Thursday, March 14, 2013

Birdseed Bag Sit-Upon

My crocus and earliest daffodils are up and blooming. Fall-planted garlic and shallots are up and growing in the garden, and just received a top-dressing sprinkle of bonemeal and a light mulch of shredded leaves from last year. The soil in the rest of the Early garden bed has been composted and raked smooth, now being watered to bring up the weed seeds for a final cultivating before planting later this month. It's starting to look like Spring is on its way!

But there's still a lot of snow in the higher elevations, just 10 minutes drive away. And that means there's still a lot of snow fun - snowshoeing and cross-country skiing - to be enjoyed. When on an outing in the snow, it's important to have some kind of waterproof seating for lunch and break times; preferably lightweight, easy to fit in or strapped onto your daypack, and with a bit of insulating thickness to it. Harking back to my Girl Scout days, I decided to make a sit-upon.

For those of you who weren't Girl Scouts, making a sit-upon is a traditional camping project. They're made by weaving strips of newspaper into a padded square, then enclosing in an envelope of vinyl tablecloth or other waterproof fabric, to sit upon round the campfire. I decided to skip the waterproofing layer, and just make my woven pad out of waterproof material.

I have a few wintertime bird feeders hanging in a pine tree outside my picture window. I love watching the variety of birds in our area, so even though it's quite expensive these days I find buying birdseed a worthwhile expenditure. It now comes in woven plasticized bags, that I couldn't see just throwing away, so I've saved them in the bottom of the birdseed cans until now. They'd be perfect recycled into a woven sit-upon.

Working outside on the deck, to keep the little fluff bits of seed hulls out of the house, I cut the bags to open them out flat. With careful measuring, I could get three 12" x 25" sections from each 40-pound bag, or one plus a scant second one from the 20-pounders. By creasing each section lengthwise, opening it up and folding each long edge to the center crease, and then folding the center crease to enclose the cut ends (like bi-fold seam binding), I made 3" x 25" strips, each four layers thick with all cut edges enclosed, and clipped each one with a clothespin to keep them from blowing off my table.

Traditional GS sit-upons are 4 strips by 4 strips, making a 12" square that can be folded down to a 6" square. But my sit-upon-er is a bit bigger than a 10-year old girl's (besides, I'm also wearing multiple layers out in the cold) , so I made my sit-upon 5 strips by 5 strips - using 10 pieces total. Weave the strips together, trying to keep them pretty much centered in regards to the crosswise strips. They're a bit slippery, so I used the clothespins to keep them from sliding too far out of alignment while weaving them together.

Once all the strips are in place, more or less, start with the center and middle strips. Measuring to make sure they're centered, fold an end up over the edge of the cross-wise strip and tuck it snugly back underneath the strip you just folded it over. Spin the square around, push the strips together tight, and repeat on the other edge. When all of the bottom strips are folded up and tucked in, flip the pad over and do the same on the other side, all the while making sure all the strips are tucked up tight against each other.

 For the corner strips, I folded them over but instead of tucking them back under the strip they'd just been folded over I tucked them under the edge of the next, adjacent, strip as I folded it up and tucked it in.

When all the strips are tucked in tight, you have a woven pad that holds itself together, and weighs practically nothing. I fold mine down into a 9"square and slide it down into my daypack between my water bladder sleeve and the rest of the pack contents. It works great! Snow gets into the weave if I spin around while sitting on it, but it's easy to shake out and wipe dry. I'm thinking this also will make a good garden kneeling pad, and probably make it into my summertime camping gear as well.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Crocheted Vintage Diamond Potholders

I like to have something to keep my hands busy in the evenings, especially in the winter. We heat with a woodstove in the living room, which leaves the rest of the house a bit cool. So we're just like in the days of yesteryear, when families had to gather 'round the fire. My husband watches tv while the pets stretch out on the rug with their bellies to the warmth. Sometimes, I'm totally uninterested in what Aries is watching, and then I'll read. But other times, I'll want to catch a bit of the show but then get bored during the commercials. So I like having some kind of handwork - crochet, embroidery, mending - I can work on sporadically without too much concentration involved.

I just finished up with a new pair of crocheted potholders. I inherited a lot of old crochet pattern booklets - the oldest published in 1921. This particular pattern is in a 1941 booklet entitled The Magic of Crochet, that has lots of placemat sets, glass cozies, and other little household and fashion goodies.

This pattern is so easy! It's worked all in one piece, in rounds of double-crochet instead of turning. So once you get the first round onto the hanging loop, there's no counting or placekeeping needed. When you're satisfied with the size you just match up the sides, work a row joining them together, and then make one last turn to finish with a decorative scalloped edge. The double layer of crochet is thick enough without the need for added padding that so many of the potholders from that era need.

You can see that I've scribbled up the pattern a bit. The first time I made this pattern, maybe 25 years ago (the golden ones), I was almost finished with the first one (top left) when I realized a typo in the pattern made the diamond shape lopsided. I corrected it for the second one. That set still lives in my camping gear.

It's a really sturdy pattern, too - just make sure to use cotton or wool (acrylic blends can melt). The middle set I made about 20 years ago. After daily use in my kitchen, they've just now worn through enough to burn my fingers if I'm not careful. I tossed those when I completed the new set, on the right. Since they're all cotton, they will shrink and the crochet tighten up a bit, the first time I run those through the washer and dryer. Even though a set of six was suggested for the housewives of the 1940's, two are sufficient for me.

I hope you are able to read the pattern, with my correction and adaptation for a crocheted hanger loop instead of covered bone or plastic ring (once those break, or melt, there's no way of fixing them). Let me know if I need to make a link to a pdf file of that page. Or as a last resort (and I'd really rather not bother), I can type out the pattern as I've adapted it. My potholders are a hanging loop of 30 dc worked over a chain of 15 joined into a ring, 16 rows of green dc, 2 of white, 2 more of green, then the joining single crochet and the edging - about 6 inches square. I know crocheting string can be really tedious for some folks, so I'm thinking about adapting this pattern for cotton yarn too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ordering Onions

Even though it's been snowing (lightly, I admit, and really welcome - pretty much all of our natural annual precipitation is from snow) the first yellow crocus are blooming. That's my signal that it's time to start thinking about getting the earliest garden bed ready to plant. Garlic and shallots, planted last fall, are now up about an inch. I didn't get around to sowing any spinach or arugula seeds back then, but I did leave a few plants that set seed to winter over, so I might get some volunteers anyway. I've gotten lots of questions from local gardeners regarding my success, so I'm going to try to write for northern Nevada gardeners to follow along. So, kids, do try this at home!

The weather is supposed to start warming up again tomorrow, so it looks like I get one more lazy day before it's time to get my hands back in the dirt! I ordered my onion plants yesterday. Now, you could get onion plants from your local garden center, but most of them won't get their plants in for a few more weeks yet. I suppose I could grow my onions from seeds, but I've never had much luck starting, then growing them to a decent size inside. Besides, seed-grown plants should have been started in early January, at least. The little bags of onion bulbs, called sets, are ok if you want scallions or a few small onions for fresh use, but for big onions you want a variety specific to your growing environment. To get my onion plants when I want them, the varieties I want, for the way I want to use them, I've found it best to order them online. I've been very happy with the service and quality at Dixondale Farms.

Each leaf on an onion plant makes a layer inside the bulb. The earlier and quicker your onion starts growing, the more leaves on the plant and that means a bigger, juicier onion bulb. So they need a rich soil that will hold water, but with enough drainage to keep it from getting soggy. Drainage is no problem in my garden's DG (decomposed granite) sand, so I concentrate on supplying enough nutrients and water-holding capacity. Aries was out a couple of days ago running last fall's compost pile through the shredder, rebuilding the pile, and wetting it down. A check with the thermometer this morning showed almost no heating up though, so it's pretty much ready to use. I also have a bin of leaf mold, made more than a year ago, that's slowly broken down to a third of what it was. Leaf mold doesn't contain much nutrients, but it's great for water retention.

My onion plants should be shipped next week - they base shipping dates by your zip code to get your onions to you at the optimum planting time for your specific area. I know from experience that they will stay dormant for a few weeks if kept cool and dry, if the weather isn't cooperative. But looking at the advance forecast, it's time to get busy! The entire early bed gets a light dusting of my all-purpose fertilizer mix (equal parts bone meal, blood meal, and greensand), a layer of finished compost, plus some of the leaf mold. I'll just lightly dig that into the top six inches (I just leave it as a top dressing where the shallots and garlic are already up), and rake smooth. Onions, especially, don't do well in competition with weeds, so I then will wet that down well (or maybe Mother Nature will do it for me) to get any weed seeds in the top inch of the soil to germinate. Over the next week or so, a very light going over with the stirrup hoe a couple of times will take out quite a few baby weedlings before the onions go in.

Onions switch from growing leaves to swelling into bulbs depending on the amount of daylight during the height of summer. I live right where Nevada makes that obtuse angle next to California. Looking at the Dixondale map, that's intermediate day onion territory. But I want the storage capabilities of the northern, long day, onions. So I compromise by ordering long day, long keeping onion varieties and then get them into the ground as early as I can with as much soil fertility as I can so they can grow as many leaves as possible before mid-summer. I ordered one bunch of Copra, the biggest and best-keeping onion I've found. And then I ordered a mixed variety sampler bunch (since you get a price break ordering more than one bunch, but two bunches is all I have room for) of long day onions. The Walla Walla grow great here - they get really big really fast, but then don't store at all. We start pulling and using them by early July, for fresh use as we need them, so they're usually all gone by early September. If you're not interesting storing your onions, grow the Walla Walla. By fall, we're using the Ringmasters, for fresh eating and then that's what I use in my fall tomato sauce and salsa canning recipes. We pick a few Redwings incrementally throughout the summer, whenever I want a red onion, and then those also store well into mid-winter.