to show a bit where the fit is tight. When I’ve decided the leggins I’m working on do indeed fit, then I sew the second seam line just inside the first with thread that matches the fabric closely. I use a narrow .5 width zigzag stitch. Real nice, sharp, quality, silk pins are especially appreciated with this fabric. If I’ve used a 3/8” seam allowance I trim near to the stitching to reduce bulk. Normally I just use a 1/4” seam allowance to avoid having to trim. I also leave extra material at the top and cuffs.

leggings gussetGUSSET - Leggins are simple to sew up - unless you decide to add a gusset in the crotch area - which I did. This is just a small diamond or oval shape piece of material that can give one a bit of fits sewing it in but it adds much to the comfort and eases greatly the stress on the seams in that area. I think it’s worth it. There’s no way to know just how big or what shape to make this little piece unless you already have something with a gusset to measure. So there’s nothing for it but to just take a guess, make a piece, baste it in, try it on, guess what subtractions or additions will make it fit better, take it out, make adjustments, sew it back in... etc. Until it fits and looks to your satisfaction, or you decide you simply are not going to take it out again and it’ll be fine just the way it is. And it likely will.

Here’s what I did: Mark on your gusset the tip that goes towards the Front seam, the opposite tip that goes towards the Back seam, and the side tips that go at the leg seams. Also mark where the seam lines cross at the four tips (or where the ‘tips’ would be if you’re using a rounded oval shape), and the inside of the fabric. It seems so simple when looking at that little diamond shape until you get sewing it in and can’t decide which is up or down, or get it wrong side where. Marking the piece ahead of time helps.

Sew your leg seams. Then starting at one leg seam pin one side of the gusset up the front, then the back, attaching the gusset to one side. Stitch starting at the leg seam one way, then the other, again starting at the leg seam. Start and stop your stitching at the seam lines or where they cross. Take your time, go slowly and smooth the pieces before you sew. Use the sensitivity of your fingers to make sure you are never sewing through more than the two pieces of fabric you want to be sewing. And don’t cross over another seam or seam marking, just right up to the spot. This avoids the gobby bulk that can happen at the points of the gusset if you’re sloppy (I say this from experience). You’ll have funny points of the gusset sticking up but that’s OK - you’ll trim them off later.

Now, you can either pin and stitch the other side of the gusset next, then sew the front and back seams. OR stitch the front and back seams next, then the rest of the gusset. Do what feels best to you. Either way I start stitching the gusset at the leg seams. If doing gusset first, sew the front and back seams starting from the gusset point. When all done take a break! And know that the next one will be easier.

If there is a little space at the gusset points then use a needle and thread to smoothly close them. You can run another line of stitching around the gusset seams. But on the gusset I like to top stitch, smoothing the seams out to make this area as flat as possible. You may also want to add a liner. I didn’t but if I wanted to I’d glue stick the liner down and stitch it with the top stitching. Sew around the gusset on the inside making sure the seams stay flat under the stitching. I like to use a somewhat decorative stitch here.

Once you are on familiar terms with gussets and what they can do for ease of motion in clothing you might find other areas to use them. They work great put in at a lower armhole for easing an otherwise restrictive sleeve.

And now that your gusset is done you only have the top elastic and cuff hems to do to your liking and your leggins will be ready for wear!

Nomenclature is a funny thing sometimes. I know these things are properly called ‘leggings’ nowdays but I have trouble calling them that. For me, leggings (pronounced leg-ens) are wool pants you wore as a kid over pants or under skirts to play out in the snow. These are now known as ‘snow pants’, not just for kids and usually not wool. Tights were what we called the ones I just made. I’ve read though that properly termed ‘tights’ are light weight and have feet. I knew things of that sort as ‘nylons’ or ‘pantyhose’, or tights if they were heavier and worn for skating or dance or such. My current dance ‘leggings’ are black silk long-johns (also used for their intended purpose as long-johns). And our old ‘bicycling tights’ were poly long-johns. But whatever they’re called, my recently made leggins will see multi use under skirts when dancing, under shorts when kayaking, under pants as long-johns, as camping night wear, and maybe evening lounge wear. No matter what you call them they’re a pretty versatile piece of clothing. And now that I have my pattern, easy to make. Too bad a couple of pair are probably all I need! 


Starting Seeds - February 26, 2018

planted pots by stoveGardening has begun! It's a bit early, I know, but the temperatures are warming, almost making it above freezing, and I just felt like planting something. So I started some peppers, a little lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes for an extra early crop, some marigolds for the same reason (the main plantings will wait for a few more weeks), some herbs. It felt good to be messing about in the dirt. The pots have now joined the cuttings in the warm spot behind the wood stoves. We may still have a foot and half of snow outside but there is a taste of spring inside! Not even counting all the greenery in the greenhouse which is definitely perking up and growing more. I've even had a few early rising ladybugs to transplant out there which is nice. March is only a few days away - the inbetween month - neither winter nor spring but often both.


Beautiful Day - February 26, 2018

wild black cherry icyYesterday our whole world was a magical snow and ice covered wonder. There was no wind to knock it out of the trees and it didn't get warm enough to melt. Today the skies were clear and the sun came out to fill the trees with diamonds and glittering sequins, tinkling gentle chimes as the breeze picked up. I tried to get some photos of it but couldn't get close to the reality. It was a day to gaze out the window often, then get out and walk amongst the soon raining icy pieces and a lot of little branches on the ground.

Plus a few not so little. One quite good sized cherry limb came down by the shop, unfortunately onto and wiping out the framework of our summer garage! So Steve got the do a little chainsawing and dismantling, salvaging the pieces to someday be something else. We had talked about building a more sturdy garage someday, and it looks like now that may be sooner than later. It was still a beautiful day.


Scions Arriving! - February 25, 2018

It's quite a ways off before I'll be working in the orchard but the planning and dreaming is rampant during these snowy months. I walk around the orchard quite often, admiring the hardy trees and seedlings, imagining harvests to come. But a highlight this time of year is when ordered scions arrive to be grafted onto waiting trees and seedlings later in May. Finally, something concrete to do! Well, there really isn't much to do with them but I make the most of what there is. To many they are just small cuttings off a tree (which they are) but a whole new world of yet untasted fruit is hidden in those little sticks. Most (all?) of the varieties we're grafting I've never eaten, going by others' experiences and recommendations in choosing. We don't have a lot of grafting to do this year but I've made some trades with folks in other parts of the country, what I have for what they have, so small envelopes of small sticks arrive now and then (I'll be cutting and sending mine soon).

long scionsThis year I ordered some scions of varieties I couldn't find elsewhere from the US National Plant Germplasm System. It's an incredible resource, underfunded and understaffed with very dedicated people who cut and send out hundreds of cuttings from their vast collections of trees for those who want to trial (or breed) different varieties. For me, it's finding apple and pear varieties that will grow well in this area but aren't common here (often from Canada). And they are very generous with the amount of wood they send. Most sources send one or two 6" pieces (which actually is plenty) but not these folks. They want to make sure you have what you need. And they are excellent cuttings.

labeled scionsScions have to be cut when the tree is dormant and kept in that state until ready to graft. But one doesn't graft until trees start to grow in the spring. So you keep them well wrapped (so they don't dry out) and cool until then. Sometimes all I do is triple wrap them in plastic bags and store in the root cellar. But this year I decided to wax them now before storing. This keeps the scion from drying both now and after they're grafted. Plus it's fun. So today was the day to sort, admire, cut to length, wax, label and carefully wrap and store all the sticks I have so far. Since I had so much extra wood I also prepared pieces of each variety and potted them to try rooting them to grow on their own roots (instead of grafting). It's rare to be successful at this but that's all the more reason to try! So the main waxed scions are securely stored in the root cellar and a collection of adventurous cuttings are warmly hanging out and hopefully thinking of rooting in pots by the woodstove. A good day for all.


Carved Cherry Bowl - Progress Report - February 15, 2018

The bowl is beginning to look less like a piece of firewood. I have defined the rim shape and then carved out the bulk of the body using several curved gouges including the one in the photo.

looking like a bowl?
The next step was to refine the shape, aiming for about 1/4" thickness at this point. More, shallower gouge work then scraping and rough sanding. This piece of wood was freshly cut from a dead but standing tree last fall and it is still very damp; the scrapers and course sandpaper just kind of tear the moist fibers rather than shear them off.
Ready to mellow awhile ...

I have placed the bowl in a paper bag with a couple of handfuls of chips and will now let it slowly dry out for a while. This is the stage where if one tries to hurry the process you can expect to get severe checking (cracks) in the ends of the bowl. Now that it is relatively thin in cross section and safely 'in the bag' it will slowly reshape itself (curve inward a little) without damage. I'll check on the bowl periodically but expect it to be as long as two to three weeks before it  will be ready for final thinning to a little under 3/16", sanded and finished with pure tung oil.


First Bloom of the Season!  Happy Valentine's Day!
 Nasturtium in greenhouse


Carving time, again - February 8, 2018

I finally have most of my fall and early winter homestead projects completed so it is time to switch into Bowl Carver Guy mode. As a teenager I would drift off to sleep dreaming of someday having a modest carving shop in the Upper Peninsula. The shop I envisioned was in a old lumber camp pay shack that our family stayed in for the entire month of August every year from before I was born until I was in my 20's. A great place for a young person to run wild in the woods and dream crazy. The older Finnish gentleman who we stayed with at that camp put a spoke shave in my hands when I was 9 or 10 years old and along with a lot of support from my parents, started me along on this path.

Our shop here on the homestead is conveniently right in the front of the house, between the living area and attached greenhouse. Over the years I have carved a lot of spoons, over 1000, and many bowls. You can see some of the bowls here.

Here are a couple of photos of the beginnings of this new bowl.
Beginning the bowl
The wild black cherry log section on my carving bench.
The bark has been shaved off with a draw knife and the blank shaped to fit on my carving vice.

Phase two of the carving

Sue elegantly refers to the stage as the 'dead pig' mode. I have roughly marked where I want the feet of the bowl to be and used a wide, shallow gouge to get this far along. Next is flipping it over to establish the rim shape and carving the piece to that shape. Then Back over to feet up position to refine the underside. I've made a half-bushel of chips already; great for fire starting once they have dried.


carrots garden Jan 21

Carrots! - January 21, 2018

Above freezing, no wind, no precipitation -- a perfect day to take care of some mid-winter outdoor chores. We were both in and out all day enjoying just being outside. The carrots in the root cellar were almost out so the timing was good to resupply. It's a bit messy but fun to be digging in the dirt mid winter.  Under the snow the mulch and down a few inches was frozen, especially at the edge of the plot, but the carrots were fine - fresh and crisp. The mulch and snow had done their job. There are more carrots still in the ground to be dug in the spring. So I hope we have good snow cover all winter this year. Meantime, we'll enjoy the "new crop" freshly dug.  


Fingerweaving - January 16, 2018

The first fingerweaving I saw was at some rendezvous' we went to in the early 1990's. They were fun events, being surrounded by others who were interested and involved in making their own items of the era, which was right down our alley. I was intrigued by the fingerwoven sashes and garters some folks had so I got some yarn, sat down and figured out how to do it. My first sash was pretty wavy but it worked and I was hooked. I went on to make, and sell, many more over many years. Not many people do it any more. But at some point I went on to other things and fingerweaving was mostly set aside.

There are times, though, when I have need of something to work on in public, whether at a particular historical event or while working at the Lake Effect Art Gallery. Painting for me is a private affair (as in, don't expect any interaction with me when I'm painting!), and carving with its tools and chips is often not appropriate. But fingerweaving is. It's portable, compact, not messy, fairly easy to do with an audience, and usually interesting to folks who have never seen it. It is one of the "forgotten arts". So I still occasionally enjoy this craft-of-my-past. Since it's a now and then affair, and fingerweaving is a slow process (which is why loom weaving is so much more popular and common) my output is pretty few and far between. But today I finished a sash that has been in-progress for several years and it was fun to see the finished product, complete and ready for a fur trade era reenactor or native american dancer, or someone with an eye for something a little different!

 fingerwoven sash #29     fingerwoven sash #29

More info on the fingerweaving page (click here).


snowy january day

Snow! - January 15, 2018

Beautiful and wonderfully insulating -- 12" of new fluffy covering -- great for the house, the greenhouse, the garden, the orchard. And a good day to stay home and enjoy it, which we did.

I must say, though, that Lilli did not agree with our enthusiasm for the snow. She waited until absolutely the very last minute to make her trip out, with a fair amount of pacing and hemming and hawing (in a cat way) before making the blitz. Can't say as I blame her considering that the banks along the path are now over her head.


Dory cabin: dreaming & drawing  – January 12, 2018

Nearly every day I walk past the boat when going through the shop on yet another homestead project. I see it lying there, snug under its winter dust cover and stop to visualize how I might actually build the small sleeping cabin. The cabin length is pretty much determined by the distance from the aft seat frame to the pointy stern seat. The other night I took some time at the computer and came up with the image below. Although I have drawn the cabin with a wood look, my plan is to frame it up with lightweight spruce and cover it with polyester fabric like the rest of the boat to keep the above-gunwale weight down.

      Cabin drawing ...

A major concern is that any increase in height will increase the boat’s windage – that is; make it harder to row on windy days. One thought I’ve had, optimist that I am, is that the larger shape in the stern might make it easier to keep the boat headed into the wind. Kind of like dragging a small anchor would do.

It’s still a bit too cool (5 deg. F.) to make any sawdust out in the shop but I do enjoy working up these images to help visualize how the boat’s modifications might work out. Next is deciding whether to go with a centerboard, daggerboard or leeboard. I’m kind of leaning toward an off-center daggerboard to keep the hole in the bottom of the boat as small as possible and not block access in the center of the boat too much. I’ve a little more research to do on that.
 


backroom ceiling Cheers for a New Year!

May this year of 2018 be one of the best with all sorts of dreams come true. We had a good slide from old to new as our big end-of-year project was completed by the end of the year! The newly insulated ceiling is now a part of the house, the major post-clean-up finished, and we're very much enjoying the results (of both!).

lightbar end closeNew projects were begun immediately and while I went on to other things Steve began and finished one that has been waiting for its turn since winter and short days began -- a secondsoldering wires light bar LED light strip in the greenhouse. This one for over the bed that is against the house, giving those plants a boost, being on for a few hours morning and evening. And on the very cold, cloudy days when the insulating curtain and side panels are left in greenhouse bed light barplace for warmth the lights can be on all day, promoting growth of the green plants and allowing us more salad greens mid-winter. This was a great new year's project.

Steve is now on to making and installing some new drawers in the front shop, so some of the smaller dust catching tools which were on shelves can be stored away. Another step towards a more organized, and neater, house. Of course, as these things go, en route to finishing the drawers there were, and are, many other small projects that come up. Distractions some folks might call them. I just think they're a normal part of the homestead life. Happy 2018!

 

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