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Dear Winchester

Dear Winchester:

You are ruining my view.  Not in the way you’d expect.  I actually can’t see you from where our farm sits, but you affect my view day and night, none-the-less.

You see, it’s your lights.  Years ago when we bought this farm, we choose it for its remote location.  We didn’t want city lights obstructing our view of the stars and the Milky Way at night.  Our view was stunning.  In your artificial light filled nights, you can’t imagine the display of the heavens you are missing, the frequent meteor showers, the mysterious glow of the galaxy.

And then Walmart put in a new store on Route 50 near the Hospital.  This Walmart is open 24 hours a day and they light up that sprawling concrete parking lot all night long.  Since, other business have been built along that area.  Now, to look east at night is reminiscent of seeing the lights coming from Mount Doom in Mordor  in the Lord of the Rings.

During the day, we have a daily reminder of Winchester’s electrical consumption.  Our formerly pristine view is now scarred by enormous power lines that cross the mountain, in response to the increase demands of Winchester and the DC metropolitan area.  You have no idea how many acres of woods and farms were stripped to make way for these lines.  It just hardly seems to be “environmental.”

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There are lots of options for those who wish to conserve energy, and the view for that matter.  Lights for security at night can be switched to motion detector lights that do not have to be constantly on.  Human beings used to live more closely tied to the cycles of daylight, and now many stay up late and start their days even later.  Perhaps living more closely to Benjamin Franklin’s advice:  “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” would apply here, with the added advantage that it might save thousands of miles of electric poles and preserve the views of the stars and night sky.

Dear Winchester, could you please turn off your lights?

Conservatory Status

While we got seven inches of snow yesterday, it still looks and feels like paradise in the conservatory.  The plants have also noticed the lengthening days, and are starting to prepare for the new growing season.

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 The geraniums, while still green, were in a semi dormant state.  Now they have burst into bloom.

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The fig tree is pushing out new leaves, and has already started forming fruits.

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We have started the geranium cuttings for the summer window boxes.

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Seeds are off to a good start, at least the ones spared by the mouse.

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I wish this photo were “scratch and sniff.”  The orange blossoms have released a heavenly scent that fills the entire conservatory.

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A yellow pear tomato hiding in the foliage.

I have received some questions about our conservatory.  It was built by my husband.  His company builds these and new homes in the Northern Virginia and West Virginia Panhandle.  You can see some of his work here!

Seeds

I mentioned in a post last week that this was the time to start ordering seeds for Spring planting.  I tried a new company this year, looking to support local sustainable suppliers.  The company I tried was the Sustainable Seed Company, and I am rather disappointed.   Here are the things I noticed, and I will be comparing them with GourmetSeed.com, whose quality I am always pleased with.

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Take a look at this first photo for comparison.  Both are parsnip seeds, a vegetable we have recently fallen in love with.  The package on the left was from Gourmet Seed, and the one on the right from Sustainable Seed.  Observe the packaging.  One is in a protective sealed mylar that will preserve the seeds for years without exposing them to gains or loss of moisture.  The other is in printed paper, which has practically no protective qualities. 

Now, the obvious difference is size!  The packet from Gourmet Seed contains 25 grams of seeds and the other 2 grams.  While this packet from Gourmet Seeds cost $6.95, it contains over EIGHT TIMES more seeds than the other.  The other cost $2.75, (as of today’s blog it is on sale) and you can see that for the extra $3.00 the Gourmet Seed cost is the winner.   Even if I don’t use all the seeds one year, I can still reseal it with the built-in zip seal and these will keep.

Which brings me to the next issue.  I also ordered a pound of winter wheat seed from Sustainable Seeds, and look at the date!

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These were packaged for 2013, which means they were grown the year before.  Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested the following spring in July in the North or as early as May in the South.  Since these are dated March, it means they were harvested the year before.  These are two-year old seeds!  Another of the seed packets I received from them is also stamped “packed for 2013.” 

When ordering seeds, it is important to watch for companies that offer quality and back up that committment consistently. 

 

2014 Gardening Goals, High Intensity Gardening

I think practically every gardener spends January (in the northern hemisphere at least) pouring over seed catalogs and planning their spring and summer gardens, and I am no exception.  As soon as the New Year’s celebrations are over, seed catalogs start pouring in the mail enticing us with their bright pictures and promises of high yields.

Over the years, though, modern growing methods have left most of us feeling disappointed.  On our farm, we have been trying new methods of organic techniques, incorporating permaculture, and avoiding quick solutions such as pesticides and herbicides.  So, I was thrilled to come across a new method of gardening called High Intensity Gardening which can literally help the plants to express their full genetic potential, while improving the condition of the soil and the nutritional content of food.  For example, a tomato plant has the genetic potential to produce 400-500 POUNDS of tomatoes, but due to our growing methods, toxins, nutritional deficiencies,etc., we fall short of its potential.

John Kempf is one of the greatest advocates and educators of High Intensity Agriculture.  He has formed an organization called Advancing Eco Agriculture.  You can listen to him here in an interview with Dr. Mercola offering a brief explanation of the methods and outcomes. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQDbkSn9rpo#t=1533

Last year, I demonstrated in an article called “Compost” the amazing results of using compost in the garden.  Mr. Kempf discusses the benefits of compost “tea,” a liquid made by fermenting compost in water, generating an enzyme and beneficial bacteria-rich liquid for the soil.  Kempf draws the similarity with Dr. Mercola, that just as humans’ digestion benefits from beneficial organisms, the soil is the plants digestion and benefits from pro-biotics as well.  Here are two videos showing Kempf’s Plant Health Pyramid.

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As I consider my seed choices, I will also be researching recipes for compost tea.  And with a few exceptions, I will not be ordering from most of the major seed catalogs, who provide overpriced packets with scarcely any seeds.  Ever since starting this blog, we have provided a link to Gourmetseed.com where we buy our seeds.  The majority of the seeds come from Europe where cross-pollination with GMO crops is not as great an issue.  The packets are reasonably priced and usually contain hundreds of seeds in each.  I am awed by the quality and quantity. 

It is increasingly necessary for small farmers to embrace these natural growing methods and seeds.   Top soils across this country are microbiogically dead, and can only produce if given chemicals, yielding nutrient deficient food.1  Since Big Ag has not responded to the call for better farming,  small farms are leading the way.  Please support your local farmers!

1. http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203cat/royal.lee.lets.live.articles.htm

 

 

We’re back!

Good Morning Friends and welcome back, I mean me! My sincerest apologies for the absence but we have literally been without internet for 31 days! What didn’t help was lots of snow and icy road conditions, making going out difficult, too. In this rural location, we rely on the cell tower for our businesses’  communications, internet, weather, news, etc.  (In one conversation with an AT&T representative, “Paul” remarked that he was looking at a computer map that shows cell strength.  He said that around us it was completely white.  I asked, “What does that mean?”  “It means nothing, it means you have nothing,” was his reply.)

As you know, we had already been having AT&T tower problems for the last few months. The entire tower crashed, however, exactly two weeks before Christmas. I had several Christmas blogs in mind that will have to wait for next year, such as how to make Christmas Stollen, a German holiday bread studded with candied fruits and filled with almond paste. 

So time to catch up on some other news, as well as four weeks of Emily Estrada’s Fibretown Podcast :)

Meduseld is thrilled to be an advertiser inWild Fibers Magazine’s Tenth Anniversary Issue. I have been reading this magazine since before we even started up making yarn, and it is like traveling overseas without leaving the comfort of your living room. It covers diverse natural fibers all over the globe. My only complaint is that they don’t cover the wonderful domestic farms very often, but hopefully there will be more attention given to our own country’s fantastic (albeit struggling) fiber industry in the future.   Look for our ad in this issue, which contains a link to our free Icicle Shawl Pattern

We were not idle while the net was down. I started some seed trays for a friend who is firing up her own “high tunnel” or hoop house. While most of the seedlings are coming up fine, I have had the most frustrating time keeping a mouse out of the cucumber and squash trays, having to replant each time some four legged creature makes a feast of my seeds. I even put the four legs of the table in buckets of water and the little varmint still gets to them. BTW, sprinkling hot red pepper over the dirt doesn’t stop the mice either. I have now planted those trays for the fourth time. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Coming up: Maple syrup making, new yarn I am expecting from the mill, gardening plans for 2014, and some recipes I have been testing while things were “quiet.”

AT&T Travails

We are sorry for our radio silence!  While we have had to work with a “downgraded” tower for the last several months, for the last three weeks we have had NO cell coverage at all – no internet, no cell phone, no news, NOTHING!  In order to get cell I have to drive 25 miles to the nearest town.  Today I am using my friend Kate’s computer:) Please forgive the inconvenience, and if you have any influence with AT&T please ask them to fix the Cooper Mountain, WV tower!

In the meantime, best wishes for an excellent 2014!  I hope to be back online very soon with photos, recipes and new wools.  We also expect lambing to start before long!  Bundle up and keep warm!

Alpaca Romney Bulky – Back in Stock!

I am thrilled to announce that Meduseld’s Bulky Alpaca Romney is back in stock!  Whew!  This is a highly popular natural brown blend that flies off our shelves.  We have limited production of this yarn since I use the same two fleeces each year to make it – one a natural brown alpaca and the other a natural grey brown Romney ewe.  Their blend yields a luxurious, shiny yarn.

Meduseld's Alpaca Romney Yarn

Meduseld’s Alpaca Romney Yarn

This yarn is so squeezably soft, wonderful for warm winter knits, and perfect for this time of year.  This yarn has no itch factor and is sutable for garments that touch your skin.  For some reason I cannot explain, it is darker this year than last, looking more like a rich dark chocolate.

This year's blend is darker, on left

This year’s blend is darker, on left

 We only have five pounds of this yarn, so supply is again very limited.  Each 250 yard skein weighs approximately 8.7 ounces – over half a pound!  They are $30.00 each, the same price as last year.  You can find them in our store here!

Gratefully,

Patricia

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

In honor of the real Santa, happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Weckmann with Candies and Advent Wreath

Weckmann with Candies and Advent Wreath

We made Weckmann, or Nikolaus, for the occasion.  These are soft bread “men” made in the shape of ginger bread men.  I will share my own version below.

It has been tradition for the children to place their house shoes or slippers outside their bedroom doors for St. Nicholas to fill with Weckmann, oranges and candies.  Since we have a puppy in the house who could enjoy them before the children do, we decorate the table and place the Weckmann on plates.

Weckmann Dough

1 1/2 cups water or milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups King Arthur Bread Flour

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Combine all ingredients in bowl or in bread machine on dough cycle.  Let it rise until doubled.  Knead dough and divide into four equal parts.  Form each of these into “men” shapes by forming a ball head, and cutting arms and legs.  Place on greased baking sheets to rise.  When nearly doubled, brush on an egg wash and decorate. The egg wash will help to hold your decorations and will make the Weckmann shiny.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15  minutes or until golden brown.

 

Book Review – Victorian Secrets by Sarah A. Chrisman

Victorian Secrets – What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself

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This book arrived yesterday morning and I read the entire book in one day. It really was that captivating. If it says anything, my husband started it last night.  This is not a book about sex and illicit romance.  It is about understanding another era.

It is the documentation of one woman’s journey to living history in the truest sense of the words, going to the modern interpreted “lengths” of wearing a corset 24/7. And she shares every aspect including her extensive research. And this was so beneficial! As a massage therapist, (in addition to having degrees in International Studies and French) she actually knows anatomy and can share the actual physical changes that are or are not affected. She takes corset wearing from the domain of myths and scare tactics into real biological conversation.

One reviewer on Amazon nearly put me off buying the book and I am so glad I did not heed her rant. The author suffered real verbal abuse from people and I am glad that she did not cover these events with rose colored glasses. I think it reflects a great deal on society today, where interfering, judgmental people think it is within their rights to tell other people how to live. These feminazis she encountered don’t even see that their vitriolic comments are right in line with the very people they seek to condemn. They preach tolerance, but only if it agrees with their agenda.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this first-hand. I wear skirts most of the time and it is unbelievable how often I am questioned about this very harmless thing! Other rude observations have been regarding my or my friends’ families, with statements like “there’s a pill for that,” and Don’t you have a television?” Never mind that my kids with be paying their social security. Can you imagine how much it hurts the children who hear these statements showing that they are unwelcome to that person! Another example was on a long hair forum, where another member was told it was selfish of her to keep her own long hair! People have no idea how much they hurt others with their judgements, and I wish someone would come up with a corset for their mouths since there already seems to be one around their minds.

This is a very real problem in society and I am glad the author chose to document that part of her journey. Society turned away from manners and etiquette, making a deliberate decision to become “informal.” Instead of informality, society got rudeness. Instead of people voluntarily minding their manners, we now have to have hate crime legislation to control the deplorable things people now say and do to one another. Maybe more people should have heeded Miss Manners.

Chrisman has a delightfully descriptive writing style, and I envy her poetic use of language. When discussing diaphanous real silk tulle she ordered for some hats she describes its luxurious texture, saying “If Arachne had met Iris, the rainbow goddess, after Athena turned the presumptuous weaver into a spider, the resultant web might have been something like this material. Soft as a kitten’s breath, it lay upon my hands with the weight of a butterfly come to rest…” Ah, the bliss of reading an educated author!

Her husband gets a fair share of the story and he seems delightfully supportive. The two of them are united in marriage, interests, curious minds, and the pursuit of improvement. They take their role in historical recreation seriously, shunning imitations and petroleum derived fabrics. They should be imitated instead of criticized for this, as one other reviewed did.

She evidently has a strained relationship with her mother (something I can relate to) and still comes to understand her. Bravo.

I recommend this book even if you have no intention of wearing a corset. The author lived and traveled abroad and her acceptance of other opinions and cultures may have been enhanced by this foreign travel. The book may be about corsets, but its underlying theme is that of “live and let live.”

I am placing it in my Amazon store here.