Back Forty Update

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Greensboro Permaculture Guild seed swap and met a young man who I have hired to prepare a circular bed for me to plant in this summer. He is well versed in permaculture and observed all the right things in the Back Forty. I feel lucky to have found him so it looks like I might not hurt myself getting my garden prepared this spring. I am a little obsessed with getting out of debt and getting my emergency savings back up to six months of salary but I’m not giving up travel and this seems well worth the expense.

Hopefully if it all goes well I will hire him occasionally throughout the year to help with the tasks that tend to take me down physically.

Starting tomatoes, peppers, leeks and borage

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Our weather is still wacky here as it seems to be everywhere. I guess this is the new normal and the swings will continue to get worse. I started broccoli, Roma tomatoes, sweet banana and Carolina Wonder peppers, borage, and leeks inside, then moved them out to the greenhouse when it was warm. Yesterday I brought it everything but the broccoli since it froze last night. I heard that it snowed but I was asleep.

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We decided that it is time for the large silver maple close to the house to come down. It is leaning toward the house and it has woodpecker damage. The arborist that trimmed it out the last time it dropped some big limbs and did some damage said that it might need to come down in a few years. However, we live in a historic district so I have to get a certificate of appropriateness from city staff to cut it down. I applied this past week.

woodpecker holes in our old silver maple

If we do this, the Back Forty should get more afternoon sunlight and I’ll get some wood chips for mulch.

I saw two red bellied woodpeckers at work on the pecan tree next door this morning. Their name is all wrong because their heads are red, not their bellies. The seckel pear that I thought had died last year has strangely come back to life on just the bottom half. Justin will help me cut off the dead top half. It may be that I’ll need to cut it down too if it is diseased.

pineberries and peas, wire to deter the groundhog

peas in an old whiskey barrel planter

Many of the peas survived the woodchuck and squirrels digging in the raised bed and planters, but I have not seen any sign of life from the asparagus crowns I transplanted from the Wharton St. garden or the potatoes I planted a month ago. Foxgloves and black-eyed Susans are coming up in the space that will be re-activated and I’m going to move some of them to the front. The pineberries have survived and are blooming. I covered the bed in wire fencing to save it from the woodchuck.

I’m going to try to trap him soon. My neighbor has a hav-a-heart trap. We both tried to trap him last year with no success.

Alchemist’s Apron project

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Last weekend Sandy and I went to Lake Waccamaw and I gathered materials to dye my project for India Flint’s online class, “The Alchemist’s Apron.” I’ve experimented with natural dyes down there before without a whole lot of luck. This time, using a good mordant and bundling the plant materials directly in contact with the cloth did the trick.

In this project we cut apart a shirt in a particular way to make an apron. This is a lightweight denim shirt that Sandy discarded a long time ago. I saved it, paint stains and all. I have a few other white thrift store shirts that I could use, but I wanted to experiment on this one first. Blue is my favorite color, unless you bring up any of my other favorite colors, like orange, purple, yellow, brown, black, red, and green.

I made a mordant from iron scraps, white vinegar and water in a pickle bucket that is safe to use but turned out to be almost scary powerful. The chemical reaction creates a billowing orange foam much like the toupee on Dear Leader’s head. I have a lifetime supply of iron mordant now because I have to dilute it so much. This mordant developed over about eight days.

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Even after diluting it with rain water it had a weird metallic sheen on top which cracked when touched. I ended up straining it through a piece of thick cloth to get out most of the rust, poured in hot tap water to dilute it more, and even then I got a lot of brown/orange color on the shirt. I soaked the shirt for two days and a half in this mordant solution.

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Then I bundled it tightly with swamp bay leaves, common privet leaves, red tip photinia leaves, dried live oak leaves, dried bald cypress needles, dried sweet gum leaves and balls, and some dark blue berries that could have been from the swamp bay or Chinese privet. They were growing beside each other and I identified the Chinese privet after dyeing, which was a no-no. The leaves and berries of Chinese privet are toxic to ingest. My guess is that they are not dangerous to the skin since I saw nothing that mentioned it and this will be going on over other clothes. I cleaned up all the berries and washed the apron well. Also, I could be wrong on the ID.

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The swamp bay leaves smelled heavenly in the dye bath. Some leaves didn’t leave a print but made a negative print where they blocked the dye from the leaves on top on them (a resist) and had a black edge around them. Looking at it today, I wonder if the black leaf prints are actually the dried live oak leaves and the leaf prints with the black edges are the swamp bay leaves. Unwrapping these bundles is such a joy – you just don’t know what you will get. I knew that it would be mostly black prints because of the mordant and the tannins, but that was about it.

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Here it is after rinsing it in the bathtub. It has since been washed and dried and lost none of its color. I’m pleased,, because early spring is not the best season to do natural dyeing.

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The next step in the class is to dye threads for stitching and sewing on pockets. Many pockets. I needed some more thread dyed with broom sedge to finish an old project anyway and I saw some down the street on the old train tracks, so I’m going down there to gather it now. It makes a lovely yellow.

I also stuffed a garbage bag full of Spanish moss that covered some tree branches piled on the side of the road for pickup. That will be mulch for my container garden. The birdies love to line their nests with it too. I’m sure that conservative crowd living at the lake thinks I’m bananas walking along the canal road, plucking up Spanish moss and leaves and branches from their yard trash piles, wild graying hair, braless, and no make-up, with my Bernie 2016 bumper sticker on my car in the yard. Ha!

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Saturday morning coffee pot post

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I’ve been in my busiest time at work in the last two weeks, leaving me little desire to get on my laptop at home. I need to do taxes this weekend, I have sworn to myself that I will get the taxes done this weekend, I WILL GET THE TAXES DONE THIS WEEKEND. I will do it today.

Much thought has gone into how I can make my art a sustainable practice. I ditched the tapestry diary for over a week now. This studio is much too crowded. Past experience finally whispered in my ear and asked, “What are you doing right now just because you feel like you should be doing it, and what are you doing that you enjoy? What is it that you think you want to do, but when you do it you feel unhappy about the reality of doing it? What is it about that activity that bugs you?”

I put aside the idea of making any money from my artwork a few years ago. That by itself made a huge difference. It wasn’t doing anything to sustain me financially and my artwork suffered for it. At best, the money I made covered my membership fee in the co-op I exhibited in and bought a few art supplies. But now, I have an extensive palette of tapestry yarn, a huge stash of fabric and recycled garments, my mother’s thread and sewing supplies and paints and inks and plenty of paper and bookboard for bookmaking. My main focus has been to reuse and recycle what I have instead of buying anything unnecessary, and even though I have broken that vow three times this year, it’s been for small things.

So I got down to thinking about the answers to those questions. I am not enjoying the tapestry diary any more. But I made the rules for it, so I get to change or ditch them altogether. Nobody is making me do this. It is an obligation I set for myself. Some would call it discipline. I’m calling it a pain in my ass right now and setting it aside.

I am enjoying stitching the projects for India Flint’s class the most I have enjoyed anything for a long time. Sewing is very satisfying to me. Jude Hill is starting another online class soon and I’ll participate in that. However, I have to be aware of my physical problems because the pain usually shows up after the activity that causes it. I’d like to get back to sewing my patchwork t-shirt blanket too. That won’t be so hard on my arms and hands, but I need to make room in here and set up a design board.

I want to set up my Macomber loom for that double weave rug project. The warp is measured and chained. Again, I need to make room in the studio because I have boxes stacked around it.

Finally, “what is it that you think you want to do, but when you do it you feel unhappy about the reality of doing it? What is it about that activity that bugs you?”

This same question came up when I was doing ceramics. I loved the idea of doing ceramics, but finally I had to admit that having my hands in the clay for hours drove me crazy. Same with paint – I can only tolerate so much before my OCD kicks in. Collage is intellectually fascinating to me, and I love doing it to a certain extent, but I fucking HATE GLUE, and that is a problem. Fiber and fabric art, for the most part, present me with little to set off my anxiety about sticky and difficult messes. My head says, “you should have no problem with this. What’s wrong with you?” But that is not the kind of inner criticism I need right now.

So the solution that I see is that I am going to get rid of my collage stash. I’ll keep the handmade paper because I enjoy that activity. But the boxes of travel materials, maps, old music books, dictionaries…to Reconsidered Goods they will go. I’ll have a bit more room to maneuver in the studio and if I want to do collage I’d do it with fabric. If any of my local friends want to come by the house and get some of this, you are welcome to do so. Just do it soon, okay?

I will feel better once this hoard is gone. I know that I will.

There will be another post about my current project. I have a lot more to write about. AFTER I DO THE TAXES. Which I will do. I will do the taxes TODAY. In the meantime, here are some photos from the front shade garden.

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Sunday morning coffee pot post

This is how it happens. I think this is why it happens. My mind says, “You have to do this! You should do this! You’re a terrible person if you don’t do this!”

I start to do it and my body says, “Yeah, baby, I’m shutting this down right now since you didn’t listen to my advice when I suggested that you stop.”

So not only did I miss the march yesterday, I ended up with a headache that prevented me from doing any artwork, which was part of the reason WHY I didn’t want to go to the march. The rest of the reason is that sometimes I just have to have a day with solitude. No music, no talking, no noise, no expectations. My energy reserve ran out when I went to Deep Roots for the Taste Fair, and I came home and went to bed.

Of course, the simplest reason is spring allergies. So I took an Allegra and drank elderberry tea with honey, washed out my sinuses with a neti pot. Then I sat on the sofa and did some simple stitching.

All night long I woke up with numb hands. ARGH.

Really, at this point, what the hell? So I’ll set up this free-standing frame I purchased back when my hands were really bad to hold my fabric when I stitch. I have a new chiropractor who I’ll see on April 17, and will try to get a massage appointment with Tonya, who fixed me before but made me cry.

The other bad news came this morning. I stepped out back to take another before photo of the Back Forty. As I turned to come inside, I saw him run across the yard and under that white building. When I looked at the photo and expanded it, there he is, on the left near the back.

Yup. It’s back. Now I know who pooped in the pea bed.

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woodchuck

Now the friggin’ church bells across the street are playing “The Old Rugged Cross” which always reminds me of my mother. They play hymns twice a day during the week and more on Sundays.

I’m in a dark place right now so I’d appreciate any positive vibes sent my way. As long as they are not “thoughts and prayers.”

Saturday morning WHEW thank God post

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I’ve been living for the weekend lately.

Here’s my newest obsession – taking online instruction from India Flint. Her first foray into a structured online class just began this past week: The Alchemist’s Apron. (By the way, that price is in Australian dollars and the exchange rate for US dollars makes it much lower.) Stitching has saved my sanity lately – honestly my work should not be this stressful. It’s the best job I ever had but bad ju-ju from anxiety and frustration is contagious for me.

The weather has been pretty whack, just as it has been almost everywhere else in the US and Europe. It’s hard to know what to do with the temps going up and down the way they have. It snowed earlier this week and was predicted to snow again this weekend, but I think that the forecast has changed. We haven’t gotten enough sun to really warm up the soil and the greenhouse. I spent some time yesterday evening and this morning filling an egg carton and peat cups that I found in the back building with seed starting mix and water. They need to absorb a lot of water before I use them. My garden usually gets a late start compared to others in the area anyway. I started a few broccoli seeds and will figure out a place to begin tomatoes and peppers inside. There are few sunny spots in my house.

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Some critter left a rather large dump in my raised bed, and I wonder if it was a raccoon. After shoveling it out I covered the bed in wire fencing. That will not make the husband happy. He does not like my gardening methods, but organic gardening can’t always be pretty, especially if you don’t have the room to sacrifice some of it to the critters. I’m just praying that the woodchuck will not come back this year.

I went to the Greensboro Permaculture Guild seed swap on Tuesday night but wasn’t feeling great and didn’t stay long. Great group of people, though, and someone brought some warm freshly baked bread that was so good I wanted to snatch it and run away and gobble it all down by myself. However I resisted that wild urge and helped myself to a variety of beans, including Jacob’s Cattle and cannellini beans. I shared some of my Whippoorwill and Dixie Lee field peas that I have saved over the years. The Whippoorwill field peas originally came from Monticello.

There I met a young man and his daughter who I am going to call later this weekend and arrange to hire him to help me prepare a couple of planting beds for the summer.

Deep Roots Market is having their Taste Fair this afternoon from 12-4 which is unfortunate timing since today is also the day for the March for Our Lives. Greensboro’s march and rally is from 2-6 p.m. I will show up for part of it but I need desperately need art time.

I have filled a pickle bucket with iron scraps and vinegar and water to make a mordant for natural dyeing the shirt I will transform into the apron for India’s class this week. It was supposed to be in a big glass jar but most of my rusty bits were too big for the jar. It’s been a long time since I’ve attempted any natural dyeing because of my upper body problems. The exciting thing that happened is that I finally found my stash of naturally dyed cloth in the bottom of a hamper this morning. Most of it is silk though, and will probably be saved for something else.

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My mood has been as whack as the weather and my tapestry diary this past week shows it. I’m kind of bored with it and I wonder if I will have the willpower to push through that and finish it. Some stitching will make me much happier today.