Sunday, May 17, 2009

Making Milking Stools with Joe Brien

Planing the edges of the seat to make them round and smooth.
Drilling leg holes holes in the seat.
Shaving the leg-ends to fit the holes in the seat.
Driving them home.
Splitting the leg ends on the seat top.
Driving a wedge into the split leg end.
Sawing the legs off so they will rest evenly on the floor.
After sawing the wedged end off flush with the seat top, planing the top smooth one more time.
Our finished work! with thanks to individual donations and to our instuctor extraordinaire: Joe Brien of Lost Art Workshops!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Organic Gardening: Peas & Cues

At Organic Gardening: Peas & Cues, a workshop in Motherhouse's Old Style Life Skills Series (OSLSS), we learned a few simple ways to start a garden from scratch, discourage garden pests, feed the soil and extend the growing season. The Workshop was at Local Farm, in Cornwall Bridge, CT.

What exactly is organic gardening? Debra Tyler, who led the workshop, said that when you garden organically you think - not only are the plants alive, the soil is alive too; and you work in harmony with Nature. The key to organic gardening is creating and keeping a healthy balance in your garden.

The soil is the basis for everything that grows in our gardens, and it is indeed alive. Feeding the soil by adding organic matter such as compost, manure, chopped leaves, and mulches insures that your plants have a good foundation for healthy growth.

At the workshop, we constructed a compost bin out of wooden pallets. Position the bin near your garden and tie the sides together. For one year fill your bin with a balanced mixture of: green stuff (high in nitrogen) to activate the heat process in your compost, such as weeds, grass cuttings, chicken manure, and table scraps; and brown stuff (high in carbon) to serve as the fiber for your compost, such as fallen leaves, dead plants, cardboard, old straw and hay.

In the following year, make another bin and fill that with green stuff and brown stuff, leaving the first bin to decompose. In the third year, start yet another bin, fill that, and so on, year after year. In the third year you will have compost for your garden in the first bin. In fact, in three years, even the wooden pallets and twine will have deteriorated. If you follow this system, you will always have compost to feed your soil.

Using a cold frame extends the growing season. This cold frame was built with 2 by 12s and 2 by 8s. When designing a cold frame, use whatever old storm windows or storm doors you can come by, which will determine the size of your cold frame. This one uses four windows set side by side. A cold frame usually has a slope to the top of the frame, and it’s best to have the low side facing south to capture as much of the sun as possible. This slope also helps rain water run off the top.

To make an "instant" garden, without digging and tilling, lay down cardboard, as you see we did at the workshop. The cardboard keeps the sun from the sod. Put layers of hay, compost, ashes.... anything you would put in your compost bin on top of the cardboard. This no-dig, no-till organic gardening method results in rich, fluffy soil with very little work from the gardener! If you start such a garden in spring or summer, you will need to add layers of compost or topsoil, so that you can plant in the garden right away.

Here we are learning how a chicken tractor can help with organic gardening. A chicken tractor is a bottomless, portable pen. By setting this wherever you need help - or want a garden - the chickens peck and scratch the soil, eating the bugs, grass, and weeds. Without a cage bottom, the chicken manure goes directly onto the ground and becomes fertilizer. The chickens are happy and by putting them in the garden, they become your personal garden helpers, so you will be happy too!

Gardening in a bale of hay? Try it! Bales that have been sitting out in the weather will give you a head start because the bales need to rot before you plant in them. Debra thinks the bales need 4 to 6 weeks out, getting wet, before planting. (You may be able to accelerate this by keeping the bales watered.) Plant young seedlings by pulling apart the bale, using a trowel, and depending on the state of the straw, put a handful of compost soil in too, then let the straw go back into place. Seeds can be planted on top if you put a layer of compost soil there first. Debra is going to plant cucumbers in these bales.

Companion planting is an age old tradition and we discussed it at the workshop. It’s a gardening technique that involves planting two or more plants near each other to derive some type of benefit. That benefit could be more vigorous growth, higher yield, repelling pests or attracting predators of common pests.

Handy items and resources for organic gardening are available on Motherhouse Market.