Monday, March 31, 2014

phenological events March 2014

6th bluebirds on rosehips
17th starting seeds
herbs, tomato, pepper
20th snowdrops & daffs up
22nd skunkcabbage
23rd chipmunks
26th redwing blackbirds

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

the bandwagon

A couple of years ago, I hopped on the band-weaving bandwagon. My efforts were stymied by not having a good band lock. Since I made one a few months ago, I've been doing more weaving. It really is amazing how having the right tools for the job can make such a big difference.

Warping my Double Hole tape loom has become easier since I've enlisted the help of my husband's old wooden C-Clamps. Set up on either side of the loom, they hold it in an upright position and I can see both sides of the loom. I use my handmade threading tool to pass the warp threads through the slots and holes. Once I have it warped, I can move the C-Clamp over to the shelf near the window, and it becomes an anchor for one end of the warp.

I've been weaving with different size DMC cotton, and silk, playing around with what works best. So far, I like the results of the #5 the best.

Keeping the wpi in mind, I've been spinning my own silk to use for weaving. I hope to use it as pattern threads for the linen tapes I will make. It has taken me longer than it should to learn some of the finer details of band weaving, but it is starting to come together. This past week I tried warping for a simple back-strap loom.

It is very interesting to compare the Double Hole Rigid Heddle Loom with a Backstrap loom, and the ways that patterns are achieved. Now that I've gotten acquainted with the basic set up, I'll move onto trying to do some patterns.

From where I sit when I'm weaving, I have nice light from the window and warmth from the coal/wood stove. The view out the window lets me take notice of the slowly disappearing snowbank, and snowdrops that have started to grow. They are more like "snowdrips", as the blossom is still closed up tight against the cold. They seem to know that the temps are still too cold for the pollinators.

The chickens are very glad to find areas where the sun has melted away the snow to expose the dry dirt!

Nothing like a good dust bath after a long winter.

They dig their holes and kick the dirt up. The kick it all around and over themselves. Then they bask in the sun and dirt.

Other signs of spring I've noticed include: skunks and skunkcabbages, redwing blackbirds, and chipmunks. Still no Eastern Phoebe. We are expecting rain on Friday. They should be along soon after that.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

conical cotyledons

Windy weather is good for threshing seed, and so it was that I found myself sorting through and threshing last years string beans in preparation for this years planting. The harvest from last fall included beans of several different varieties, including my favorite, haricot verts (or french style green beans).

With the pod shell removed, the hard and shiny bean seeds fell easily into the container, and I tossed them in the air to let the wind carry away any bits of chaff, leaving me with a nice tray of seed.

At closer inspection, I noticed something strange.

I've been collecting my bean seed for years. There are times I order new varieties to plant, but I normally save the last harvest of the fall. Threshing and sorting bean seed allows time to look at and admire their beauty. This is the first time I've ever noticed this oddity. The cotyledons are not, ahem, normal. They are conical or tapered at the tips. They are pointy. So pointy, in fact, that they have split their seed coats. Look:

Efforts to find information about the cause of this peculiarity have been fruitless. In an attempt to see if the seed would be viable, I slipped them in between a damp paper towel and they entered the zip lock chamber for a germination test.

No problems there! Inside of 3 days, the embryos emerged and the beans seed appeared healthy and ready to grow.

Since I only had a handful of these, I decided to feed them to the chickens (who, btw, were very happy that they were tossed in their direction). And just as the last one was eaten, I had the thought that I should have saved a few seeds to plant (isolated from the regular patch) just to see what the next generation's seed would have looked like.

Too late now!

Thursday, March 06, 2014


The icicles that surround our cabin are slow to melt. I see the world outside my window through frozen bars of ice. Ice Jail. I am ready to be freed from my indoor chambers.

Even though the morning thermometer readings are close to zero, my calendar helps keep track of the days, and gives me encouragement. Spring will come, and it will be time to plant. I need to be ready. I reach for the jar of Hungarian Flax seed that I rippled from the plants I raised last fall. It is time to free the seeds from the boll.

The USDA sent me only 200 seeds to start with. Flax seed is generally self pollinating, but cross and even outcrossing can occur. I'm not sure these seeds will all be true to type. There was another variety of flax (Elektra) that was going nearby, and though most of it matured earlier, there is a chance they cross pollinated.

I open each boll by crushing it with a spoon. The base of the boll shows the different segments (they look like little chambers), the wall that separates the segments is called the septum. On average, I'm finding about 7 seeds per boll, and have found as many as 9. Occasionally, there will be only 1 seed in the entire boll.

The color of the seed is lighter than I expected. See the shiny coating? That is the mucilage. If you soak the seeds in water, the mucilage is released and makes a sort of jell that is silky and slippery. Flax mucilage is used when spinning flax to smooth down the wispy ends and hairy surface of the spun linen thread. The mucilage maybe also be used to dress or treat the warp on the loom when weaving with linen. The dressing (when dry) helps to prevent the warp threads from sticking together.

After about an hour of this task of crushing the bolls, I have counted 370 seeds. I have only removed about half of the bolls from the jar so I am very happy with the number. I at least doubled the count that I originally started with. Now remains the test of germination.

So, yes. Spring is coming and although the landscape outside does not show much of a change, the extended daylight hours are upon us! The sun gives me great pleasure on those days that it chooses to shine. I find a spot to soak up the warmth and light and bathe in its goodness.
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