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.
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
Today I finished pruning the last apple tree on my list,
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.
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
for 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 and easier to manage.
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 like
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!
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
* 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
* 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
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
Now, a month later--they all did great. The lettuce and greens in the GH
grew faster and were the
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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, 2017
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
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.
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
(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.
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.
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...
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:
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 few
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
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.
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
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 an
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.
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
(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.
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!
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!
SEWING - Replacement Work Shirt Collar - 1-20-2017
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
= 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.
– 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
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 self
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
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
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
GARDEN - 2016 - 1-5-2017
A 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
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.
GREENHOUSE - Greens - 12-30-2016
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 looking forward
to the coming flush of January
growth. 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.
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.
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!
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…
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!