Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In my peony bed

a shriveled phlox
in my peony bed
herbicide drift

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This is a lawn

We have an unusual lawn. We use a human powered push mower to cut it, so our yard isn’t very big, but it is lovely and functional. The forget-me-not seeds blew off the tables at our daughter Laurel’s wedding seven years ago. The lamium grew beyond the edges of our shade garden. The dandelions volunteered from the hayfield to add yellow accents.

The dandelions will be dug. The lamium and forget-me-nots will be mowed. As will the grass. As the summer progresses, a few more forget-me-nots will bloom and the lamium will creep further into the lawn. But I don’t care; I’ve never had such a beautiful lawn!

After we mow it, the lawn works fine for walking on, for picnics, for kub and whip darts and blowing bubbles. What more can you ask of a lawn?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fields of dandelions

I never expected that the result of twenty-seven years of carefully tending our farm would be a field full of dandelions. Somewhere, we went wrong. We aren’t alone with the problem, I’ve heard others bemoaning their dandelions, but we are on the extreme edge. One of the problems of limiting spraying with herbicides and keeping our fields in alfalfa as long as possible is that weeds do have a chance to become established. The dandelions are way beyond established, they are close to dominant.

This spring we decided that we had to dig the fields and replant the alfalfa. With our dandelion situation, we didn’t see any way to only replant half of our acreage. The blooming dandelions on the unplanted field would easily re-infect the clean fields.

Unfortunately, you can’t replant alfalfa in a field in which alfalfa has been growing. It is auto toxic, meaning that the old alfalfa plants left a toxin in the soil that inhibits alfalfa seed. It makes no sense to me, but may account for past crop failures. So we will plant something else this year and alfalfa next year. Our first choice as a crop for this summer was oats. We used to feed oats to our sheep, but we can’t buy them any more – hardly anybody plants oats because they can make so much more money on soybeans and corn.

We have a tractor, a haybine for cutting hay, a baler for baling hay, a disc for lightly scraping the fields and a rotary mower for cutting pastures. We’ve never bought equipment for seeding or harvesting grains. We don’t intend to. Our land is hilly and our fields are small. It isn’t good land for growing grains. June rains wash the seedlings and the topsoil down the hills. The big new planters and combines are too big for our steep hills and sharp curves.

So we have to find someone else to plant and harvest our grains. They will take most of the crop in trade for their work. No one would plant oats for us, but a neighbor offered to plant Roundup Ready soybeans. These genetically modified soybeans can be sprayed with the herbicide Roundup and not be hurt. The soybeans have the advantage of allowing us to spray the hell out of the dandelions on our land and still get a crop this year.

It has the disadvantage of going against everything we’ve been trying to do on our farm. Yes, Roundup is one of the less horrendous herbicides, even useable on organic crops, but I am not happy with the research I’ve read lately about how using Roundup changes the soil and decreases yields over time. If we use it just this once, and then not for ten years perhaps we will be doing as little damage as possible for the best outcome. I just wish there was a clear cut, unambiguous solution to the problem of fields of dandelions.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A flash of color

photo by Alice Ellison

I saw a flash of yellow in the woods. Of course, it moved too fast for me to locate it again, but once I started looking, there was color everywhere.

A scarlet tanager paused on a branch high above and then was gone. A hummingbird hovered over a purple ground ivy flower – guess that noxious weed is good for something. A pair of shocking orange and black orioles argued over the oranges Dave set out for them.

Now, when our eyes are tired of the subdued tones of winter, just as the leaves are beginning to open, we are so grateful for variety; everything is intense. The colors of summer can never be as brilliant as these spring displays. Or perhaps it is the juxtaposition of black and color, the sharp demarcation between wing and back feathers that delights our eyes. Whatever it is, that flash of color in the woods is like water to the thirsty, or food to the hungry. That flash of color sings in our hearts like the birds or the spring peepers – joy, joy, joy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From Sheep to Shawl

My newest book has been released!

Fiber people occasionally have contests during which a group of women (usually) begin with a sheep and end up with a beautiful shawl. A shearer shears the sheep; spinners spin the wool into yarn; weavers weave the yarn into fabric, and by the end of the day, the group has produced a beautiful woven shawl - from sheep to shawl in one day.

My book was twelve years in the making. It tells the stories of sheep, of shepherds, of spinners and weavers and knitters and felters and crocheters, of fiber people in general. The book is a slice through the life of a fiber person, a peek into my brain as I move through life.

I only entered one sheep to shawl contest, back when I was a beginning spinner and mostly only knew beginning spinners. Our shawl was dreadful - lumpy and heavy. The folks we were competing against spun and wove a beautiful lace piece. The day was spoiled for me by the competition (and I guess by the fact that we lost.) In general, I love the fact that fiber folks support each other, help each other learn, the exact opposite of competing to see who is best. But still the concept of "sheep to shawl", encapsulating the entire process in a single day, is attractive.

And so I present From Sheep to Shawl: stories and patterns for fiber lovers, encapsulating the entire process in a book.

For more information or to order the book, contact the publisher, Athena Gracyk at