Gleeful Woad Vat

On July 18th and 19th I ran a woad vat! This is exciting because last summer I planted woad, but didn’t have time to use it for dyeing. That made me sad, and I vowed to rectify that this summer. This summer I planted two beds about a month apart, so that the leaves will mature at different times. I ran this first vat of the summer with much glee and happiness.

I stuck with my tried and true but not truly “sustainable” chemical vat, using ammonia and RIT Color Remover. One of these years I will learn how to precipitate my own woad powder and master a natural fermentation vat (maybe even the urine vat!). Meanwhile I dyed some fiber blue with my own woad and it made me happy. Continue reading “Gleeful Woad Vat”

Exciting Lichen Information!

After all the flax-related posts lately, you might be justified in thinking that I don’t care about dye plants anymore. Not true! I thought I’d kick off what I hope will be a series of posts about dye plants with a link to a fascinating article about recent research on lichen.

OK, technically a lichen isn’t a plant. What exactly is it? Well, I used to think that a lichen was a symbiotic organism composed of a fungus and an algae (perhaps more accurately, “alga” singular). My go-to definition is from Lichens of North America by Irwin M. Brodo, Sylvia Duran Sharnoff, and Stephen Sharnoff. This massive and beautiful book is one of my prized possessions, acquired from Raven Used Books in Northampton many years ago (FYI my beloved Matthew is a former employee and does their website, as well as websites for many other good folk). I abbreviate the definition here:

“[A] lichen is not a single entity, but a composite of a fungus and an organism capable of producing food by photosynthesis. Lichen fungi can associate with green algae or cyanobacteria (the latter also known as blue-green algae), or sometimes both […]. The special biological relationship found in lichens is called symbiosis.”

The authors also offer a sweet, almost diminutive term for the photosynthetic symbiont, “photobiont, for short,” which is a word I aspire to slip into casual conversation more often. (Well, OK, ever!)

However, please follow this link for some exciting new insights into the life of lichen ….

 

Last Straw(s)

flax in bucketsI realized in my last post I didn’t show the buckets of transplanted flax. They transplanted just fine, which was a useful discovery.

After we came back from our weekend away on July 9-10 and found that the seeds in the buckets of flax at home had been chomped, I bought two new types of rodent repellent and a solar robotic owl for the garden. The first type of repellent I tried, Bobbex-R, stinks to high heaven! I wanted to run away from it myself as I was spraying it. We have been having a sustained spell of very hot weather, and the directions said not to spray when it’s over 85 degrees, so I waited to spray the plants at dusk when the temperature cooled off a little. It was initially more effective than the Plantskydd. I didn’t detect any new damage overnight. After a day or so, though, things went back to normal. Sigh. Continue reading “Last Straw(s)”

Nothing Works

I read that a chili pepper/garlic spray would keep rodents away from plants, so I gave it a try. We grow a lot of chilis. A major goal of our gardening endeavors, besides growing flax and dye plants, is to grow tomatillos and chilis to make home-made salsa verde. We also grow garlic for the salsa, but it’s too precious to use for mouse-repellent so I just used store-bought garlic.

For each batch of spay, I crushed up 14-16 dried chilis:

our chilis Continue reading “Nothing Works”

Know Your Enemy, or Just Photograph Them

By late June I had not definitively proven that rodents were eating my flax, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t insect larvae, as I said in my last post. Stalks were being chewed daily, between 4-6 stalks per bed, per day. Sometimes more. So, additional sleuthing was required.

I continued to pay close attention to anything that might be suspicious and tried to document anything I saw just in case it turned out to be a problem. It turned out there were a lot of flying insects on the buds, flowers, and newly-forming seeds. Continue reading “Know Your Enemy, or Just Photograph Them”

What Constitutes Evidence?

The Plantskydd did nothing to stop the chewing of my flax stalks, unfortunately. So, I wondered if perhaps it might not be rodents after all. What if it was insects, for example? I sent out inquiries to various flax-growing contacts, and to the UMass Extension folks. Many thanks to flax and linen study group friends Faith Deering and Carolyn Wetzel (with expertise in entomology and botany, respectively), to Tawny Simiski (entomologist at UMass Extension), Alvin Ulrich at Biolin, and Ken at the Crop Development Center in Saskatoon for their suggestions. My favorite suggestion was that “flax beavers” were using flax fiber to build dams, but I also liked the idea of a night-vision camera to catch the culprits in action. Continue reading “What Constitutes Evidence?”

Bloody ‘ell!

“What’s a bloody L, Mummy?” This is a direct quote of myself as a young child–or perhaps one of my sisters, because sometimes those memories are blurry. The backstory here is that I grew up in London in the 1970s. A family friend used the phrase “bloody hell” to express exasperation and dismay, which translated through his accent and my young ears to “bloody ‘ell”. Was it the letter L that had somehow become bloody, and if so how? Was it bad? Why? And why would you bring it up in conversation if it was so bad? Parsing grown-up-speak isn’t easy.

Now I will get to the point: blood is what my blog post is about. And also my feelings about it, as expressed by this old-fashioned swear. Exasperation, dismay, despair. An existential questioning… What am I doing? I can’t believe I’m doing this. Is it doing any good? Continue reading “Bloody ‘ell!”

Pennyroyal Oil Is Not a Deterrent

The title about sums it up. I wondered if a strong-smelling essential oil would keep away my flax-chewer. My mother uses peppermint oil to discourage mice from chewing the insulation in the stove at our family’s cabin when we close it up for the winter. I didn’t have any peppermint on-hand Sunday morning, but I did have pennyroyal oil.

I saturated some strips of row cover:

pennyroyal oil on strips

Then I tied them to bamboo stakes:

strip tied to stake

Then I stuck them inside the beds so the cloth hung near ground level:

stake in position

Continue reading “Pennyroyal Oil Is Not a Deterrent”

Something is Chewing my Flax

Something is chewing my flax. I am pretty worried. This happened last year and I really do not want to repeat the disaster. Here’s the evidence:

It fells a stalk. Some of the stalks are chewed on an angle, but some are chewed straight across:

sawed stalk

Then it chews the stalk into little pieces:

June 14 chewed stems close

June 14 chewed stems

It leaves a pile of chewed up stalks on the ground:

debris on ground

 

 

 

 

Planting Flax 2016

In this post I will show some photos of the beds I dug for planting flax this year, and some photos that reflect my desperation as I waited for signs that the seeds were actually germinating!

I decided to focus on 6 types this season. I selected the ones that had the tallest height at harvest last summer. This doesn’t account for branching habit, days to first flower, signs of disease, or any number of other relevant factors in selecting fiber flax seed. On the other hand, it’s straightforward and uses the data at my disposal, so I feel OK about it. Continue reading “Planting Flax 2016”