Friday, February 29, 2008

March Farmers Market with leeks and napini

Tommorrow is the March winter Farmers Market in Friday Harbor.. We like to go over on Friday evening, tie the boat up at the Port and sleep on it. Then we don't have to get up at 5:00 am like we did for years. We are not morning people. Our boat is comfortable to sleep on and we take this laptop and watch movies and eat ice cream as a celebration of having spent all day Friday harvesting vegetables.

This week we have the first of the spring napini. Napini is an Italian term for the spring blossom shoots of various brassica plants. Brassicas are vegetables like kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc. For years we ate all the early kale sprouts ourselves, probably our all time favorite vegetables, followed only slightly by Brussels sprouts. Every spring when we would eat the first kale sprouts it was like a spring tonic.
Since we are now growing a lot more winter vegetables for the winter market we have a lot more sprouts in the spring and they have become very, very popular with our customers.
And all winter long we have had beautiful leeks. Hopefully they will last one more month. I find I love harvesting them. Actually I like harvesting most vegetables, but this morning filling the big crate with leeks was greatly satisfying.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rugs and Seedlings

And the white wool rugs are finished and on the line drying. I think I'll take them to the Farmers Market this coming Saturday. And I've been getting another wool rug warp on the loom. This one is a pretty tan color the company I get it from calls linen. It looks especially nice with grey wools and that is what I will be working with next. After that, more rag rugs. I've been getting organized for that as well as weaving. There's a lot of work that goes into making woven items other than the weaving. People are always asking me how long it took me to weave something. Well, the weaving is the fast part. And it isn't just the warping. Most people recognize that as part of the process, but there is also the selection of materials and patterns, I spend a lot of time with weaving magazines and books looking for ideas in patterns and colors. My bed is often covered with balls of yarn or weaving magazines or piles of old sheets as I mix and match colors.

And, the first tomatoes and the first lettuce seedlings in the greenhouse are up. I love going out there and just looking at the little green things.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I just finished a new batch of wool rugs. I took them off the loom in a big roll and now I have to tie up the fringes or sew up the hems, wash them, hang them out to dry, label them, and then stash them in big tubs until the selling season starts in April. Once I get them photographed, the rugs will also be available in my Etsy Shop.

I've been making these handwoven wool rugs for almost 20 years. Our first sheep were a couple of bummer lambs from a friend who had two sheep who could only count to two give birth to triplets. Not mine, they each said of the third one. So we brought them home and bottle fed them until they were old enough to live in the pasture. Their names were Agatha and Athena. Joel decided that he wanted to learn to spin so that we could do something productive with the wool. I already knew how to weave having learned in college so as soon as Joel had mastered the spinning wheel we were off with a new farm product.

The rugs are woven on a warp of cotton carpet warp in a twill pattern. The colors of the wool are usually the natural sheep colors of white, grey, and ten and I love working with those colors although I do occasionally do a bit of dyeing when I get tired of neutrals. This most recent batch of rugs are all white with two of them having dark grey stripes at either end.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Batch of Hats

I finished knitting my first batch of felted hats for this season today. I've knitted 36 of them since Christmas and it's time to start running them through the washing machine to felt, or full, them. The proper term is fulling which refers to shrinking a fabric knitted or woven of wool. Properly felting involves making a fabric straight from the wool fiber without turning into a cloth first. But we are all so used to calling hats such as mine felted that I go with the flow.

The hats are knitted of wool or a yarn blended from wool and something like alpaca or mohair on big needles and them shrunk in a washing machine using a hot wash, cold rinse cycle. The wool fibers are made of scales that have little hooks on them that catch on each other when subjected to hot water, soap or detergent and agitation. They turn into a thick soft, cold and water resistant fabric.

I like to add a bit of embellishment to my hats, like a glitzy knitting yarn or knitted flowers or a hand made button or hats pins made by my granddaughter, Lauren. And I also enjoying using up the last bits and pieces of different colors in stripes and blended colors. The batch above is blacks and greys but there are also bright colors coming up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar eclipse

I've spent the evening running in and out checking on the progress of the lunar eclipse. It was too cold to sit outside and watch but we manged to see it totally eclipsed and several stages before and after. An eclipse is always magical. You start out with a bright moonlit night and it gets darker and darker and somehow quieter and quieter. Any night birds seem to stay quiet. I did hear a barred owl call once and a very few frogs now and again.

When I was a kid growing up near Tacoma, Washington, my father was president of the local amateur astronomers club for years. We were often dragged outside in any weather to see an eclipse, the northern lights, and I particularly remember Sputnik going over (that does date me, doesn't it). I did the same for my kids, getting them up in the middle of the night to go outside and see a comet or the northern lights. The club also used to have star parties up at Mt. Rainier where we could get away from the light pollution of the city. Each member would set up a telescope looking at something different and we would wander around checking out Jupiter's moons, various nebulae, the rings of Saturn. We had a telescope at home and often looked at interesting objects in space. We now have a small telescope that my Dad gave me a couple of years before he died and we often set it up to see comets, planets, and other celestial objects.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Foggy Morning

It was very foggy when we woke up this morning. last night I could hear ship's horns in the channel between us and Canada so I knew there was fog out there somewhere. This morning we could barely see the barn from the house.

I love fog. I love the mysterious way it comes in on "little cat feet". When I lived in San Francisco 25 years ago I would stand at the top of Clement street and watch the fog roll up from the ocean. The first night I slept in the city the fog horns sounded so much like the ones here that I woke up uncertain where I was. That was in the days before the electronic foghorn when they were loud and mysterious sounding.

I like fog out on the water, too, although you do have to be careful and have a compass and a good chart to get where you want to go. One day on our way to market, charting our way by compass, we totally missed the entrance to Friday Harbor and came out of the fog on the east side of Brown Island where we'd never been before. It was the eeriest feeling. I probably read and watch too much sci-fi, but I had the feeling we'd come out into a different universe. On one trip we came upon a fog bank out in President's Channel that looked like a solid wall. It didn't gradually come down to the water but had a sharp definition to its beginning like a tall, tall cliff of fog. Probably a change in air temperature or humidity or something perfectly plausible in a scientific sense, but it looked like the edge of the world and it was a very strange feeling to go through that wall into the fog. Shades of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nice day to work in the garden

Yesterday I finished up the pink rayon chenille scarf warp and wove one white wool rug. This morning I wound on a burgundy rayon chenille warp and planned on weaving another white wool rug after lunch. But the day was so pretty and sunny for a change that I ended up working in the garden digging out old perennial arugula plants in the lily bed. It was one of those days that are too cold to just sit around outside, but if you keep working you can keep warm enough to enjoy yourself. Joel spent most of the day grubbing out Himalaya blackberry plants that grow wild between our marsh and the garden and keep threatening to take over. When we are gone they will. When we came to this place about 25 years ago no one had lived here for about 40 years and the blackberries were up to the house. It took several years to beat them back and we don't want to let them get out of hand. I let the chickens out of their pen to run around in the garden in the sunshine and eat bugs. they looked like they were having a good time, too.

Friday, February 15, 2008


It is time for me to start getting serious about weaving and knitting products for sale in the upcoming season. I've been weaving boas most of January, but, although they are good sellers, they are also just a lot of fun so that I enjoy working on them in January which is officially our vacation month. I warped up the big loom for wool rugs and the small one for rayon chenille scarves. My weaving for sale business started about 20 years ago with my wool rugs. Joel spins the yarn and I weave it in various twill patterns on a cotton warp into rugs that are about 30" x 50". Most of them are the natural colors of the sheep but every once in a while I get into a dyeing mode and make up some brightly colored ones.

The chenille scarves are good sellers and so soft. when you take them off the loom they feel like cardboard but after washing and running through a dryer, which I have to do in town, they are the most lovely soft fabric. The ones on the loom right now are a soft pink but I have measured out warps for some blue ones, and a pretty burgundy and a darker brighter pink. I often add a fancy knitting yarn like a ribbon yarn or a railroad yarn to the scarves as a supplementary warp to add a little glitz. these are some of the same yarns that I use in the boas and to trim felted hats.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A load of wood, more spring flowers, lettuce

The sun came out this afternoon and I wandered around the garden looking at all the little bulbs starting to come up, daffodils, tulips, crocuses. There are yellow crocuses starting to bloom. The yellow ones always seem to be the earliest. There are a few winter aconites and the snowdrops under the birch tree are a white carpet. The air just smells different, like things are beginning to grow again.

Joel brought in a truckload of wood from our woods. We heat, cook, and heat hot water with our wood cookstove and get all our fuel from our own woods. About 8 or our 20 acres is in woods and we take out the dead and downed wood for fuel and an occasional large tree for lumber. There are several sawmills on the island and it is nice to have at least some of the lumber for a building project from our own place. So we grow a lot of our own food and most of our energy.

A couple of days go Joel started the first two flats of lettuce seedlings and the first tomatoes for the hoophouse. We grow up to fifty different types of lettuce every year scouring the catalogues for new and heirloom varieties to try. It is amazing how many cultivars of lettuce there are. We'll probably never end up growing all of them. Lettuce is probably our best selling crop. Joel is famous for his lettuce on San Juan island for good reason. We grow a wide variety of vegetables, actually almost anything that we can coax to grow in our climate. That has, for us, proven to be the best way to grow for a Farmers market. people come to buy a variety of foods every week, not more of the same thing.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Female blackbirds and delphinium seeds

I saw the first female red winged blackbird at the feeder today. During the winter the males and females flock separately and the males always arrive here a month or so before the females. The females look very different than the males, about the same size, they are brown and gold striped unlike the black with the red and gold epaulets of the male.

Today Joel mixed up the first batch of potting soil of the season and I started two small plats of delphinium seeds. Delphinium seeds benefit from some cooling before they will germinate. You can put the flats in the refrigerator, or if you plant them early enough when it is still chilly outside, you can just put the flats out in the cold frame for a couple of weeks and then bring them into the warmth of the house or greenhouse. They usually germinate quite quickly after that. I planted three varieties, the Magic Fountains mix which is a mixtures of shades of blues and purples, and two separate colors, Black knight, a dark purple, and Centurion Rose, a, well, a rose colored one.

We start a lot of our vegetables and flowers in soil blocks in our small greenhouse. Joel mixes the potting soil from peat moss and sand with various sorts of organic fertilizers mixed in. We make soil blocks using a soil block maker (see photo). For large varieties we want a lot of plants of we use wood or plastic flats, but when I only want a dozen or so seedling of something I use recycled plastic meat trays. They are just the right size. Labels are cut from white plastic yogurt containers. I keep a journal of planting dates so that I can check from year to year to see when I started things before. If I think I started things too late or too early I make a note and hope I remember to check next year before I plant.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Handwoven boas

I finally got pictures of four of my new handwoven boas into my Etsy shop. I have been having a terrible time for the last couple of weeks getting a picture of them that really shows off the colors and textures. They are woven of 5 or 6 different novelty type knitting yarns and I am finding it very hard to get a good picture of them. I think I need some lessons on using my digital camera for things other than pictures of grandchildren and sheep. I finally decided that I just needed to do it and I can keep struggling with the pictures and put new ones in the shop, and here, when I'm happier with my results. I have about a dozen new boas woven in the last month. They are a lot of fun to weave, I think maybe the most fun is dumping my big basket of yarns out on the bed and then putting together piles of 5 or 6 or 7 yarns that I think will work together. Then I put each group in a bag and start off weaving them.

Monday, February 4, 2008

February Farmers Market

Last Saturday was the monthly winter Farmers Market for February. We moved from the Grange hall in downtown Friday Harbor out to the fairgrounds as a chance to see if this might be a good place to move the market permanently. We are looking for a permanent home with a roof over our heads as we currently set up in a parking lot in town. We've been at the parking lot for years and it works pretty well, except for those days of torrential downpours when even though we have a canopy over us and the vegetables the rain drips off the edges and runs down our necks, etc. We lucked out with a sunny day and no wind. We were very bundled up but didn't get cold.

The picture shows a bit of what is available in this neck of the woods this time of year: winter squash of several kinds, leeks, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and various Asian greens. It was a very successful market and we only went home with a few squash.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Yesterday was Groundhogs Day in the US. This is also Candlemas in the traditional church calendar and Imbolc in the Celtic calendar, the first day of spring in a calendar that begins the seasons between the equinoxes and the solstices instead of on them. This makes the summer solstice midsummer and the winter solstice mid winter. I always used to wonder why winter would start on the day when the light started to come back and summer begin on the day we begin to loose the light. Made no sense to me. Then I discovered the old Celtic calendar where spring begins the first of February with Imbolc, Summer on May Day or Beltane, fall on Lammas, the first of August, and winter on Samhain, which we now celebrate as Halloween. It is more of an agricultural calendar as this time of year is when the ewes start lambing, and there is enough light for the chickens to really lay again and we notice that the greens that have just sat there all winter are starting to grow again. It is the lengthening of the days that makes the difference. You can see a change right now, it's light longer and the angle of the sun has begun to change. And packets of seeds are arriving in every mail. We begin the farming year again.