Category Archives: Making things

I’ve been in the garden.

Remember me?

photoIt was a little bit of a shock to see the date of my last post to this blog, nearly one year ago. It’s not that I haven’t been living the urban homesteading dream—in fact, I just got a food dehydrator for my birthday and have produced jars and jars of dried apples and pears. Next up will be the grey dove oyster mushrooms coming in in a few weeks. The chickens are cackling and laying, I canned tomatoes, green beans, pickles, five different kinds of jams,  blackberries in bourbon, and applesauce this summer. John has been brewing lots of delicious IPAs and red ales, and we cured duck prosciutto and pancetta in the basement last winter.

IMG_3024

I’ve been knitting like crazy, too. It’s been busy and productive around here.

But I have spent most of my time in the past year in a different kind of garden. A garden nonetheless, but one with recording equipment, computers, instruments, and musicians. Finally and at last, I have grown a second CD of my original music.

SongsGardenCoverIt is titled, of course,

Songs from the Garden.

There is a direct line of inspiration from my little Southern Urban Homestead to the songs on this collection. It winds through the vegetable patch and around my laundry line, and it even pauses for a visit with the chickens. And there’s food–oh, yes, there’s food. And love. Here’s a little sampler:

If you’d like to own the entire CD, they are available by mail order right here:

Allison Adams: Songs from the Garden

Or you can download it:

Allison Adams: Songs from the Garden

Or if iTunes is how you roll, that is right here.

I hope you enjoy Songs from the Garden. And I promise to be a better blogger!

3 Comments

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening, Making things

The Meantime

We are in the meantime, it seems. The beets are gone, I’ve pulled my next-to-last carrot, and the kale bolted two weeks ago. The summer garden hasn’t quite gotten to the point of explosion quite yet. I am awaiting the day the tomatoes and figs ripen, the cucumbers reach pickle size, and the green beans start to pile up in my refrigerator.

In the meantime, here is what happens. The Georgia peaches are early and plentiful and delicious this year, so I bought about ten pounds of “dent and scratch” fruit at the Decatur farmer’s market a few weeks ago and made peach rosemary jam. I just made regular ol’ peach jam and simmered a few sprigs of rosemary with it, then took out the sprigs before filling the jars. It goes on the shelf next to the strawberry basil jam I made last month.

With the mild spring and early summer weather, I have switched to knitting cotton–easier on the hands and lap. I found some organic cotton on sale and bought a bunch of it, and my first project was this pair of vests for some friends who had twins a few months ago.

My Sweetie had a birthday recently, and with shameless self-interest at heart, I got him a beer-making kit. I’m hoping this will become a long-term skill and passion. Today he started his first batch of IPA. We have talked about setting up a little brewery area in the basement (which is already equipped with sink and stove), so this will become a weekend project after this first batch is finished.

Here in the meantime, whilst we await the garden bounty and the brew, my meager flower garden has been generous. Here is what is on my kitchen table today: Coneflowers, zinnias, butterfly bush, hydrangeas, gardenias, marigolds. Glorious eye candy.

In the meantime, there’s nothing to do but weed, water, and wait. Fortunately, there is an inflatable pool here that makes waiting just about my favorite thing to do . . .

1 Comment

Filed under Gardening, Making things, Putting Up

On My Wish List

It isn’t like I don’t have enough to do, between a full-time job, a house, several gardens, ten chickens, a hyperactive Australian shepherd, a rather demanding and expressive calico cat, and a whole nother life as a musician. But I catch myself daydreaming about the same “I wants” over and over again. Some of them will come sooner and some in far-off futureland, but they all will become, at one point or another, part of my little claim in the homestead realm.

Honeybees: This one may come sooner than later. I’m still getting educated and will have to make some investments in equipment and bees, but I’d like to install a hive at my house, especially for the pollinators, and another one at my parents’ house up in the mountains where I grew up, so that I can have my sourwood honey. No, I haven’t discussed this with them. (Hi, Daddy! What do you think about some bees in the orchard?)

A solar-powered pump for my rain barrels: I love my 220 gallons of the wet, which I run into my garden via soaker hoses. But sometimes I’d like those hoses to flow with a little more oomph. And in my never-ending quest for energy independence, I want my oomph off the grid. Here’s the little gadget I long for. Look for it on a rain barrel near me before this growing season ends!


Angora Rabbits: You can hold them and snuggle them and comb and brush out their long, beautiful fur, which can then be spun into the softest yarn you’ve ever touched, which the can be knitted into the softest garments you have ever worn. Also, did you know that bunny poo can go straight from the bunny into the garden as an excellent fertilizer without risk of it being too “hot” for the vegetation? Bonus! I’m still doing my homework and research, and plus I probably should learn to spin.

Nigerian dwarf dairy goats: This one may be a longer-term project, like after I retire and therefore have plenty of time to care for and milk dairy goats every day. There are some definite challenges with goats, but then there is milk, cheese, more excellent poo, and general adorableness. They aren’t going to get scratched off my list any time soon.

What’s on your wish list?

10 Comments

Filed under Feasting, Gardening, Making things

It takes a village to do my Christmas shopping.

Y’all know I love a good barter. What I hate is shopping. Malls make me cry, and Wal*Mart makes me hyperventilate.

Over the years, however, I have managed to get my Christmas shopping down to a stress-free science. My goal is to give Christmas gifts that are full of love and joy, that support the local economy as much as possible, and that recognize who the recipient is and what they need and appreciate. Pardon my bragging, but yes, I can do this without ever setting foot in a mall or a big-box store.

My approach changes slightly every year. Always there are the homemade jams, and in more recent years I have added knitting. This year, however, I actually did go somewhere. I walked two doors down, to my neighbor Emily’s house. Talk about keeping it local!

Genius at Work

Earlier this year, Emily decided to do what she does best. In the past, she has been an excellent teacher, and briefly she was an advocate for families of children with learning disabilities in a law practice, but Emily’s true gift is at the sewing table. I have never known anyone with her eye for bringing together color, texture, and pattern in completely new and beautiful ways.

Today the mother of three really cute children, Emily learned to sew years ago as a newlywed living in rural New Mexico, worlds away from anything like the neighborhood where we live now — where our houses sit a few feet apart and where we don’t hesitate to walk into one another’s homes to borrow milk, pine nuts, a glass of wine, a can of tomatoes or beans. I love this about my little street in Decatur. We have impromptu parties all the time. We are all up in one another’s business, and it’s great. This village is my family.

I have had a front-row view of Emily’s process of turning a self-taught hobby into a cottage industry (literally — she sews in the front room of her cottage). Baby clothes, coffee cozies, lavender-scented eye masks, teddy bears, fabric-covered journals, shoulder bags — stuff just started pouring out of her sewing machine and filling up her house. So she secured a booth at a local arts fair last spring and started selling it. Then she did it again at another crafts fair. Suddenly, her business was taking off.

I said, “Emily, you need a website.”

So one night last summer over a glass of wine, she and I worked out a barter — a website for her in exchange for Christmas shopping for me.

Here is Emily’s business website (the business is called Two Peas): http://twopeasbyhand.com/

And here are some of her creations. (Don’t ask me whether it’s stuff I got in our barter, because you might be on my Christmas list, and I’m not telling!)

   

  

Emily is on Etsy, too. Check her out! She is still cranking out adorable things (cashmere bunnies! Owl heat packs from recycled wool sweaters!), so you can still place Christmas orders.

1 Comment

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Making things

Hoop Dreams

Regular readers of this blog know of my ongoing war with the evil squirrels who are intent on decimating my garden. My best defense so far has been the squirrel-proof net tent, which has covered the garden bed closest to the house for 2 1/2 years. It has worked magnificently, but tough luck for the several other garden patches I have growing in other parts of the backyard, exposed to the wiles of these demonic creatures.

The largest of these areas is a 20 x 25 bed next to the chicken coop. It’s too big for a giant net tent like the one next to the house, so I  usually grow crops back there that the squirrels aren’t likely to be interested in—peas, beans, arugula.

I decided, however, to see if I couldn’t take advantage of that area for a winter garden this year, to give the SPNT bed a rest. But instead of enclosing the whole area under a net, I decided to cover just a portion of it with hoop houses. I’ve seen hoop houses work on a smaller scale, mostly over raised beds, and I could see no reason why they wouldn’t work for a longer bed about five feet in width.

Off to Home Depot I went for ten-foot lengths of PVC, foot-long sections of rebar, zip ties, garden netting, and spring clamps.

Supplies

And here’s what I did with all of that:

The rebar went into the ground in pairs five feet apart, spaced about every four feet.
I bent the PVC over and secured each end on the pairs of rebar.
Over the bent PVC I draped the netting and secured it with the zip ties. I left a “tent flap” on the front as a entrance and secured it with spring clamps.

Inside the hoop house I have planted kale, Swiss chard, and cilantro—all things that the squirrels of eee-ville dug up and ate when I planted them in that area last year. I’m pleased to report that a few weeks after I built the hoop house, everything is thriving unmolested. Here’s what the kale looks like today.

I have started a second hoop house but haven’t yet covered it with netting. All my fall seedlings are planted out, so I have nothing to plant in that space until spring! I’m hoping that will be a great space for tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers next year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gardening, Making things

Southern Urban Homestead FAIL

Typically I am pretty good about owning up to my disasters. It’s a whole nuther thing, however, to own up to them on a public blog. But I’ve decided, as a character-building exercise and to show that perfection is not the goal in this ongoing quest of mine for balance and bounty in the city, to fess up to some of my most spectacular flops. I hope you enjoy them and won’t think less of my skillz.

Blackberry Rude (as opposed to “Cordial”)

Last year I went crazy with the blackberry picking. I made jams and cobblers and stuck some in the freezer for fruity desserts at the holidays. And I still had about a half gallon of berries left, so I decide to steep them in some vodka and sugar with a few spices. I had visions of Anne of Green Gables and the delicious raspberry cordial she mistakenly served to her bosom friend, Diana, in a chapter titled “Diana is Invited to Tea with Tragic Results.”

Tragic results indeed. Eight weeks later I strained the blackberries out of the liquid and bottled it all up. It was so pretty–dark reddish purple and clear in the jars. I was imagining creative cocktails, ice cream concoctions, and just some tasty sipping. What I got, however, was cough syrup. Ew. I think I just overdid it with the cloves. They overpower the flavor. I can’t bring myself to dump it all out (that was good, expensive vodka), so let me know if you have a cold. I have a  home remedy to share.

The Soap with Ugly Dead Things In It

I really should stay out of Michael’s stores. I accidentally come home with all sorts of little fake crafty things that are unnatural and useless, such as the glycerin soap making kits, complete with blocks of glycerin and cute little plastic molds in the shapes of hearts and stars. It was supposed to be easy: melt the glycerin and pour it into the molds. But no. I had to make it a little more complicated by adding some herbs and essential oils.

Maybe my mistake was using fresh herbs. Because guess what? Glycerin soap does not preserve lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary as fresh green, succulent leaves. No, the sprigs of lovely shrivel and turn brown, emanating dark, gooey halos suspended in the hardened soap. Best to leave the soapmaking to those who know what they are doing.

Persimmon Poo

When I gathered the persimmons from a nearby tree last fall, I had a vague idea in my head about persimmon butter. Finding nothing helpful in my home canning and preserving books, I googled around and learned, first off, that persimmons don’t have enough acid to be canned without growing yourself a healthy crop of botulism. So I settled on freezer butter. And here is why googling can be bad for your health: I took a recipe here and a recipe there, made some substitutions, added some spices, took a few calculated risks and short cuts. Cooked it down, put it in jars, processed it, stuck it in the freezer.

The day I concocted this mess, my parents were visiting. I showed my father one of my jars of persimmon butter. My dad is typically a poker face, but when he peered into the jar, well, let’s just say his look betrayed his skepticism. “That looks interesting,” he said. A few weeks later I opened the freezer and pulled out a jar of “persimmon butter.” Rather than the brilliant autumnal gold I was expecting, it had turned sort of brown–a bad sign I chose to ignore. I thawed the jar and opened it. The substance within had shrunk away from the sides of the jar and thawed into a dry, solid chunk of you-guessed-it.

  

  

Do Not Neglect The Cucumbers

Generally I am a successful cucumber grower. I make nice, fluffy, generous hills and enrich them with buckets of compost. I mulch deeply and water often. I make lots and lots of pickles. This year, I got cocky. My cucumbers, I told myself, would know what to do. So I made a few hills, stuck the seeds in, and proceeded to neglect them.

What I got was an infestation of squash bugs that chewed everything I had planted to a withered crisp. I saw the first few appear and instead of picking them off and dusting with diatomaceous earth, I decided my historically vigorous cukes would fight the good fight and win . . . simply by virtue of being my cukes. But no, the squash bugs won, and I got no cukes this year. Here is what they looked like. Try not to cry.

A few careless mistakes, a few risks gone bad, a few lessons learned. But there are no morals to be drawn here. Just laugh, please, and if you happen to figure out persimmon butter, please share your recipe.

8 Comments

Filed under Gardening, Making things, Putting Up

My Pretty Great Housekeeping Seal of Approval

My neighbor Emily (who is also an amazing fabric crafter, and you should check out her website and buy her gorgeous homemade things) passed along a wonderful resource to me the other day. Remember how excited I was to find a recipe for homemade laundry detergent? Well, here is a whole array of homemade housecleaning products. These are on the website of the David Suzuki Foundation, downloadable from this page as a .pdf. I’ve tried a few of these, and so far my favorites are the carpet deodorizer and the all-purpose cleaner #1.

The great thing about these recipes is that they call for ingredients I just have around the house anyway — stuff like baking soda, borax (my new favorite cure-all — sprinkle it around the exterior of hour house to keep those annoying sugar ants out), castile soap, lemon juice, vinegar.

Here is the carpet deodorizer: baking soda, corn starch, bay leaves, and ground cloves. I heated the tip of an ice pick over the gas flame and poked holes in this plastic container (these come from the DeKalb Farmer’s Market when you buy parmesan cheese) to create a “shaker” for it. Worked perfectly for sprinkling over my carpets and rugs. I’ll store it by stacking it inside another identical plastic container.

And here is the all-purpose cleaner: castile soap (I used peppermint), white vinegar, hot water, borax. And an old plastic spray bottle.

I used it on my kitchen counters and bathrooms. Right now, my house smells like cloves and peppermint instead of wet dog. Nice!

4 Comments

Filed under Making things

A Day in Knitter’s Paradise

When you give Barbie a haircut with someone, you form a lifelong bond. Even when you fall out of touch for, oh, twenty-five years and then reconnect through a mutual friend and Facebook, the ties remain strong. And that bond is reinforced when you discover that you share a passion for knitting.

Theresa was one of the folks who inspired me to take up knitting, and of course, her abilities far surpass mine. In fact, she is a knitting rockstar. She also spins and makes her own dyes from organic sources like mushrooms and such, and she even embroiders (check out this guitar-pickin chickin she made for me!).

The first time I mentioned to another knitting pal that Theresa of “Techniques with Theresa” on Knitty.com was a childhood friend, I thought I was going to have to scrape her off the ceiling, she got so excited. Now I get a thrill out of impressing People Who Knit with, “Hey, guess who I know . . . ?”

You can imagine, then, my joy when Theresa, who followed her heart to Europe many years ago to marry herself a handsome Norwegian, moved back home a few weeks ago (bringing said handsome Norwegian) — not just to the U.S., but to Franklin, North Carolina, where she is now nestled in the heart of her extended family on some beautiful, hilly farmland in the Southern Appalachians (she and I grew up not even a mile apart in Rabun Gap, Georgia, about 20 minutes south of where she now lives).

Last week I drove up to the mountains for a few days to visit with my family and reconnect with Theresa in person. Our plan was to indulge our shared fiber fantasies — from raw material to finished product. We began our day with a visit to an alpaca farm.

Merritt Farm is ten acres surrounding a lovely 100-plus-year-old log cabin in Otto, North Carolina, situated just between Rabun Gap and Franklin. Liza McArthur, farmer-in-chief, left police work in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to pursue her dream there in 1996 with her kids. She spent the next several years restoring buildings and land in preparation for an alpaca herd.

Liza acquired her first alpacas in 2000. She breeds them and maintains her herd using environmentally sustainable methods (diatomaceous earth instead of toxic chemicals for pest control, for example), and her fiber is supple, soft, and strong. When Theresa and I visited, she had just received a supply of yarn back from a mill where she had sent off a batch of raw fiber. I bought two skeins of creamy, lustrous laceweight stuff, and Theresa bought some beautiful roving.

We sat on the porch of the cabin for awhile, listening to Liza’s story and running our fingers through her yarn. She could tell us the name of each animal from which each yarn came, just from the color and lustre of the stuff (mine came from a gal named Mawatta). Then we walked through her morning chores with her — feeding, weighing the cria (that’s what you call a baby alpaca), and just saying hello to everyone. Alpacas do spit, but only if provoked. Liza’s animals are gently handled from birth and therefore are very friendly. One even offered to style my ’do.

Liza also has a small flock of chickens and the beginnings of an orchard, plus like me, she nestles food gardens in every sunny spot she can find. She has several dogs who guard the female and gelded alpacas in shifts throughout the day and night, and a guard llama named Solomon protects her breeding sires.

Yes, you read right: a guard llama. I was fascinated to learn that llamas, it turns out, are very alert and have this fierce call that will sound an alarm if an intruder or threat comes around. They will even go after it kicking. Some guard llamas will draw their flock together and herd into safety, just like a herding dog. Who knew?

Theresa had visited with Liza before and had told her of her vision for her North Carolina farm home. Which may have been part of what she had in mind when she offered a couple of seven-year-old male Alpacas for Theresa to adopt! I squealed like a llama when Theresa provisionally accepted the offer, explaining that it would probably be wise for her to check with her family before bringing home two large mammals. After making plans to return to the farm in early May for Liza’s shearing days (fun!), off we went to Theresa’s house to check out her fencing and barn — both for the alpacas and the flock of chickens she’s planning on getting. I’m living vicariously through Theresa’s hoofstock acquisition, since City of Decatur ordinances prevent me from having my own.

Later we drove a little further north into downtown Franklin for lunch and a visit to the yarn shop there, where I got to witness a real rockstar moment. A woman ahead of us in the register line kept turning around and looking at Theresa — “I know I’ve seen you somewhere . . .” — and finally realized it was from her knitty.com column. Then the shop owner spoke to Theresa about teaching a few classes there. Hello, mushroom dyes and kitchener stitch!

Determined to find an excuse to stay in touch with Liza, who is someone you just want to know, I talked with her about starting a yarn CSA. She thinks it would work, especially if she recruited a few other producers in the area (llama, angora goat, and wool, maybe) in a cooperative effort. Knitting readers, would you have an interest in participating in such a thing? Liza thinks she might be able to handle 20 subscribers. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll share details as we work on them.

Here is an example of one yarn CSA.

5 Comments

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Making things

Things that make me go “Yay!”

All of these photos were taken over a three day period. Everything is waking up!

Baby apple tree with new growth

Parsley by the mound

Fungal goodness

Stir fry with my broccoli and mushrooms

 

Big, fat, hairy chives

Arugula without end

Sweet potato-apple muffins (my sweet potatoes, dad's apples)

Camelias on my table

Good egg production on organic feed

Yoga socks (what a great idea!)

A giant pot of wheat straw pasteurizing on my stove (for more mushrooms)

Salad greens and cilantro

Flats of seedlings in my house, away from marauding rats

The last of last fall's collards

Sugar snap pea sprouts

1 Comment

Filed under Feasting, Flockkeeping, Gardening, Making things

Making Merry

As you may have read in an earlier entry here, I took up knitting about a year ago. It wasn’t pretty at first. I made a hot mess of some ugly, difficult yarn with some tiny needles I happened to have, cussed at my mother and sister-in-law for laughing at me, and quit in a huff.

But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then one day in early January as I was running errands, I found myself inexorably drawn to the local yarn shop, where I picked up some beautiful dark chocolate-colored worsted yarn (yes, I am a yarn ho) and some #9 needles, all of which proved easier to manage. I started anew and quickly became addicted to the skill, and over 2010 I have been a crazy knitting fool. Lots of scarves, washcloths, caps, and fingerless gloves for starters. I found myself contributing to the return of leg warmers into fashion. And I upped the skill ante with two sweaters.

I really found my groove, though, with socks. Back in the spring my dear friend Dusty, a lifelong knitter, helped me master a few tricks (picking up stitches, knitting in the round, heel turning), and suddenly I was on a roll. There is something just plain magical about knitting socks. I think it’s the heel turn–you do a few funky decreases and slip-slips, and voila! There is a heel. So I started cranking out pairs of socks. (Sock projects are also marvelously portable, so I took them everywhere to work on them.)

This turned out to be a great idea for Christmas gifts. I found the coziest of baby alpaca sock yarn in bright, funky multicolors and went to town. Here (above) are some of the results of my two-month-long sock knitting frenzy.

Once the socks were ready, I turned to the jars of jams and butters that I had produced during this amazingly fruitful year. Dusty (she of the mystical knitting advice) also sent me a link to this marvelous blog for directions on topping and labeling jam jars. I got all crafty with my bad self, and here’s what the final product looked like.

Finally, I was especially glad to have found an excellent stash of straw baskets at a yard sale in my neighborhood a few months ago. I cleaned up a couple of the baskets and packed them full of Southern Urban Homestead goodies for my neighbors: fatlighter (seasoned sap-soaked pine my father collected last year), Mr. Pat’s sourwood honey, jam, and snuggly knitted objects.

Merry merry!

2 Comments

Filed under Making things