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

Cold Frame Gardening

Visiting the Pacific Northwest and seeing how Seattle is such a wonderful place for fresh vegetables and organic foods and composting and recycling and rain

Grapefruit sized Onions at Ballard Market, Seattle

gardens, (it has been sunny all week, BTW) I thought I would put a new link to my old “how-to” for building a cold frame so that you can grow winter greens and veggies. I have changed the host of my blog since the first posting of it and I think it lost some of the information that had been on there the first time around. Anyway, here is the link for the cold frame guide when I built my frames… I’ll go back next week and try and get my own replanted and the winter greens started in my own backyard. In the meantime, from Seattle, here is a little gardening inspiration for you.

Garden Bottle Stakes

Last weekend I went to meet John’s fiance’, Erin’s parents in Mt. Airy, NC. Yes, that is the town that makes it’s claim to Mayberry and Andy Griffith. In fact, when you go into the town proper the theme music to the show can be heard as you walk the streets. It is really a fun place to visit. But my visit was focused on meeting the family, which I absolutely loved, and talk about where to put things at the wedding.

Erin has always wanted to get married in her parents yard and, after the visit, I certainly see why. The landscaping and the yard and setting will be perfect for a small wedding and a fun party afterwards. There won’t be much need to do a lot of decorating because the yard is just so pretty but, there is a simple path that Erin will walk with her dad to get to the front yard. Alison, Erin’s mom, showed me a photo of an idea that she had seen in a catalog that she thought would dress up the path and add some color to the backdrop of greenery. So this post is to show you what I have come up with and to show you how that you can make your own wine bottle flower vases for a party or just to add some interest to a part of your yard that you want to add some color.

at west end bottle vase @ $40 each, YIKES

The photo here shows the vases from the catalog that Alison showed me. And at $40 a piece for 6 of these it would be really silly to spend that much money on such a simple idea. By the time you add shipping and tax to this you are looking at about $300. YIKES! I just can’t imagine spending this for these.

Last year we had some really strong winds and when that happens there is usually trees and branches that get broken or dislodged from the area. Our neighbors below us had a crepe myrtle bush that was almost destroyed and the branches from that enormous bush have been in the alley way between the houses since then. I simply put some of those branches to use. This project cost a total of $12.75 and will make use of old bottles and will keep some brush out of the landfill. Every little bit helps, right?

What you will need...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this project you will need:

  • old branches or twigs, you could use bamboo, I suppose if you have access to some of that. I used old crepe myrtle branches that were fairly dried out and brittle but were of good size and were strong.
  • a saw for cutting your branches to length
  • some stainless steel rods. I bought 6- 36″ rods and cut them in half to 18″ with a hack saw for 12 finished pieces. ( I only made 8 though)
  • some twine or sisal
  • some cable ties
  • a utility knife to cut the twine
  • and some old bottles, I used beer, root beer and wine

stack of branches

 

The first thing I did was to go through the stack of brush and discard the really badly crooked ones and look for straight ones or ones with character. Then I cut them to about a 4 foot length. They are all a bit different but that adds to the overall look.

Then I cut the bottom of the branches so that they were flat to the ground. I cut the rods in half and took the cable ties and attached the rod to the bottom of the branch leaving about 9 inches below the bottom of the branch and attaching about 9 inches to the bottom of the branch. The cable tie will help to stabilize the bottom so that you can tie the upper part of the rod with the twine. You will have a cable tie at the bottom of the branch, but it will be in the grass and closer to the top of the rod you will have the twine. The branch can slide up and down on the rod but you want it to be fairly tight.

To attach the bottle. I used two pieces of twine that were about 36″ in length and wrapped one around the bottom perimeter of the bottle and one around the top perimeter of the bottle. Tying the twine as tight as you possibly can the bottle will be sturdy against the branch.

bottom with rod attached

Stand your bottle stake upright and take it out into the yard and, with a hammer, tap the rod into the ground. Make sure that everything is upright and sturdy, fill your bottle with water and add the flowers of your choice. I used the flowers that were blooming in my yard.

I think these will work nicely against the shrubbery at Alison’s house and will add some color to the path as folks take their seats and give some floral decoration to the walkway that Erin and her dad walk in on.

Another option would be to paint the branches white… I might end up doing that, but for now I think the natural look works well, given the setting.

root beer bottle with flowers

 

 

three bottles with flowers

 

group of bottle stakes

Water Usage…

 

 

 

My oldest son was home for a visit back in April. They moved to Seattle last November after their October wedding. They love Seattle and I am hoping to see their new home this summer when I take a trip there myself. The story that my son told that I thought was fun about their new home, other than Seattle being an incredibly “green” city, was that his new bride had embraced this green-ness by competing against the other residents in their apartment building with overall water usage. The funny part of this is that the other residence weren’t aware they were in a contest. Thomas and Bell live in a building that houses about six apartments that all share a garage like space on the bottom level for their cars etc. Each apartment’s water meter is also in this garage and as they would come into the garage, Belle would look at each apartment’s numbers on their perspective meters. She was trying to gauge how much water they were using in comparison to her neighbors. When she realized that the numbers didn’t reset at the beginning of the month, she kind of gave up because it would mean that she would have to set up a spread sheet and do a daily check of the numbers to see if they were ahead or behind. I just got a kick out of this story and the competitiveness of my new daughter-in-law.

Belle came to visit this week and I brought up this story and we laughed about it. She then said that I would be disappointed with how she washed dishes after I shared how I had noticed other people’s dish washing habits. I’m now wondering how this trend has come about and if people even think about their water usage in terms of what is going to save them the most. The way I look at it, every drop that comes out of my faucet is paid for by me and I want to make that money count with every drop. So, I thought I would share how I try and conserve water in my house and see if I can get any of you to help all of us to save even more water.

This trend that I spoke of to Belle, and which she confessed to doing, is washing dishes with the faucet running the entire time, no stopper in the sink and a continual stream of water going down the drain. I have witnessed this on many occasions, mainly with my kid’s generation.

When I was growing up, you would clean out the sink, and add the stopper and then fill the sink with your hot dish water and soap. Your companion sink, either to the right or left, depending on how your set up is, is filled with hot rinse water. As you wash your dishes you then dunk them into the hot rinse water and stack them into a dish drainer. NO additional running water. I would estimate that you probably are using about 3 gallons of water total. Two for the washing and maybe a gallon for the rinse.

In times of drought here in Virginia, I have used a plastic dish pan in the sink to wash the dishes in and rinse the dish above that dish pan of wash water capturing ALL the water and then that water in used to put on the garden in the evening to help keep a plant alive during those dry spells. I believe this is probably the best way to truly salvage all the water and not let any of it go down the drain.

I’m told that using the dishwasher is absolutely the best solution because it uses the water in the most efficient way. However, I see people washing their dishes in the running water method BEFORE they then load them into the dishwasher. While most dishwashers, mine does, should be able to handle the dirty dish without even rinsing off the foodstuff, I understand that some don’t and the dishes may need a little help before they go into the dishwasher but I believe that you could probably get away with a good scraping with a rubber spatula into the compost or trash instead of involving any water at all. I worked at a YWCA camp one year in college and each table had a rubber spatula that the kids were required to “squeegee” their plate before stacking them up, eliminating the extra pre-washing before loading them into the commercial dishwasher in the kitchen area.

I use a lot of water conservation techniques in my pottery too. I have a dishtub in the utility sink in our basement and try at all costs to avoid any of my chemicals going down the drain. That dish pan gets really full of waste water and maybe gets dumped out into my grass once a month. That same water is used to wash out brushes, containers, glaze buckets and even rinsing off my hands before I finish for the day.

Drinking Water Brochure Outside

Drinking Water Brochure Inside

 

This topic could obviously be a completely new post due to all the chemicals that get flushed down the drain daily and end up in our watersheds.

My hope is that you will share your dishwashing techniques with me and help others to think more about their water usage and maybe even get into the competitive spirit of my sweet daughter-in-law, who is having fun trying to save the planet in her small way in Seattle. Good luck Belle and I hope you can figure out a way to get your neighbors involved in your game! I really love the spirit of this idea!