Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Weed control

I spent three days last week killing noxious weeds. Specifically, I ran my vendetta against thistles (our perennial favorite, but actually a biennial), dandelions (an actual perennial, becoming more of a problem for all farmers in the area in the last few years), and hoary alyssum (or as Howard,the old farmer who mentored Dave, called it, "whore alyssum").

We've been killing thistles for years, ever since a bad drought back in the 80's when they took off because nothing else grew.  We've salted thistles, cut their stems when they were large hoping that rain water would get in there and rot the stem, scythed them when they were huge and blooming because we didn't get to that chore any earlier, sprayed them with herbicides in the summer, spring and fall. Two years ago we replanted  our hay fields to control the thistles and ended up with an amazing crop of dandelions and hoary alyssum.

I love dandelion blossoms, so bright and cheerful, but their broad, flat leaves take up a  lot of space in a field without producing useful forage. As our dandelion concentration grew, the amount of food our field produced decreased.

Hoary alyssum is an insignificant plant with small leaves and small flowers. Howard showed us a patch of it in a pasture thirty years ago and told us to watch out for it. We've kept watch and for thirty years, it sort of kept to itself. We pulled every flower stalk we saw and the plants didn't spread. Last summer, we found hoary alyssum everywhere, not just in one pasture, but scattered throughout our pastures and hay fields. When we called the county extension agent, he was pretty relaxed about the dandelions and thistles in our fields until we mentioned the alyssum and then he told us we had to replant.

So last fall we sprayed the hay fields with herbicides and this spring Dave planted oats into barren ground for hay. After we bale the oats he'll plant alfalfa for next year. I've been spot spraying the weeds around the edges of our fields and in the pastures. I'm using a noxious chemical to control the noxious weeds and I don't like it. However, in all our years of trying to farm as sustainably and as organically as possible, we have never met the organic standards.

Hopefully, by next summer, our noxious weed control can be delegated to our grandsons who love to pick dandelions blossoms by the bagful for their moms.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to dye with Kool-Aid

Twice a year, fiber people gather at our farm to share skills, patterns, and enthusiasm. They bring fiber projects to work on and a dish to share for lunch. Some people want to learn to spin. Others come for the felting lessons. Still others spend their day around the dye pots.

Not everyone can dye at home in their kitchens, so having a place to go that supplies dye pots, dyes and a heat source (a wood fire) is a real plus. Some years we dye in the rain. One year we dyed in the snow. Last Saturday we dyed on a perfect day, sunny and windless. People dyed carded roving and yarns. They experimented with variegated yarns, dying only parts of a skein at a time. They overdyed gray and brown yarns with blue. They used commercial dyes, natural dyes and Kool-Aid.

The commercial dyes the most dependable dyes one could ever use, the natural dyes are probably the most capricious, and the Kool-Aid dyes the safest. You can dye with Kool-Aid in your cooking pots, in your kitchen, with kids, and never have to worry about toxicity. Beyond it's safety, there are two really wonderful things about Kool-Aid as a dye: 1) the colors are bright and childlike, and 2) the yarn smells like Kool-Aid for a long time after dyeing.

The following recipe was developed for small amounts of wool by Kathey Skarie: 

Kool-Aid Dyeing in a Microwave
  • 1/2 oz clean fiber (wool, angora, mohair, silk, llama).
  • 1 - 2 packages unsweete

    ned Kool-Aid, may be more than one flavor
  • White vinegar
  • Microwave safe container
  • Plastic wrap.
  • Soak fiber in the microwave container; drain off the excess water. (If your water is hard, mix in some Calgon to soften it.)
  • Sprinkle dry Kool-Aid over the fiber. Poke the Kool-Aid into the fiber with your fingertips. This is a good way to make a variegated fiber, either using two colors (flavors) of Kool-Aid or leaving lots of fiber with no color in it. (If your water contains iron, the grape will be a very disappointing gray.)
  • Mix a "glug" of vinegar with one cup of water. Pour this mixture around the fiber, using just enough to keep the fiber moist but not enough to mix the Kool-Aid. The colors should remain distinct.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until the fiber is just hot. Use short time settings and check frequently. Too much heat or time could damage the fiber.
  • Cool. Rinse gently. 
Batch Kool-Aid Dyeing

  • 1# wool
  • 10 packages one flavor of Kool-Aid
  • large kettle
  • Dissolve 10 packages of Kool-Aid in a large kettle to make a dye bath.
  • Wet the wool, then submerge in dye bath.
  • Turn stove to high and heat until just before the bath boils.
  • Turn heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Pour off dye. Allow wool to cool. Rinse in cool water until the water runs clear. Hang to dry.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Everything depends on the weather

Our apple trees arrived April 15. The directions said to plant them immediately, even if the ground was frozen. The ground wasn't frozen, but it snowed as we dug holes along the edge of the hayfield and patted the cold dirt over the roots of the trees. Dave had planned to seed the orchard with grass before we planted. Then we would lay out the drip irrigation lines and mulch the trees with skirtings, the dirty wool skirted from our fleeces.

One month later, we still haven't planted grass in the orchard or oats in the rest of our fields. It has rained relentlessly, the wind has blown steadily, and most days the thermometer barely rises above 45 degrees. We haven't planted, we haven't even dug the fields. When they dry just a little more, hopefully tomorrow, Dave will hook the disk to the tractor and begin our field work.

If the weather warms up and the rains keep coming, we'll cut oats for hay about 55 days after he seeds. Then we hope for a few sunny and dry days so the hay will dry and we can begin baling. Summer is here, but the schedule of summer - when we cut, when we bale, when we spray, when we reseed - all depends on the weather.