Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Teeny little super snowman

We finally had enough snow this winter for a snowman...a teeny tiny snowman.  It snowed about 1/4 inch today for the first time.  We were hoping for a bit more, but my 6 year old, ever the optimist, went out and made a snowman.  For some reason, he reminds me of the "Teeny Little Super Guy" stop action animated shorts that were on Sesame Street when we were little.

"So he said let's run and we'll have some fun, now before I melt away..."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How we did a seed swap

A seed swap is essentially a place where people can gather together to trade garden seeds.  Oftentimes, this is done online.  If you have saved seed from your garden, or have extra purchased seed, it's a great way to provide others with seeds they might not have, to perpetuate rare varieties of plants, to be come more self sustaining in the garden, and just to talk gardening with like minded people.

The closest I had ever come to doing a seed swap was sitting at a table with a good friend and trading some seeds with her.  Before last weekend, I had never been to such an event, much less helped host one.  Last fall, on an organic living forum, there was some discussion as to the need in our community for a way to trade seeds, so I promised I'd set one up in mid winter.  December rolled around and I realized it was time to plan, especially because in the Pacific Northwest, if you want hot weather loving plants to do well, they really need to be started indoors in January or February.

I talked to some friends who are fellow plant and gardening geeks and we put on our collective thinking caps.  After much discussion, talking to people in the know and some internet research, we hatched a plan.

We decided to host the event in a public place, so that anyone would feel comfortable in coming, and also so no one's house would be overrun.  Our church had a great room they were willing to let us use, which also had access to a kitchen and coffee maker.  What would a gathering in the great Northwest be without coffee? Because seeds are by nature very easy to disperse, we recommended attendees only bring children who could restrain themselves from the sheer joy that is seed scattering.  We chose a weekend just after the new year, hoping that working people could attend and that most Christmas and New Year celebrations would be done.
Here's a picture my husband took of the event in process
Once we had a rough idea of what we were going to do, we sent out online invitations to just a few families with the following verbage:

You're invited to participate with us in a seed swap. Bring along your garden seeds and trade part or entire packets for something you'll be able to use this year. We may try to do bulk seed orders, so think about things you may be interested in. The goal is to try to have as many heirloom seeds as possible, but organic, non GMO and seeds you've saved yourself are all fair game. Flower seeds and tubers are great too! We still need to hash out logistics as to how this will work, so if you have ideas, leave a comment on the event page. This is a primarily kid-free event, due to the potentially tragic mix of small people and tiny seeds. If you have a child who loves gardening and would be able to restrain the temptation to scatter things, feel free to bring him or her along! I'm not sure yet how big we want this to get, so you will need to request to invite a guest until we decide. Of course spouses are automatically invited. Bring a snack to share. Coffee and water will be provided.

Seed garlic and potatoes and coffee.  
My goal in doing seed swaps to foster an environment where we'll be encouraged to save more seeds each year because we'll know we'll be able to trade them for other varieties uniquely suited for the microclimate in our community.  This is why we emphasized non GMO, heirloom and open pollinated seeds.  These are the only kinds of seeds that would be worth saving, in our opinion.  They will be free from contamination by untested genetic manipulation, will be grown for taste and unique suitability to the environment they come from and they will grow true to the parent plant because they won't be hybrid.  In the meanwhile, many of us had some non GMO hybrid seed packets and commercial seed packets.  It would be wasteful and silly not to use these seeds.  Also, some seeds, such as those in the carrot family are very difficult to save, so it's nice to have a professional grow them for you!

Eventually, a seed bank will be established.  One of our members will reserve space in their freezer for extra seed. This way, if there is a catastrophic year, and we lose all of a specific crop, we know there will be seed for the following year.  I know I'm not organized enough to do this, but one of my friends is, thank goodness!

After some more discussion, and closer to the seed swap date, a friend wrote the following guidelines for the swap, so that people would come prepared.  These are rough and will be tweaked for next year, but they seemed to work relatively well.  The one difficulty about this method is that it took a very long time to compile all of the information about each variety we had.  It is all very important information, however, and needs to be distributed.  

One of the attending kids made this.  
Coffee and seeds. YES!
Because my husband is a computer programmer, he has offered to work with a fellow programmer on perhaps building a web application where we can enter all of this information online.  This way, we could have it saved for following years, we'd only have to copy and paste, and we could read what other people have ahead of time.  At the actual swap, we'd only have to share information about our most favorite seed, and the bulk of the time would be spent actually trading.  We may even devise a way to virtually trade shares of seed before we get together, so that at the swap, people just pick up the seed they know they want, and then are free to explore and discuss the other seed.  This would enable more families to attend.  This method worked really well, except for the time involved.  We hosts brought small manila coin envelopes for seed, sharpie pens, scales and small scoops for divvying up seed.  We feel if we were able to communicate ahead of time, it would go pretty smoothly.  

Dear Friends,

We are so excited to get together to swap seeds with you, and wanted to send everyone a few guidelines to get ready.

First, some ground rules:
1. All seed must be either open-pollinated, non-hybrid seed (either from your garden or from a professional seed house), OR hybrid seed from a seed company, which will grow out exactly what's on the label. Seed collected in the garden from hybrid varieties will not grow true to form, if at all.
2. Seeds must be of a viable age. For example: Onions, leeks, parsley, celery, spinach, etc. can't be more than a year old. Corn, beans, squash can be up to three years old, but need to be noted as such. In other words: please don't bring any ancient seed from the back of the box that probably won't germinate.
3. NO Genetically Modified Seed of any kind
4. No seed for sale. This is all free for trade.

Second, here is the method we will follow for the swap:

Before the swap, each participant should sit down and...

1) decide which seed you want to bring to share.
2) Make a list of the seed varieties, and next to each variety, include the following:
a) common name
b) how pure is the seed? Has it cross-pollinated with other varieties, or will it grow true to form?
c) Year it was harvested
d) Growth habit (spacing, depth of planting, etc.)
e) germination percentage, if known
f) # of shares you are offering
g) any story that goes along with your seed

At the swap itself, each family or individual will set up a station. At this station will be
a) your printed out or written up list of seed offerings
b) a display of your seed.

Before we get into the actual swapping, we will go around the room in a circle and tell what seed you've got, and tell what you know about it.

Then we'll put the names of each rep in a hat, and draw our picking order at random.

People will go around in the order they were drawn and write their name next to the type of seed they want.

Then each participant can package and label their seed in amounts adequant to a share. A share ideally will be enough seeds for the person to grow out and save seed that will run true to type, or at a minimum, enough for the person to have a good feel for the viability of the seed in their garden, and if they like it enough to grow it next year. If you have questions about the quantities, feel free to ask in the discussion section, we can chime in there before the swap.

One last note: Please bring, if you can, small envelopes and some fine-point pens. We will supply an accurate scale, small seed scoops, and and some handouts on seed saving.

We will also discuss the possibility of starting a community seed library in the near future.

Thanks, folks! We're sure looking forward to seeing you and plotting our future gardens with you!

One family brought homemade bread.


One of the kids saved her own seed! 
Divvying up the seeds

Scarlet runner beans.  I am so excited to have gotten these! I can't wait until next year. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How to dye wool with Kool Aid

We all know Kool Aid has got to be good for something besides being laden with sugars and dyes that color a child's upper lip semi permanently. Here's a way to use the massive amount of dye in a kool aid packet to your advantage. Use it as an inexpensive wool dye!

Be sure to tease out the locks and maybe even card your wool before dyeing.  This way, the dye will reach the fibers uniformly.  Washing is not necessary, though recommended because it helps the dye get to the fiber more easily.
Here’s what you need to do.  

*Soak the wool in warm water.   Make sure it is saturated. Drain, rinse in water of same temperature, being careful not to agitate the fiber.  This can lead to felting.
*Pour enough water of the same temperature into a microwavable dish or a pan if you plan to do this on the stove.
*Add about 3 or 4 tablespoons of vinegar to the water. This will make the solution acidic, and will help to open up the wool fibers to accept the dye.

*Pour all 3 Kool-Aid packets in the vinegar-water solution.  

*Add the wool to the vinegar water solution, gently pressing down with a metal spoon or rubber spatula.  If you use your fingers, you will dye your fingers.

*The next part MUST be done very carefully.  No questions about it.  The water gets very hot and can burn you.

Put your bowl in the microwave or pan on the stove top.  Microwave or bring to simmer for 5 minutes.  Check to see if the water is getting clearer.  This means the wool is soaking up the Kool Aid dye.  Check the color of your wool by lifting with a spoon or fork and draining.  If you like the color, you may remove from the solution and cool a little, then rinse with warm water.  

You can see that the wool has taken up the dye from the water
and all that is left is the dirt from the fiber.
If the wool is not dark enough microwave 5 minutes more, or simmer 5 minutes longer.  Keep this up till the wool is the color you like.  You will get pastel colors.  You should not cook longer than 15 minutes, and you should always be careful not to agitate your wool, because this can lead to felting.  Also, be sure the temperature of your rinse water is always the same as the solution you are removing your wool from.

Allow your wool to dry in a well ventilated place on a cookie cooling rack or other non-rusting item until dry, then use for spinning felting or whatever your plan it. Kool Aid can also be used to dye wool yarn as well!

Lights in the Darkness: How to do light drawing with long exposures

My dear husband, being an enlightened muscle man.

I love having a special blog for my photography, but I feel like i can't share all the crazy pictures my family takes on that blog.  There was an hour long power outage last night, and for a little family fun, my husband suggested we get out the tripod and do some light drawing in front of the camera.
I shared some of the favorite pictures on my photography blog, but there were a few more that are too fun not to share.  I also thought it would be really fun to tell how exactly we did it, because it isn't that hard!

If you want to try light drawing, you will need set your camera to a manual setting. (if you don't have this, try a fireworks setting on your camera)  You will set it at a very low film speed or ISO.  Mine was set at 100.  Your aperture needs to be set to a smaller sized opening.  My lens can open up to a very wide f1.4, but for these pictures, I mainly had it set at f5.6.  Then you'll set the shutter speed to somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds, depending on how much you want to draw.  Next, mount your camera on a tripod or other stable surface.  Have your subject positioned so that they will be in the frame, then have the light drawing person behind them point the flashlight (we used small pen lights) directly at the camera, allowing the autofocus on the camera to find a focal point when the photographer presses the button to take the picture.  If you have a timer on your camera, this would be even better, because it would eliminate camera shake from pressing the button to take the picture.

The photos you see below are essentially how the photos looked straight out of camera, except that the power came back on part way through, and we had the street light coming through our window.  Because of that, I increased the contrast of the photos and used editing brushes to darken the area of the windows.  Go try it, then share the pictures with your friends!

Radioactive boy

Why old time portraits involved head braces.
Brandon was making some sort of animal.  Levi photobombed it with some sort of nebulous creature on its back. 
Isaac was trying to break someone's heart
A superhero we like to call dinosaur man: notice the shock waves.
Maia is morphing into Dora.  Help!!!
This is me, being all contemplative and getting an aha! moment.
We are siamese if you please....
my husband gave me a flower

Dance party with a poofy skirt
Another superhero look