Trying to keep calm and yarn along with the punches

So I want to join in Nicole of Frontier Dreams for her KCCO (Keep Calm, Craft On)  and also Ginney of Small Things for Yarn Along, but at the moment, I can’t use my home computer because a heinous person hacked L’Homme’s e-mail account.  We’re waiting to take the laptop to one of those businesses that can scrub this kind of poison from my beloved little machine.  I’m pretty frazzled, worrying about just how compromised our whole life on the computer could be from that one e-mail hack.

So, no pictures.  But I finished the Sheer Poncho, which I blogged about here, so I will hopefully post some photos as soon as the computer is out of the hospital.

And if you ever received an e-mail claiming that somebody is stuck in Cypress and needs $2,000, don’t believe it.

The Ladies Who Blog

So I was adding to this blog my list of Blogs I Read, and they include:

The Blog Maven

The Yarn Harlot


Frontier Dreams

A Year on the Farm

Now if I could just find blogs called The Kitchen Witch and The Schoolmarm, you would have a picture of 90% of my life through blog names alone.  (I’m intentionally leaving out The T.V. Junkie–my guiltiest pleasure.)

So I got to thinking about these ladies who blog–not just the 3 I named up there, but also Woolly Moss Roots, Bird and Little Bird, Small Things, and many others that I’m only just beginning to discover.  We’re all living and blogging about homesteading or, at the least, a “back to nature” approach to life.

Our subjects are centuries-old pursuits: knitting, sewing, spinning, writing, reading, gardening, farming, child-rearing, housekeeping, cooking.  But we’re talking about these things through this technologically advanced wonder-machine under my fingers.

My thoughts on this dichotomy were put to words well when I met a fellow teacher recently and told her about the blogs I like to read.  “They’re mostly earth-mama, back to the land types,” I said.  “And these people use computers?!!” she exclaimed.  “Yes, and quite well,” I told her.  (She had never even read a blog, so there!)

Our pursuits have been practiced and refined over millennia, but we learn about them and discuss them via a technology that’s just a few decades old.  What advances are ladies (and some men, I know, but primarily ladies) making in these pursuits by having such a fast and easy way to share our work and ideas?

In my home, there are no video games, no MP3 players, no iPods, no iPhones, no blue-ray disc player, no TiVO or other digital video recorder.  We get by just fine without all that fancy electronic gadgetry, but we could never give up this slim little rectangle and the wireless modem that connects it, and me through it, to all of you.

I know there are homesteading, organic-living women out there without even an Internet connection (or maybe even a computer) but I don’t know any of them.  How would I meet them?

Low tunnels for winter gardening

Here at Etc. Farms, we flip the seasons and grow most of our market produce during the cooler months.  L’Homme realized long ago that fall-winter-spring gardening is so much easier than fighting the bugs and drought of the summer months.  Plus, the markets are flooded with produce in the summer months, but it’s hard to find locally grown produce when it’s cold outside.

Winter veggies (beets) snug inside their warm low tunnel

Though a lot of vegetables grow easily in Georgia in the cold, the plants still need some protection–frost on leaves is more dangerous than the cold air, so we have to keep it from settling on the plants.  Thus we use low tunnels.  And here’s how we make them:

The basic design involves little arches covered with row cover.  We use concrete reinforcing wire to make the arches:

Arches made from concrete reinforcing wire

We space out the arches over a garden bed, then cover them with row cover.  Row cover is a translucent, water-permeable fabric that acts like a blanket over the beds.  Our preferred brand is Agri-Bon, but there are various brands carried by any serious garden supply catalog. (We get Agri-Bon from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.)

We also use short lengths of old garden hose to cover the edges of the wire arches, because we found that the rough metal snagged and ripped the row cover.  We just split the hose lengthwise and snug it onto the cut edges.

Once the beds are covered with the arches and “blankets,” we tuck the sides and ends of the long, low tunnel into the ground to provide a warm, snug little hut for the plants.  The finished tunnel looks like a gigantic white caterpillar resting in your garden; this is why the French call them “chenilles” the French word for caterpillar.  If you’re architecturally minded, the tunnels might remind you of Quonset huts.

Low tunnels or en francais, chenilles

You must do something to hold the sides and ends of the row cover down on the ground–many gardeners just pile up soil to weigh down the fabric at ground level.  We like to use some handy little pins that L’Homme cut from concrete reinforcing wire:

Pin for the row cover

They are bent at one end so they look like a 7 with a steep angle.  These little beauties hook over the edge of the row cover and easily push into the soil to keep the fabric tightly pinned to the ground.

Pins hold the sides of the row cover fabric nice and snug

We prefer using the pins, because it’s much easier to pull out a few and peek in at the vegetables inside the tunnel.  Peeking in on your little babies is very important — you don’t need to remove the covers to water and, of course, sunlight gets through, but just as the plants love the warm and cozy environment you created, so do bugs and weeds.  You need to check in periodically to be sure nobody is running rampant on your vegetables.  It might also be necessary to vent the ends of the tunnel on warm days.

Open the ends to peek at the little darlings and let them breathe on warm days.


Happy winter gardening!



Gratitude Monday

Joining Taryn of Woolly Moss Roots, here are some items from my gratitude journal this past week:

–I was able to fix the tight bind-off of the Sheer Poncho I knitted, and learned a new technique for an elastic bind-off in the process.

–L’Oiseau loves old 60s and 70s hits like “Georgie Girl” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” and I love singing them to her.

–The weather is getting cool and more fall-ish.

–We got some delicious apples and apple cider in Ellijay this weekend.

–We’re going to the Pumpkin Patch tomorrow on a field trip for L’Oiseau’s Montessori school.

–My dad had to go to the hospital in an ambulance Friday night because he was almost catatonic, but it turned out to be pneumonia, and he responded well to the antibiotics and is recovering well.

–I don’t have to teach this week, so I’ve had time to do a lot of other stuff.

–Although it all makes my head buzz and swim, I’m so thankful that I have so many good blogs to read and so many projects and writing topics to explore on my blog.  It’s great to have so many possibilities.

And that’s just a small sampling of all the wonderful things I have to be grateful for.  Life is good, indeed.

Saturday Garden Journal

My photos cannot come close to Ginny’s over at Small Things, but here’s my contribution to this weekend’s garden journal:

L’Homme has been planting, planting, planting, and watering and cultivating like a busy bee.  He says this weekend is the last one for planting.  He has put in collards, kale, turnips, salad mix, radishes, beets, carrots, arugula, green onions, broccoli, spinach, broccoli raab, mustard greens, chard, bok choy, endive, escarole, and cilantro.

L’Homme gets a little help from a garden intern and the intern’s faithful bodyguard, Perky.  Here she’s watering bok choy seedlings.

The garden intern dresses quite formally, like Sleeping Beauty

And the harvesting has begun!

L’Homme harvesting kale

We’ve been eating kale and arugula this weekend. Great crops of both, but this particular row of kale had lots of aphids, so L’Homme cut the whole row down to the base of the leaves (the growth point) to try to get those little buggers out of there and hopefully get a second growth on the plants that will be relatively aphid-free. The colder temps will probably help make that happen.

You might be saying, “Dang!  That’s a lot of green leafy vegetables for one small (2 adults, 1 munchkin) family.”  You’d be right.  We are market gardeners — the bulk of our harvests go to the lovely restaurant 61 Main in Jasper, Georgia.  And a lot goes to individual customers who come out to the farm to buy from us.  (If you ate at 61 Main this week and you had kale, arugula, tomatoes or basil, you ate our vegetables.)

In addition to these first fall vegetables coming in, we are still picking Juliet tomatoes and basil from the summer garden–enough of those to sell.  We have a few Celebrity tomatoes still hanging on, but just enough for our household, and we are enjoying them on bagels, grilled cheese, in salads.

Gotta love tomato plants that are still producing nice food in October

Yarn Along and Craft On

Here’s my contribution to Ginny’s lovely Yarn Along and to Nicole’s Keep Calm, Craft On (Am I a bum for using one post to hitch up to two linkies?):

I’m knitting a hat for L’Oiseau — the pattern is the Striped Skullcap from the book Oddball Knitting by Barbara Albright.  The whole book is stash-busting patterns, and oh how I love stash busting.

This week’s reading and knitting

The special thing that drew me to this pattern, and what you won’t see on the Ravelry post, though, is the bead tassel that you add to the top of the hat.  When friends threw a baby shower for L’Homme and me, I badly wanted to duplicate something we had done for my friend Kira’s baby shower years before.  Ashley, the hostess, asked each guest to participate in a beading activity that is usually part of a blessingway: bring a special bead to add to a necklace for Mama-to-Be Kira, adding our own prayers, thoughts, wishes, hopes, etc. as we strung each bead.  The necklace turned out stunning.

Well, the whole beaded necklace thing didn’t work very well at a couples shower that included children and a camp-out.  Just too much going on, and very few guests remembered to bring beads, and we just ditched the beading activity (the husbands probably would have resisted anyway).  So I ended up with a small hodge-podge of beads instead of a cool necklace.  When I saw this pattern, I knew just what to do with these special, mismatched beads.  I can’t wait to finish it and show it to my dear friends who held the shower for us.

The hat-in-progress and the beads for the tassel

As for the reading, I’ve just finished (last night, so it still counts for this week’s Yarn Along, ‘kay?) This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman.

I’m going to cry a little more just thinking about it.  What a wonderful, moving book.

Melissa’s father, Eliot Coleman, is a hero of mine — he is one of the foremost experts on organic farming and has been a huge inspiration and teacher to me and L’Homme.  We have his books, we met him at a Georgia Organics conference, we use tools that he designed, and we follow his advice in our farming.  Melissa has written a memoir of life on their homestead in Maine and the tragic death of her sister and its effects on the family.  It was so compelling to get a peek into the life of a hero and his family.  I’m going to sit for a day or too without a book, just to let this one sink in a little.

Endless Autumn


Eliot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently came across this quote from George Eliot:

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

Yes, so would I.  Years ago, I took a trip to Costa Rica.  It was supposed to be 10 days, but stretched out to 3 weeks because I didn’t want to come home.  When I did come home in mid-July, I immediately began mental planning to move to C.R.  I inventoried everything in my apartment to discern how much cash I could assemble, I listened to my Spanish language tapes a few dozen times, bought a Spanish-English dictionary, began researching “teach English overseas” websites.  I daydreamed about the conversation I would have with my boss to tell him I was quitting.

And then Fall arrived — I got home from work one evening, and That Fall Smell was in the cool dusk air.  And I gave it all up: pura vida and gallo pinto simply couldn’t hold a candle to wood smoke and chilly air.

Eliot’s quote reminded me of the movie Endless Summer, where two surfers follow summer around the globe so that they can have optimal surfing conditions.

So, I say forget summer (I already have), what fall activity would you want to carry on in every corner of the world?  Me, I’d have a campfire in as many chilly, gold shimmering, cold-smelling places as I could.  And I would inhale That Fall Smell deeply.

So cultivated

L’Homme sings the praises of cultivation for the garden.

L’Homme in action

Being anal-retentive, I always appreciate how neat and tidy it makes the garden look, but he reminds me that it does ever so much more than remove weeds: it also brings more oxygen to the roots and loosens the soil to make it easier for those roots to respond to their little jolt of energy.  It certainly does show in the plants’ response — after cultivation, we notice that they seem to spring into action, growing significantly taller.

I sometimes think it’s mostly a matter of attention paid.  Back when I used to have houseplants, I tried to regularly dust the leaves of my ficus tree because it gave the plant such a boost.  Maybe removing that layer of dust allowed more light and thus more photosynthesis, but I prefer to believe the plant just appreciated the massage.  I think the garden babies feel the same way.

See how happy they look?

A side note: L’Homme recommends the Long-Handled Wire Weeder from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for this work.  You can see him using it in the photo above.  I like watching him use it, because it’s almost a flowy movement, sort of like using a crochet hook.  I said that I like watching him use it, because I’m not too good at it.

Yarn Along

Two posts in one day?  Whattup?!!  Well, L’Oiseau fell asleep at 6 pm, and I gotta take my chances when I get ’em.

Ginny at Small Things asked everybody to post what they are reading and knitting, so here’s mine:

Books, magazines, yarn, etc.

I am knitting Sheer Poncho in Malabrigo Lace 100% Baby Merino wool, color is Black Forest (No. 179).  I’m trying feverishly to finish it, so I can wear  it this fall, and so I can get started on Oriental Lily for L’Oiseau.

I am reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren — so many people rave about it, but so far, my jury is still out.  Also, The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips — this I love, and I’m learning so much and feeling very proud that I’m preparing myself to be an orchardist “one of these days.”

But my top favorite read, as always, is The Week.  I cannot say enough good things about this magazine.  It’s a compilation each week of the best of print media from around the world.  The editors at The Week read everything I wish I had time to read and distill it for me into this publication.  It covers news, politics, science, entertainment, real estate, business news, sports, drama, movies, food, art openings and exhibits.  It’s just fantastic.

Thanks for the invite to chat about reading and knitting, Ginny!  Two of my favorite things also.