Thursday, July 15, 2010

Greenest Greens

a view of our row-crops, soy beans, green beans, and millet which is about to get cut down for a late summer planting!

hiding/pruning the tomato plants


Safflower being grown for pigment! (also known as 'bastard saffron'. It is valuable as a dye, mock spice, healthy oil, and important element in chinese medicine.

I am posting this one for my Mom, who wanted to see our 3ft tall giant marigolds. I thing we gave them too much organic fertilizer! They are a fragrant variety so its really rad to have them around, they smell really good to me and really bad to bugs. They also produce a yellow dye for fibers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We have been spending lots of time working at the JMU woodshop and at home on our various wood projects, including Jeremy's chambered paulownia fish surfboard and my new wood sculptures. They are both long winded but rewarding projects. Here is a little peek at the dust we have been kicking up!

This is the board half-glued. The strips of paulownia have to be glued on one by one. Its going to be rad!

Bass wood. Half-way done!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Woad & Weld

This year we have been growing Woad & Weld for pigments. Last week we made our first attempt at processing pigment from a plant to moderate success. I am going to post some pictures from our Woad processing. Woad is also known as "Isatis Tinctoria" or "Dyers Woad". The dye chemical in Woad is the same  chemical that makes the blue color in true indigo, but in a smaller concentration. Woad is in the same plant family as cabbage and mustard greens and grows much better here in Virginia than true indigo, a tropical plant, would.
Here is our pigment plot pre harvesting. The Woad plant we harvested is on the bottom left.

Cutting the leaves, much in the same way we harvest kale or other greens. We needed a plastic grocery bag full and we had exactly that. 

The Woad needed to be washed well, first in the sink and then dipped in a bucket to make sure that as much dirt/sediment was removed as possible (so it would not be confused with the pigment sediment later).

You can see the blue in the leaves before processing! Now we just have to get that stuff out of there!

Sparing all of the details for this post, the woad has to be brought up to a specific temperature (see the candy thermometer in there?!) and kept there for 10 minutes. After that it must be iced in a bath to cool it down quickly (about 50 degrees in 5 minutes!). Once you reach the correct temperature the soda ash is added and the blue is created. If you add the soda ash when it is too hot you will destroy your blue.  After this we got to aerate the bath with a mixer for ten minutes and watch it foam up bright green and then blue and back to green again. This was pretty exciting. 

Once you have your liquid you pour it in jars and let the sediment settle down. Then every two hours or so you syphon out as much water as possible without disturbing the sediment on the bottom until you end up with one combined jar. Then you syphon some more! Then you add clear water and guess what... you syphon more again... until you have clear water over blue sediment. This is the pigment. 
This is a brief description, the actual directions are much more technical. The directions we got said not to be discouraged if the first go was more of a grey blue, which is what our is. It probably means our plants need more nitrogen so we will fertilize more and hopefully the fall batch will be "blue-er". One curious thing is that our waste bath where we put everything we syphoned off had a bright blue streak in it when I poured it out! To be honest, we were kind of "blue" about that. (Sorry couldn't resist!)  But seriously, where did that blue come from??!! Research research. We will post more serious directions once we have this thing down pat. Until then, behold our sediment... 

After many hours of syphoning liquid with a turkey baster this was disproportionately exciting. 

We also harvested our Weld, which yields a historical yellow pigment. Here is the plant in all of its glory:

It was all sprawly and attracted bees and flea beetles....

and then we cut it down! In this hot weather it dried to a crisp in less than two days. We will post more on this one once we process the pigment.

Oh Jeremy

So I got one of my birthday/anniversary presents early this year because J knew I would need it as I get ready for my Cinders show. I have coveted this big beautiful sketchbook for nearly a year & here it is:
Its hard to tell from the picture, but this thing is almost two inches thick, kind of like an old textbook. I love it!!! And its just in time for me finishing up the beautiful sketchbook he made me (still my fave).

I am working diligently on "An Unearthly Child" which opens at Cinders in September... Heres a few previews...

"Eventually You Get Used To It"

"Parasite Planet"

Hot Hot Hot & Pickles Too!

Well, if you live in the Mid-Atlantic region of the USA you already know that it has been ridiculously hot here for the last two weeks. We have had to water the garden up to 3 times a day just to keep things from scorching to dust! Alas, it is July and good good things are happening in the garden like cucumbers, sunflowers, peppers, our first eggplant, strawberries, and TOMATOES! I don't think we are going to have a huge yield of tomatoes this year because the heat has stunted them so, they are usually twice as tall as they are by now, but the SunGold & Eva Purple Ball varieties that we grew this year are really tasty! We have eaten only a few but there are a lot of blushing fruits out there and I cannot wait until we can eat them all up! Here is a photo of those little buddies first:
The lighter colored cherry tomatoes are the SunGold variety, the smaller ones are Matt's Wild Cherry which are just okay, and the big one is Eva Purple Ball which is fantastic.

Cucumbers are always too productive for our household so we end up sharing a lot of them. This year all of our neighbors ALSO have lots of cukes so I started looking for pickle recipes. We don't have the full canning set up or the $$ to get it so I looked into making refrigerator pickles. Wow, there are a lot of folks who are super into this stuff and lots of different recipes to try. I chose one that had coriander and dill in it since both are also growing in our garden. These pickles sit in the fridge for a week and then you can eat them - after that they are good for about 2 months. And you have to shake them everyday which is kind of like a herby-snowglobe. 

I still have a few more  days to wait ! I will report on their delicious or "non" delicious status soon.

For the last few years we have grown our large garden with the intent of feeding ourselves, and sharing, but also for sharing with people that are outside of immediate friends & neighbors. Our local food hub has a program where you can plant a row for the hungry, or just drop off donations for local shelters & soup kitchens. This is not something we really talk about a lot on here but I thought it might be good to point out to all of you gardeners out there that you can make donations, even one time donations, that will feed a lot of people and make sure that your extra food does not go to waste. Here is a picture of our last donation:

This is approximately. 9.75lbs of green beans! 

A few more garden things:

Look at this guy! We love our red cabbages! Here they are all cleaned up and shiny:

As you can see, while our cabbage is doing alright, the grass is dying.

Hope everyone is having fun outside, drinking plenty of water, and eating lots of fun stuff from their gardens, or from their neighbor's gardens! 
More soon!