Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DIY Green House!

So how great is this?! After looking through several books and catalouges, I had this idea for a winter growhouse. It's still in the experimental stage, but I think it will be great for extending my Fall and Spring growing seasons.

First we pushed wooden rowels into the beds and placed the lengths of PVC pipe over them. Then, we covered the PVC with two sections of metal livestock fencing and zip- tied it down onto the frame.

Then, we rolled and cut a section of plastic over the frame and zip- tied that to the metal fencing.

Next, we trimmed the excess plastic on the ends and cut a piece to fit the opening on each end, leaving one half fastened with wires so I can fold it back and.....

TA DA!! A finished green house. My radishes, leeks, celery, and carrots are slowly growing under there!

We also put up another motion-activated flood light so when I go to close up the chickens, I don't have to do it in the dark!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our One-of-a-Kind Yarn

Sigh...some people just don't get it. Most people just don't get it. My mother has very diplomatically tried to explain on her blog why our yarn is so expensive. She tries her utmost to be gracious, even when people question her ideals or express doubt in her abilities...
Five years ago, Mom had a dream. A dream that she'd been slowly working towards for several years on her own. After I graduated from college, I moved home for a little while while trying to find a job. During those few months, I learned how important spinning and fiber arts were to my Mother. It gave her an identity other than "Mom" as well as a constructive outlet for her energy. She loved it and it was more than a hobby; it was an opportunity to be independent. As someone who had been a full-time Mom for more than twenty years, an empty house was disquieting. No one needed her help, no one was asking her to fix things or cook things or fold things. No one except fiber owners, that is. Locally, she had started to earn a reputation for being a very fast, high quality spinner. People started to bring her fiber that they didn't have time to spin. Fleeces in various stages of cleanliness started to crowd the garage and Mom began to become overwhelmed with the washing and carding of other people's Unfinished Projects. In addition, after delving into the business end of all these arraignments, I found out exactly how many people were taking advantage of Mom's talent and kindness. They begrudged her the little amounts she charged. She did her best to spin the fiber exactly how they had described they wanted it, then, after they saw the finished yarn, they would argue that it wasn't what they wanted at all and couldn't she charge them less for the mistake?!? After hearing all this, I was livid. Finally, I sat her down and asked her a very simple question: "Mom, if you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?" She didn't even have to think about it. Her reply was: "I want to start my own yarn business and sell beautiful handspun yarn to knitting shops all over the world." So, I said "Ok! Let's do it!"
That summer, we built a very small inventory of Superwash in five colors: Northwest Summer, Northwest Winter, Northwest Autumn, Northwest Spring, and Newport Rocks. We only had three dye pots and Mom worked around the clock in a sweltering carport to dye up what we needed. Each pot was an original creation of color. No dye pot is ever the same, even when you're trying to create the same color. A dyer is an artist who uses Jacquard Acid Dyes instead of paint, fiber instead of a canvas, and a plastic bottle instead of a brush!
We pounded the pavement all summer long, going from one yarn shop to another. We even had to offer to sell on consignment, just so they would let us leave the yarn in the shop. Eventually, we gathered enough spinners throughout the country to start really making some serious yarn. Spinners who are artists in their own right. It's not an easy hobby to pick up and it takes a very special kind of spinner to want to spin for money. They have to be good AND fast, not a common combination. In addition, each of our spinners are real people with real lives and jobs of their own. Tanglewood Fiber Creations has to fit in between their other responsibilities. Their spinning is as individual as they are themselves.
Since that summer, our yarn has become more popular and the number of spinners has grown as well as the number of customers. We have to hire help to keep up and more fiber has to be bought now than ever before. We occasionally order so much that our supplier runs out! It has not been easy to resurrect a business that went extinct over a hundred years ago. There are no people to ask for advice, nor business models to follow. Mom and I have gotten where we are from hard work and perseverance and lots of help from our friends and family. It has been, and will continue to be, a long road.
So, I say, to those who balk at the cost of our sweat, blood, and tears:
Our yarn is not like $4.99 Red Hart; dyed in huge vats of bubbling chemicals, hundreds of pounds at a time. If you want that, go to Wal-Mart.
Our yarn is not the same, skein to skein. It never will be.
Our skeins are not 4 ounces exactly. This is impossible since it comes from spinners all over the country. However, we try our best and get pretty damn close!
Our yarn has the combined efforts of over a dozen artisans in each skein and all dozen put forth their best efforts with each step.

Admittedly, our yarn is a luxury item that not everyone will be able to afford. It's like Mercedes vs. Volkswagen, Scharffenburger vs. Hershey, or Payless vs. Dolce and Gabbana. It's something special, one-of-a-kind, and worth saving your money for. When you knit with our yarn, you can honestly say you're using the best. It's a Birthday gift, or a Thank-You present, or a lavish Self Indulgence after that particularly helacious week.

It's art that keeps you warm.

It's quality.

It's love.

Friday, October 2, 2009

With Autumn Closin' In...

Who switched on Fall?!? Overnight, the temperatures dropped and gray days became the norm. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, fall is my favorite season! I love the crispness after the oppressive heat of summer and before the bone-chilling ice of winter. The maple trees start to change and pumpkin stands appear by the road on my drive home. Apples and pears are at their peak and my mind starts to wander towards Halloween decorations and Thanksgiving feasts! Fall is a great time for the Andersen Family, for it kicks off several months of straight partying! First is Steven's Birthday on October 26th. Next is Halloween, my absolute favorite holiday (even above Christmas). I get giddy just thinking about digging out all the decorations. Even now, I'm gearing up for my first big Halloween blow-out! Then, there's my Birthday on November 17th (ugh..28 this year..). Then Thanksgiving- bring on the mincemeat tarts! Then, Mom's Birthday, which is always something exciting. Then, Christmas with all it's complicated logistics and nation-wide gift procurement hysteria. Then, finally, New Year's where all you have to do is get tipsy on champagne. The rest of winter is spent looking a seed catalogues, hibernating, and trying to figure out how to avoid Valentine's Day. Then, before you know it, Spring is just around the corner and the promise of daffodils is enough to keep you going.
But, for now, I'm enjoying the change in weather and eating the last of my cucumbers. I'm savoring the last patches of blue sky and hoarding all my dried plums, peaches and pears.

Mom and I were lucky enough to get a peach shortcake from the EZ Orchards stand before it closed for the season. All their pumpkins are ready to be carved and the corn maze is open! Here are a few pics I took between bites of shortcake..

Mom, with the EZ Orchards loot...

The shortcake stand, now once again closed for the season.

One of my last gardening duties before winter: plant all these bulbs! I'll be impatiently waiting all winter for these to come up!

My last canning project: strawberry-rhubarb jam and pear butter.

What a season it's been!

Summer's Bounty

Well, after living with my own garden this summer, I realized a couple of things:

1. Gardens are freaking great. They're like an extra big, airy room of your house.
2. The real fun starts after all the checks are written and cashed.
3. Bamboo is the devil in physical form.
4. If you plant four vines in May, you will be drowning in cucumbers by July.
5. Tomatillos need to be confined like Hannibal Lecter or they take over...everything.
6. If you have a reasonably productive garden, your kitchen will be a disaster from June to October (nobody warns you about this). Don't even bother mopping the floor!
7. Seeds are totally the way to go. They're cheap...really cheap.
8. Tomatoes and garlic are the Idiot-Gardeners go-to. It really takes a lot to screw them up...which I did....blossom end rot is a bitch...
9. Fruit flies are a real nuisance, as well as being kinda gross. I found that a wine bottle filled with two inches of cider vinegar and a paper funnel in the neck is a pretty effective trap.
10. Get used to working on several food-related projects at the same time. Multi-task, baby!

There! Some (not so wise) wisdom from a person who survived her first growing season! There were surprises, both dismaying and joyous. But, overall, it was worth the hard work and money that went into it. Most of the really hard stuff is over and will not need to be repeated next year. The beds, soil, rocks, and chips are in place, just waiting for spring!

One morning's harvest in June:

A typical summer's day in Becky's kitchen: preparing tomatillos for freezing and canning pickles from my own cucumbers. My trusty Ball Blue Book of Food Preserving open to the "Fresh Pack Pickling" page. I've already started to tab certain pages and write notes in the margins...

The finished jars of spears, waiting for their labels..

Fast-forward to August 30th, the day after my highly successful Housewarming Party! We had a pajama day, knitting, talking, cooking, and packing (since Val and I were flying out the next day). It was so great to have a fun day after all those weeks of frantically working to get the garden and house ready for the party. I put the food dehydrator Jan gave me into comission the very next day, drying tomatoes and fruit. That machine has been going pretty much non-stop since I got it.

Here's Mom and Val working on a gezpacho from my own tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.

It was a fabulous weekend and the perfect mental break before a week in Beloit!