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Most Recent Blog Entries

  • Orchard - New Fence 1

  • Orchard - Spring Pruning

  • Sew - Dance Shoe Bag

  • Books - New Direct Sales

  • Greenhouse - Greens & Lights update

  • New Kayak Project

  • Happy March!

Archived Blog Posts / Links


ORCHARD - New Fence Stage 1 - April 30, 2017north fence line cleared

Buds are swelling, daffodils and Spring Beauties are blooming, wood ticks have arrived, and in a few weeks it will likely be warm enough to graft all those seedlings and trees waiting for new varieties. There’s still snow in the air sometimes, frosts at night, many cold north winds, and many beautiful days. Spring comes slowly up here, but that’s just the way I like it. And now Stage One of our new orchard fence is complete. This has been one of the big projects for both of us this month -- clearing the fence-line. A lot of large chainsaw work, small lopper work, and a fair amount of chopping and digging; cutting down/out trees, shrubs and brush, hauling it off to create yet another new brush pile, just in time for the sparrows and other small birds (and other creatures) to claim as new home territory. Pre mosquito and black fly time is great for this type of work.

At the north end I had to move an old brush pile that was in the line and discovered a gold mine (if one is a grower of plants and trees) of well rotted stuff at the bottom. Well worth the work! At the south end I found (unfortunately with the lawn mower!) a nice rock, maybe 10” sticking above a raised area. Since we’re collecting rocks for our someday pond this was a good find. It was mostly buried, and I had to flatten that area anyway, so I got the shovel to dig it out. Surprise! Turns out it is maybe 3 feet across, and who knows how deep -- I didn’t go that far! So I dug out around it and we have a nice “point of interest” along that part of the fence. Thankfully the chosen fenceline runs just north of it. The large rock is a companion to our old “snake rock” about 100 ft away. This one is mostly above ground (actually, we don’t know how much is below ground). In our early years here we saw a garter snake sunning itself on this large rock and henceforth it has been Snake Rock.
Lilli in pear tree
This new area adds about 30% to the size of our current garden/orchard, making it about one acre total. I think this will be a nice size and we’ll certainly be eating well when all the new fruit trees start producing! The next step now is to move some of the old fence and install new fence posts and fencing. Steve’s had to fit this work into the building of his kayak so it’s been a busy month. It’ll be nice to have it completed before the weather warms up, the kayak is finished, and we’ll be wanting to get out on the water. Plus the swallows and blue birds returned to find their old nest boxes moved in anticipation of taking down part of the old fence. So It’ll be good to get the fence done and the boxes put back up before they get too serious about their nest building work. It sure was great to see and hear these old friends again.

Photos - Every project needs a friendly supervisor. Lilli enjoyed the job for a short time. But what I was doing just wasn't that interesting for very long.

ORCHARD - Spring Pruning - April 14, 2017

Apple prunedToday I finished pruning the last apple tree on my list, a wild apple in our yard, a little more than 2 wks from when I started working on the apples and pears. The many young trees I have in the orchard need very little pruning, if at all, as they need to keep all of their early growth of branches and leaves to build a healthy root system. The real pruning starts (and continues!) when they start bearing a crop. This is when I spend almost as much time looking and studying a tree as I do clipping and sawing. We have only one apple tree, a Haralson, that has anywhere near a “standard” (according to the drawings in books) shape, and moderate growth. It doesn’t take long to prune him. All the others are quite independent minded in how they grow. They aren’t so easy. It’s a lifetime learning to prune well but I’m enjoying the challenge, especially as my skills are improving.

We have four producing “tame” apples and one pear. These are all trees we planted. There are also a half dozen wild apples with varied fruit quality but I usually make use of the apples in sauce or cider. Some of the trees I’ve been working on for many years to get them to a manageable size and they are all now finally coming into shape, each in their own way. But all can now be reached standing on the top of my 8 ft ladder for pruning and harvesting. Though not as impressive as the 30 ft standard trees we used to have they are much easier to care for and give us better fruit. I’m happy with the new 11-12 foot heights, and I hope the trees are, too.

As I have many dozen small trees coming on it’s particularly nice to have the older trees easier to manage, and the new ones being shaped as they grow. When I look at my map I wonder just what we’re going to do when they are all of bearing age?! Last count there were 58 trees total, most of which we have grafted or will graft soon. Not all are apples and pears, the total includes plums and cherries (which I won’t be pruning until after blossom time, when growth is strong and healing from the cuts fast) (apples and pears are not so sensitive so can be pruned before growth starts). But the higher proportion are apples, and they take the most pruning to keep them open enough for good air circulation and for healthy new growth, and healthy fruit. They don’t all produce each year, of course, but it will be great when we have enough bearing trees to have an abundance of fruit all year--fresh, stored, dried, or canned, and enough to give away. Along with our many berries we are well on our way to that pleasant state.

I do enjoy spending this time with the fruit trees. Pruning requires significant attention to each tree that it doesn’t always get at other times of the year. And it’s a great time to be outside working--post snow (well, most of it anyway) and pre mosquitoes and black flies. And the anticipation of the coming growing season and potential fruit is delicious indeed.

The tools for pruning are simple -- a ladder, hand pruners, loppers, pruning saw. As with most jobs, the quality of the tools can make quite a difference in the quality and joy of the job. What I have is quite adequate, and all are nice upgrades from previous tools. And I thought my old hand pruners were just fine. But some folks on the GrowingFruit forum talked highly of their favorite pruners and I wondered if there might be a better pair out there for me. Mine were a gift years ago, much appreciated and well used, being sharpened almost to the point of needing new blades. They are on the large size but it never occured to me that there might be smaller ones out there, nor that it might make a difference. But the seed was planted, and I wondered...looked online...mmm, those sure sounded nice. But really, mine were working just fine. Then I won a nice 50/50 raffle at a polka dance...and I ordered my new 7” (small size) ARS Hand Pruners the next day. And wow! Are they ever nice! Sharp right out of the package, very comfortable in the hand, easy to use. I couldn’t wait to start pruning, and when I did I realized what a big upgrade these were. The quality of the tool is high, the cuts clean and easy, and having a hand pruner that fit my smaller hand definitely made a big difference in comfort for many hours of pruning. I really do like my new hand pruners! So does Steve. When we were asked recently to do some bench pruning for friends Steve decided to use the new pruners instead of a knife as he usually does for the cuts because they do such a nice, clean, straight cut. They made the grafting job just a little easier. (He does the knife work; I do the wrapping and follow-up). Plus, they gave us four apples fresh from their root cellar (this is in mid April!). What a treat to have a good home-grown apple this time of year. They were from an old apple tree on their farm and we brought home scions from that tree to graft onto something here. Certainly a tree (and fruit) to look forward to.

SEWING  - Dance Shoe Bag - April 4, 2017

We have stacks of the reusable sturdy cotton “shopping” bags which have a variety of uses. One of those had been to carry our dance shoes into a dance. It’s a courtesy to change into clean soled shoes before going out onto the dance floor (keeps the grit off the floor which is good for the floor and the dancers).   But it is also important for dancing (for fun, ease, and the knees!) to have clean, dry soles. And if you have suede leather soles (as I do) they’re pretty much useless for dancing if they get wet. So even if they’re everyday shoes other times, for a dance they get brushed clean and carried inside. dance shoe bag 4    
     There’s nothing wrong with a generic bag. It works and is what most people use in some form. But invariably it seemed my smaller, soft, light dance shoes would end up being squashed by Steve’s larger (understandably) sturdy leather soled “dress” shoes, especially as water bottles and other odds and ends got added to the pile. Even that wasn’t a real big problem, except that most of the dances we go to use “dance wax”, which is great stuff when the floor is at all sticky. It makes twirling and turning as one polkas and waltzes and two-steps around the floor possible. But it does get on your shoes, which, when tumbled into a bag at the end of the dance, ends up all over everything. It easily rubs off shoes, but a shirt or sweater doesn’t fare so well. And the jumble in the bag was just plain messy. What I wanted seemed always at the bottom. I envisioned something better.

So for Christmas I decided to make Steve a Dance Shoe Bag. OK, it was for both of us, but our Christmas gifts are often like that. I thought about what I wanted--separate compartments for our shoes, small enough to keep them upright but large enough to easily slip the shoes in. A separate pocket for carrying a water bottle, upright. Another pocket for a shirt or tights or extra socks. Yet it needed to be of moderate size, easy to carry and stash in a corner at a dance, and the back of the car between times. I’d been designing it in my head for some time, now it was time to get down to work and make it.

I dug out some nice linen fabric left over from something, collected the shoes that had to go in, a few cotton bags for inspiration and sizing and test fitting ideas, pencil and paper for designing. Then waited dance shoe bag 2for Steve to be gone long enough to figure it all out. It took some time, I re-designed as I sewed. Iit was a bit of a challenge to decide what to sew first before sewing something else, so as to not “paint myself into a corner”. But it was a fun project. It would have been easier with one layer of sturdy cotton and a simpler design, and I’m sure that would have worked and been plenty strong enough. Or I could have simply retro’d an existing bag. But the fun was in the making. I used the two layers of linen because I liked the fabric and the colors, and I had it on hand. And I liked coming up with something that specifically fit our needs and desires.

Basically it is a cloth bag with handles, with an inner piece sewn in to create a pocket halfway along one side, then across to divide the bag in two, then along the other side to create another pocket. It could be made much simpler than I made mine. The two sections are sized to fit our shoes (Steve’s getting a larger space). The pockets are of a size to hold a water bottle. Sewing the bottoms of the panels to the bottom of the bag (which had an extra layer sewn on) was a challenge but it helped to make the bag sturdier and keeps things from migrating. It all worked out as I wanted, keeping things organized anddance shoe bag 2 easier to manage.

But there was one more thing needed to make this the top banana of shoe bags for me -- a small zippered pouch for the small stuff. I’d planned on this being inside, just below the top of the bag but there really wasn’t room So I sewed it to the outside and I likedance shoe bag 3 it there; it's easy to access.

So now our shoes have their own comfy mobile home, and get to travel to the dances in style. Humble though they may be, when you’re dancing for 3 or 4 hrs you come to really appreciate a good pair of dance shoes. And even more a good polka band!

yellow crocus

SPRING ARRIVES!  - March 29, 2017

For many of you I know that the official start of Spring was a week ago. But for us it just arrived:
     * The first "really nice to be working outside" days. It even reached 50 yesterday!
     * The Sandhill Cranes arrived! Their calls are really the Sound of Spring for us.
     * First scout Robin seen checking out the territory looking smartly decked out in fresh feathers atop the 40 ft tall chokepear tree.
     * I hauled out the tall ladder, Steve sharpened my loppers, and I got to try out my new ARS hand pruners as I started seriously pruning the apple trees. (I really like the new hand pruners! Small size that fits my hand, well made, works smoothly, clean cuts and are sharp-sharp-sharp).
     * First trees arrived to plant! 5 hardy Harbin/Siberian pear rootstocks. Thankfully, the frost just came out of the last planting spot. I was going to take a photo but a small 3 ft seedling whip against the early spring muted neutral landscape just wasn't very photogenic. But I was excited about digging in the dirt and imagining the someday tall pear trees they'll be. We'll be grafting a number of varieties on these rootstocks in May when things warm up more.
     * And Steve has been spending long days in the shop working on the kayak with some fancy fine-tuning and adaptations. It's really looking nice!
     * Plus - one brave cheery beautiful little yellow crocus - the first spot of color! There's still snow in the woods but it's receding and it won't be long now before there will be a bit of green to keep that little yellow spot company. Happy Spring! 

BOOKS - New Direct Sales - March 26, 2017

We decided we wanted to sell our print books ourselves, giving folks the option to buy directly from us instead of from Amazon (or CreateSpace which is owned by Amazon). We have missed that personal contact with readers. So, we arranged it so we can now do that! The new update of our Books section is complete, with the addition of our own Add-to-Cart buttons (for those who want the online convenience), and a Print Order Form for mail-order sales. Check it out by clicking HERE. Any comments or suggestions on the new re-do are welcome!

GREENHOUSE - Greens & Lights Update - March 13, 2017flat of greens

So how did the LED lights work out in the greenhouse, and the "regular" LED light for the herb/flower seedlings in the house (see February 5 post)? We didn't know if there would be enough light to be worthwhile to help the plants grow more and greener since these weren't "grow lights", just regular white lights. In the greenhouse they are supplements to the sunlight--turned on for a few hours morning and evenings, and during the day on cloudy days. The seedling light (just one of the regular shop lights) inside was on the plants all day, except on sunny days when the greenhouse was warm (above 50) when I'd put the little seedlings out there for some real sunshine (well, through the window sunshine).    

Now, a month later--they all did great. The lettuce and greens in the GH grew faster and were the seedlings in potshealthiest and stockiest I've ever had this time of year. We've been enjoying salads every day. And the herb and flower seedlings also did well. I just potted most of them up into their own 3" pots. I normally wouldn't try to start seeds so early because of the lack of light and the cold GH. But these got their own light and in the comfort of the warm house. Next year the GH bed will get a light bar as well and I'll be able to grow more early greens there, probably spinach which will appreciate the deeper soil. All in all, we're all happy with the project!

garden orchard March 7

March 7, 2017

Or is it MAY 7? Nature is doing her best to shake up our pre-conceived notions of what the weather should be doing based on our calendar dates. It's almost like having a different month every week, or every day! It was close to 40 degrees today, with a forecast for temps near zero later this week. I don't think I'll start planting yet.

Post by Steve  And yet another boat building project...  - 3/6/2017

This week I began building a Greenland style skin-on-frame kayak. Last spring we built a 14' kayak for Sue so this spring it is my turn. The boat, a 'Mobjack Bay', was designed by Dave Gentry, the same fellow who designed our Chamberlain Dory.

   Dave Gentry's Mobjack Bay kayak         kayak on March 5th, 2017

The left photo is of Dave's pretty red Mobjack Bay prototype. On the right is my kayak as of  March 5th.
You can follow the building progress here.


daffodil in greenhouse

March 4, 2017

It was ten below this morning outside but when I went into the greenhouse to turn on the lights I was greeted by a fresh new daffodil bloom! Sunshine in the greenhouse before the sun was even up.

snow in bushes

HAPPY MARCH! - March 1, 2017

May it be as interesting and enjoyable as this year's weather has been.

<-- the view out our kitchen window. How very nice to have snow.

HOMESTEAD - PUMP - February 27, 2017windmill

Last week during that extended warm spell we had some days of good wind so we could pump water with our windmill. The water is pumped into a nearby 1200 gal tank (earth covered) and in the winter we can only pump when temps are above freezing, and, of course, when we have a good but not gale force winds. We fill the tank in late fall/early winter before temperatures drop and then usually a few days during winter to top it up. This year we had ample opportunity. We thought. So when it was both warm and windy we turned the windmill on and let it pump for a few days. The level in the tank was down to less than 400 gals so we were happy for the pumping weather. When we checked the water level again, expecting to have pumped at least 200 gals, we found it had added only about 20 gals. Sigh...

windmill pump leathersWe’d been here before, many, many times over our 40 years here. We knew what was wrong, and what needed to be done. Leathers. Our pump is rather like an oversized old fashioned “pitcher pump” but a deep well version with leathers since our well is 105 ft deep. We can pump it by hand but we much prefer the windmill do that job. At the bottom of the drop pipe is a brass cylinder, and inside that runs the leathers assembly attached to about 95 feet of 3/8” stainless steel rod in 12 ft sections. It really works very well. But we have hard water, very tasty but full of minerals that coat the rod and eventually trickle down to lodge in the leathers. Which spreads them out, wears them out, and can jamb up the whole business. In this case, the main leather had worn through and the water was simply not being pumped up to go into our tank.

In our early years we had a regular steel drop rod which would corrode and add its own supply of sediment. Back then we had to pull the rod and replace the leathers many times a year. We got very good at it, and quite tired of the job, especially when it happed in the winter. Eventually we installed stainless steel drop rod, much heavier but much “cleaner”. And Steve figured out the best configuration for the leathers. Now we’re down to pulling, cleaning, changing leathers (and connectors which wear down against the well pipe) about once every five years. It had been six years since the last time. And it was obvious if we wanted to pump water now we had to pull the rod. This is done by hand. Our hands. And we much prefer to do it in the warmer months. We could moderate our water use and probably get by until spring. Or we could do it now. And we had this two day window of relatively warm weather to do it in.

pump rods disasembledWe wanted plenty of water; we didn’t want to have to stint. So...we pulled. And we discovered that the stainless steel drop rod had not gotten any lighter over the last six years. And getting the pieces apart hadn’t gotten any easier. So as we pulled up and disassembled the rod, piece by piece, we discussed that we really needed to find a way to make this job easier. But soon (relatively) it was done. The 95 feet of rod was piled up in 12 ft pieces against the side of the windmill tower.

Now we had years earlier scrounged all the local supply of leathers and finally ordered online some that were close in size. The best we could do. So Steve modifies them to fit. That was fine; we had some on hand. When we pulled the rod we discovered that the connectors were badly worn and had to be replaced. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those on hand but we hoped to get them locally
(Manistique), or at least in Escanaba. It was getting late but there was still time to get in town so we went inside and starting calling. First Hoholik’s in Manistique. They kindly went and checked. Yes, they had some in our size - hurray! -- 4 of them. Oh. We needed 8. No way around it. So we called all around Escanaba. Nothing. Simple common rod end connectors but not common in our size. One place said they might be able to get an order in yet that day and they’d arrive the next day. Maybe. We would simply have to wait until the truck came in to see if they came in. We ordered.pump rod connectors

So the next day, a beautiful warm day, we simply had to wait. Well, not exactly ‘just wait’. Steve went to work on the leathers while I cleaned up the drop rod. The phone call did finally come. The connectors were on the truck and we had just enough time to get to Escanaba to pick them up . But not enough time to get home before dark. The weather forecast was iffy for the following day but nothing to be done but hope for at least above freezing temps for the hands that had to hold that drop rod as it went back down the pipe, piece by piece, with the fresh new connectors holding it all together.

pump rod wrenchesAnd it was indeed above freezing, and a simply beautiful day with the sun poking through the clouds now and then to cheer us on. The gods do smile down on we homesteaders more often than we remember sometimes! Steve arranged a block and tackle up in the windmill tower to help us lower the last, heavy (since you’re now holding the previous 60 feet of rod), pieces so it was stress-free and quite pleasant. We enjoyed being outside, working together on a homestead project that we’d done so many times before. We knew the drill. And we were confident it would work. Well, fairly confident...

pump waterEverything was together, the pump rod down, the pump back on, the tools gathered, the windmill rod connected. There was a real nice breeze; it was still above freezing. We let it pump. Steve opened the faucet on the side of the pump. Water!! He closed it and I ran up to the top of the tank and put my ear to the small opening we have into the tank (to measure the water level)......ker splash, ker splash, ker splash. Ahhhhh, what a wonderful sound, water splashing into the tank. It pumped all evening. And the next day. And I measured almost 700 gals of water in the tank before the temperature and the wind dropped. Life is good. We have water. And we are full of appreciation.

WEATHER TO REMEMBER - February 23, 2017

How interesting weather is. Like most (all?) of the country we’re experiencing the record highs, and for us, record lack of snow cover for February. But the Great Lakes are keeping those highs less extreme than others are having. Here is the view of our garden and orchard areas today:
garden February 23,2017     orchard with bare ground 2-23-2017We had reason to be outside in addition to just enjoying this unusual day for February (post coming) and we much appreciated the warmth (relatively speaking--a warm above freezing anyway) and an occasional spot of sun to cheer us and the world. Our big project a success and done, I had a wonderful time simply wandering around on bare ground or slushy snow without needing snowshoes, looking at the orchard trees, encouraging them to stay dormant, planning spring grafts, marveling at green spots in the garden that hadn’t planned to be out in the open for a feworchard area winter 2004 more months (and will likely be very happy to be covered with snow again soon), looking for little chores to be done outside. Steve was in the shop getting ready to start building his kayak. It was a rare and special February day. Not as warm as some of the previous ones but we were home and there to enjoy it. But we also recall those more “usual” Februarys, when our outside world is a beautiful, cold, muffled white (photo 2004). The contrast keeps one alive and happy. Winter is returning though and now I’m quite content to wait for spring when bare ground is welcome and normal.

ORCHARD - Beacon Apple - 02-17-2017

beacon apple bloomingI really had to post something today, just so I could type 02172017. I like it when numbers fall in interesting patterns. It wasn’t hard to come up with a topic. Here it is, the middle of February, and we have a new apple in our orchard. Now the weather has been, and continues, unusually, oddly warm for this time of year. We only had maybe a foot of snow and that is settling and melting fast. (However we appreciate that we have any snow at all!) And I didn’t go out and plant a new tree, or find a new growing seedling (hopefully all of our trees are, and will stay, dormant during this warm spell). Our ‘newest’ apple is our oldest. Our original, reliable, hardy, delicious Prairie Spies, that turned out not to be Prairie Spies. And now I have discovered (or decided), after forty years, that our trees are actually Beacons. And beautiful red beacons they are!

These are three of the trees we planted in 1978, when we first moved north to our to-be homestead. We bought them from a nursery downstate along with some other apple and pear trees. We were told they were Prairie Spy, a Univ. of Minnesota introduction. I knew nothing of pruning and such back then and only these three thrived, to grow into healthy large trees with little care or attention early on, giving us a lot of very good apples over the years. My first note of a harvest was in my canning records in 1987 with the short but momentous "70 apples, mostly spys but some macs, good”. This may not sound like a lot of apples from 5 trees but I’m guessing this was our very first fruit from our small orchard.

A few years ago I saw a photo and description of a PS and realized that wasn’t what we had. Prairie Spy is, I’ve read, a late season, long keeping, somewhat tart red-green winter apple. Our trees were late summer, red, sweet, short keeping, dessert apples, great for fresh eating, drying, sauce, cider. I searched the internet off and on but every time I found a photo that looked similar the description didn’t fit; or visa versa. Unfortunately, when I discovered ours weren't PS's we were just finishing a many year program of cutting the trees back severely to get them down to a size I can manage. Subsequently, no apples to get a better photo and description. But I was curious and finally put the few photos I had along with a description on the GrowingFruit forum and asked if anyone had an idea. And someone did! Beacon, introduced by the Univ. of Minnesota in 1937.apples in baskets

Now I had run across Beacon before and considered it. But the UofMinn. photo really didn’t look like ours, nor was their description real close. But with that suggestion I did some more searching and found several sites with photos and descriptions that fit our apples right on. With an apple that has been around as long as this one there is sure to be quite a bit of variety. And all apples have their own innate variety, growing and showing up differently in different parts of the country and different orchards. But all the accounts I could find does point to our apples being Beacons.

In the most important of ways the name doesn’t matter. I couldn’t have asked for a better apple for us for all these years. We have a great deal of appreciation for these three trees. Most of those years it was the only apple variety we had, other than quite sour wild apples. The years they produced they fed us well. When they really rained down with apples we made a lot of cider in addition to sauce and fresh eating. There was always plenty of not-so-great drops for the deer and other wildlife, too (dumped in the woods, not in the orchard!). We are going to be so happy when we have these apples again. And even though I now “know” they are called Beacons not Prairie Spies, I think in my mind they will always be PS. It’s hard to change a name after forty years. But I better get used to it because I ordered a ‘real’ (I hope!) Prairie Spy scion to graft this spring. A taste adventure to look forward to.

SEWING - Bathing Suit / Skivvies - 2-14-2017

black/red skivviesWhat better time to think about summer swimming than the middle of winter! At least it’s a good time to sew for that coming season. I bought fabric last spring to make a new bathing suit but the warm months definitely aren’t the time for me for anything other than quick emergency sewing or mending projects. The plans (and piles) for winter sewing/mending/altering are larger than days available so I simply pick out what most interests me, or is highest in my focus at the time. And thinking of kayaking made me think of the bathing suit that I don’t yet have. Actually, I seldom go swimming but kayaking is high on our list of “do more of” this summer and it is most certainly a water sport, as in ‘wet’. Though I hope to get my paddling technique down this summer so less of the river water ends up in my lap, appropriate clothing makes kayaking more fun. That includes being ready to slip out into the water for a swim.

Bathing suit bottom or underwear -- there’s little difference and both are quite easy and fast to make (relatively speaking). I’ve been making my skivvies for some time, after realizing it would be faster to make them than alter factory made ones to fit and feel the way I like them. The most time consuming part is coming up with and fine-tuning the pattern. You can buy a pattern or find one online, then go from there to get your just-for-you fit. Or simply cut apart an old bathing suit bottom or underwear that already fits and trace out your pattern from that. That’s what I did. I like to use brown kraft paper for patterns. It’s sturdy and holds up well to repeated use, and adjusting.

Fabric is whatever suits you; but it’s easier to get a nice fit with stretchy fabric--cotton or cotton blend knits, or lycra or similar material of whatever weight you like. For a bathing suit you’ll likely go for a non-cotton lycra or blend, lined or not depending on the weight of the fabric. My favorite, and most often used, source for fabric is thrift stores. I’m of a size that I can easily get a skivvy for me out of a large sized knit shirt, and I end up with more variety of prints than I’d likely choose at a fabric store. It makes it more fun. And at a few dollars you can fill your drawer and make however many you need to while you are fine-tuning your pattern to get that perfect fit. It can get a bit addictive, however, it’s such anstriped skivvies easy and fun sewing project!

The popularity of sewing underwear can be attested to by a quick search online--no lack of encouragement there. And there as many ways to make them as people who do so, though they generally are rather similar. I came up with my own instructions by doing, and making notes and changes every time I make a pair. I’ll add my own instructions at a later time in case they might help someone. But for now I’d like to share a few tips that have helped.

Sizing for Fabric -- Cotton or cotton-blend knits fit differently than lycra, and there is quite a difference in stretchiness of different fabrics. After awhile you’ll get a feel for it simply by stretching the fabric and feeling how much elasticity there is. Make skivvies out of several different types of fabric then make notes. Mostly I add a half or full inch to the side seams for cotton/cotton blend knits (my main pattern cutout is for thin stretchy fabrics since it’s easy to add to the pattern when cutting the pieces if need be for heavier material). Or visa versa (subtract some at the side seams for thinner, stretchier fabrics if your pattern is geared toward heavier). If no stretch at all you might want to try adding to the center instead of just at the seams. Make your skivvy, wash it, wear it, adjust your pattern, find some more material, make another pair, wash it, wear it... There’s no end to this instruction! Do wash before making altering decisions as the fabric and elastic will relax back to shape in the washing and be more a more ‘accurate’ fit.

Elastic -- As with fabric so with elastic, as far as differences in stretch. I have a strong preference for comfort and found some soft-on-one-side elastic that I like. It was the uncomfortable skritchy seams and elastics that got me into making my own to begin with. Our local stores haven’t much of a selection so I bought a lot of different types from Sew Sassy Fabrics (www.sewsassy.com) online. Plenty of choices there, so it’s easy to experiment and find what you like best. But the last few pairs I made I tried out a wider, softer, elastic for the tops. While I do like the feel and fit of the elastic I neglected to take into account that it had less stretch than what I had been using. So back to the sewing room (actually, the kitchen table!) - cut out the side seams, piece in an extension. This works but it would have been much easier to simply add an inch to the elastic to begin with.

Side seams -- Oh, how irritating they can be, and uncomfortable. But they certainly don’t have to be! My easy solution is to overlap and top-stitch--sides, crotch (if there is a seam), lining. So much more comfortable. And the humble but so appreciated glue stick makes the easy even easier. It helps me do a better, cleaner job of sewing. I use a 1/2” overlap. Let the glue dry before sewing; a quick press with the iron helps. ZZ stitch down one side of the overlap, turn over and do the other side. For this and for attaching the elastic I use a length and width of 2, loosen needle tension one number, and loosen the pressure foot tension. A ballpoint/jersey needle for knits and a stretch needle for lycra makes it all go smoother.

So that takes care of the bathing suit bottom test piece (the first photo) and now I have to come up with the top. I still have that fabric I bought last spring and hopefully I’ll get to sewing up that final bathing suit before the snow goes. BTW, all of the above pertains to men’s knit undershorts (bathing suit/biking short/running shorts...), too. They are a bit more complicated to sew up but not overly so. So next time you’re in the local thrift store, check out the large sized knit shirts for your next sewing project, for him or her.

Post by Steve  Homestead Electronics (PanelCam: Installment #2) - 2/7/2017

Well, the 'Array-Cam' is finally up and running. Click a switch, push a button and check the snow conditions out on the solar array on a computer or tablet "...in the comfort of your own home". Of course, many days we get to hike out and clear the snow off the panels but mostly is just fun to see what's happening out there. The photos below are: Antennas mounted on the house roof, Camera box and its solar panel, Front and back of the camera switch circuit board and finally, the view from the camera.

   Antennas on house   Camera box & solar panel   Array-Cam Remote Circuit   Sue cleaning the panels

(February 19, 2017 Update) I have including details of this project including a few more photos and Arduino microcontroller code on a new web page. Click for the complete 'PanelCam' article.

GREENHOUSE - Lights! - 2-5-2017

The plants in the greenhouse love sunny days. And they are content to rest when it’s dark or cloudy. That works out fine for us if they are mature and don’t need to grow; we just harvest leaves as we want them. But by mid-winter the old plants are all harvested and the young plants are waiting for longer, brighter days to grow. This has been our in-between time of year when often the only green in our salads is chopped parsley. We’ve often talked of adding grow-lights but they have traditionally been power-hogs that wouldn’t fit into our conservative-use winter alternative energy system. Short and cloudy days mean less power for us as well as the plants. Until now...

Our house lighting is entirely LED (except for one lone compact fluorescent holdout). Steve has been building and adding LED lights to the house since the early days of LED lighting, when making your own lights was about the only way to have them, and the choices were few and expensive. Forward a few years and LED lighting is now not only readily available but popular and inexpensive! Technology moves fast. Could we now consider adding lights to the greenhouse? Our PV system is larger, and we truly want fresh, and abundant, greens in our salads. So before Steve was quite done with the Array-Cam project, he was checking out, ordering, designing, building lights for the greenhouse.

photo pot herbs under lightBut what type? What colors How many? Will they be worth it? I did a bit of research and it was rather overwhelming. I arbitrarily decided our greens didn’t need the in-depth scientific approach that most articles provided (almost all for commercial farm and marijuana greenhouses). We tried an experiment, putting a flat of just started growing greens (which were already getting a little leggy from the minimal light available in the greenhouse) and some pots of just germinated herbs and flowers under two of the regular LED lights in the shop, morning and evening for about 2 hrs each. After a week I could see a positive difference in the flat of greens (the others were too young yet but I figure it likely helped them, too). OK! Let’s go.

Steve had some strips of warm-white LED’s on hand and ordered more strips of cool-whites (more light in these). We decided this would do and be more flexible down the road. We might some day add red and blue but for now this is what we have -- two stripes of LED lights seven feet long. That almost covers the length of the front bench. With some fancy design/build the light bar can be moved up out of the way during the day and to be able to remove/install the insulating window panels at night. For about 2 hrs in the morning and in the evening they are on, extending the day for the plants. I’m really happy to have this latest upgrade to the greenhouse, and I think the plants are, too!

photo greenhouse lightbar end    greenhouse lightbar top    photo greenhouse lightbar lights     photo greenhouse lights night    photo greenhouse lightbar up

SEWING - Replacement Work Shirt Collar - 1-20-2017

photo shirt collarsWinter is the time I can catch up on mending and sewing projects which pile up during those months when my focus is outside. I find it satisfying to spend a little time to make a favorite clothing fit better or extend its life. Neither of us enjoy shopping for new clothes so altering/mending/sewing suits us. And since I do it when I feel like it that suits me, too!

One of those easy and satisfying projects is to re-collar a work shirt for Steve. He has his favorites and is reluctant to give those up just because they get a little (or lot) tattered. It seems the first part to wear through is the collar (unless the shirt goes down for some other more drastic, and usually obvious, reason). If the shirt is in otherwise reasonable condition I take the collar and collar band off and sew a new one on.

I keep some plain cotton fabric on hand for this, simple navy and brown. You can use the collar you take off as a pattern, or trace around another one onto some sturdy paper or cardstock. Or use a commercial pattern. I use the collar pattern from a shirt pattern I came up with awhile ago for making or altering shirts for Steve. A one-piece collar/band combination works (it is just a work shirt after all!) but I find a separate neck band and collar piece sewn together fits and looks better, so that is what I do. For these re-do’s I don’t bother with interfacing or top button as I would with a new shirt. You could just replace the collar with a neck-band; that works, too. But I do a 'regular' one (it works better for the fiddler!).

Whenever I make a pattern for something I make notes as I go along and type out instructions for next time. I list the steps in the order that worked for me, highlighting anything that might make the work go easier in the future. I tweak and make changes to the instructions every time I use the pattern. This helps down the road.

Here are my instructions for a replacement work shirt collar (with no interfacing):

= Cut two pieces - Neck Band and Collar

= Neck Band
– Place in order: Inner band right side up / Shirt yoke right side up / Outer band right side down.
– Stitch 1/2” seam, folding in ends to match.
– Press seams toward neck band.
– Top stitch along edge. Mark center back.

= Collar
– Sew 2 layers together, right sides facing, stopping 3/4” from neck band edge. Mark center.
– Clip corners. Turn right side out. Press flat.
– Sew Inner Collar to Band, Right Sides Facing (shirt back is facing up, inner collar down).
– Press seam toward band. Turn shirt over.
– Carefully smooth inner layers. Turn under raw edge and pin slightly below other seam. Overstitch along edge of collar.
– Trim as necessary at ends. Make sure both sides are even.
– Turn in and top stitch close to edge (on right side).
– Top stitch, top side, around collar.

And there you have it -- a renewed work shirt! Now, about those cuffs...

GREENHOUSE - Calendula - 1-15-2017

photo calendula in greenhouseSub zero temps outside but cheery inside! When it's this cold it also (usually) means clear sunny days and beautiful brisk starry nights. The solar heating panels and south facing windows pour in the heat (in a winter moderate way) so we bank the woodstove and don't have to get it going again until the sun goes down. And the PV system is at its highest with clear sun and reflective snow. The batteries are full and we turn on small heaters to make use of the extra power. And that calendula in the greenhouse breaks out the blooms to celebrate.

 Actually, the calendula has been happily blooming in the greenhouse since soon after I transplanted it from the garden in October, a rooted side shoot of a summer growing plant. It's wonderfully tolerant and is content to blossom whether it's winter or summer, inside or out, as long as its basic needs are met--sunshine, moderate moisture, no deep freezes. It thankfully does not have high demands. That's why it's one of my favorite flowers. A hardy annual it can handle some frost; is easy to grow; self sows readily; is a sturdy plant that gets along well with others. And it blooms and blooms and blooms as long as you keep the spent blossoms picked off. Though towards the end of summer you have to leave some to mature seeds so it can provide plants next year.

Mine is a common variety - Pacific Beauty Mix - nice gold/yellow blossoms. I like it. It's been selfphoto calendula in garden sowing in my garden for so long I've forgotten when I first planted the seed. But I noticed this year that I didn't have many plants coming up, the downside of having a very good mulch that sometimes mulches out seeds I want to grow. And I found I had neglected to harvest any seed, I was so used  to it sowing itself. Now, I expect they'll be some calendula popping up somewhere next year, they don't give up that easily, but just to be sure I bought new seed. I think I'll plant a few inside right now so maybe I'll have some extra early fresh blooms in the spring. The plants I dig up from the garden do sometimes get a bit tired by late winter.

It's a little cold in the greenhouse right now, it was down to 32 degrees this morning after a ten below night, but it gets up in the low 50's during a sunny day. Everything growing out there is hardy so I don't worry about the low temps but I'll start the seed inside the house to give it a warm start. We all enjoy that sunshine when it happens but it's those cloudy days outside that the fresh green plants and bright calendula flowers growing in the greenhouse really brighten our winter days.

GREENHOUSE - Activity - 1-9-2017

photo greenhouse lettuce transplantsWell, maybe not a lot of activity but it warmed up outside today to 20 deg. and we're supposed to have a few days of these warm temperatures (and finally some real snow showers, too!) (we only have about 8-10" right now) so I figured this was my chance to transplant the waiting lettuce seedlings into the recently cleared (by eating) flats. Not much growth is happening yet but I'd like these to be ready when the days get longer and things pick up. And it was a pleasant (relatively speaking) 47 degrees inside. So we now have 8 flats of greenhouse lettuce -- Brown Winter, Salina, Red Tinged, Diamante -- ready to grow when the conditions are right. And since we're getting down to real slim pickings with what is left of the older crop we'll be quite ready, too. It was fun to dig in the dirt again, even if in a small way.

GARDEN - Looking Forward - 1-7-2017

photo garden 2016I enjoy looking back at last season’s garden but mostly I’m looking ahead to the coming season. What do I want to change, what do I want to do different this year? Some decisions I don’t make until I’m standing in the garden with plants or seeds in hand, looking for a good spot for this or that, or a bit of extra room for just one more whatever. But I do write out a general plan; it helps me to have an overall idea. Most of what I grow has settled in nicely based on many years of what we like, what we eat, what grows best, what works here. But there’s always room for something new. And my biggest change this coming season will be to add more flowers and herbs and to mix things up a bit. Nothing exotic, just something more for the pollinators, and for fun.

I’ve been swimming in a sea full of ideas for the orchard, adding diversity, looking for understory ideas for the fruit trees, growing towards what some are calling nowadays a “forest garden”. And I realized I could easily do more of that in my vegetable garden. The two aren’t really separate, the roughly 50 x 80 ft vegetable plot being in the middle of the orchard, with berries in both, but on paper they are separate. And on paper my vegetable plot is very organized. Some things even stay that way in the garden -- corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes tend to be in their own 4 x 32 ft plots. Except for those that end up elsewhere, leftovers when the main plot is full. And mostly the other crops are in smaller blocks, one next to another. It’s not that I don’t care for the companion planting idea, or ideal. It’s a practical thing, that often has to do with frosts.

I’ve had decades of having to suddenly cover tender growing plants when that late, or early, or mid summer frost is forecast. And I have a supply of old blankets stored in their own mouse proof cabinet ready for the task. And I have learned that it is much easier to cover the plants that need protection if they are all together in one space and not scattered here and there. Been there and done that! One does get better at these things.

There is actually plenty of diversity and interaction in my garden. When things get growing I can hardly get through some of the paths between plots, supposedly there to walk through. It can get to be quite a wonderful jungle. So why mix things up more? In some cases because it will work better for me. Snap beans planted in one row along the edge of a plot with something else in the middle is easier to harvest than a large block of beans, though a block works well for the dry beans since I only harvest them once. And spinach definitely likes to be singly along an edge. Coles don’t mind being in the middle, nor do flowers, at least not the simple ones I grow (zinnia, marigold, calendula, cosmos). Lettuce can use more shade mid summer so maybe I’ll put some plants amongst the corn.

I’m a bit tired of the herbs being in one block and most need to be divided anyway. I think they need to be spread out so one can appreciate them more as individuals. I’ve started transplanting some out and around and I’ll do more of that and throughout the garden. I think the vegetables will like that, too. And why not plant more flowers for the pollinators? I sure do appreciate them. I’ve ordered borage and nasturtiums. It’s been a long time since I’ve grown either of those and it’ll be fun to have them again.

One of my favorite flowers is buckwheat. It’s an easy summer loving crop, and I plant a little here and there as space permits. The bees and such love it. I let it flower then cut it down when it starts setting seed but there’s always plenty of volunteers around. It does grow large and rank, and I doubt anyone would accuse it of being sweet smelling but if the bees like it, I like it. And I let the broccoli flower for the bees as well. Many of the common garden vegetables are beautiful “gone to seed”, or flower and well loved by the pollinators.

It’s not a traditional flower garden by any means, nor the carefully designed permaculture/polyculture system that seems to be all the rage nowdays, but something that suits my practical side, my busy summer schedule, my love of lightly organized wild. I think it will be a fun garden, and I have no doubt it will feed us well as it has for almost forty years.

GARDEN - 2016 - 1-5-2017

photo garden squash plantsA new year is here with infinite possibilities! There’s nothing quite like imagining working (playing) in the garden to warm you up on a cold winter’s evening. It may be zero degrees outside but in my mind it’s warm and sunny with green things growing all around as I look over my garden plan. What happened this past season? What worked, what didn’t, what seeds do I need to grow out this coming year, what do I need to buy? And I wonder anew at the abundant food that garden gave us. It’s always amazing but this year was over the top for some of the more heat loving crops.

Every year is different; that is one thing I can always depend on! And this past year it was record warmth. I usually figure, roughly, a frost free growing season from about the 2nd week in June till the first or second week in September. This year we had a mild spring, with a last frost mid May, then just one freeze June 7. Then we didn’t have another frost (freeze actually) until October 9. In between was unusually warm with plenty of rain. The corn and squash were beside themselves with joy and enthusiasm. And the sunflowers turned into trees that I almost had to get out an axe to cut down. The squash I grow is a relatively short season buttercup variety I got from Kathleen Plunket-Black of Plum Creek Seeds, a long time and very experienced seed saver in Arkansas WI. It’s rich, sweet and nutty, and I usually get a reasonable crop with maybe half the fruit maturing before frost. So I plant with that in mind. But this year not only did the vines grow with abandon setting fruit right and left (thankfully along the edge of the garden so they could sprawl out over the grass), every single one, except for one half grown late specimen, fully matured. Wow, did we have squash this year! I make a bit of squash soup but our favorite is to have plain cooked squash with our luncheon salad, almost every day. We never tire of it.

By contrast, two years ago we had a long, cool, wet spring and early summer. Fruit set was poor for many crops including the squash and cucumbers. The harvest was sparse to pathetic, and the big question among gardeners was “did you get any cucumbers? any squash?”. It was a rare one who did. Not even zucchini. Then this year one could hardly give cucumbers away. It was the year to make pickles for sure. I didn’t have any trouble finding homes for the extra winter squash though. It found its way into many a Thanksgiving dinner for which I was very thankful. Make hay while the sun shines, as they say, and eat squash when you have it. We do, and we are, along with a very appreciated abundance of other vegetables.

  Post by Sue GREENHOUSE - Greens - 12-30-2016

photo greenhouse lettuce Oct 20In the winter we move to eating out of the greenhouse instead of the garden. Not only is it great to see growing green things when it is white and freezing outside, it's great to have fresh greens to eat! In the summer the greenhouse is empty of plants and is our heat loving Sasha cat's domain. But come October it comes to life once again. This is how it looked Oct. 20 when first moved in from the garden where they had been growing.

In the short days of fall and early winter there is not much growth so I start lettuce and spinach in the garden, then move the full grown plants inside when the real freezes start outside. Full grown plants of kale and parsley and others are dug and transplanted into the waist high bed along the house side of the greenhouse. This works great. I can harvest from them all winter. There most often is little growth until January when the days start getting significantly longer and there is (usually) more sun. But this year it was oddly warm and sunny in Nov. & Dec. So the lettuce in particular just kept growing. It got to be quite a jungle and there was plenty for luncheon salads. But 70 days later you can see it is getting a bit sparse. So I'm lookingphoto greenhouse bed Dec 30 forward to the coming flush of January photo lettuce in greenhouse Dec 30growth. In the far end are two flats of small lettuce seedlings waiting to be transplanted to the larger flats as the older plants are removed. They will be our salads later in the winter.

Post by Steve  Homestead Electronics (PanelCam: Installment #1) - 12/27/2016

One of the realities of powering our homestead in the north-woods with power from the sun is that in the winter there will be times when the solar array is covered with snow. Even a light dusting can make a significant reduction in power production. An inch of snow will effectively shut the panels off. The obvious solution is to hike on out to where you can see the panels – they are about 400 feet from the house – and if they are snow-covered gently scrape them clear with our handy-dandy long handled, foam-edged panel scraper. Often, however, we get out where we can see the face of the array only to find that they are clear. Not a big thing, really, just a brief snowshoe hike for the exercise. This is all setting the scene for my current project: a Wi-Fi camera mounted out in the garden area, facing the array.

  Array-cam sky view

The camera will, upon request, fire up and transmit a nice clear image of the panels back to any device hooked up to our home network. Bill of materials (Specifications): - Outdoor Wi-Fi Video Camera - (9 – 12 Volts DC powered, removable antenna) - Wi-Fi Range Extender - (DC powered, removable antenna) - “Cantenna” Wi-Fi Directional Antenna – (Homemade, increases signal ~12 dB (~400%)) - DC to DC Power supplies for both camera and extender - Small Lead-Acid Battery to run the camera - Two Arduinos with Wi-Fi units configured to turn camera on/off to save battery power - Low-loss antenna cable & misc. wiring for powering all units Are we done yet? Actually, all these items are readily available on-line and not terribly expensive. The Cantenna’s main component is a tin can about 3-1/2” in diameter and 6” tall (empty). The parts are ordered, except for the ‘can’, and the fun will begin soon. To be continued!

Post by Steve Homestead Electronics – 12-5-2016
And you thought that I hibernated all winter! I have been amusing myself this fall/winter by designing and building small electronic gizmos based upon Arduino microcontrollers. This all started, as many homestead projects do, with being frustrated by the fact that neither our solar charge controller nor inverter can handle diversion loads.

There are many times, in all seasons, when the sun is out bright and the batteries are fully charged. Sometime this happens early in the day and the potential energy from the solar panels for the rest of the day is just wasted. The charge controller sees that the batteries are full and says, "I'll do my job of protecting the batteries from overcharge by reducing the power I'm sending to them".

If we are around and notice that the controller has been in float mode a while, we can manually turn on a one or two circuits that power electric heating panels. This has the potential to reduce the amount of firewood we burn - a good thing.

So, back to the electronic things. I am designing a pair of circuits that sense battery voltage and charge current and some software that runs on an Arduino that will turn on/off relays that control those two heating panel circuits. I think I forgot to mention that I have not always had a lot of luck with electronic stuff. I have smoked many a home-made device. I figured that with that background I’d start with something a little simpler; an Arduino-operated greenhouse fan controller. This sort of thing is commonly known as a ‘thermostat’. Wheel reinvented!

Here’s what the fan controller looks like inside…

Greenhouse fan controller
All kinds of fun components and wires seemingly running everywhere! By the way, it works just fine. The display shows the current temperature as well as upper and lower set-points, which are adjustable. The unit has been working well for a few weeks now. No smoke at all!

More on the main project as it evolves… Steve.



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