ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-02-18 12:18 pm

Salt Mines

No data for me. The hard drive is dead. Must recreate the whole thing from scratch. I'll be searching for an old backup but will be reentering expense data from a huge pile of papers. Yuck! I will be busy with data entry and inventory for the next month. Then on to taxes. It's going to keep me busy, that's for sure.

The leeks are sprouting from Imbolc. The onions which got planted later are still sleeping. This full moon will be the closest that the moon comes to the earth this year on February 19th. Still learning more about planting by the moon to maximize yield. I hope to get at celery and lettuce today. From working all weekend, I have lots of yogurt cups to plant in. I have some washing and sterilizing to do.

We don't know it yet, but the economy is about to get real. With the Chinese tariffs, Brexit, and the slowing Chinese economy, recession is on the horizon. I recommend you listen to John Oliver for an update on Brexit. https://youtu.be/HaBQfSAVt0s

We are preparing for the worst case scenario. I think the US has a little bit of time, unlike Great Britain. I, for one, wish I could stockpile. There is no money for it. My concentration this year is on water. I need to divert it from my house. After listening to the farmers at my symposium, our rain is doubling with climate change. The Gulf of Mexico has been feeding storms up the Ohio River Valley. Once it hits the jet stream coming from the west, storms are merging into giant, torrential downpours, similar to superstorm Sandy. We are getting more of these. Where I live, they cause slides and erosion. My basement is suffering because of an old cystern. Part of it is still hooked up to active drain pipes. These leak into the basement causing mold. My goal is to unhook the drainpipe and collect the water in a storage container with excess drainage leading away from the house or perhaps to a pond. I am slowly gathering pieces of equipment to do so.

Another thing to help manage water is a series of swales down my hillside. That is what my cinderblocks are for. I also want disease resistant trees to help drink up the slack and provide shade. The house roof also needs repair as do the gutters. These, I cannot fix. There is no money, not even for my own ladder. The gutters were all designed to fill a cystern. They come to a central point. In 90 years, no one rerouted them. The garage gutter is actually falling off. I got a repair quote for the garage of $900. But property tax is due next month. That is not to be. Still another item to consider, because our water is being polluted from overflowing open frack waste ponds, I am also looking at Berkey water filtration systems. They are expensive but getting cancer from our drinking water would be even more so expensive. Some days I feel like the little Dutch boy, running out of fingers to plug all the holes in the dike. There is never enough money. I will be focusing on listing things on etsy once the computer situation is fixed. Sadly, I am still using a 20 year old computer as my "new" machine. If I can get a thumb drive to work on it, that is. It is what it is.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-02-14 01:46 pm
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Some days are like that

While rearranging the seedlings, I blew a bulb. The metal reflector shield was loose and touched the electrical portion of the bulb. It didn't blow the circuit breaker or electrocute me but I will be thinking about a different system for next year. That was a twenty dollar bulb. Ouch!

Potting soil is on order. I qualified for free shipping so yay! Hubby's sister gave him an Amazon gift card. He didn't know what to use it on so I ordered a spigot for the rain barrel. I also ordered a connector hose for between the two barrels. I still need a second spigot and the attachment to the rain sprout. Here are some helpful videos on setting up a rain barrel - the Alberta Gardener https://youtu.be/K8D6leyW47U
And installing a RainPal Rain Barrel Spigot https://youtu.be/tln2u7LnBg0

Today I will be shipping out my harddrive to a friend in hopes of getting data off it. Then on to money management and planning. I will be working all weekend. Toodles!
ursulas_alcove: Woodcut from Robin Hood (Spock's Raised Eyebrow)
2019-02-12 08:24 pm
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Class was a Roundtable

Some very helpful organic growers from around the area were on hand to talk about extended season, production schedules, yields, best crops, tracking software, and so much more!

Chatham University has 400 acres they manage north of town to teach sustainable ag, provide for the campus cafeterias, and sell to restaurants and Wigle Whiskey. They grow everything from Shitake mushrooms to ginger roots, heads of lettuce being their best seller. They use Goggle docs to log data, having 12 interns and needing a system that shares data. They typically order from Fedco. The recommendation is to use no more than three suppliers to make it easier for tracking sources for organic certification. They use rye, buckwheat or daikon radishes for cover crops. Daikon breaks up clay. Sometimes they actually harvest the cover crops too, but it depends on timing, because of the school schedule and labor availibilty.

Grow Pittsburgh's Braddock farm provides restaurants and a farm stand. They are members of a co-op, offering online sales. The co-op (Penn's Corner) is like a farmer's market but without having to sit around all day. The manager uses spreadsheets and maps with clearly labeled plots to communicate with workers. Each bed gets a number. This helps tracking crop rotation. His hardest challenge is to keep the farmstand stocked.

Since they started before I got there, I missed who the lady was with the 1/4 acre farm. She concentrates on selling seedlings. It could have been Garden Dreams. She is also a member of the growers co-op. She relies heavily on Johnny's Seeds. Johnny's website and catalog has downloadable spreadsheets too. Her best crop is zucchini. She covers it because it doesn't need pollinators, self pollinating. She is trying a paper covering for weed control this year. Other farmers didn't like covering with paper because it deteriorates too quickly. She said it may depend on the length of the growing cycle. Match the lifespan of the paper with a crop that matches. It's an experiment.

Most of the recommended reading I have already read. Chatham recommended listening to farmer-to-farmer podcasts while working. Not suitable for spouses who aren't into new tillage methods. I asked about seed saving. Most find it easier to buy each year for certification purposes. Several had one heirloom that isn't in catalogs anymore that they continue to save seed. We talked about equipment, over-priced stuff, what works, like a water wheel for seeding, and controlled temperature seed heaters to kill germs but not seeds. This helps improve germination rates. I think this is why Larry, the microgreens guy uses hydrogen peroxide. Several big outfits like Penn State bought $100,000 heaters which you can now buy at Target for $50. Weed pressure was the number one thing on their minds. Apparently there is a farm on a shale hill in NE PA that uses horses to farm. They have no weeds. They hoe daily. We talked about heavy black plastic weed barriers. They actually don't destroy good soil bacteria but they don't work in climates with heavy sun like in Colorado. Many farmers are trying them for the first time this year.

We talked about climate change. Our area received double the average rainfall last year. I may need to invest in some gauges. We talked about soil temperature (growing degree days) and germination so you know when your window of opportunity to plant is. Many farmers look to places north of us for data and information. Farms in Maine and Vermont have soil temperature data. Like me, most have little use for planning schedules coming out of the south or California. (Although UC Santa Cruz has generic data online for free). Chatham University uses Jean Claude Foutier's method. I picked up his book from the library. I was quite impressed but have no desire to have quite as much broccoli as he plants. Pam Dawling's book was recommended out of Virginia, Sustainable Market Farming. Anothr publication called "Weed the soil, not the crop" was recommended.

Timing and leeway were discussed. Crops that went to flowet too quickly like kale or dill can be sold in a bouquet. Edible flowers can also be sold in salad mixes, like mustard that's gone too quickly. When in doubt, taste the item. If too bitter, compost it. With carrots, one farmer felt they take much longer than the recommended days-to-maturity so he doubles it in his planning.

We wrapped up with a look at Ag Square, a software that will help track costs as well as a calendar and crop data, days to market, yield, etc. Another helpful tool is just your phone camera. Everything has a date and location stamp so you know when pests hit, when crops went to market, etc. Reviewing your Instagram account and marketing pictures helps you track dates. All-in-all, the workshop was very informative.
ursulas_alcove: My favorite doctor (c is for civilized)
2019-02-12 01:27 pm
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Just about to Leave

I like free classes. I'm on my way to Grow Pittsburgh to take a class on maximizing production. It's being run by PASA, PA Sustainable Agriculture. https://pasafarming.org/event/crop-planning-for-better-production-panel-discussion-craft/

I have my list of plants I plan to grow, notebook, and a pencil. I have containers and bags to visit the Co-op when I'm done. Definitely need groceries. I emptied the coffee grounds into the garden. Chrono will have to pick up tonight's grounds. Now, I'm just waiting for noodles to boil so I have some food in my system.

Onions are on my mind.

I planted today's tray of seedlings, King Richard Leeks, 44 in total. I am out of dirt and light bulbs now. I still need to plant a tray of Utah yellow onions. Then on to celery and swiss chard. I called work. I am entitled to 2 hours of pay for the day the store sent me home. They didn't carry the product I was suppose to give out samples of. I'll get that pay next week. Should be about $20. Not enough but a start. It's going to be a tight squeeze because property tax is due. I hate to eat and run, but I will update this blog on the class tonight.

Still need two more bulbs, potting mix, and one more light fixture
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-02-03 12:26 am
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It was a strange sort of day. Bright and sunny. They say Punxatawny Phil did not see his shadow. They start festivities at the crack of dawn. I don't know how Phil could ever see his shadow. The sun doesn't clear the mountains until 9:30 am. Which raised another question. In Ireland, they celebrate Imbolc on February 1st. But in America, we celebrate on the 2nd. So which day do you use to figure out when spring happens? A friend posted a nice summary of the ancient myth. The goddess slumbers all winter. She awakes on Imbolc or St. Brigit's Day. If it's sunny, she gets up and collects more firewood, so spring is later because she can stay inside (asleep) longer. If it's cloudy, she rolls over and goes back to sleep but her firewood runs out and spring is earlier. It's a nice way to remember the myth. This is important (if you believe the myth) because it snowed like the dickens on the first but was sunny and clear on the 2nd. Hmmm.

Front Yard Garden

I started looking for organic apple trees. I want a dwarf with a 10' diameter span. Chronographia wants a honeycrisp. I was looking at an Arkansas Black. Although they keep a long time, they are unremarkable taste-wise. I like tart apples but no one else does. It was so sunny today, I thought I'd go out and mark the locations in the garden where I want to put everything. Nope. Not yet. The ground is still frozen. Sticks won't go into the ground. I'll have to wait for Monday. (I work all weekend.) An apple tree should have been planted back in December. If I can get a hole dug, I may order one yet. Around here April is still the best planting time, but California is on a different growing schedule. I'll have to check other nurseries. https://www.groworganic.com/apple-honey-crisp-dwarf-tree.html

Onions are on my mind.

We started a few trays of seedlings today. One tray got 40 American Flag Leeks and another got Alpine Strawberries. I'm hoping something comes up. I used coconut core plugs. Not sure I like them. The leeks got put into soil blocks. I had to stretch my potting mix with worm castings. I sterilized them first in the oven.

Front Yard Garden

I haven't dared look to see what the polar vortex did to my low tunnels. Cover needs to come off tomorrow because of the warmup into the 50s. We'll see what I find.
ursulas_alcove: Blakes 7 (intelligence)
2019-01-30 10:46 pm
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Too cold

Stayed under the covers this morning and did some research. Ipads are handy things. So I wrote down all the fruit trees I looked at. I put down their footprints as well. Got rid of any that were fussy or out of my zone. If climate change means more extremes like today, I need plants that can handle both hot and cold temperatures. I also need a tree on the south west corner of my house that will offer shade in the summer and sun in the winter. We are technically in Zone 6. Trees grown for regions/zones 5-8 are preferred.

For the record

I gathered all my info, grabbed a pencil and eraser and drafted a new plan. The beauty is that I already have several of these plants but they are in areas where they are not thriving due to lack of sun. By moving them into the sun with soil that has been worked and improved, they should do much better, assuming they survive the week. I have them arranged by height so the tallest plants are in the back. Another part of the placement accounts for existing perennials in that section. Trees and bushes take a while to establish. So nothing should be shaded out. I've lovage, valerian, savory, thyme, and asparagus to think about. Here's the current plan:

The new garden plan

It requires the purchase of two new plants, a dwarf apple tree and a quince tree. It should be much more affordable this way, filling in the space nicely. A second path will be in between the quince/aronia and the honeyberries (not marked) for picking. Judging by the honeyberries, they are just sticks, despite being two years old. Same goes for the aronia. It will give me time to dig out the new paths, which will also be swales, filled with sawdust. Looking forward to implementing this new plan. The only big question is what apple to get? Do I want one that I harvest and can or one that stays firm and stores well? Decisions, decisions. More research for another day.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-29 09:29 pm
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Trouble, yes that's me

I couldn't tell you why. I just woke up and decided I want to redo the whole front yard into an orchard. I want to get rid of the terrace wood. It leeches out arsenic. I want it gone. Not sure exactly how to do that. I figure I can cut the top layer off first and eventually work my way down. At the bottom, I want my perennial Mediterranean plants at the bottom, lavender, thyme, santolina, etc. In the middle, I want my meadow plants for the bees, monarda, coreopsis, madder, echinaccea, etc. At the top, I want berry bushes like honeyberry, currants, blueberries, etc. Behind them, I want dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, Maekawa Jiro persimmon http://ediblelandscaping.com/products/trees/PersimmonAsian/ and the Bonfire Patio Peach http://ediblelandscaping.com/products/trees/Peaches/

Terrace Garden

Attempting to Weave a Fence

The Japanese maple that the whole front was based on, is dying. It would be good to have something in the works to replace it. A trellis over the front walk with grapes hanging down, that would be lovely or maybe roses?

I only seem to have mapped one side of the front yard. This was the original plan.
Garden Plans

So I'll start by removing the thorny barberry bushes and weeds on the second tier. Then I'll put in my meadow plants which are growing everywhere. I probably need to reseal the bottom wood again. It's looking shoddy. At one time I painted every year with Thompson's water seal. This year I'm going for a blend of linseed oil and beeswax. I already bought them last year. Just didn't get around to it. It was too wet this year. And the long wet seasons are another reason to remove the wood. Chrono said she'd bonsai the juniper bushes. Should be fun. The bushes are 23 years old now. They are slow growers. It'll give us room to put more plants in. I want to pack each tier. https://permaculturemag.org/2016/03/diy-varnish-linseed-bees-wax/

Stay tuned to see how it goes. The gas company is also redoing the pipes again. So we'll see what havoc they cause.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-28 11:06 pm
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Mundane Life

I was the first up this morning and will probably be the last to bed. I started out writing a letter. I actually finished it before Hubby got up. There were no orders to ship today. I am working on hand washing all the wool sweaters which means all the dishes got done. Breakfast consisted of homemade granola and yogurt. With food allergies, everything is made from scratch.

Today's crisis was that we were out of acceptable cat food. The stuff we just bought went bad overrnight and had to be thrown out. Kitty was not amused but she wouldn't eat rotten food either. I started some eggs boiling. When Chrono got up, she made egg salad which kitty got some of. The rest went for Chrono's lunch and Hubby's. Chrono headed in to the studio today. She'll pick up acceptable cat food while she's in town. My goal today was to work on more inventory and start clearing the dining room. This is from a different year but you get the idea:

Dining Room?

The big desk has been void of computer for many years now. That bookcase became a garden bed last year. The mess of yarn and piles on top of the loom are constant. So the skeined and dyed yarn was wound into big balls. Then big balls get rewound into one ounce or two ounce balls, depending on the yarn thickness, and labeled. Three crates of yarn were weighed and logged into a notebook since I have yet to get at the computer to repair it. I found another keyboard in the dining room along with a mouse as I cleaned. The new keyboard still has the wrong connector. I started setting up a stable area for staging. Chronographia ran a crowd funder to get her design onto T shirts. She is cleaning up the digital design on her computer to get them printed. I am emptying off the desk and setting up wood crates to hold all the different sized T shirts and hoodies. The desk will be her packaging station to send out the pre-orders. She has all of the shipping supplies and is almost ready to go.

Staging Area

Meanwhile, all my newly wound yarn is ready to go to Gulf Wars. The Pennsic merchant application just came out too. I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on later this week as well as WI sales tax to file. Tonight I cleaned a corner in the living room. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I went through piles of papers. Moved boxes and furniture, then swept the area as clean as I could. Then I swept the dining room. I found more yarn to inventory. Old T shirts got chopped up for dust rags. Slowly, I'm making my way toward the Christmas tree. It has to come down before seed trays can go in front of the picture window. Didn't get that far today.

I'll be starting on grab bags of all those little bits of yarn that weren't enough to be a full one ounce ball but still have plenty of yardage. I also want to finish warping a loom. It's mostly warped. And then the floor loom needs the project off it and edges trimmed to sell at Gulf Wars.

Next on the loom

Tomorrow I have more yarn to wind and then must study for this weekend's gig. I have three days of handing out yogurt samples at various grocery stores around the area. They call it demo-ing or being a brand ambassador. I need to learn slogans, ingredients, potential allergens, print out time sheets and figure out which store to go to on which day. Hopefully, the kit will arrive with instructions, coupons, and supplies. I supply a table, tablecloth, waste bucket, and probably a cooler. Plus I get to wear my spiffy uniform. Come Monday, I will barely be able to walk.

Back to working in the refrigerator case at the grocery store
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-21 10:23 pm
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2018 Garden Recap *Revised*

It's always a good thing to go over what worked and what didn't. Also to identify what can be improved and drool over seed catalogs, especially since tonight will be the coldest night of the year. Our low will be -1°F. We're in Zone 6. So far, it was a mild winter, more rain than snow. Then, that polar vortex split three ways so we are in for a bit of a cold snap. It will be a while before the ground is thawed enough to work again.

We've gone over what we'd like to eat more of and what we can live without. Allergies play a big role in this. Right now, none of us seem to be able to digest broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards or any dried legumes. It sucks because we love our brassicas and bean soup. Hubby's allergic to beets. I suspect the GMO beet sugar is behind his allergy but he is still having issues with organic as well. I may still grow some to exchange with other people or to use as dyestuffs. I definitely want to try the black beans as a dye.

There never seems to be enough onions, carrots or celery. So these are things I'd like to grow more of. Another thing I'd like is lettuce and assorted salad fixings. We decided that our most prolific tomatoes had very little flavor so perhaps a different variety should be tried. Our black plum tomatoes ripen so very late in the season that frost is a real threat to production. So next year we will still grow them but perhaps add some other varieties as well. We use tomatoes for sandwiches, paste, and sun-dried for winter pizzas. So we'll look at a few different varieties. I picked up sun gold and some amish paste tomato seed from the MI Gardener.

Pests took their toll in 2018. Deer slept on top of the zuchini bush one night, totally destroying it. They ate most of the strawberry plants, crowns and all. My solution to this is to plant a bed with whatever remains and keep it covered at night until the dill gets big enough to deter the deer. The ground hog chewed quite a few of the bigger tomatoes. The raccoon took out all the corn. Slugs ate the lettuce. Onions were a favorite of one of the critters. I got 3 onions out of 50 but they left the potato onions alone. There was also a skunk behind the garage as well as a huge rabbit up the hill. We hired a trapper. The raccoon chased off the ground hog once the corn was ripe. He pooped right at the mouth of the burrow. The trapper didn't get any animals so the ground hog and skunk are gone. Raccoon lives up a tree nearby. Birds ate the goumi berries. Ants farmed aphids on the elderberries. The lacinato kale did spectacular as did the collards. My neighbor was gifted those when she brought us radishes. And ground wasps moved in to the front yard garden as well as the red raspberry patch in the back. We'll have to watch to see where they move this year. Apparently they moved every year, not far, but a few yards away, traveling eastward.

Tallying up the totals all over again (because the computer died), I've learned a lot. 276 pounds of food and herbs! This does not include dye stuffs. The first real harvest took place the week ending April 21st. It was just a pound of food, consisting of rhubarb and asparagus.

The total amount collected by the end of June was only 36 pounds, by the end of July - 71 pounds cumulative, August - 110 pounds. So, summer crops yielded around 36 pounds a month. The largest harvest occurred the week ending Sept 15th with tomatoes, pumpkins and squash coming ripe all at once. In that one week alone, 47 pounds of food was harvested. I grew at least 90 varieties of plants. I lumped my small, assorted surviving lettuces as just one category even though there was three or more varieties.

The top ten producers

10. Purple Queen Beans 4 lbs.
9. Carrots 6 lbs.
8. Cucumbers 8 lbs.
7. Mulberries 9 lbs.
6. Rhubarb 10 lbs.
5. Zucchini 10 lbs.
4. Assoted Potatoes 19 lbs.
3. Butternut Squash 27 lbs.
2. Assorted Tomatoes 41 lbs.
1. Long Island Cheese Pumpkins 80 lbs.

In a normal year, these numbers would be much higher. The red currents did not produce at all. The year started out very wet. Come August, the weather switched quickly to very dry. Since I was at Pennsic, the garden took a hit. The Pennsic ground crew were very worried that cars would not be able to drive in some areas due to mud. Some were even cordoned off. That was July. August was another story entirely. It rained everywhere in PA except Canonsburg. I kid you not. Every rain system stopped at the edge of our town. Not a drop inside. It was spooky. Rain returned mid-September but it was too late for fall crops. I lost my peas. Malabar spinach started to thrive after the rain returned but cold temperatures cut it short. So that's the recap.

To increase next year's yield, I'm trying a different kind of potato, one that matures earlier. Adding space by using smart pots for the potatoes, and adding two new beds, both 2' x 12' long should do the trick. If the berry bushes thrive a little better, I hope to hit 350 pounds of food. Keep in mind, for a family of 3 adults, we would need to grow 2000 pounds to cover all our vegetable and fruit needs. We are nowhere near that. At this point in the year, we are out of almost all the cans of food we put up as well as frozen food. But we still have four pumpkins! Think there will be more pumpkin galetes in our future. (And pumpkin soup)

Christmas Dinner
ursulas_alcove: My favorite doctor (c is for civilized)
2019-01-19 12:04 am
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Record Keeping

Still going over last year's garden records. Since my computer died, I have to re-entered things into another ancient computer, configuring a new spreadsheet from scratch. Going from a Microsoft product to a MacBook. Both computers are decades old so I could also lose the second set of data too. All I want is a visual record of what came ripe when, week-by-week food totals, and totals for each crop I planted. I just finished typing in all of June. By the end of June, only 36 pounds of food had been harvested. Hopefully, July will get done tomorrow. July will take longer because more food came ripe.

What I learned so far is that my earliest 2018 harvest was claytonia. I planted it February 10th outside under the low tunnel. It was harvestable at the end of March and throughout April. We ate a lot of Claytonia salads with sorrel and lemon balm. Each year will be different, depending on weather. Since I already have Claytonia growing in the low tunnel right now, I may plant Minitina, and Mâche in February. Last year they didn't do well. I've a different bunch of seeds to try this year. Spinach should go in too. My regular garden, no tunnels, was started April 20th. I got a good yield of Cosmo Carrots and Daikons from that planting date.

Winter storm watch in effect right now. We'll see what tomorrow brings. Hopefully the arugula in the other tunnel survives Sunday night's single digit temperatures.
ursulas_alcove: Blakes 7 (intelligence)
2019-01-14 04:29 pm

Permacultures Principles and 2019 Goals

Permaculture Zone Zero
Step One
If you listen to the experts, they will give you an idea of how to live lightly upon this earth. After listening to Joel Salatin (Polyface Farm, Staunton, VA) I have learned that step one is to get yourself out of debt. I'm working on that. It's hard. Banks hold your mortgage, credit cards, car loans, etc. Until you own your land or car outright, you are just working for the bank. All that interest! It will be the death of you. In medieval times, Christians were not allowed to charge "usary fees" ie interest. Some Islamic/Muslim banks are still that way. I also have indiginous friends who also feel that way. Sadly, the major banks I deal with do not have a moral compass. (Capital One, Bank of America, First National Bank, and American Express) Nor do hospitals, Allegheny Health Network and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center).

It was a surprise when I opened my credit card bill today. Despite the fact that the billing cycle (number of days) was the same as last month, the interest rate hadn't changed, and I had no additional charges or penalties, my minimum monthly payment required went up, not by much, but still higher. I must admit that has me perplexed. The way in which these companies figure out a minimum payment is a mystery. I know there are federal requirements for paying down both your interest and principal, but what range is allowed between minimum and maximum? I don't know.

I keep a spreadsheet of the debt I am in. My husband and I had good paying jobs at one point. Our debt was high but our credit score stellar. Unlike other get-out-of-debt programs, I include my mortgage, credit card bills and hospital/medical bills. The cars are paid off. They need work but they are paid for. No student loans either. After my husband's stay in the hospital in Oregon in 2013, we had an outstanding total debt of $160,000. Working very hard to pay that down, but incurring two more hospital stays in between, we were able to drop that down $52,000 over five years. It's going to take us a lot longer to pay off the rest with rising interest rates. But now we live on a fixed income since he can no longer work. It is all the more frustrating when monthly bills go up instead of down.

Last year we were able to pay off the first mortgage and some of the hospital bill with help from friends. This year should see a few smaller tickets paid off, the Firestone (CFNA) bill, the last hospital bill, and our overdraft protection accounts. There are a few approaches to paying off debt. One is called the snowball effect. You pay the smallest bills off first. Then you take the same amount from those bills and apply it to the next bigger bill. Another approach is to pay off the accounts with the highest interest first. Snowball has quick, gratification rewards but the highest interest method is more cost effective in the long run. Then there is us. We cannot budget either way because our income is smaller than the bills we owe.

How does that work? How can that work? Well, I'm self-employed. If I have sales, it works just fine. I must sell enough to pay the business' bills, reinvest in product, and book shows plus make enough profit to cover my surplus household bills/expenses. If I don't have sales, I have serious food insecurity and incur late fees, have the utilities cut-off, and head into a downward spiral, culminating in loss of my house. So I have become fixated on producing my own food and follow the financial reports very closely. The government shutdown is affecting sales. I am seriously pissed off about it. There are things I can control, like how much product I list online, how many shows I book, etc. Then there are things I can't control, like climate change and political stupidity/greed. I shake my head. There's only so much boot strapping and belt tightening a gal can do.

Assuming the finances can get settled, the next credit card will not be paid off for another four years. No, interest rates are not my friend. But I console myself with the fact that if we survive, it won't be just one card paid off, but three. (Caveats are no medical care at all for five years and keeping a vehicle with 319,000 miles working.) Leaving me in my retirement years to get the Home Equity Loan paid down. So when I'm 65, I can actually start living. Doesn't that make you proud to be an American?

Step 2
Insulate your house. Lower energy costs. Use energy efficient appliances. Very hard to do while working on getting out of debt. You will still see a lot of posts in 2019 on this because our refrigerator is dying and our overhead light fixtures as well. We'll be visiting the energy efficiency of the dehumidifier this year and looking at ways to cut down on utility bills. I've another spreadsheet of those compared with average tempatures. Despite climate change, where we live, the average temperature was colder in 2018. It did reflect in our bills. 2019 goals are an energy efficient fridge with a stretch goal of energy efficient ceiling fans..

The back porch figures into heating costs. Without a roof over part of it, the picture window frame started rotting and air is blowing through the house. Not sure we can swing repairs, heck I can't even afford a ladder, but it needs to be addressed. The gutter is also falling off the garage because the wood is rotten. The garage needs to be painted and have other minor repairs as well. Soffits need wire mesh to keep bats & birds out of the garage. The house roof leaks around the chimney. I don't have a clue how to tackle this financially.

My ultimate goal would be to hire a permaculture consultant like Uncle Mud. I would want landscaping to prevent water in the basement. Rainwater collection systems installed, and a RMH in the basement for heat. You could call it a stretch goal or a pipe dream.

Once peak energy efficiency is achieved, procede to the next step.

Step 3
Work on getting your house off grid.
Not sure I'll live long enough to get this far. I have numbers on energy usage. The garage could be repaired enough to support solar panels that would cover our usage. Battery technology is getting better so maybe by then it could really be done. Energy credits for solar start to go away this year. So if we don't implement by 2020, its pretty much not going to happen. With a RMH and solar power, we could cover two of three utilities for off-grid living. Water being the third. Our water usage is already much lower than the average household. This was the first thing we tackled. A house filtration system could go a long way but there are no immediate plans. A Berkey Filter is already on my wishlist. I'll table this for future exploration. I will be trying to install rainwater collection this year. I picked up 2 food grade 55 gallon plastic drums as well as an IBC tank. So stay tuned for that. Rainwater collection is for the garden. The Borough is very firm on not allowing rainwater into the house sewage system.

So those are the goals as I approach Year 4 into my permaculture adventure. Stay tuned for updates!
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-14 12:14 am
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It's one chore that takes forever. Since the computer is out of commission, the old fashioned way will do- writing everything down in a spiral notebook. Anything that is ordered on etsy gets precedence. Since I ship out linen tomorrow, that got counted tonight. With Arisia coming up, hats got inventoried too. Socks have to be counted tomorrow.

Ashville Viking Fest - Day 15 of hats

Day 16 of Hats

Day 13 Bowler

chianti flatcap

Speaking of hats, seventeen or so of my hats are going to Arisia with Strange Hour Atelier. I have a great assortment of Viking hats and Chico's (ones with a brim). What I don't have are bowlers. So tonight while we watched Gosford Park, I knit the better part of a purple bowler. It should be ready in time to go. Totally out of flatcaps. I'll have to do up some of those next month.

Repetitive strain is a serious issue in hat production. To prevent that from happening, I am trying to limit myself to 4 hats a month or one per week. Which means hats will be limited to 48-52 a year. Sadly, I can't keep up with production without injury. I can easily sell 52 hats in the course of one or two events. A custom or bespoke hat may be the easist way for you to get the hat of your dreams. Contact me if you are interested.

Sales tax must be done this week too. There is never a dull moment around here. Many shows have deadlines this month as well. Off to bed! Orders to ship on the morrow.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-11 09:14 pm
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Getting there

Today I scored a victory. Brand new cinder blocks, over-bought for a landscaping project. I got seven. There are three more but they are frozen to the ground. The lady was very nice. I can take some paving stones too. I have to wait until it thaws to get them. I told her we go to the library every week (and she's right by it!) so I'll check back on a day when its warmer. So if they are gone, it was me. Yay! Free is lovely. At the moment I have 18 out of the 52 I sketched out for the new beds. Sketching on paper could be very different than reality. At this point, more is better. Tentative design for garden beds:


The trays are sterilzed. The light fixtures have been purchased. The bulbs are on their way. Didn't get as many as I wanted but its what I can afford. I sometimes use them at shows as well. Natural light is hard to come by in some places. You cannot check color without it. Very important in choosing yarn.

Setting up a grow area

Next, to look over last year's sweet potatoes and see what I can get to grow.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-10 11:36 am

Garden Supply List

I found another reflector clip light in the garage! A trip to the hardware store only yielded two lights, one with an 8' cord and one with a 16' cord. Grand total with tax, $25.42. So I will have to rotate trays for equal lighting. It's a pain but I've done it before. So five lights for six trays. Because I am one light fixture short, I only needed four bulbs. That brings lighting cost down to just under $100, with shipping. Surprisingly, one of my two year old LEDs already burned out. Where do you take LED bulbs to recycle? I think maybe when they collect old computers at the fairgrounds. We'll see.

I poked at Craislist for cinderblocks since someone bought all of the ones at Construction Junction. There had been some for free last month nearby. I wrote them. We'll see if I get a response. Other people are charging too much.

That should leave me just enough to buy the Early Dark Red Norlands at the end of the month. This comes out of my paycheck, working in the refridgerator section handing out Philly Cream Cheese dip.

I just signed up for more refridgerator duty, handing out yogurt samples to all the dieters first weekend in February, three days at different stores. That should net me some cash for February needs, like the sweet potato slips and potting soil for starting plants indoors.

Then I saw this while poking around, arches. I need arches! Maybe not this one. I would love to give my blacksmith friends some work. The catalog one is powder coated so it won't rust.
If I could actually dig a hole for posts, I would just build one. Even the communitu garden's arch was above ground. It was wood attached to rebar. The wood sat on a stepping stone to prevent rot. The rebar prevented the stone from sliding downhill as well as anchoring the arch. They used zip ties. It was too dark to get a good picture. The reason for a solid post would be to hang a gate on it. Keep the deer out.

Another cheap made in China greenhouse, but I'd still like to try it. http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Walk_In_Greenhouse

Anyway, progress is being made. Today's agenda is to wash and bleach trays. Then find dark bottles to start a few sweet potato slips. Next month, I'll be planting 250 leeks and onions.

Today's high 25° F. Low 19°. The only day of winter so far this year where it didn't get above freezing. Otherwise winter has been very mild. It's going to screw with maple syrup harvest and fruit trees. These are some of our state's biggest crops. Mild winters also screw with rhubarb. It needs a winter. There is about a quarter inch of snow on the ground. Tomorrow it'll hit 32° and by next week back into the 40s. The only thing I can think of to work around mild winters with late killing frosts, is to have a greenhouse, with heaters and artificial light. Just go for Florida crops and wait for global warming to shift our climate to match. Taint right!
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2019-01-07 02:11 pm
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The Garden Wishlist

A lot of supplies for the garden are time sensitive. Many orders must be placed before February 1st in order to arrive on time for early planting. I tried to come up with a monthly list of what I need. Farming isn't cheap. I already picked up grow bags on closeout for potatoes- not nearly enough but a start. I wanted 100. I got 30. Which means I now need thirty tomato cages for the bags to support the potatoes. Domino effect.

I still need 40 more cinder blocks at $.80 each from Construction Junction. Estimate $32

Clip Light Fixtures from Ace Hardware -need 4 wide reflectors. Estimate $30
Grow Light Bulbs from Gardener's Supply -need 5 Estimate $120

Maine Potato Lady
Early Potatoes -Dark Red Norlands #5
Sweet Potato Slips 12 slips
Because of separate shipping at different times, estimated cost $50

More planting trays -Ace Hardware or order online. Ace runs behind my planting schedule. I can't always get what I want when I need it.

Seedling Start Mix -Johnny's Seeds estimate $60 for the volume I need. It must work with the soil blocker I have. Very disappointed with the mixes I was able to get in 2018. Local stores pawned off mulch as seed starter. Others had chunks of rock in them as filler. Totally ran out or didn't carry vermiculite or perlite.

Soil amendment- Trifecta from the MI Gardener would also be nice. I think seaweed may also work but is damn expensive. Garden Dreams uses seaweed and chamomile tea (to sterilize). Not sure when these must be applied. Garden Dreams uses the chamomile with the seedlings and seaweed solution as they start hardening off in April.

Goumi Bush
Gooseberry Bush
Late bearing blueberry-Elliott
2 more Ligonberries
Indiana Berry Company -https://indianaberry.com/products/1/9/Plants/Blueberries
I ordered too late last year and the plants died. I think that was in April. It was too hot when they arrived in May. Estimate $60

A spade for digging
A pitchfork for turning compost


Fruition Seeds- Indigo seed for dyeing. I may need to order sooner, depending on germination times for Indigo. http://www.fruitionseeds.com/Organic-Round-Leaf-Indigo-p/f63.htm

Companion Planting -Madder plants for dyeing. http://companionplants.com

Phipps Plant Sale $50
Assorted herbs and monarda for the bees. Mostly shopping at Always Summer Herbs

This is a stretch goal:
Class on Mushrooms $125
Wine Cap Spawn $25

Lehmann's Hardware
Pressure Cooker to prepare woodchips for mushroom spawn $45

Tomato cages and fencing structure for trellis crops - may need to setup sooner for peas and beans. Cucumbers too. Price unknown.

Irrigation valves to install into rain barrels - Need 3 Estimate $60 plus shipping
Pipes to connect rain barrels to gutter
Fabric-Tulle to cover onions and lettuce from deer. Need 14', estimate $15 from JoAnn's

Buy winter garden seed. Artic King Lettuce and Hungarian Pink Winter from Territorial Seed or Bakers Creek or Restoration Seeds or Adaptive Seeds

Hit fall sales of canning supplies for next year - Tractor Supply, Ace Hardware

The list will get longer in fall when I prepare for more permanent low tunnels for winter gardening. And I plan to update this list as I find more links.
I had amended this section with more info only to find it gone today. Most farmers will tell you that you need to spend about $2.50 per square foot. With a minimum garden size of 322 sq ft. , that's $805 and a maximum size of 2500 sq ft, $6250. I'm close to the $805 now. Do I have it to spend? No. If I actually wanted all of my yard producing, I would need additional things like a ladder, chainsaw, chipper-shredder, fencing, irrigation system, and several more fruit and nut trees. We were looking at 2 persimmons, hazelnuts, a medlar, and a Chicago Fig. The goal is still to produce 2000 lbs of food. It cannot be done with what I have. Money must be spent. Not all at once, but eventually. No one in the neighborhood even owns a chainsaw that I can borrow. Nor do we have a tool library. Pitty.
ursulas_alcove: Blakes 7 (world domination)
2019-01-06 08:11 am
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Event Nightmares

I dreamt I was setting up at Pennsic with Zada and 2 other women. Problem 1 - The tent had to be pitched on a wood lamnate floor (outside) along a concrete walkway. Were tent stakes permissable through the flooring? Problem 2 - It wasn't my tent. It belonged to another lady. It was a "barracks style" tent and no higher than 5'. I kept hitting my head. The other ladies were short. Problem 3 - The wasn't enough space to attach the upper ropes between our spot and the neighbors. It was narrow. We definitely needed the space. Problem 4 - One of the ladies was very pushy. She left no room for my things. Although it was a good layout, it did not look like my tent and no one would have found me. Problem 5 - The neighbors brought a beehive and placed it in our spot. It was little. I discovered it by accidently knocking it over while setting up. Two stings. Bees do not belong at Pennsic under some very close quarters. Problem 6 - No place to hang my hat display. They had also omitted to use several tent poles. Solution- I went home to get my tent and later a second time to get my hat hooks because I grabbed the wrong ones. Definitely frustrated. I looked at the setup. It looked like a jewelers tent, not mine. The only good thing was they all pitched in to help. Lesson - Never setup with other merchants or at least not that many. It won't look like your space.

I was so tired yesterday after working so hard that I fell asleep at 9:30 pm. That may not sound bad to you but my normal hours are much later. I slept for 11 hours. Hence the nightmare. Yesterday I washed and hung clothes outside on the line. It was 53° and pure sun, no clouds. None at all. Then I trimmed the hedge by hand. I took John for a walk down the driveway and to the corner. I trimmed the juniper bush out front. Then we headed to the library to return books. Stopped at the store and bought frozen veggies. I washed a double batch of dishes. I made dinner. It was a very long day.

The dieters have gotten all the salad fixings at the store. The normal display is decimated. All those with cash for good intentions got there first. Chrono made pork fried rice with leftovers for lunch. So all we needed were peas. The freezer case was pretty empty too. Picked up a frozen vegetable mix of peas, carrots, and corn for $2.50 on sale. Mixed veg and edamame were the only frozen vegetables left in the freezer case. I'm glad companies have figured out that no one likes lima beans in the mix.

I don't have any winter lettuce planted. Lettuce has a hard time in my garden. Between bad germination, slugs, voles, rabbits, etc. I have only been able to grow types of red lettuce. But even those have a hard time getting established. There are varieties that do better in winter. I'll have to look into those. Today I will check up on the arugula and the claytonia. We found Amaranth growing up the hillside and borage babies in the front yard. By adding my sprouts, I'll have salad fixings. More nutrient rich than anything you find in a store. I need to find my plastic sheeting for one of the beds. It currently has an agribon cover which is good against frost but not snow. It's suppose hit 50° but clouds are moving in. The unusual warm weather won't last. I also need to cover some swiss chard that has barely survived. The back yard, way back, has kale too, without any protection. Chrono is now allergic to brassicas so I'm the only one eating it. The celery and parsley are still doing okay without cover too. Celery was never something my parents would have ever considerd growing. Yet we used a lot of it. Wonder why?

We are still picking up coffee grounds daily. The coffee grounds are an especially welcome addition to the garden at this time of year. They warm up as they decompose. A mix of leaves and coffee grounds produce the best compost. It takes 4 months for decomposition. So grounds added in January are rich black dirt by April. I've been working in the mandala garden this week. The blueberry bed is done. The currant bed is done. The Lady's mantle bed is in progress. Leaving the rhubarb bed for next week. Hellabores will need trimming next month once they start to flower. They flower early and for a long time. I've compost piles to rake into beds too. They can wait a bit yet.

Working on new garden beds
ursulas_alcove: My favorite doctor (c is for civilized)
2018-12-31 05:53 pm
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Getting ready for the new year

The clutter was bugging me. I worked over the weekend. This necessitated going into the dreaded work cupboard. It occurred to me our stuff could be better organized. The work cupboard is a jumble of soufflé cups, spoons, plastic gloves, hairnets, etc. It's a hodge-podge of supplies leftover from various gigs. The wire shelving rack will soon be full of seedlings. I don't need stored electrical appliances under wet plant trays. The shelf spacing was wrong for proper seed tray lighting, too far apart. I had an extra shelf laying around too. It was a mess.

I started in this morning on the backlog of dirty dishes. With that accomplished, orders got prepared and shipped before the post office closed. Then to work. I took all of the things off the wire rack. I took all the supplies out of the work cupboard. I placed all of the electrical appliances in the work cupboard, cleaning each before putting them away. A toaster oven, two crockpots, a one cup hot water dispenser, the ice cream churn, and then repacked my punch bowl and cups into one box. Cupboard neat and full! Then on to work supplies. Loose napkins have been corralled and put onto the kitchen table. Soufflé cups have been neatly organized. Plastic gloves are in a ziploc to grab n go. Hairnets may get repurposed. They are not nets per se. They are white pressed fibers that look like I could strain something through them, like a coffee filter. Spoons are all in one bag. Everything fits neatly in a linen drawer.

Now onto the rack. I moved it out of the way. A filthy corner was exposed. Chronographia played Sophie Hatter (Howl's Moving Castle). All the spiders were told to git! The walls were scrubbed. The floor swept. The floor was scrubbed. The garbage emptied, etc. Then on to fixing my poor wire shelving unit.

Reconfiguring shelving for seedlings

We took out three of five shelves. The leather mallet was my dad's from when he worked at Belle Foundry in the 1950s. They made ship bells for all the ships on the Great Lakes. I think Sturgeon Bay still has the remains of a ship-building yard. Anyway, I set the shelf heights at 10" apart so that the lights are closer to the plants. We added a sixth shelf from the unit in the front window. The bigger plants needed more space to grow on that unit. You can see where the shelf used to be by the black shims on the posts. The orange and lemon trees needed the space.

Beginning to look a lot like Solstice

So now I put empty Grolsch bottles on the bottom shelf and cannining pots. The Grolsch bottles have lids to keep soil out. They can get wet or dusty without being harmed. I now have space for 7 trays of seedlings. I need four light fixtures and five grow spectrum LED bulbs. The light fixtures are not that expensive. They come from the hardware store. But the Grow lights are $19.95 each. They are down from $35 two years ago but still pricey. I plan to plant three trays of onions, one tray of leeks, one of celery, and the rest an assortment of swiss chard and other early plantables. I've had trouble starting lettuce indoors. We'll try a different seed company and see how it goes.


Now to work on my inventory and website so I can raise money to pay for this.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2018-12-22 05:22 pm
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Fortunate in our choice of friends

You can't choose your relations, but you can choose your friends. This holiday we feel especially blessed because we are rich in the way of friendships. Though we can't be with you during the holidays, our thoughts are. Know that you all are cherished. Hugs! And enjoy the peace that Midwinter brings.

Beginning to look a lot like Solstice

Beginning to look a lot like Solstice

Also, cards and gifts are running a wee bit late. They call it 12th night for a reason.
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2018-12-20 10:24 pm

On the loom

Using up all the mini skeins; well, a lot of them anyway. Weaving uses a lot of yarn. I have no idea how many yards I wove or if it was just supposed to be a blanket. The dye is sapphire blue. You can see the difference in lighting on the effect of the color. It really is a sapphire blue, not navy. I really need new light fixtures, not just bulbs. I started this in May 2017. For me, that's pretty good. The end is in sight. I will see if the first, mostly blue and white section is long enough for a shawl. I plan to overdye the white in more blue. The natural colors I'm leaving alone. I should be able to get a 45" square lap blanket out of those.

It started like this

Then I ran out of blue yarn

And I’m almost finished
ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
2018-12-18 08:36 pm
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