Thoughts on Downsizing

The challenge:  to prepare to lie in a furnished 600 square foot guest house, when I’ve been living in a 2800 sq. ft. house for 36 years!

It is an emotion process, because as I sort, memories of past event and people come flooding in. Remembering past passions and interests. Remembering the stages of growing up of my children.

So I perform triage:  what do I absolutely, positively need to be happy and useful in the new place? What will I need immediate access to (for classes, ongoing research), and what can I do without in the long term?

And I know I’ll do another sort after I move.  I know I’m packing too much to take with me.

It’s a process of letting go. Even though I’m still curious about a subject, if I haven’t read the book since purchasing it in 2003, what is the probability of my doing so in the next 5 to 10 years?

I’ve sorted fabric, and keep finding little sewing kits assembled for some project. I know I won’t be making lace shawls (I’m into simple, mindless knitting), so I don’t need the books and patterns for elaborate constructions.  I won’t be doing elaborate quilts, either.  And those knitting needles that seem to multiply in various corners (did I really know I had at least 6 sets of size 6 needles?), well it took me two hours to sort through and size them all and set about half aside for an estate sale.

But no matter how much I’ve sorted and boxed, it seems there’s SO much more to do! The house just keeps getting bigger and bigger, with more and more rooms!

The result will be simplifying my life.  That is a laudable goal, and one which I have been preaching for a long time.

But it’s a challenge – with a deadline, because the papers have been signed, and agreements made.


Chickens’ Laying Oddities

I am owned by five hens – three Ameraucanas, one black Australorp, and one Rhode Island Red.  The youngest are now about 3 years old, the oldest, one of the Ameraucanas, is about 4.  But all still lay at some rate or another.

I noticed, however, that two were laying pretty regularly in December – Auri (blue eggs) and Ginger (brown eggs).  But in January two others took up the torch while the others took a break – Mav (brown eggs with deep brown speckles) and Rosie (pinkish brown eggs).  In fact, Mav and Rosie are still laying as I write thise.

HOWEVER, the other day, Mav’s egg was rather odd – as you see in the picture.

You will note that the egg on the left is the size of a marble.  This is not something Mav had laid before.  It was perfectly formed, and had that speckled look just like her regular eggs.

So I cracked it open to see what was inside, and it appeared perfectly normal, with a small, almost forming yolk.  The white had a good consistency.  It’s hard to see – I cracked it into a white bowl, and a light keeps reflecting on it.

I asked my local chicken expert and he said – it just happens sometimes!  Doesn’t indicate anything is wrong.

In fact, the next day she laid an egg that was perfectly normal, so I guess all is well in the coop.

One thing that must be remembered – chicks often take a break over winter or when the weather is wonky like we have had lately here in Dallas.  Or when they are molting, or move, or otherwise their world is disrupted.  But usually egg laying subsides markedly in the winter.  And then … Groundhog Day comes … and the laying starts picking up.  It’s really not magic, and don’t go looking for a calendar in the coop, where the hens are keeping track of the days.  It all has to do with the length of the day – the number of hours of daylight.  As the daylight increases, so does laying.

So… keep those hens happy and enjoy the eggs!



After the Freeze(s)

I do not ordinarily do anything out of the ordinary to keep my plants from succumbing to freezes – I prefer to “experiment” and observe which ones make it through light and hard freezes and which do not.

Prior to the first hard freeze, in early December, I had harvested most of my red mustard, green mustard, and broccoli raab.  Good thing – they did not survive the hard freeze. Here’s a look at my mustard after the freeze.

Only the chard managed to come back (but then, chard is VERY resilient). Also weathering the freeze was the sorrel, as well as my radiccio.  Of course, the kale made it through (although I’d mulched it just in case), and carrots.



We Get Attached to Our Chickens

I must say, we urban chicken wranglers do get attached to our chickens.  Especially if we have raised them from mere day-old chicks.  I had what could only be a “mom moment” a couple of weeks ago.  I had tossed out to the hens some broccoli that had been in the refrigerator a bit too long. As these 3-year olds attacked the broccoli, I had a flashback to when they were mere chicks and were attacking a broccoli floret I had given them.

So here’s the first picture, taken in early 2014:

That’s Mav (for Mavriki), Rosie (Nosie Rosie) and Ginger (Georgia Ginger) going at the broccoli pecking away.






Now let’s look at them in January 2017….. Mav and Aurie (Ameracauna – she was outside the previous picture) as well as Ginger heading for the broccoli.  The gray lady is Winnie, another Ameracauna who is almost a year older.  I got her as a laying hen.

The Freeze is Coming … the Freeze is Coming

Well, all I can say is it’s about time!  Usually we get our first freeze the third week in November, and now here it is the second week of December!

So what to do to prepare?

I’ve been out today, getting my garden, chickens and faucets ready for the next three nights which it’s going to dip way below freezing.

First, I made sure the chickens have some additional straw in their coop.  No, I don’t really worry about them keeping warm unless it dips into the ‘teens.  They have down and feathers and fluff up rather nicely in the cold, and do quite well.  (Our comforters have down in them, remember?)  I also gave them an extra ration of corn late this afternoon.  The carbohydrate helps them get the body fires going and helps keep them warm.


The garden?  I mulched with some old straw around the plants that may have a hard time.  I’m generally of the attitude that if a plant can’t handle it, then I’m not going to worry. Like chard, that can have ice on it, wilt a bit and come back within a day or two in the thaw.  But my kale, mustard, broccoli raab and peas, now that’s another story. You can see the kale all mulched up in the picture. I gave the plant feet a nice 3″ of straw on the ground.  I didn’t have to water, because the rains during the last few days took care of that.

Now… the hoses and faucets.  I disconnected both garden hoses.  Then I covered the faucets.  The one in back, that sticks straight up I covered with a 5-gallon bucket.  The one in front, coming out the side of the house skirting I wrapped with bubble wrap and duct tape.  That worked last winter quite well.faucet-for-freezebucket-on-faucet

Back to Weaving

It’s been too long since I fired up a loom!  During the visit of a good friend of many years (Larry), my H.L. Hammett was finally set up properly so that I could warp and weave.

The fine tuning really needed two people so that one could hold harnesses and such steady while the other adjusted.  It took the better part of two hours (and Janet Meany’s copy of the Hammett loom manual helped tremendously!).


Now I have found that my warping board (made by friend Larry back in 1972 or 1973? – yes, we go back a ways) can be set upon the loom so that I can measure warp at a comfortable height.


My first project will be a black warp (yes, it’s going to be really fun to keep all those black ends straight and thread them through the heddles!).  Black will offset the colors of the sheets I’m going to use as weft.  I’m threading a chicken tracks pattern and wanted it to stand out.

My First Tomato Worm – Ever! and Hugel Kultur Bed 3 Years On

tomato worm wasps

I was examining the tomato vines that seem to be everywhere, and found … my very first tomato worm … EVER!  I’ve always planted marigolds and basil with my tomatoes, but this year those plants got overrun with the tomato vines.  I was concerned at first, but then noticed that the worm was covered with wasp larvae.  They will take care of the worm.  Nature taking its course.


At the Dig Deep growers conference in Fort Worth this past weekend, I re-established contact with the organizers of the Community Harvest garden in Plano.  I visited on Sunday, and took a tour.  Of note was a hugel kultur bed that is about 3 years old, and going strong. My tour guide mentioned that the bed was placed flat on the ground, and that next time they would dig a trench in which to place the wood branches that form the base component of the bed.

hugel cuuc 3 yr

Barrier Free Gardening for the Aging, Mobility Challenged and Others!

I just got the final agenda for Tarrant Area Food Bank’s annual Dig Deep conference on community gardening and urban agriculture.  Find out how to set up and run a community garden, rain harvesting, vermicomposting and community organization!  And then I’ll be giving the presentation on Barrier-Free Gardening!  I am so honored to be a part of the stellar line-up!  Here’s a link to the registration page.  It’s Saturday, July 16, 2016.  See you there

Goldenrod isn’t just a pretty flower…

When I recently had a need for yellow scarves, my thoughts went to dyeing my own – another interest of mine.

 scarves may 16 golden

I immediately contacted a friend with whom I’ve shared many a dye bath, inquiring as to the whether she had any goldenrod – my first choice for good yellows.   She didn’t but offered peach leaves…. Hmm… 

I went cruising through my freezer, looking through my stashed dye-stuffs and lo and behold, I found a bag of goldenrod from a few years ago.  (Doesn’t everyone have a bag of goldenrod in their freezer?) 

While I awaited silk scarves to arrive from Dharma Trading Company (8”x72” silk scarves sell for about $3.50 each there), I started the dye bath.  Taking the dark vegetable matter from the bag, I put it in a small pot of water and brought to a boil.  (I always keep my dye pots separate from any other pots and identify them with string wound around the handles.)  Then let it cool and set the pot aside. 

When the scarves arrived, I washed them in dishwashing liquid, rinsed thoroughly and then put into an alum mordanting bath (alum – from the spice rack at the grocery store – about a couple tablespoons full for 10 light weight scarves).  I swished them about, making sure they were well wetted, then let it sit for a couple of hours.  Then I removed the scarves and hung them to dry.

Meanwhile, the dyebath was brought back to boiling for about an hour.  Then I turned off the fire and put in the scarves. I left them 24 hours.  The picture shows what they looked like when removed from the dyebath.  A deep golden.

Scarves goldenrod

Then I rinsed them thorough, then washed in mild laundry detergent, rinsed again and they hung to dry.

Not bad!  A pale golden yellow.  Not the bright yellow I wanted, but beautiful none-the-less.  That’s the way of natural dyeing.  Experimentation. 

May try those peach leaves – mixed with yellow onion skins? – for the next batch. Or … turmeric!  That’s what colors mustard sauce yellow.  I saw some turmeric root at the grocery store – think I’ll get some and experiment.


Planting with Bees

Just last week, between rain events, my daughter and I planted about 250 sq. ft. of garden area for a client.  Since the client didn’t see having time for vegetables this year, she requested ornamentals – plants that would bloom and need little maintenance.

Natives! Are my favorite go-to for that.  The configuration includes two large beds, each 10×13 feet, and includes large sage, oregano, rosemary and marjoram bushes, along with some incredibly invasive mint and a couple of milkweeds.

Hall two may 16

What did we plant?  Since most of the garden has good sun exposure, we chose mostly sun-loving plants like day lilies, Mexican dwarf petunias, blue mistflower, and salvias.  I love mixing day lilies with Mexican feather grass because when the day lilies die back in the winter, the feather grass is there with texture.  The Mexican dwarf petunias make a good front ground with dark evergreen leaves and lovely purple flowers.

Another cluster included Blue Victoria salvias.  The bees certainly found those when we were laying out the plants for positioning.  In fact, we talked to the bees and worked among them when we planted the Salvias.

The milkweeds joined a previous cluster of the same, but different varieties.  And the mistflowers anchored another corner. Another cluster was a mix of gray, fuzzy lamb’s ears paired with purple heart.  Lovely contrast, nestled next to the gray sage.

Zinnias and marigolds were sprinkled about, along with some basil for contrast.

It’ll be fun to go back in a month or so to see how it has filled out.

Along about the end of October, I’ll go in and clean out the die-backs and put in some bulbs for early spring color.