Thursday, January 25, 2018

Growing Corn In An Urban Space

The silks of this ear of corn has been fertilized- they have gone from shiny pale gold to a duller brown.
When you think of growing corn, I'm sure the average person imagines huge fields of tall green stalks waving in the summer breeze, festooned with pollen scattering tassels and golden tufts of corn silk. Even the average home gardener imagines a few rows of corn, or maybe a block of plants in the sunniest corner of their vegetable patch.

Me? I grow corn in a space less than a meter square most years. 

Less than a meter square? You say. That's crazy talk!

I live, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, in a tiny unit in the 'burbs, with a garden space that is maybe 35sqm at most not including the bits I can't plant on, including the footpath and some of the beds that are still filled with gravel. I rely a lot on raised beds and containers to do my growing. I try to be frugal with my garden expenses, so instead of going out to buy "ready to go for you today" pots or beds of corrugated iron, I hunted around and found used brick and concrete blocks to build raised beds, and found people giving away heaps of used plastic tubs, and even, in the case of my three newest planter boxes, went to the discarded pallet pile of an Isuzu dealership and picked up some folding stacking "crates". These new planters were assembled to replace the old wooden planter boxes, which had finally started rotting through and falling apart (after five good years of service, mind you!) and these planters are part of my 2018 corn project. So, let's get down to business!

Tall corn stalks add an interesting
dimension to a container garden
No soil? Make some!
Since the soil in the existing household garden beds was so bad, I spent a good deal of the last seven or so years building up brand new soil through the lasagna composting method- basically, layers of manure, straw and topsoil or compost when I can get it. When I remember to, I add crushed eggshell for calcium, Epsom salts for magnesium and dried seaweed or seaweed emulsion for iodine (Australian soils are notoriously lacking in iodine, an important nutrient for good thyroid health). I also make sure that I have a decent worm population, and try to encourage good microbial life, because all of those things- plenty of organic matter, extra minerals and nutrients, and healthy abundant soil life- are what make the soil the best it can be for your plants. Like us, plants need to have good nutrition to grow properly, and when they are healthy, it means we are benefiting from the nutrients that they have absorbed.

The lasagna method of composting is the easiest and probably the fastest way to build up good soil. I call it lazy gardening- I love it. Just throw your layers down, rake them even, water them well, and walk away. No digging or rototillers required. It all just builds up on the surface, encouraging worms, who then move between the layers and the ground beneath to aerate and turn the lot over and break it down for you. In fact you don't even need ground underneath- one of my raised beds is built entirely upon concrete pavers! The method remains the same though. After a several months or years of this you'll have heaps of great soil to work with, and the best thing is that you can still garden in between applications of your mulches. One of the joys I have found in my gardening journey is seeing how much the improved soil has improved my growing- so if you are the type to journal your experiences, do. It'll show you your progress, which is always immensely satisfying.

Tassels beginning to form.

I talk about all of this, because the first thing you need to know about corn is that it is a heavy feeder- that means it needs a lot of nutrients, as many varieties can grow to be quite large, and they need those nutrients in order to develop properly. You can give it a boost with extra fertilizers if your soil isn't the greatest, but it's easier in the long run if you just take the time to build up good healthy soil in the first place. When I started growing corn, I was putting them directly in the ground before it had seen too many layers of manure and mulch, so the added fertilizer helped a great deal with what was a lack of nitrogen and other key elements. In fact, part of this years project (growing corn in a planter box instead of in the flower bed) was to give me time to amend the flower beds much more thoroughly.

Well, this is unusual. An ear of corn is growing out of the top of this plant
at the same time as the tassels... and appears to be producing kernels!
When and where to plant?

Corn is a summer plant- by that, I mean it will do most of it's important growing over the summer months, and will be ready to harvest sometime in autumn (usually- this depends entirely upon your climate and the length of your seasons, but in Tasmania's cool temperate clime, it's really important to get the timing right). When choosing your location, make sure it has access to a lot of sunlight- too much shade can stunt your plants and affect whether or not they produce. Corn also needs plenty of water, which is another reason why layer gardening is helpful- the organic matter within the layers traps water and helps the bed retain moisture better, which is good for the corn plants. Generally, I try to plant my corn in late spring, after all danger of frost has passed. That advice works for pretty much everywhere.

When starting corn plants, I like to place the seeds in separate pots filled with soil so I can keep track of the germination rates for the varieties I grow. It allows me to judge which varieties are the best and strongest growers. Then, once they have sprouted and form two to three leaves, I plant them out.

What kind of corn?

What type of corn you're growing will be affected by your climate and season length. Check the description of the seed variety you are purchasing, and make sure you know if it's short season or long season. This is important, because if you're trying to grow long season corn in Tasmania without a greenhouse, you will probably be very disappointed. Tassie needs a short season corn. In the past, I have learned that Glass Gem and Mini Blue Popcorn (both popcorn varieties) work well here, as does Painted Mountain Corn (a type of flour corn), along with your usual hybrid and heirloom varieties of sweet corn, such as Golden Bantam or various F1 types. My choice this year is a short season variety called Papa's Red- I am hoping it is successful, as it would mean Tasmania benefits from a new variety of red flour corn that is adapted to our climate, and thus expanding our range of heirloom varieties.

This variety- Papa's Red- has all kind of surprises. Here is an ear of corn that appears to have outgrown it's husk, the protective layer of leaves that normally surrounds a cob of corn.
How do I plant corn for successful pollination?

Now that you know you need excellent soil for good corn growth, you have your ground ready to grow, you have an idea of when and where to plant and most of all, what type of corn to plant, let's talk about rows versus blocks, and how the corn reproduces.

It is helpful to know that corn is wind pollinated- this means that the male flowers (the tassels, found at the top of the corn stalks) release their pollen which is then carried by the breeze to the female flowers (the silks, the golden bundles of thin threads that are located lower down the stalks at the end of the bundle of leaves that will eventually develop into the ear of corn) in order to fertilize the kernels-to-be. The better the pollination, the fuller your ears of corn will be, and when you're growing seed corn like I am, ensuring good pollination is very important. (It also means that corn can cross-pollinate very easily. If you are growing corn and don't want varieties to cross, either grow a single type of corn per year, or grow two varieties that do not tassel at the same time.)

Rows work well if you have a large garden space to work with, and plan on planting several rows (at least three or four). This means there are several plants within reach of each other- it's essentially like planting several small blocks together. However, this isn't always possible if you have a small urban garden. That is where single block planting comes in.

Whatever is happening here, it'll be interesting to see how successful
These kernels will be. As you can see in this photo, they are just
starting to color up.

A block of corn can be anywhere from 9 to 20 plants, it just depends on your space. This year, I had about 32 seedlings come up, but only 20 survived the seedling stage to be planted, and of those, I think about 10 remain (it's a tough life, being a plant). Most garden guides will tell you to plant each corn seedling 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60cm) apart. I simply don't have the room to spare for that much space between plants, so I have learned that you can get away with as little as 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20cm) between the plants. This places them close together which, while it may not encourage them to grow as tall as they might potentially be able to, does a number of things- it keeps them close for good pollination, it helps them support each other in gusting winds (something which Tasmania is prone to receiving in many areas, my garden not excluded), and it saves on space and the resources you need to maintain them (especially when it comes to watering).

The planter box I have mine growing in is about a meter square and stacked three high (altogether, about a meter and bit tall)- maybe a little less than a full square meter, as they are rectangular, rather than properly square. Nevertheless, the corn plants are doing well, and have only needed that first initial application of all round fertilizer to give the seedlings an extra boost (they were looking a little anemic when they finally went into the ground). A bit short, but then, pretty much all of my corn is, and it never seems to stop it from producing well.

Seed corn, drying out on the stalk.
My corn has been in the ground a while and I want to harvest. Now what?There is nothing more exciting about growing your own food than the harvest- it is what you've been waiting impatiently all these weeks for. To pick the ripe produce and add it to your meals is probably one of the most satisfying rewards of gardening. Golden sweet corn, hot and dripping with butter, is enough to make the mouth water- but be sure you harvest at the correct time!

Harvest time depends on what variety you are growing, and for what purpose you plan on growing it for.

Sweet Corn
Sweet corn types are ready to eat when you can peel back some of the green husk and see that the cobs are full of kernels, the kernels are plump and well colored, and the juices, when one kernel is squashed by a thumbnail, run milky white. As my father once told me: "You walk to pick your sweet corn, but run home to cook it". Sweet corn doesn't remain sweet for long as the sugars begin to transform into starches as soon as it's picked, so its best flavor and sweetness will be had if you cook it almost immediately. So harvest wisely and enjoy your sweet corn!

Drying corn inside the house. Dwarf Mini Blue Popcorn pictured.
Popcorn, Flour Corn and Seed Corn
Thankfully these all pretty much fall under the same instruction: be patient. You must leave the cobs on the stalks to dry out completely. If they are mostly dry, but the weather is turning nasty and cold, you can harvest the ears, peel back the husks and braid them together into a rope, which you can then hang to dry in a warm, dry place to finish drying. Generally, I leave it in the airing cupboard and forget about it for a few weeks. By the time I'm looking for something to do in the winter, it'll be ready to shell.

Dwarf Mini Blue Popcorn seeds packaged for sale.
To shell your corn, just remove the husks, grip the cobs between your hands, and twist. The action of your hands rubbing in opposite directions will loosen the seeds. Be sure to do this over a bowl or bucket, or you'll have seeds everywhere! I would advise you to invest in a pair of gardening gloves with the rubberized palms. They will grip the seeds well and protect your hands from blisters, as you do need to apply quite a bit of force to get them to loosen. Once you have shelled all the corn, you can package and store as you see fit. Generally, a cool, dry, dim location is best. Seeds can even be stored in the freezer if you want to preserve them for long term, but for the average gardener growing year to year, a cardboard box in the wash house or garden shed is perfectly suitable.

The leftover dried stalks, the husks, and the empty cobs can all be composted. I like to lay them down over the garden beds as the next layer of organic material. What comes from the earth goes back into it. Pure poetry.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog! I hope I was able to provide you an in-depth look at growing corn in general, and that my experiences have encouraged those of you living in small spaces to try your hand at growing corn as well. If you liked this blog, please comment and share it with your friends, and then hit the "Follow" button so you can get updates of future blogs!

Thank you once again, and may you never lose your love for Living and Learning!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Good Night 2017 ... Good Morning 2018

At the beginning of 2017, I promised to get off the conveyor belt of negativity. I promised that I would devote myself to positive stories, images, projects, people, and most of all my art, and that I wouldn't encourage meanness, cruelty or anything dark or terrible on my personal feeds (both real and online). I promised to love everyone, and for the most part, I did okay in that regard.

I think I was very tired, at the start of 2017. So tired and heart sick at the way humans treat each other. I couldn't bear the thought of having to deal with it, so I essentially took a year long hiatus, choosing not to engage as much as possible. Even my art and writing tapered off after a few months, as I went into coasting mode. I wrote no blogs, I didn't draw as much as I thought I would, I didn't make or sell as much soap as I could have.

Maybe I needed that rest. Maybe it was just my brain telling me subconsciously that I had to step back and detach and reevaluate myself in the face of what was going on. Maybe I really needed a whole year to just... not.

In Nov 2017, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, as I do pretty much every year now. I got a good lump of writing in, and even reached that 50K goal, but it was all somewhat spoiled by my witnessing fellow writers turn on another young writer and bully her right out of the chat room. I was so angered and upset by this that I actually started a new blog to address issues around bullying, sexism, racism and humanity's ills in general. (Check it out: it's called The Soul Of Being Human.)

In Dec 2017 I helped to organize a canned food drive for the local homeless shelter. It was only a small event, done through the Launceston Ladies Social Club, but it got some tinned food together for the charity, and it allowed for some local women to make new friends and visit socially. It helped me meet new people and make some new friends, and in the process of this all happening it rekindled something in my being that I think had been reduced to a smolder for some months.

I realized that I cared, very deeply, about what humanity really is- and what it could be, and what it can do. Most of all, I started asking myself what I could do to help. How can I make a difference? How can I, a lowly, single human in a big world filled with 7 billion others, make any waves in this very large sea? I believe in community and in people being there for each other, physically, emotionally, mentally- but the largest problems were simply too great for me to overcome alone, and I allowed myself, with much self-loathing, to step back and do nothing, and say nothing, because I was too tired to keep up the flow of words that needed to be said.

2018 dawned quietly, accompanied by bird song and a curious bewilderment regarding myself and where I stand in this world.

I actually started writing this post on Jan 1st, but it has taken me days to figure out what to write in the body of the post. It's taken days to find the fire in my heart that I needed to form these words, and fire it definitely is. It's all the passion, anger and frustration that has built up over the last year, that has taken me from a flickering ember to a roaring blaze in just a couple of weeks. It's not an out of control wildfire though- I am learning that this energy can be shaped and directed... and I think I get it now, what I should be doing.

Hello 2018. I am here now.

Help me to tame the flames in my soul, and use them to educate, assist and make a difference to my community. It is only a small world that I live in, so I hope the people I touch with my actions and compassion turn and pass it on to the people in their small world, and so on and so on, until maybe one day the whole planet has been touched and changed for the better.

May my single small stone, cast into the ocean, cause a ripple that touches every shore.

Welcome, 2018.
May we all endeavor to live, learn and love... together.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dear 2017

Dear 2017:

You are still a young year and there's many more months to look forward to and many events, both planned and unforeseen, so I wanted to write and make some promises.

My first promise for 2017: To jump off the endless conveyor of grief, anger, and negativity. I will (try) not to engage in political posting anymore. I will (try) not to engage in other peoples "conveyors". It doesn't mean that I don't care about any of these issues, but it does mean that for my health and sanity, I have chosen to refrain from talking about them. I know the issues and what is at stake, and take the steps I need to be informed, but I will no longer perpetuate the cycle on my social media sites.

My second promise for 2017: To spread all the love, kindness, humor, art, beauty, understanding, and as many positive vibes as I can muster. To hold, support, and uplift as much as I can, and to be as encouraging as I can. I am going to love my spouse, and grow beautiful, wonderful things in my garden, and continue to teach, educate, and empower others to the ways of a self sufficient life. I will do the best that I can to be excellent to everyone.
There are already so many warriors and rebels and resistance fighters out there, that they don't need another to (re)join their ranks. What we really need is healers and empaths and artists, people who can support and love and show the world that the beauty is not gone from it yet, and that it is still totally worth saving.

This year, I am a healer, and an empath, and an artist, and I see beauty and light where others may only see grim darkness.

I see you, and love you all. You are my family. 

Always, always seek to Live, Learn and Love.

Be at peace.

Friday, May 13, 2016

#AtoZ Challenge Reflections

It's been a couple a weeks since I've completed my very first A to Z Blogging Challenge. Can we get a HUGE sigh of a relief? Anyone who knows me and my writing challenges (*cough*nanowrimo*cough*) will know that it takes a lot of the effort and will for me to sit down and stick to a writing project for as long as it takes to complete it (one of the joys of being an adult with ADD)- and let's face it: I was clinging to the edge with my fingertips on this one. 

Now that I've had a breather and a break from writing constantly, I feel up to actually coming back and writing some reflections about my experience.

Firstly... writing is hard. But go me, I guess, for not folding under the pressure. And was there pressure? Yeah, a bit. I didn't want to disappoint myself on yet another failed writing challenge, so I really pushed myself to make it happen. I won that round, so it's all good!

Secondly... I learned a lot. Did anyone else? I know some of my posts were basically fluff, meant to fill space or show pretty pictures, with little meaningful content, but I do genuinely hope I helped someone, somewhere, learn something new. I find lately that my drive to educate others is growing, and it pleases me to no end when my readers comment and interact- it tells me that I'm on the right track to something good. 
Thirdly... this is a rubbish way of counting experiences, isn't it?... Thirdly, the format was strangely appealing. I have ADD after all- a little structure rarely goes amiss in this sort of thing. It allowed me to figure out topics ahead of time, and gave me an outline on which to build, however minimalist. It has even provided me an opening for the next level- perhaps I'll take these blogs and turn them into a book. November is on it way, and it would be a good NaNoWriMo project.

Sometimes I feel like blogging is a huge game of Marco Polo: you sort of splash around blindly and hope you're getting close to your target. Kinda like life too, actually. (Insert awkward laugh.)

Would I do this again? Oh, probably. I can't say "oh yes, definitely", because every year is different, but I would certainly try if I felt it was right for that year. I suppose the hard part would be coming up with new topics for each letter!

Overall, I think I benefited. Learning, and teaching, are never bad things.

Live, Learn and Love, my friends. See you next time.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zero Waste- #AtoZ Challenge

Oh my goodness! It's the final post of the A to Z Challenge! April raced by, and I somehow managed to stick with it. I find the hopeful setting of a goal a good way to wrap up many things in life, so that's what today's blog is: the setting of a goal. 

Z is for Zero Waste.

Zero Waste is pretty much what it sounds like: living a lifestyle that produces no trash. This is a growing movement in a society in which consumerism has reached shocking levels. What with landfills, trash on our beaches, and fish and animals eating plastic and dying, our throw away mentality is damaging the environment and everything in it. While these are all issues to talk about in their own right, I'm not going to do that today. I'm just going to talk about me.

I thought it was finally time I addressed our own waste issue. For a two person household, we produce about 1 bag of trash per week, and that's already with the slight reduction that composting our food scraps provides us. I also reuse glass bottles and jars and their lids,  some plastic items such as take away containers, old ice cream tubs, a few of the sturdier meat trays, etc, and even some of the plastic milk jugs get reused as scoops or self watering plant pots.

So what are were actually throwing away?

Some of the trash is paper products, which I'm ashamed to admit I don't monitor as well I should. Most paper products like tissues, paper towels, news papers and cardboard can be composted, or at very least, used in the garden as weed matting. We get a lot of catalogs for the shops too, but those I am afraid to use in the garden, as I do not know what the inks will do to the soil- they get tossed in the recycle bin instead, as does anything else I have no current use for. I also got ride of a lot of plastic waste by switching from tampons to cloth pads- it was a bit of an adjustment, but I feel good about it- it's better for my body, and I'm no longer spending money on those items, nor am I creating more waste from the packaging.

Some of it is random stuff, like the stickers off of apples (we hate those!), or bones from a roast dinner which got tossed (those should actually be collected and then frozen for later use in bone broth... one more thing to concentrate on, for sure).

Most of it, though, is plastic. Our meat comes wrapped in cling film, on plastic or Styrofoam trays. Cheese is wrapped in plastic, and frozen veg come in plastic bags. Even some fresh veg comes in plastic bags! Carrots for example, are often bagged up, and onions come in a plastic mesh bag, which gets little red bits of plastic everywhere when you cut it open to get the onions out. Potatoes are bagged up in plastic, whether they're prepacked or selected by yours truly. My husband buys bread in bags, and though we recycle them to store other things (meat for the freezer, the block of opened cheese, his work lunches, etc) they still, ultimately, end up in the trash. Even toiletries, like Q-tips, have plastic sticks!

Even as I write this, listing off all the stuff that ends up trashed in this house is rapidly becoming an embarrassing business. Someone who is as interested in permaculture and sustainability as I am should be more careful about her trash output, right?

My goal for the rest of 2016 and onwards is to do my very best to be as zero waste as possible. I will fully admit that this will not be an easy goal to achieve. It will likely be expensive as well, even with my tendency to buy cheap, recycle and reuse

Here are some steps I promise to take in the next few months:

Buy loose fruit and veg. Nothing in plastic bags anymore. I intend to whip up some lightweight produce bags on the sewing machine, so that I can carry things like potatoes (which are dirty) and onions (which we buy a lot of anyway, and which shed their skins) to keep our cloth shopping bags (oh yes, we've been using those for years now) clean.

Make more from scratch. Maybe I can convince my spouse to let me bake him his bread for sandwiches. Perhaps I take the step to make our own treats (like biscuits) or crackers. Little things like that. For instance, I make our own home made mayo, so we have cut out the store bought glass jars, the metal lids, as well as the subpar mayo with questionable ingredients to boot.

Find alternatives. That's going to be the hard part. I could buy milk in glass bottles- it's more expensive though. I could buy meat from local butchers and ask them to place it in containers I brought from home- also expensive (and the stores aren't making it easier- everything is wrapped in plastic these days. They're even phasing out the butchery departments!) On the flip side, I can buy in bulk, which tends to be a little less expensive, but again, there's the bagging issue.

There are things I am interested in doing right now though. For instance, I'm intrigued by the idea of creating waxed cloths to wrap foods in, for the fridge and freezer. I'm also excited to sew up produce bags for us- it'll give me more experience with my new sewing machine. I think it will help to know how previous generations did it too, before the rise of plastic wrapped everything.

Even knowing what I want, though, there is still much for me to think about in the coming months as I get going on my zero waste journey. I want folks to know that every little change might help in the long run, so if you want to join me and start your own zero waste journey, I would love to hear your story.

Thank you for following my blogs on this Challenge, and I hope you hang around and keep reading as I keep writing.

Live. Learn. Love.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yarn- #AtoZChallenege

For the last several years I have been teaching myself many crafts. Among those crafts are crochet and knitting, which of course use yarn. I thought I'd shake things up though, so instead of just researching and spouting textbook information from the internet on a subject I am not overly familiar with (as I only use yarn, I don't produce it!), I thought I'd conduct an interview with a couple friends who either raise fiber animals, spin and dye yarn (or all three!) "Y is for Yarn" will give you an inside look at the "cottage industry" of hand spun fiber craft.

I would like to thank Lindsey Auman at Happy Valley Homestead for sharing her time with me to provide this interview. She lives in Pennsylvania, where she sells her yarn and yarn projects, soaps, animals, and eggs. I've known her since 2011- she is like a sister to me! Check out her page, and see what she has to offer, especially if you live in the US.

I'd also like to thank my friend Dianne Anderson for offering her experience as well. She is a local Tasmanian friend who spins fiber as a hobby, gardens, dances and crafts, and does it all for the love of it!

Baby angora bunnies. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Auman
1. Do you have, or have you raised, animals for fiber?

L: "I raise English and satin Angora rabbits and Shetland sheep. English Angoras produce more fiber, but require much more maintenance than the satin Angoras. Satins produce less fiber, but have more halo an incredible sheen and more intense color. Shetland sheep are small, perfect for a homestead and come in many color and wool varieties. Browns, whites, blacks and everything in between. Their fleeces also come in several varieties, from a shorter, finer and softer single coated variety to a fleece with soft and longer coarser wool in the same fleece to longer, shaggier fleeces. Each fleece style has it's purposes. Single coated soft fleeces can be used for next to skin garments. A variegated fleece is used based on the portions... Typically the coarser hindquarter wool is used for outer garments and socks while the softer wool, closer to the neck can be used for next to skin garments. The shaggier fleeces can be used for outerwear and socks or can be dehaired, by separating the outer guard hairs from the inner, softer wool and spun separately for softer and coarser, longer wearing yarns."D: "No I haven't, although I've spent time with people who do, and learned a bit from them."

This video recorded by Lindsey Auman demonstrates spinning yarn directly off an angora bunny. It is such a peaceful scene!

2. How do you process the fiber so that you can make yarn?

L: "Fiber prep depends on type and personal preference. Any fiber can be spun "raw" without any real prep. Angora, from Angora rabbits, is the most commonly spun straight from the animal without any prep work. It can be spun "in the cloud", prepped similar to other fibers or even straight off of the rabbit. Other fibers, such as wool and alpaca fiber are usually skirted (undesirable sections removed, typically around the hind end and legs), VM (vegetable matter, such as hay or sticks) is picked out as much as possible, and then the fleeces are washed based on the type. Alpaca, llama and Angora goat (called mohair) can all be washed with a lower temperature of water and a mild detergent. Sheep wool is usually washed in hotter water with more detergent to help remove the lanolin. Fleeces tend to require several washes before finally rinsing clean. After drying, you can pick the locks apart by hand, and card (with a drum carder or hand cards) or comb the fleece before spinning." 
D: "It depends on the type of fibre, and how clean it is. Most fibres need some sort of processing, even if it's just a flick of a brush/comb for the most clean...most however require picking, washing, carding or combing, and also if you choose to; dyeing. Washing can involve several stages and a lot of time with fibres like wool, as they may require scouring to reduce the lanolin, and careful temperature treatment so that they don't felt.Whilst each fibre has it's rule of thumb...there is also an element of experimentation for the best way to handle each individual fleece/fibre as it presents. Preparation can vary from minutes to days (even weeks) depending on the project and fibre."

A combination of black English and black satin angora wool,
single strand. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Auman
3. What are your favorite fibers to work with?

L: "
My personal favorite fibers are actually Angora rabbit and Shetland wool. Perhaps I am slightly biased, or perhaps I kept the animals due to my love of their fibers."

D: "Clean, short to medium staple fibres. I'll spin practically anything! I do love soft and smooth fibres like merino, alpaca and flax. I love silk as a fibre, but not so much to spin as I have found it hard to draft in the past...I'm hoping this time around, putting more time into preparation will make it more enjoyable to spin."

Left: English dyed with green, plied with moorit Shetland.
Right: Black satin plied with electric pink merino.
Center: Teal merino and white English, being plied.
Photo courtesy of Lindsey Auman
4. What special properties do your favorite fibers offer?

L: "Angora rabbit is incredibly soft, water and stain resistant, has a stunning halo and has amazing insulation properties. In fact, it's so warm that most people recommend using only 10-15% in a blended yarn, or making small projects. An Angora sweater would be too warm for most every day purposes! Shetland wool, in particular, is my favorite, because of its ease in spinning. It's soft enough to wear next to your skin, yet durable enough for wear and tear. It is warm, and has "memory", which means that it won't stretch loose like the alpaca and Angora will." 

D: "They're all unique. Wool has great thermal properties, as does silk. Alpaca has lovely drape (like silk), whereas different breeds of wool, have varying structure and "spring". The beauty of natural fibres is that they breathe, so are generally nicer to wear than synthetics. They also can be composted, rather than polluting the environment at end of life."

Mulberry silk cocoon sheet, hand painted landscape dye.
Photo courtesy of Dianne Anderson
5. What means do you use to spin fiber into yarn?

L: "
What means? Hmm. Personally, I spin with a double treadle spinning wheel. There are many, many types of wheels, from great big wheels to compact wheels and even electric wheels. Some have specific tasks that they are designed for, but most choose a wheel based on personal preference. There are also drop spindles, which are portable, but not as fast production as the wheels. The drop spindles were invented before wheels." 

D: "I use single and double drive spinning wheels, as well as a drop spindle. Each method and wheel produces different weights of yarn and some suit particular fibres better than others."

Bendigo Woolen Mills pure wool
laps and Kemp semi worsted 2 ply.

Photo courtesy of Dianne Anderson
6. What is plying and what benefit does it provide?

L: "Plying is when you spin yarn back on itself. Say you make a two ply yarn... you would spin both of them in one direction, and then ply them together by twisting them together in the opposite direction. This helps it "catch" and stay together, increasing the strength of the finished yarn. Some yarns can be spun as singles, but I don't have experience with spinning or using them.Different techniques in plying can create different designs in your yarn. Bouccle yarn, coil yarns, etc all produce different yarns." 
D: "Plying is spinning two yarn singles together (or more) It provides greater strength to the yarn, and if you ply different fibres or colours it can create unique effects."

7. Do you dye the yarns you make, and if so, what do you dye them with?

L: "Dyeing... I do dye some of mine. It depends on what look I'm going for. I use professional acid dyes, but there are lots of natural dyes that can be used." 
D: "Sometimes. It's a rabbit hole I've only just entered. To start with I am mostly playing with food acid solar dyes. I plan to get into some natural (non mordant) dyeing soon, and once I am set up, I will probably do more conventional mordanted dyeing."

Bendigo woolen mills alpaca
fill, semi worsted spin 2 ply. Photo courtesy
of Dianne Anderson
8. What is your favorite use for your hand made yarn?

L: "I don't really have a favorite item to make, to be honest. I have made many, many hats, for myself, my children, family, friends and custom orders as well as some for retail sale. They can be pretty easy and thoughtless, which is nice for my attention span. I enjoy weaving as well as knitting, but Angora halo shows up better in knitted projects than it does in woven projects, so what I do depends on the fiber and overall product look I'm after."
D: "LOL I have a reputation for never finishing a project. I'm not really much of a knitter or crocheter, although I can do both. I have great plans, but so far have only finished ...none of them.
I also have a loom, that I plan to get around to one of these days. For now, I just love to spin, and tend to pass the spun yarn to my mum, who is a knitter and more likely to make stuff than I am."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xenophobia- #AtoZ Challenge

Today's blog is going to be short and sweet. It's going to point out world problems, it's going to appeal for humanity, and then it'll be over- but hopefully it plants a seed in other minds and proliferates. Spread the word. The message is important.

X is for Xenophobia. What does xenophobia mean?

Dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.
 Wikipedia has an expanded explanation:
Xenophobia is the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an "uncritical exaltation of another culture" in which a culture is ascribed "an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality"
Sounds painfully familiar, doesn't it? It doesn't seem matter if you're a refugee forced to flee your home, a gay or trans person, a woman, or just someone with a skin color that is considered something other than "white", or a body feature considered other than "normal" (whatever THAT is!) There will always be someone telling you to "go home", someone shouting that you're an abomination, someone threatening to kill you, someone wanting to build a wall to "keep you out", someone trying to abuse you mentally, physically.

I could go on for days about all the unbelievable excrement I see people pour forth, venting their racist, homophobic, bigoted, bullying and misogynistic hatred... but what is the point? I wouldn't be much better than them, then, would I?

If I, the writer behind Living and Learning, could stress one thing to my readers- it would be this:

We are all human

The world- life in general- is terrible and frightening enough already. Why must we fear each other? Why must we torture each other with ridiculous stereotypes, accusations and outright lies? We are all having a hard time- let's not make it worse.

Please. Stop. Look each other in the eye, look past the differences to really see the other person, and say: "You are human, and so am I."

And then share a cup of tea or something.

Live. Learn.
Most of all: LOVE