cold frame issuu

I happened to notice that this PDF was no longer on my blog. This was created several years ago when I first had read Eliot Coleman’s book and decided that if he could grow vegetables in Maine in the winter that I could do it here in VA. I think that WordPress has upgraded their ability to handle an ISSUU document so I am pleased that it is not just a link anymore. I know that several folks have asked for this document and now I can direct them here.

 

Olla Pots…

IMG_0840A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a ton of clay. Literally, a ton of clay. We know that because as Herb was unloading it out of the truck, he was doing a calculation in his head and it was more than we should’ve carried in our little truck. The repair bill later was proof of that. But the clay is piled up under a tarp in the back of our lot and I need to start working through the pile and using this clay.

Last year, I went through the clay and made an inventory of what was there and now, looking at the list, there is a low fire terra cotta. It fires to cone 2, which is low for what I normally work in. So, I was looking at a video this morning from a homesteading family. The Dervaes Family in California who are harvesting 3 tons of food on 1/10th of an acre of land. It is pretty amazing what they have done. So, it occurred to me that I could make some irrigation pots like these from that terra cotta clay. They are called Olla pots and they are a way to conserve water, which I am all about.

Olla pots have been in use for many centuries and are buried in the garden. The idea is that the terra cotta clay weeps the water into the ground and allows the plants to take in the water that they need, at the roots, where they need it the most. According to Wikipedia, it is a very efficient method because very little water is lost to evaporation because the water is stored underground. You can also see how to make your own Olla pots here at this awesome site Global Buckets whose goal is about growing food in 5 gallon buckets. Another good site that shows how they are used is Walden Labs. And here is a great illustration of how the pot works in the ground at this Permaculture link.Old-Pot-Technology.slideshow

This will be a way to use up the clay and give me a new item to make and to help with the Community garden

This is what an Olla Pot looks like...

This is what an Olla Pot looks like…

or my own garden with water usage during times of drought.

Now to find the clay in the pile of clay and get some water added to it so that I can start the process of making a batch of these pots.

Shipping Materials…

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I have been a full time potter now for about 3 years and while I have had some friends donate shipping materials to me, I have found that I have not had to purchase these materials. First, I can’t imagine doing that because I just don’t have the funds for it and second, there are items in all of our houses that will cushion fragile items without spending pennies on that kind of thing. I thought it would be helpful to other potters to showcase the way that I ship an item, or more to the point, what I use to ship an item.

  1. If your house is like mine, there is lots of junk mail that gets delivered to your house every day. What do you do with it? Do you recycle it? Do you just pitch it and it ends up in the landfill, ultimately causing your county taxes to rise? Do you compost it? My solution to packing material is to shred the junk mail and store it for packing. I bought a small shredder at Target for about $40 and each day, or when the pile gets too large, I shred it and store it as packing materials. If you don’t have a need to ship something to use it in this way, you could also compost it. Many printers now use a soy based ink that would be fine in the compost pile and it can line planter boxes to use as a mulch. You could cover it with a wood mulch so that it doesn’t blow away but, I have used it as a weed barrier in my cold frames.
  2. Plastic bags are something that I have eliminated from my local grocery store but that doesn’t mean that other food substances don’t make it into my house in some kind of plastic bag. Think apples, potatoes, onion, oranges, granola, coffee, the list can go on and on. So, I reuse those bags and stuff the shredded paper into those and they work just like those air filled bubble pillows that sometimes come in a package. My paper stuffed bags may be a bit heavier than the air filled pillows when I have to figure the cost of the package but that cost is offset with not having to purchase a shipping product.
  3. And wrapping paper. I have a great source for my wrapping paper. My old employer just so happens to toss a wonderful brown and white paper and I occasionally can connect with them and pick up a large batch of this to have a substance to wrap a package with.
  4. My clay boxes are great to ship in so those get used a lot to send out wares. There always seems to be boxes here as well so I have not reached a point in three years that there has not been a box somewhere in my house that I can ship an item, both large and small. There might come a time that I might consider purchasing some nice gift boxes but so far there has not been a need for that either. Make do with what you have is always been my motto, as many of you know.
  5. Clay comes in a really heavy plastic bag and if you go through a lot of clay, as I do, you have lots of those bags lying around the studio. I will take those bags and run them through the washing machine. As the washer is filling up, I catch some of the water in each bag so that they get good and wet and then I hang them up to dry and they make awesome packing material or transporting wares inside the shredded paper.

I will admit that the only item that I have purchased for my wares has been “orange bags”. I found an online source to purchase a net bag that looks like an orange bag as a branding tool given that my company name is Laughing Orange. I promote the bags at shows by hanging them from my tent and give each customer my speech about the importance of recycling, explaining the shredded paper in the bag and ask them to use the bag at the market for their produce and to reuse the bag. Because the bags are red, they draw customers in and they are curious about what their purpose is.

Tape is the only material that I am having to purchase at this time and I wish I could find an alternative to that but I don’t see that happening for a while.

So, if you are a fellow potter and are curious about how you can use what you have to pack your wares or are just looking for ways to avoid having excess junk mail in your house, I hope you find these tips helpful when you are packing or shipping a box of something to someone else.

Polyface Farm, a quick tour

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

 

Claudia came to visit me this week from New Hampshire and recently, she had read a book by Joel Salatin called, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. I remember reading about Polyface Farm in Michael Pollan’s book Omnivores Dilemma. So, when Claudia wanted to try and go and visit this farm, I was excited to take her there. We got up early and headed south on I 81 to Staunton and followed the directions that took us way out into beautiful valley farmland. It was incredibly picturesque and the farms were large and connected by beautiful fields of green, some of them dotted with hay rolls, some of them clearly growing corn, probably for Monsanto and some of them had housing that was probably full of hens and chickens that would be trucked to a processing plant nearby. When we arrived at Polyface, however, you quickly got a very different picture as to how farming is all about a balance of lots of processes and not just one specific crop.

On some days, Joel or his son are available to talk about how they run their farm and you can have some personal time with him to ask questions. But the farm is open every day and that if they aren’t available,  you are welcome to come and walk around the property and see everything they are doing on your own. When we drove up, as luck would have it, Joel was giving an interview on the picnic table with a film crew in the front of the house and he motioned us to come on around. We found a place to park and walked around the property and didn’t want to interrupt their interview.

As we traveled down I-81, I told Claudia that I hoped that we wouldn’t get there and it be the day that they are slaughtering the chickens because I wasn’t sure I could watch them do that. I truly believe that if more of us were to SEE how our food is processed, we would all change our minds about some of the items that we eat. Also, as luck would have it, they WERE slaughtering chickens and that is the first thing we saw and heard when we got out of the car. I did manage to get my nerve up and take some photos so beware when you look, you may want to skip over those in the photo album that I am attaching.

greenhouse with tomatoes

greenhouse with tomatoes

Beside the place we parked the car were some greenhouses full of lettuces and tomato plants. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there were rabbit hutches in the greenhouse lining one of the walls. Clearly, the rabbits were adding the fertilizer to the greenhouse floor and this could easily be racked from underneath over to the plants so they could benefit from this nutrient. The second thing that I noticed was the fact that they were heating this greenhouse with a wood heater. I’m not sure how this actually worked but it was situated in the corner and had a chimney coming out the front of the greenhouse. The tomatoes were tied to the ceiling of the greenhouse and were just beautiful!

wood heater in the greenhouse

wood heater in the greenhouse

The second greenhouse was full of lettuces and greens. Again, it had the empty rabbit hutches lining one of the walls for fertilizer. This one wasn’t heated and I’m sure that, just like my cold frames, these lettuces did fine for them in the cold. The lettuces were close to bolting but were still very much edible.

Next, we walked to a chicken house that had some baby chickens that were about 2-3 weeks old. The chickens on the farm are clearly at different stages of development and, if you have read Omnivores Delimma, then you are aware of Joel’s technique of moving the animals around on the farm so as to get the full use of the animal while it is in connection with the land. These chicks were big enough to be graduating to the next stage and we were able to see them load them up into crates so that they could be taken up onto another part of the farm where they would live for another phase of their lives, fertilizing the land underneath their feet and getting fattened up on the natural elements that are inside their cages.

2-3 week old chickens

2-3 week old chickens

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Claudia in front of the chicken coups

As we walked up the hill we encountered that next phase with larger chickens out in a field. The coups were scattered about on the hillside and as you walk you can see the squares where, clearly, the coups had been in the previous days. In addition to seeing the vegetation that had been fertilized with the chicken manure, you can see that recently there had been cattle in the same area because there was the occasional dried cow pattie that the chickens had been eating the grubs out of, essentially eating what, if left alone, would hatch out as large black flies that would be a serious nuisance. The chickens love the grubs and at the same time they are eliminating something that would make the cows very unhappy and possibly sick.

chickens in the coup on the hill

chickens in the coup on the hill

 

So, we continued our walk on up the hill and found the turkeys. They had their own pen and had a turkey tractor so they could also be moved after they had done their bit in making that section of the farm fertile. They also have a roosting shelter.  This pen also has an electric fence to protect them at night so that foxes or other predators don’t come in and get them.

turkeys

turkeys

 

Back down at the farm, we looked in the barn that the laying hens were in and that is where the rabbits are housed in the summer months. The hens were busy in the roosting boxes laying their eggs. The rabbits were in the hutches above the hens

rabbits and hens

rabbits and hens

and according to Claudia, in Joel’s new book, he says he hasn’t really figured out how to add the rabbits into the field scenario but they do have them for their meat.

So before we left, we went in to the shop that they have on the property, where you can purchase the meats that are grown on the farm and Claudia bought us one of the hens from the freezer case and some of the sausages. She bought a souvenir shirt for her hubby and while we were in the shop, Joel came in and she was able to meet him, ask him a few questions and tell him that she had read his latest book. While she was checking out, I managed to get my courage up and go around the side of the building where they were still slaughtering the hens and take a few photos.

I think we had a great day at the farm and got to see some of the techniques that I’m sure, as Joel leaves his farm and drives out to civilization, he wishes he could stop along the way and teach the farmers that he passes, how to better care for the land that they are tending and to better care for our planet as a whole.

 

 

Woodchuck Woman

woodchucks

two woodchucks

Claudia spent the entire summer storing up food and herbs as winter’s rations. Her hard work has paid off and now she gets to reap the rewards. When I spoke with her last Thursday it was 1° above zero and she was telling me about all the layers of clothes that she was wearing at the time. I’m sure that is what got her thinking about feeling like a woodchuck. I just hope that she remembers to come above ground in time for Groundhog Day on February 2nd. If not, she will at least have a wonderful batch of soup to keep her warm for another 6 weeks of bad weather.

Dear Susie,

I’ve been thinking about woodchucks lately, or more accurately, wishing I were one.  It was 1 degree above zero this morning. Here in New Hampshire we are sure to get colder weather before winter is through, but still it made me reluctant to go outside for my morning walk. I waited until the temp climbed to ten to do that.  If I were a woodchuck, right now I’d be slumbering away below ground, protected from the cold by my thick fur coat and generous layer of fat. The fat would feed my body as well as keep me warm until spring, when I would awake nice and svelte and ready to eat as much as I wanted all the long spring and summer. What a life.

Claudia's pantry

Claudia’s pantry

I’m afraid that over the holiday season I have put on quite a generous layer of fat myself,  but I don’t need it because my burrow is filled with plenty of put-up food.

A few days ago I boiled up the ham bone from Christmas Eve supper to make a nice broth and added a jar of tomato sauce, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, green beans, and a handful of herbs to make a nice vegetable soup.  All that I added, either I, or my friends grew.  It feels good to have a pantry full of put-up food, a freezer full of frozen vegetables and fruits, and dried herbs  in jars as well as fresh herbs from plants on the window sills. This may not be as convenient as living off my own fat, but almost.

Claudia's Dried Herbs

Claudia’s Dried Herbs

Like woodchucks I love greens and I have to say that I am envious of your cold frames full of greens. I’m afraid that the lettuce under my heavy-duty row cover has finally turned to iceberg. Next year I hope to perfect the Eliot Coleman double-tunnel system so I can have salad with the soup. If I can do that there will be much less reason to venture far from home to get previsions. I can now add eggs to food we don’t have to go to the store for. The hens from our little urban chicken project are laying enough for me to have half a dozen a week. I’ll write more about that later. For now I am enjoying eating up the last of the Holiday cookies with family and friends here on the 12th day of Christmas. I’ll start on that weight loss program come February. Right now, I’m looking forward to a long woodchuck sleep tonight. If you haven’t heard from me in a week or so you might want to check and see if I’ve gone into hibernation.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

I hope that you are cozy, and have stored up plenty of winter previsions. Remember that sensible animals should be doing plenty of sleeping in winter, just like Badger advises in the Wind in the Willows.

Claudia

Do You Save Your Seeds?

Last week I received my seeds from Johnny’s Select Seeds for the winter greens that I have planted in my cold frames for the past 2 years. I only spent about $20 for the seeds that I purchased for this year. With money a bit tight, I ordered a few of the varieties that I have gotten in the past, but I have also learned that I only really need a few packs to get the frames planted for the winter season so I probably had been wasting money in the past.

A few weeks ago, I started prepping the cold frame beds. Herb turned our compost bin and we put our sifter, which is a stand we built out of scrap wood that has carpenter’s cloth wire screen on top of it, and sifted compost into the empty beds. I turned to soil in each bed and mixed in the fresh compost. This added some fresh nutrients and red worms to the beds so that the plants will have a good start with soft soil.

The zinnias that I used for the flower arrangements at John and Erin’s wedding in July were in these garden beds and were just beautiful but I needed the space for my winter greens. I decided to save those zinnia seeds so that next year I don’t have to purchase those seeds. I pulled out the plants and cut the blossoms and put them in a box to allow them to dry out for a week or two. In the past, when I have saved seeds, I use an office sized envelope, lick and seal the flap and then cut it in half. This gives you a packet for your seeds. Often, a charity will send me a “free gift” of address labels to get me to send a donation to them and I save those labels and found those to be a perfect way to seal the envelopes filled with the seeds and then I use a sharpie and label the pack with the seed name and the date. The seeds are then stored in a cool place ready for next year.

Some additional great resources for you to get info from: