Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blue Green

Its funny. When you realize you can make a pigment out of something that you don't have in your yard, and that is also not a weed (i.e. you can't just stop along the side of the road and pick it like pokeweed anywhere you like) it kind of makes you go crazy! When we read about Iris dye we started eyeing up everyone's iris plants in their yard... (for the record we have them, but ours are white and don't have any dye to give) "look at those!", "whoa, those are the darkest ones we have seen", "can we drive by at night and pick them?" "do you think they have cameras?!!" In the end I mustered up the guts and went in to the Charlottesville Veterinary Clinic, who had the biggest, darkest purple Irises and just told them what we wanted to do with them and sheepishly asked if I could pick some... people are so nice and so no sneaky flower stealing was necessary... whew. I am posting pics of what we got from that batch... we haven't made anything from the beautiful blue-green ink just yet, so there will have to be a follow up post soon to show what it looks like. In the meantime! Look at these beautiful flowers before we destroyed them!

Big Iris!

 So we boiled the flowers until they lost their coloration (they turn sort of greyish pink) and then added alum to fix the color. At that point the ink turned from purple to dark blue-green. Then we added glycerin and vinegar to stabilize the liquid. More pics of it in action soon. Irises are done and we are grateful that someone let us pick some! 

Here is our garden as of mid-May... its already much bigger now! One of my favorite new things we have growing is German Chamomile. Well its sort of new anyhow, last year Jeremy planted it and it never showed up. The seeds are tiny and herbs can sometimes be really hard to germinate... we were stoked and surprised to find four plants that had decided to come up this year instead! Volunteers! So we transplanted them together into their own little section and they are going wild!  Everyday we get more and more flowers and the fresh chamomile tea is so delicate and wonderful. 

Hope everyone is well and enjoying the beginnings of summer. We will post more updates soon!


It is May 26 and it was 95 degrees today. It has been a mild spring so far, but today was a glimpse of summer. We are hoping this summer is not a scorcher like the last. This week we got everything in the garden including our tomatoes, dyers knotweed sprouts, melons, and pumpkins. We seem to have an ant and aphid problem. They are buddies. Every year it is something else, but we are trying to keep our cool and do the best we can. One thing we have learned is that "you have to let go at some point". You cannot control a drought, you cannot control a groundhog burrowing under your fence, and you certainly cannot control extreme blight, or tornados breaking your cold frames. With gardening you have to let go.  We are learning slowly but surely that "patience is a virtue".  We have had some awesome harvests so far. Checkout the giant leek, the juneberries, raddishes, and the dyers weld drying in the garage.

"who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in god" ~ anonymous

Friday, May 20, 2011

Open Letter to Congressman Hurt: Open Water Drilling in VA

Dear Congressman Hurt,
I am a teacher at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville Virginia and grew up in Virginia Beach, VA. I spent the majority of my childhood fishing, swimming, surfing, in the ocean. Even as a child I knew about the ship yards in Norfolk and the pollution that was being continually created. I have this vivid memory when I was 7 of waiting for the Ferry to go from Waterside to Portsmouth (near the shipyards) and seeing jellyfish swimming in the dark blackish water with pools of rainbow colored patches visible on top of the water. I certainly did not want to swim in that water near waterside. I certainly would not enjoy swimming near New Orleans or the gulf coast of FL due the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill and the risks of swimming in petroleum imbued water. I think drilling off of the coast of VA would open itself to another disaster like the Gulf Oil Spill. The first issue to recognize is that Virginia and North Carolina are hot spots for Hurricanes. These oil-rig platforms are floating structures and very unstable. Turbulent weather can lead to ensuing oil spills and further economic disaster. Virginia and Carolina coastal economies are strongly based on tourism and fishing. Any damage or spills (which are inevitable) will damage the local economy as we have seen in the gulf. Secondly drilling off the coast could pose greater risks to the National Wildlife Refuges off the coast of Virginia and NC. My mother lives next to Backbay Wildlife Refuge. This is the last bastion of untouched coastal nature with rare endangered bird species. These spaces are becoming smaller and more infringed upon with farm run off, litter, and our currently polluted bay waters. Drilling off Virginia’s coast will definitely disrupt these natural habitats. The third issue is the short sightedness of drilling off of the east coast.  The amount of oil in these locations is finite and limited. The amount of money that local economies and car drivers will benefit from this drilling is minimal. The environmental damage from searching, drilling, and from the ensuing oil spills would far outweigh the benefits and would be devastating not only to local fishing and tourist economies, but our environment and the species that make this planet a place to live.  You must remember we cannot live without food (animals and plants) and clean water.  The more we violate these natural spaces the less clean food and water for us.  In your speech to congress you said “we need to help our local economies”.  Not drilling would help our local economies in Virginia.  Another consideration is not supporting and continuing our dependence on 140 year old technology. I think as 21st century humans, we can supersede a gas powered combustion engine. It is time to change. It is time to find a cleaner, safer, and more technologically savvy ways to travel and transport goods. We should be learning from recent natural disasters of our time involving oceans like Katrina, the tsunami in Japan, and the tsunami in Indonesia. This is a sign that nature is much more powerful than humans. It is time to be cautious and change. I urge you Congressman Hurt to change your position on relieving the Drilling Moratorium as the risks of drilling outweigh the benefits. I am sure you will not read this and I will get a form letter back, but thank you for your time and consideration.
Jeremy Taylor

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gone Sugaring...

You might have noticed if you looked at the Hairy Vetch bloom up close that there were aphids crawling on my hands... Some of our weeds, including Vetch and Henbit, harbor aphids. Our alleyway is full of Hairy Vetch and there were ants all over the place, and later we discovered aphids. Ants and Aphids have a weird mutualistic relationship see here:

We are organic gardeners, we don't use any chemicals or unnatural fertilizers. A lot of the times when we have a pest show up in our garden we hand-pick them off of our plants (which is upsetting and gross to be perfectly honest) but some pests, like aphids and fire ants, are too small for that to be practical. So we use neem, oil soap spray, or diatomaceous earth.  Diatomaceous earth, also known as DE, is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. It looks like an off-white powder but it is actually hundreds of thousands of sharp little shards. These microscopic shards can't hurt humans or animals, but they can wreak havoc garden pests. DE is certified safe for organic gardening... which has its secret, brutal bug massacring points. Ugh. 

Here is a picture of me applying the d.e. powder in an attempt to save our young tomato plants and our lettuce from the aphid infestation that has already begun. Pest control is my least favorite part of gardening! 

Invasion of the Vetch Heads

Allyson's semester is finally over! She is finishing up some grading and doing her annual report. We are really excited that she is finally getting a real summer break! YAY! We are looking ahead not behind for certain. We acknowledge that this year has had a few bumps in the road but we are using this summer to  take time to recuperate, branch out, spend time with family and friends, spend time in nature, and finish a final draft of our long awaited book.

Today we noticed that "hairy vetch" a plant related to the pea is infiltrating our alleyway behind the fence. We noticed earlier that there were some plants seeded in the garden.  Recently we read in a dye book that you could get a "yellow green" from the purple flowers of the vetch. So today we collected about 4oz of vetch and turned it into an ink. It is probably a highly fugative and not light stable ink. It is a pretty green color, different than most green inks we have seen in the vegetable realm. We both agree that the Nettles and Irises produces a nicer "plant based" green and they are a little more lightfast. We also planted most of our cover seed and flowers today. We are really excited about the end of spring and the beginning of summer! Again we have some awesome things happening in the garden and new projects with our book.  Exciting Times!!! We will keep everyone updated as things start to grow and projects start to unfold.