Archive for 2013

Live From Barcelona

I'm vacationing in Barcelona for two weeks, so I'm finally finding time to relax and do the thing I love--cook, knit, and look at plants on the street. And, of course, share my adventures on here. I'm hoping to find time to post a little, both about what I'm doing here and what I've been doing in DC. (By the way, feel free to donate to DC State Fair's Kickstarter campaign if you'd like! Campaign ends in two weeks, on 31 August.)




There are lots of balconies in Barcelona--there doesn't seem to be a lot of central A/C or dryers, so folks need their homes to be breezeways and need somewhere to hang their clothes to dry. A side benefit of balconies? A place to keep plants! Many folks have only Epiprenmum aureum, various Ficus or Dracaena, and the like, but this balcony had a stunning drape of Sedum morganianum and a crazy Agave--or maybe Aloe?



Here's a closeup. 



I saw this Saintpaulia on a bench in the artists' district of Barri Gotic.



On the balcony below the apartment we're staying in was this large-leafed Cyclamen, I think. This photo is cropped and zoomed in--I might have to try a shot with my real camera!

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Reminders Of Spring

It's been raining almost daily for the past several weeks, and although the temperatures are in the mid-80s to mid-90s every day, it feels like it's still spring--which is nice, because I feel like calendar-spring disappeared way too quickly for my liking.

So, what have I been up to that's kept me away from blogging for so long?

In September, I got a new full-time job (no more freelance reporting/part-time contract work! Although, feel free to check out the Agritate label to read what I wrote on a blog I started to focus on science and journalism--I imported most of those posts into this blog, and will likely continue reading articles and writing about them here when I start blogging again. I mean, I've been saving dozens of them to review and write about in the past several months, I've just never gotten around to it.). My start date at the new job coincided with the culmination of DC State Fair 2012, a regional plant show I was participating in, and a book proposal I was putting together. A month and a half later, I got a car.

DC State Fair went off really well, despite a few glitches.

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We got T-shirts last year! I'm here with chef Alli Sosna, who judged several of the vegetable and fruit contests.

I won a blue ribbon in the Novice class at the plant show.

Gloxinella lindeniana at Mid-Atlantic Regional Gesneriad Show, Sale, and Symposium
My Gloxinella lindeniana won me a blue ribbon at the first-ever Mid-Atlantic Regional Gesneriad Show, Sale, and Symposium.

I was also offered a contract for the book proposal, but realized all the time I currently don't have and decided to turn it down (I don't have a picture for that).

The car is great for weekend errands--but it also opens up a lot more possibility for weekend travel, to visit nearby family or just to get out of the city for a while. That takes a surprising chunk of time when we do get out and about.


My beau shot this photo, our first of the car, because our first-ever load was a bale of hay to use as mulch in the garden plot.

I've made my goal for 2013 to cut back on volunteering and other projects by the end of the year. That means I'm working to hand off DC State Fair to new leaders, refraining from taking on more leadership roles, and in general focusing on my own hobbies and life. It's been nice, but almost more difficult than volunteering all the time was!

Since making that my resolution over the winter, I've filled my time with new hobbies for some reason. I learned how to spin yarn, on supported spindles, drop spindles, and a wheel. You may have read about the yarn I made from my cotton and the silkworms I raised. But it's not like I stopped there.

Cleaning a Raw Fleece
I've purchased and washed three raw fleeces. This is the first, from a Finnsheep named Beatrice, laying out to dry after washing.

"Tuscan Sunset" Handspun Yarn
I've spun what I consider to be a lot of yarn. This, for example, is 465 yards of merino/yak 50/50 dyed in "Tuscan Sunset" colours--yellow-oranges, pink, purple, and red. It was a random-contest freebie, and a beautiful yarn. So beautiful, I had to knit a shawl with it (because what else do you do with such fine yarn?).

Grouchy Geisha at Sunset Shawl
From start to finish, this took me two weeks. I am addicted to knitting lace, now.

My First Dyed Braid
I've tried my hand at dyeing fiber myself (and learned a hell of a lot from that one botched job--one of the lessons being that even botched jobs can be beautiful when spun).


This is the start of spinning of my hand-dyed fiber. The colours are less muted than I thought they would be based on my inexperienced dyeing and the white patches that show through everywhere. It'll certainly be an interesting yarn when I'm through!

Textile Museum Celebration of Textiles
I participated in the Textile Museum's Celebration of Textiles in the spinners' area, where I helped kids learn how to spin with supported spindles and drop spindles. Plus, I got a few yards of cotton spun up on my tahkli!

But it's not like fiber arts have been the only thing I've been up to. I'm still all plant-oriented, too.

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I started a cotton trial plot at Wangari Gardens this year, to measure the fiber staple length of the 7 varieties stocked by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. This photo is from a few weeks ago, when the cotton first germinated.

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I've been struggling to keep up with my community garden plot, where weeds dominate and my Concord grapes are fruiting.

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I went to several plant swaps this year.

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I've been to Al's Orchid Greenhouse a bunch of times, helping to spread epiphytic and other gesneriads throughout. This is a unifoliate Streptocarpus growing in moss on a cinderblock that holds up a display surface.

I've been busy. It's been a fun several months, but I feel like my blogging should be closer to the front burner than it is. (Right now, it feels more like it's cooled off and stuck in the fridge, not even on the back burner!) I keep delaying blogging because I no longer have time during my commute (I like to knit, and when I'm not knitting, I'm driving because I have to move the car for weekly street sweeping) and I want to revamp the look and feel of the blog. So it just sits here, languishing. But I'm making more of an effort to plan and write; for example, I kept telling myself I wanted to feature each and every one of the above in their own blog posts, as well as other events and topics. But let's be honest--I'll never find time to do all of it the way I want it to be, so snippets it is, and now I can move forward!

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Al's Orchid Greenhouse On The Farm Tour


The Loudon County Spring Farm Tour is this weekend, and tomorrow, I'll be helping out at Al's Orchid Greenhouse, where I get some of my orchids and where my friend Kyoko grows a lot of gesneriads. (I only have a few there that I think Al might be interested in, but we recently started a bunch of seeds, too, that are a little taking-over-y.) I might be one of the "experts in Gesneriad culture" that Al mentioned on Facebook--I prefer to think of myself as a semi-competent amateur. I'm beyond the basics, but definitely not the big kahuna of gesneriads.

So come on by; learn a bit about orchids, gesneriads, and more; and bring your camera! There's plenty of beautiful things going on--for example, here are a few photos I've taken over the years of things you might be able to see this weekend.


Many beautiful orchids, like this Encyclia cochleata, plus a lot of Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Bulbophyllum, and more, some of which Al hybridizes and grows out himself.


Carnivorous plants, like this Cephalotus and a bunch of Nepenthes.


Get a better view of this awesome water feature in the middle of the greenhouse.


Don't forget to look overhead while you visit, or you might miss blooms on various hanging plants, like this Hoya curtisii.



You'll find plenty of little treasures, like this sneaky Sinningia muscicola in the bonsai.

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Homemade Silk


I'm raising silkworm (Bombyx mori) so I can reel silk and make my own silk thread, perhaps to ply with other fibers I plan to spin. Growing silkworm is surprisingly approachable--let the tiny eggs hatch in their petri dish, put them in a plastic tub with some added heat, and feed them rehydrated powdered silkworm food until they get big enough to make cocoons!

Bottom of the plant shelf
At the bottom of the plant shelf, the two 34-quart plastic tubs on the bottom hold my silkworms. They each have a seed-starting heat mat underneath to give the silkworms the extra warmth they'd like. The right two trays on the shelf above have vegetable seedlings for this year's garden, also with heat mats underneath. The left two trays have various gesneriads at various stages of propagation.

Luckily the silkworm don't need light like the plants do. There's plenty of competition already for the space I have available under the lights.

Silkworms (Bombyx mori) caterpillars, dried food remains, and poo
The caterpillars, dried food remains, and poo. Silkworms poo a lot. You can see the seed-starting heat mat through the bottom of the plastic tub (the black and green thing).

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A closeup.

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Silkworms and cocoons in the corner.

Silkworm (Bombyx mori) cocoon
A single cocoon in the plastic tub handle area. So white and pure! I wonder whether I should dye the silk, and with what? The woad I grew and processed last year?

I'll have to slowly bake the cocoons at a low temperature to prepare them for storage until I'm ready to reel the silk--reeling isn't something to start without a large stash of cocoons ready!

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Spinning Cotton

It has taken me a lot longer than projected to return to blogging. But I've missed sharing my adventures in gardening and other hobbies, so I need to just jump back in and start blogging again. So let's start off with what I did with the cotton I grew last year!



I grew three Sea Island x brown NOID cotton plants from seed that I purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The plants themselves were damn pretty. This photo is from mid-summer.


The flowers are pink when they're new.


And turn white as they age.


The bolls start forming pretty quickly, but they take forever to mature. I harvested most of them while they were still immature, because of a cold snap in late September.

cotton seeds
Photo by --ki---
The ones that had ripened on the plant were given to my friend Ki, who took this photo of the seeds attached to the fiber outside of the boll. I think they look like mini peanut butter thumbprint cookies with chocolate chips on top.

Ki spun up a sample skein of yarn from those few bolls--and then taught me how to, as well. She gave me a tahkli spindle--a metal pin with a metal disc at the bottom and a small hook at the top. It spins very fast--all the better to add the twist needed to make yarn from short-staple fibers like cotton.


Photo by --ki---
Before I could spin all the cotton I harvested, it had to be processed. While at Al's Orchid Greenhouse, Ki, Al, and I plucked the fiber from the bolls, removed all the seeds, and carded the cotton to align the fibers and make it fluffier, so it would be easier to spin.


Photo by dacmanj
After I spun it into a very long single strand over the course of a few weeks, I started unwinding the cotton from the tahkli onto my hand in a plying bracelet. It's one way to make a two-ply yarn from only a single strand of spun fiber.

Spun Cotton
After plying, I boiled the cotton with some soda ash to finish it and clean off the plant's waxy coating, in case I'd like to dye it at any point. Probably not, because after processing, the cotton became a deeper, complex brown.

My first-ever skein of yarn is only 45 yards--enough to make a doily, perhaps. But it opened a door to many more hobbies and projects--like the cotton trial I'm doing for Southern Exposure to grow all seven of their cotton varieties and measure the plants' average fiber length. I am doing this project at Wangari Gardens and hope to hold a few educational workshops throughout the summer.

I've also been in touch with a natural-colour cotton breeder, from whom I hope to obtain seed for cotton shades other than white, brown, and green.

In the meantime, I'm spinning wool, knitting a few sweaters, growing silkworms to make silk, helping out in DC State Fair's fourth year, participating in food swaps, and making wine--in other words, plenty of adventures to share in the coming weeks!

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