Friday, August 31, 2007

phenological events August

1st blackberry harvest
2nd now harvesting:
green and wax beans
yellow summer squash
sunspot winter squash
cut flowers
14th cicadas and katydids sing
harvesting potatoes
16th harvesting sweet corn

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

walk with me wed, and bring a mycologist

I woke up this morning to fog. Most mornings have been foggy...we are having fog season again. The recent rains and humid weather have kept things in the woods moist. The mushrooms have sprouted.

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We can go into the woods and I will show you where they grow, but don't tell anyone where the mushroom patch is. Next thing you know, there won't be any mushrooms left. These mushrooms grow here every year. I know, I come and visit them.

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I wish I knew more about mushrooms and fungi, I am a novice, and only know a few of them. Oh sure, I have a field guide, but not a human one. I have never met a dedicated mycologist who can tell me about the ones that are safe to eat.

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When I asked a neighbor if the mushrooms were safe to eat, he told me to feed some to the cat, and if the cat didn't get ill, then I could eat them the next day. I don't think I will do that.

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My grandfather, I am told, used to cook them with a copper penny. I imagine this is similar to the folklore of cooking with a silver spoon. Nature knows not the rules of men. I don't think I will risk indigestion or worse, just for the sake of the tasty bits. It only takes a half a teaspoon of a deadly shroom do you in... so call me a fungophobic if you will, better to be safe than sorry.

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There is beauty in fungi.

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'There are plenty of old mushroom hunters and plenty of bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.'

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

shucking husks or husking shucks

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There are some things you wait an entire year to do, like waiting for a favorite holiday. Picking and eating the first sweet corn is like that. Peeling back the layers and seeing the pearly goodness is like opening a gift.

"She's sitting on the back porch, just shucking that corn, that gal's been grinning since the day she was born, she ain't hurting nobody, she ain't hurting no one."- John Prine

My husband has little patience for the way I shuck corn. It takes me a long time. I save each husk. There will be projects that require them. Some of them will become quills for the Great Wheel spindle. Some husks will become bearings for the same wheel. Some of them will become dolls or other things, but all of them will be useful.

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When I was in elementary school, my family once stayed in a large Log Cabin Lodge. The Lodge boasted mattresses made from corn husks. My parents weren't wild about the idea, but I loved it. It was noisy and crunched when you moved. I don't remember if it was comfortable. I think about who shucked all that corn.

Finally I am finished. We steam the sweet corn in a shallow pot of water with a few husks thrown in for flavor. It takes 7 minutes. It is delicious. We will have fresh sweet corn for a few more weeks.

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The tomatoes continue to roll in, and I am working on making exotic wood buttons and some bags that I am constructing from past loom projects. I am felting and embellishing with various bits of beads, wood, shells, feathers etc.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

milkweed visitors

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The milkweed was seeing lots of action this afternoon. This caterpillar will be one of the September Monarchs...taking a trip to Mexico later this year. Just a few inches away from it, another yellow and black fellow...

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The milkweed was covered with lots of different wasps. I wasn't sure if they were sucking the nectar from the plant, or eating the yellow aphids that were on the stems. I saw lots of ladybugs on the milkweed too. I'm sure they were there for the aphids.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

walk with me wednesday senses

better wear some wool, it's chilly and damp outside...
and you might get a little wet, you don't mind getting a little rain on you, do you?
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the reds are blooming...look and see them.

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watch where you step, as you walk the path the basil and the squash block the way and rush to greet can pick some, the lemon basil tastes great with a yellow pear, taste...

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the amaranth is taller than I am now, feel how soft the flowers are, they are damp from the rain. Watch out, you are stepping on the lemon balm and sage, smell them? They smell fresh and clean from the rains.

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the corn is almost ready...can you hear it growing? well then maybe you hear the river rushing.... high, swollen with rain water that runs off the mountain. Surely you hear the crickets chirping.

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my senses take delight in my garden.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

bean bag

August finds me spending a great deal of time in the kitchen with string beans. The yields this summer are amazing. We planted gourmet nickel (green) and french wax, both of the bush variety. Alas, no bean stalks for me this season.

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After spending so much time handling the beans, picking- washing- chopping-packing, I was beginning to see beans in my sleep. It came as no surprise to me that I found myself making a bean bag.

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It started out as doodles on my tablet, created in spare moments whilst waiting for the pressure canner to reach temperature, and then waiting for it to cool down. Beans are a vegetable that need to be pressure canned, and that chore is time consuming. I found something to do while I was waiting....Soon I was weaving, needlefelting and fingerweaving the bag in the kitchen, surrounded by beans. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that I had a piece of yellow heart wood-that matched the wool perfectly, it will become a button. I smile.

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36 pints later, the bag is finished...

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Wool- processed by the drafting zone. Purchased at Misty Mountain in Gettysburg.
Spun- singles (20wpi) on the Great Wheel, ply on the Ashford Traditional wpi (12)
Woven- 4 times basic tabby on 32inch triloom, matress stitched, fulled, finished 8x9.
Details- Fingerloop straps, needlefelted beans, hand fashioned yellow heartwood button.

Friday, August 17, 2007

tymbalation by day, stridulation by night

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Things are changing around the riverrim. The noise makers of August are filling the air with songs.

By day, the cicadas drone by means of a vibrating membrane (located in the abdomen) called timbals. At night, the katydids take their turn. They sing songs by way of stridulation, they have special organs at the bottom of their wings which they rub together. Grasshoppers rub their hind legs together to stridulate. Crickets are also stridulators (wait, I don't think that is actually a word--but you know what I mean).

At any rate, living in the woods in August leads to a non stop cacophony- that varies slightly with the temperature. Some would say they enjoy the songs, others complain about the monotonous noise. What are they all singing about? If you believe the old folk tales, they are warning that there are only 6 weeks left until the first frost. Six weeks to get it all done. Six weeks ...humm...maybe they know the ground hog.

They could be singing about weaving. Really. I read about it on the Internet. A study of the diverse field of ancient Chinese literature reveals a great number of farmer's proverbs or popular songs relating to insects. A clear example of people listening to singing insects is found in ancient literature. When the cricket, "Cu Zhi" (meaning encourage weaving) is found singing indoors it is October and the ladies expedite their weaving efforts to ensure sufficient cloth for the coming Winter.

Btw, the cicada shown in the photograph has just emerged from approximately 8 feet under...where it has spent about 2-5 years in its nymph like state. It is not the Magicicada. They emerge every 13-17 years. You can tell them by their red eyes. They will come out in my neck of the woods again in 2013, and are identified as Brood #II.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hopi Red Amaranth Dye Bath

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So I have been trying for years to get a true red color out of this Hopi Red Amaranth. I have researched most everything I can get my hands on, and have started to wonder if it is at all possible to get red dye for wool out of this plant.

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Based on what I had read, (somewhere, I have forgotten the source) the plants this time around, were harvested before the flowers were in full bloom. The plants are sowing themselves freely in my garden now, and pop up like weeds. I was glad to chop them down. They were about 5 feet tall. I harvested a good arm full. The chickens are always interested in Amaranth of any kind....

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I chopped up the entire plant, leaves, stems and flowers...and filled the turkey roaster with enough water to cover.

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I cooked it down until the leaves lost all of the color. Then the entire pot was strained, and the cooked amaranth was served up to the chickens, who ate it right up while it was still steaming. It smelled like cooked spinach.

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The day before, I had soaked my wool (Farmer Dave handspun) in a premordant of alum and cream of tartar...and let it stand was ready to go into the dye bath. I let the wool simmer in the bath for about an hour, and then turned off the heat. It looked promising. The wool was allowed to cool and set overnight.

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The next day, I noticed the dye did not exhaust....but I have never had it do that in the past either. The dye did strike, but alas, I was rewarded for my efforts with a mustard brown color once again. If anyone knows what I am doing wrong, or if there indeed is a way to achieve a red color on wool (not cornbread!)- please send me an can find my address on the side bar.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I suppose all spinners are a bit ambidextrous. Since I have started spinning at the Great Wheel, I seem to notice that my left hand is smarter than it used to be.

My Great Wheel has made me develop a sensitivity in my left hand. Great Wheel spinning requires my left hand to hold the fiber just right, not so firm that I cannot control the draw, yet loose enough to keep the draft flowing. That I am slowly acquiring this sensitivity makes me happy, and it is fascinating to experience it. There are times I just like to watch my left hand perform. I imagine that if I could play the piano, the sensation would be similar. There is a synchronization happening. The right hand knows what to do (simple, turn the wheel)...but the rest of the body needs to develop a rhythm that is in sync with the wheel, so that the left hand can draft the fiber and allow the twist to run in and make the yarn. Sometimes when I am spinning, I feel like I am just watching it happen, not thinking about the doing of it anymore. I become a bystander, a spectator to the process of fiber becoming yarn. At these moments I am "in the zone". I am relaxing and I am productive, all at the same time. It is a pretty nice place to be. And only one reason that I love the craft.

Post Script: The name of the song that is playing in the background is "biodegradable/Kishor's tune". It is from a CD called "Endeavour" by a group known as Grada. They are based in Dublin, but we had a chance to see them play live in PA a few years ago, where I brought the CD, and had it autographed ;-). You can visit their web page and purchase CDs ...

Friday, August 10, 2007

small projects

Remember this?

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It is the wool/mohair blend that I dyed and spun a few months ago. I knit the project last month, and it has been sitting around waiting for me to put a button on it. I realize that I have a bad habit of letting projects linger sometimes. It would take me all of about 10 minutes to finish this project, and yet it still sits. Maybe when the cooler weather hits, I will be motivated to sew the button on.

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This is Calorimetry ("a scientific term that refers to the measurement of heat lost or gained"*) by Kathryn Schoendorf from * in the winter 2006 issue. The finished project is a sort of headscarf for those of us who have longer hair, and still want to wear a hat. This orange color should be just right, come hunting season. The pattern uses a 2x2 rib with stitch markers. Short rows are worked, and holes are formed at the turning points.

I used every bit of the yarn spun, and was short 10 bind off stitches! I had to spit stitch some white yarn to finish. It is a fun project, taking no more than a few hours to complete...well unless you take a few months to sew the button on.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

good ground

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Look at this lovely ground beetle! He was almost 2 inches long!

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I am so glad that he is in my garden. I found him when I turned over one of the galvanized wash tubs. Predacious Ground Beetles are a very good sign indeed! They are valuable to the earth in more ways than I can tell you. They make me happy when I see them because they are a good indicator that the biological activity in my soil is just where I want it to be to maintain good tilth. They are also very fragile creatures, and cannot abide pesticides. I rarely see them because they are nocturnal. I'm so glad I had my camera outside with me, so that I could show you this nice specimen...he is a grand one!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

walk with me wed, quicken the pace

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Every year I vow not to go away from the garden in August, but every year there is some sort of function or get together that takes me away. I had a wonderful time over the last few days, visiting with old friends, revisiting the places of my youth etc. ...but whilst I was otherwise engaged, my garden was busy growing, exploding, in the heat and humidity of these August days.

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The mornings are full of mist, and dew and haze. There is a heavy moisture in the air. It has fattened the tomatoes. The heat has turned them red. The seed that I planted in March has now reached maturity. The plants have achieved what they set out to do, they are bearing fruit and setting seed. The tomatoes come to the table for supper, and now my work begins in earnest. It is hard to keep up the pace. As the garden takes time to pause, and there is stillness in the air and the river....I rush to keep up the pace with the harvest, trying to cram the goodness into mason jars and freezer bags!

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I am tempted to put on my bathing suit, and crawl up onto a big rock in the river and rest like the turtles, soaking up the sun of what seems like an endless summer. But how can I? .......... I have planted a garden, and all the miracles of sprouting, rooting, blossoming and setting fruit are hitting a crescendo! The symphony is beautiful, and in a few weeks it will be over. So as I walk, my pace and my rhythms do not match the stillness of the season. As the garden slows down and pauses before the big downward slope of autumn, I race. Make hay while the sun shines, it tells me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

walk with me wed dog days

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For the second day in a row we have had hot and humid weather. These are the Dog Days, or so the Romans called them. A time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and frenzies" (from Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813)"

The dogs did go mad around here. On Tuesday, I returned to my home after a trip to town, to discover that 2 dogs had been running my chickens down. The dogs were collared. I saw them. It is against the law, in the state of Pennsylvania, to allow your dogs to run free. I couldn't find my chickens anywhere, only piles of feathers and dirt where there had been a struggle. My heart sank. We chased the dogs away with a garden rake. We searched around and called and called. Finally, the chickens began to emerge from under the brush. One by one I found them. I crawled under bushes to retrieve them, and suddenly the dogs were upon us again. Barking and chasing, hunting. They were big dogs, and frightened me. Their eyes were buldging, saliva was draped in strings around their muzzle's, while their tongue's were swollen to twice the normal size, all swinging and dangling down. They barked and ran in every direction imaginable. They behaved as if they were mad.

The next couple of hours were chaotic, consisting of us trying to fight off dogs while rounding up traumatized hens. It was so hot and humid, I felt as wet as if I had been swimming, and I was breathless from running down dogs and chickens. Somehow, we managed (along with the help of a friend) to find almost all of the hens. The rooster seemed the worst. His eyes kept rolling up in his head in a queer sort of seizure like way. His tail feathers were completely gone, as were most of the feathers along his legs and underbelly.

Even after we managed to get the chickens into the run, the dogs returned. Barking and throwing their bodies up against the chicken wire fencing. I lost count of the number of times that we chased them off our land. Finally, after sunset, they did not return.

My chickens survived, all but one, are accounted for. But they have suffered miserably. Most do not have any tail feathers left, some of them do not have any feathers around their chest and neck. I don't know yet if their internal parts have been affected. At any rate, I will not have any eggs for weeks, months, or perhaps ever again.

Most of my hens are 5 years or older. They are free ranging pets. They stay on our property. I have a fenced in run for them. These dogs ran onto my property and attacked my chickens. And then they ran away. I have no recourse. At the moment, my hamlet has no dog warden. I feel violated, and sad, with no where to take my complaints.

My chickens cannot go free on my property now. Once again, the word respect(and lack thereof) comes to mind. Who's dogs were they? What responsible owner would allow their dogs to just run free? I am tired and exasperated from cleaning up and putting up with irresponsible people. I am hot and tired from the dog days.

As a post script to this entry, I want to thank everyone for the kind and helpful comments that were offered. I also received a private email which contained the following information: Pennsylvania Dog Laws All dogs must be under control and may not be allowed to run at large. Dogs are personal property and owners are responsible for any damages caused by their dog. Violations of State Dog Laws carry fines up to a maximum of $300 Plus Court Costs Act 46 of 1990 is known as the "Dangerous Dog Law" It was enacted to provide greater protections to persons attacked by a "dangerous dog and to provide for greater control by dog owners of dogs considered to be dangerous." A dangerous dog is defined as one which attacked a human being without provacation, or killed or inflicted severe injury to a domestic animal without provocation while off an owner's property. Some Responsibilites of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement 1. Reimburse people for dog-caused damage to livestock, poultry and domestic game birds.

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