Archive | June, 2013

Fort Edwards Family Day

Each year we go to the Fort Edwards Foundation Family Frontier Day in Capon Bridge, West Virginia.  Fort Edwards was an actual Fort manned by George Washington’s Virginia regiment.  I can’t say enough praise about the quality of this event.  This children always have fun while gleaning lots of information about this area’s and this nation’s past.  Here are just a few of the docents and presenters from the day.

Tape Maker - Making Woven tapes on Her Small Weaving Loom

Tape Maker – Making Woven tapes on Her Small Weaving Loom

The Tape Weaver explained the origins of the phrase “bureaucratic red tape.”  Colonial documents were sealed with a crimson red tape, and you could tell if the seal had been broken.  The red tape became associated with government business.

Lovely Ladies in Period Dress were in Attendance

Lovely Ladies in Period Dress were in Attendance


Docent Providing Instruction on Bayonets

Docent Providing Instruction on Bayonets

“Soldiers” in authentic reproduction garb dedicated hours of time to teaching participants about the history, weapons, clothing, and military strategy used in protecting the Fort.


Two Reenactors Pose in Front the Fort's Colonial Garden

Two Reenactors Pose in Front the Fort’s Colonial Garden


Spinning Lessons

Spinning Lessons


Seamstress at Work

Seamstress at Work


Kentucky Long Rifle Demonstration

Kentucky Long Rifle Demonstration

Colonial Furniture Making Instruction

Colonial Furniture Making Instruction

We hope to see you there next year!

Permaculture Garden Progress and Projects

It’s so fun to see progress in the garden.  Last month, I posted a photograph of our permaculture garden. 

That was then:


This is now:

june permie garden


It is amazing to compare and see how the garden has taken off in the last month.  We have enjoyed its bounty already, having harvested lettuce, cilantro, broccoli, onions, basil, and a few fava beans.  I also harvested an abundance of rose petals for the rose petal jelly.  Very soon we will have green beans, tomatoes, Napa cabbage, cucumbers  and peppers. 

Here is the progress of the hoop houses.  In the first we have established herbs that we harvest throughout the four seasons: lemon thyme, rosemary, sage, mint and oregano.  In their protected enclosure these herbs are available even in the coldest months of the year.  In this hoop house we have pole beans growing on the rear right side and cucumbers on the rear left.  On the front right you can see a raised bed that has been planted with melons that have yet to emerge, and on the left, you can see one of our son’s small garden which provides quite a bit of food for such a small space.  We have already had turnips, chard and beets from his small patch.

herb hoop house


In both hoop houses I have planted assorted gladioli bulbs.  I love having cut flowers in the house and these are some of my favorites.  The down side is that in this 6b agricultural zone, they would have to be dug up each fall and replanted.  By growing them in the hoop houses, I don’t have to dig them up and still can enjoy their flowers.  The other nice thing is that while we had chickens in the hoop house for seven weeks, they did not touch or eat the gladioli.  You can see them standing in the rear of this otherwise empty hoop house.

empty hoop house

It is almost ready for planting.  The wheelbarrow on the right contains more compost to be worked into the soil.  The days have been so hot lately that doing manual labor in here was impossible.   The heat-loving plants such as cucumbers and melons have already been started in the conservatory, though, and are ready to move into their new home.

Finally, here is the row garden.  It is nearly 100 feet long and has three rows of black plastic with drip irrigation underneath.  Compost was incorporated into the soil as the rows were prepared, and you can see that the plants are thriving.  The row on the left was planted in only the last two weeks, while the rows on the right are just over a month old.  We have already harvested an assortment of summer squash and zucchini and have our eyes on some fine clusters of tomatoes that should be on the menu soon. 

june row garden


If you look at the posts surrounding the garden, you can just make out bird houses.  Some of these birdhouses are currently inhabited by Eastern Blue birds.  When we approach the garden, pairs of these little birds fly out of the garden where they have been searching for insects.  We can enjoy their help because we don’t use hazardous sprays on the plants.  It is an example of finding systems that complement instead of destroying.  As Eliot Coleman said:

     “We live in a world that has practiced violence for generations – violence to other creatures, violence to the planet, violence to ourselves.  Yet in our garden, where we nurtured a healthy soil-plant community, we see a model of a highly successful, non-violent system where we participate in gentle biological diplomacy rather than war.  The garden has more to teach us than just how to  grow food.”

While Eliot does not include animals in his statement above, in practice both he and we include them in our systems.  He describes his ducks that help weed his gardens.  Here at Meduseld, we include all our livestock, the pigs, sheep, etc., as well as chickens and birds in the cycles of farm production.

Video on GMO Debate

Jeremy Irons narrates this Seeds of Freedom Documentary regarding the GMO seed debate.  While most people consider the nutritional and potentially toxic effects of GMO use, this video points out that this is also about the freedom of small farmers world-wide to be independent, to not have to rely on purchasing seeds every year to feed themselves and their communities.   The control of seeds and the food supply is a political issue.  Vandana Shiva is interviewed as are members of British parliament and their government, and many more.

Seeds of Freedom Documentary


Someone I knew told me years ago about growing up in rural Europe.  He said that there a person’s wealth was measured by the barnyard manure pile.  I admit I never really understood the remark until recently.

Compost Pile - Does this Mean We're Rich?

Compost Pile – Does This Mean We’re Rich?

Growing up, we seldom had a garden, so this has been an acquired skill.  I have diligently followed expert gardeners’ advice with mixed results.  The assumption was always that if you planted seeds in the dirt, weeded and took care of them, you’d have plants.  These guides left out an extremely important element though, an element whose absence meant using fertilizers and pesticides; that element is composted manure.

We have been gardening “organically” for years, and transitioning to permaculture methods.  Recently, we have worked diligently to improve our soil, remembering that it is not just dirt, but home to innumerable living organisms that help the plants to live and assimilate nutrients.   In our garden trials, we often use different methods to see which are the most beneficial.  Our tests so far show an unquestionable advantage for the use of composted manure.

In this picture, I have combined two photographs of cucumbers.  Both were planted in seed trays at the same time, and transferred into the garden the same day.  The top one went into the soil created by mulch layers as recommended by Toby Hemminway in his book, Gaia’s Garden.  The bottom one, was planted into an area where we placed almost 6 inches of composted manure in order to raise the angle of the bed.  While the two plants are only feet apart, the difference is staggering.  The top plant is stunted and will most likely never produce anything, a problem that I had throughout much of my garden last year.  The area with manure, though, has produced a superabundance and you can see a salad cucumber growing under the shade of its leaves.


Our success was not limited to the cucumbers.  Here you can see beets that are healthy, vibrant green and have almost no insect damage. 

compost beets


What Eliot Coleman pointed out in his book, The Four Season Harvest, has been confirmed in our own garden.  If the soil is providing adequate nutrition, the plants will be healthy and insects will not bother them.  Compost is providing the ideal environment, making even organic pesticides unnecessary.  In areas without the compost, with only the layers of hay and mulch, the nutrition is lacking, forcing us to come up with methods to help our suffering plants along.

Gene Logsdon shows  in his irreverently title book Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind that intelligent use of animal and even human waste can contribute toward improving agriculture with a resource that is literally put in the sewer.  While I don’t agree with all his conclusions, it is a thought provoking book, and may contribute to opening people’s’ minds regarding the cycles of life.

Ad nauseum I read and hear that mankind must become vegetarian in order to “save the planet.”  Dire predictions state that eating meat is wasteful and bad for the environment.  What our garden, and others like Eliot Coleman’s have shown is that the vegetarian assertion is a grave error.  WITHOUT the animals, plant  production suffers.  It is only by combining the plant and animal resources of a farm that we can create a perpetual, healthful balance. 

It is not difficult to compost animal manure.  One of the most important steps is to turn the pile frequently.  You can see that our pile (this is just one of them) is not contained so that our small tractor can turn it from each side.  The pile above has already broken down a great deal.  By next spring it will be ready to place in the gardens without burning the plants. 

There are many free videos on creating compost, and don’t forget to check with your local farmers who may be glad to share the bounty :)

New Romney Fingerling Yarn Colors

Meduseld has added new colors to its high-sheen Romney fingering/Lace yarn.  They are sold in pairs of 500 yards, 5.5 oz for $25.00.  These vibrant colors called Royal, Full Moon and Titian are perfect for projects going into the fall.  They are in Meduseld’s Store.

Vibrant ROmney Fingerling/Lace yarn

Flower Fairy

As you know, I am inspired by Emily Estrada’s podcast FibreTown.  In a recent podcast, she showed an adorable knit tulip fairyshe made based on a whimsical and imaginative book by Susan B. Anderson, called Topsy Turvy Inside-Out Toys

topsy turvey

Emily’s work was adorable and I decided instantly to make one as a birthday present for our little Sprite.  Trouble is, I can’t knit like that, at least not in 3-D  shapes.  Rectangles and triangles are about my skill level in knitting, so I decided to see if I could crochet one of these little fairies.

I started foraging for yarn ends to use and found that I did not have the colors that were in my imagination.  I also wanted to make her with some sparkle and definition.  I settled on crochet lace thread and sequins.  Here she is, finished just in time for our own little fairy’s birthday.

crocheted fairy


I started at the crown of her head and worked single crochets down with gradual increases.  Her “nose” is two double crochets joined liked a popcorn stitch.

I liked Emily’s idea of adding wings.  I made these by modifying an Irish crochet lace pattern.  They have the Irish rose in the middle, and arches and picots that are so abundant in Irish lace. 

Irish crochet fairy wings

I attached over 300 pieces of “hair” hooking them like a rug through her crocheted “scalp.”  This will hold them tightly for a child’s use.

fairy hair

Since the theme of the book is Topsy Turvy, I also made this fairy to be flipped over, her dress becoming the petals of a flower.  I made the stem into a loop so that the fairy can be carried over a wrist.

fairy over

I recommend this book even if you crochet.  It is filled with creative ideas that can be converted from knitting to crochet.  And, these are excellent gifts and provide a terrific way to use up ends of yarn from other projects.  I am placing the book in Meduseld’s Amazon Store.


Bobbin Lace Making at Fort Edwards

Here is a rare opportunity to learn the almost obsolete skill of bobbin lace making!

bobbin lace

The Fort Edwards Foundation in Capon Bridge is offering a lace making workshop on September 28, 2013 with lace-making experts Judi and Clyde DeWitt.   Details about  the instructors  and photographs for the workshop can be found at the link provided.

Bobbin lace can be traced back to Elizabethan England and beyond.  The ruffs or collars of opulent lace that are synonymous with the period were all made with wooden bobbins wound with thread and crossed into stitches creating intricate patterns.  These pieces of lace are time-consuming to make and were very expensive. 


I was privileged to be able to study Torchon bobbin lace making with Judy for almost a year.  She taught me enough skills to eventually try this complicated lace pattern, which is actually a combination of simple “stitches.”

bobbinlace closeup


The bobbins come in various shapes and sizes and are usually “spangled” which means beaded.  The rings of beads keep the bobbins from rolling around and getting tangled on the lace making surface, which is usually a “pillow” a large round surface that will hold the pins in place.   Here is a close-up of spangled bobbins.

bobbins spangled

If you live locally,  please look into this  workshop and the others that will be offered by the Fort Edwards Foundation, helping to keep history and these skills alive.   I hope to have Judi DeWitt as a guest on this blog in the future for information on how to get started making bobbin lace for those who are not in the area. 

July 8, 2013 update:  Please go Emily Estrada’s podcast to see some amazing examples of bobbin lace!


Permaculture and Meals at Meduseld

Back in April, I wrote an article about how to use permaculture to provide nutritious food and minimize our work.  In my article I talked about the chickens that I would be getting to clean our hoop house.

Well, I am glad to show you the results of our endeavor. 

This weekend, we butchered the broilers at about seven weeks of age.  They weighed in at approximately 6 pounds each, having spent their time eating out the hoop house, cleaning it of insects, weed seeds, and supplemented with organic GMO free feed.  Here you can see the job they have done cleaning.

broiler job in hoop house

I’ll admit this is not one of the prettiest pictures I have posted on this blog, but it does speak volumes.    We can see the remains of a beet root.  The chickens have entirely cleared it of all of its greens, and it is the only one remaining from a row of them.  Clearly the chickens like beets.  They have also cleared all the chard and kale, and have left a few insignificant weeds.  Their pecking has brought stones to the surface, where they can be easily raked away.   While you can see an occasional feather, there is little evidence of manure, which shows that the chickens were not overcrowded.  All these signs are good.

In the next weeks I will post our changes to the hoop house.  We were going to sow summer crops in it, but have decided to relocate this hoop house to another location and plant this one with black plastic and irrigation tubing.  We are doing this on another section of the farm and the growth rate for the plants exceeds the rate for any other garden or hoop house on the property.

Back to the broilers, here is a photo of a freshly plucked bird.  It is well filled out and healthy looking.  Since these chickens had access to so much space, they did not have the weakened leg issues that can contribute to problems on the bottom of their feet or on their chests.

raw broiler

I completed butchering this chicken and tucked fresh herbs under its skin and in the cavity.  The herbs used were lemon thyme and rosemary.  The skin was sprinkled with sea salt and pepper.  Off to the smoker for 6 hours of slow smoking, periodically pouring red wine over it.   And here it is in it finished glory!  Yum!

smoked broiler

 The rest of the birds were vacuum packed and put into the deep freeze.   We will be able to enjoy smoked and barbecued chicken, broth and soups throughout the summer.

NOAA Confirms Cold Temps

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released their map of spring temperatures, confirming that for the majority of the geographical area of the contiguous U.S., this was one of the coldest springs since they started recording temperatures. 



col weather map

Having read reports on how some of the weather statistics are now gathered, it is possible that this map does not reflect how cold it actually was.  For example, just a few decades ago, they were not gathering temperatures from the tarmacs of major airports, which are known to have increased temperatures due to the absorption of heat by massive runways and dark paved areas.    This map also begs the question; what is “near normal?” 

For further details, you can read the report at NOAA and at

Cold Winter Caused Bee Colony Decline

We experienced a long winter with cold temperatures and snow extending into the spring months.   This is extremely hard on the bees, who need warm days to exit the hives  to clean themselves and to gather their honey ingredients.  Cold temperatures force the bees to gather closely to warm themselves, and if a cold spell is prolonged they will literally starve themselves trying to keep warm while only inches away from an abundant food supply.

 Areas in Europe and in the U.K. also had long winters with record low temperatures in March and April.  As reported in the BBC, this long cold winter has contributed to massive bee colony collapses.  BBC report here.