Summer Solstice

Happy summer solstice! As always it’s been far too long since I have written. I truly need to learn that I don’t need to write quite so much when I make a post.

Streamlining my writing is hard. I want to say every little thing, I want to fix every spelling error right as it happens, I want to include only the very best images. But I really need to get past that and learn to just write more regularly.

Today, being the summer solstice, is one of the handful of pagan holidays I celebrate. It’s a tough one – there’s no corresponding holidays on the American calendar. The only corresponding religious holiday is “Midsummer” – or a celebration of the birth of St. John – an obscure and rarely noted celebration that almost nobody knows about let alone celebrates. But in pagan cultures, celebrating the seasons and especially the solstices is a big deal. There’s just no culture available for the summer one in the US. There’s not a single major holiday that makes it easier or is even close to the date. Want to decorate your house in lights, stars, and have a fire for Yule? That’s easy! That’s stuff that got absorbed into Christmas from paganism so it’s available commercially everywhere. Want to have a golden cloth or summer herbs for making an amulet on the summer solstice? Tough out of luck. You’re lucky if garden centers are even still carrying the herbs you need so late in the season.

But pagan celebrations always make me happy. They have such a deep focus on being spiritual, feeling happy about your world, celebrating with people… Not to mention their deep connection to agriculture and the seasons. It always makes me feel a little more at peace to celebrate them, and a little more hyped for homesteading. Being pagan often lends itself to a desire to create and build and maintain with one’s own hands. Fae, deities and spirits generally appreciate things made with old-timey love, rather than a purchase. You can’t exactly give a fairy a gift card to Starbucks. So I find a thread of homesteading and older skillsets tends to run deep through people drawn to pagan faiths and the corresponding celebrations always make me feel a deeper connection to both nature and those old skills passed down for thousands of years. Skills on which our society is built and in which handiwork and love shine.

Today, as I said my prayers at noon (honoring the power of the sun, and welcoming the slow rebirth of winter) I thought a lot about my plants, the lifestyle I want to maintain, and why I want to maintain it. It was a good time to review what I hoped to get out of the year and reflect on my love for this lifestyle.

And speaking of this lifestyle, while we’ve had some setbacks this year I would say that the experience has generally been more positive this year. Of course terrible things still exist in the world, and even in my life… And I likely give a great deal more time and energy to such things than I can easily spare… But the homesteading has been improving over last years struggles. The garden is lush and flourishing. We may have finally resolved our Evil Groundhog problem with the capture and ultimate demise of not just a baby groundhog but the mother as well, leaving our garden in a more peaceful state. Our berry canes are just beginning to reach fruition and the garden is recovering from the attacks by said groundhogs. We’ve even stayed on top of the problems more than usual this year, such as making sure every tomato is staked and tied before they even reached 2′.

The chicken flock is slowly making it’s transition into a breeding flock of wheaten ameraucanas. I continue my search for good stock, but it’s slow going and difficult. The best stock is in Texas – on the other side of the country – and very little is available in this area. Next year I hope to have my own breedings of birds for my flock. Right now, we are still an easter egger flock and I even have a broody hen on some eggs.

And my efforts to gain tri-color rex continue to advance, admittedly slowly but present. Over the next two years we may have rapid turnover in both of our livestock stock. I hope we see real and dramatic results from that!

All around things continue to advance in the deliberate and more positive way. Though some aspects continue to provide difficulty, I hope we see better results this year than ever before!

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The spirit of Upcycling (And the best seed pots)

Today I have been exploring the various ways I can apply the spirit of upcycling to my life.

Upcycling (from dictonary.com)

verb (used with object)upcycled, upcycling.
1.

to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original: “I upcycled a stained tablecloth into curtains.”

This week I am sick with a nasty cold. It may be more than that. I went to see a doctor and got some medication that is helping me recover. They actually prescribed me antibiotics for fear that I might be developing pneumonia again. Once you get pneumonia once, it makes the risk for getting future bacterial infections worse.

So lately I have been fairly inactive, relying on my partners to help with most of the critical outdoor chores. But now that I am on the mend I am able to start doing anything again and I am able to upcycle my time stuck semi couch-ridden while also upcycling a pile of newspapers. While I am an getting better I am still a little short of breath when I do simple tasks. So I’m spending my time doing important tasks with my hands instead, upcycling a bad situation into a better and useful one.

Today I am making these seed pots;

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A stack of 40 newspaper seed pots

These are some of the best upcycled seed pots I’ve ever used. They wick water up like a peat pot and are surprisingly sturdy for paper. Unlike a peat pot they actually break down in one season and so don’t restrict root growth as much if you plant the whole pot, plus break apart with some water and a few pokes to free the roots completely for planting. There are some newspaper seed pots that are round and rolled on a can but they come apart easily and the round pots make it harder to conserve space per square foot.

Some time ago I read about someone complaining how millennials don’t listen to people with experience but hypocritically also complained that they refused to do things without trying to research them online first. (The irony of this person demanding millennials learn from their online post was lost on them as well.)
Some places on the internet are garbage, but like all other upcycling, it can be something great instead depending on how you use it! Most millennials (and many others) find the internet to be an incredible resource, and for many of us it’s our only viable resource to learn things. Here’s an idea, upcycle your internet usage. It’s more than OK to learn things online, in fact, it’s awesome! Trade out garbage and depressing websites for productive learning! Not only is it a great resource to learn from people more experienced than you, but it’s also a great resource to learn about how to experiment in ways that more experienced people might not. It’s where I learned to make these, and they are great. You can find the instructions on how to make them here;

 

I get the newspapers from my father, who is in his mid 70’s and appreciates reading the newspaper as a daily lifeline to the world. He often saves them in large quantities for me and brings them to my house in batches of several weeks worth of newspaper at once. Our local newspaper uses soy based inks in their printing so the news pages are safe to use in the garden. (Always check with your newspaper supplier about this, some inks leach toxins into the soil like heavy metals. If you don’t know anyone who has newspapers, consider asking on places like the Craigslist free section or your local freecycle group.)

As I folded up the seed pots I couldn’t help but see the troubles of the world on those pages. Racist rants trying to rephrase a protest of police brutality as disrespect for our military. Sabre rattling between nuclear powers, their egos threatening the lives of millions of people they will never meet. Companies caught in security scandals putting their millions of clients whole financial futures at risk to save a few dollars per person. Painful calls of misogyny from beauty articles demanding women be young, thin and sexy or else they’re worthless. Cries to buy luxury fuel-guzzling vehicles for “low-low prices” of a whole years worth of income that the average person I know can’t possibly afford to give up. Sales of over-priced sick puppy-mill dogs from breeders just looking to make a buck in the classifieds. Countless pages upon pages of obituaries, mostly old but some too-young, each one with a little advertisement at the end that seemed to say: “This dead person’s family used *COMPANY*’s funeral service! If someone you love is dead, you should give them your money while you are grieving too!”.

It gave me plenty of time to notice all this as I folded and folded and folded. I watched TV and chatted with my partners, sometimes playing games or doing other small chores in between folding paper. It was also our weekly cartoon night where we all meet up with some other friends to watch Japanese animation and we all folded papers for a bit. And while I was folding I couldn’t help but reflect on the grander implications of what we were doing.

All that hatred and anger. The egos, the consumption, the greed, the negligence. All the terrible ills and death of the world were getting folded up and put aside. Over the next few months, all of those horrible things will be upcycled and used to grow something beautiful. Something that’s the exact opposite of what’s written on all of those pages. Something that feeds both peoples bodies and souls. Something that brings life and heals the planet.

Those pages will grow food. They will grow peppers and beans. They will grow tomatoes that go into jars and remind us of the rich summer in the middle of a gloomy winter. They will go into gifts for others that bring joy through the year. They will go into growing flowers and feeding bees and rabbits and even grasshoppers and deer. They will break down into the soil and feed the worms and nematodes and grubs in the dirt. They are bits of carbon that will have come out of the air and return to the soil.

No matter how much hatred and anger and pain is printed on them, they can be used to heal.

What a thought provoking day of upcycling.

Ultimately we made 100 seed pots in one day while heavily distracted. Which makes these pots not only great to grow in but fast to produce. If you have some days off that you’re probably just going to be watching TV or something for a good chunk of them anyhow, consider setting yourself down with a flat surface on your lap and folding some seed pots. A 100 pack of 2″ plastic seed cups is nearly $25 on Amazon. I need possibly as many as 400 pots this year, so I will be saving myself $100 by doing this while I’d otherwise just be sick in bed. And in exchange it will nourish my soil, increasing carbon and biomass, and turn something ugly into something wonderful.

Frugal. Ecological. Healing. Nourshing to land, body, soul, and the whole world. Everything gardening, and upcycling, should be. I hope you give these awesome pots a try and do a little upcycling yourself.

Home-made Holiday Gifts; Wood ornaments

Every year we try to make holiday presents for Yule. This year is no different. This year I borrowed a wood burning kit from my sister to use for making these;

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These ornaments or keychains (or however you want to use them) are extremely easy to make. You simply use a saw (I used my circular saw) to cut slices of a stick. Then you drill a tiny hole in the top, and burn in your design. When you’re done, slip a ribbon through, add and secure a wood bead (if you like) and tie it closed.

You can see several different designs here. A star and a snowflake are simple and generic but they get more customized than that. One is a paintbrush and pencil crossed for an artist friend. One is a computer screen with YULE written on it in binary code for a friend who is a programmer. A third is an ornate cross and has a crown of thorns on the other side for a friend who is deeply Catholic (but celebrates my heathen holidays with me anyhow). There’ll be many more by the time I’m done. We usually have around 20-25 people over for Yule and each one receives a gift of some sort as a spiritual requirement for the holiday. That adds up, even if you only spend $10 per person. So we try to aim for home-made gifts as a frugal but thoughtful alternative. Plus it’s very in-tune with both the natural focus of the holiday and our desire to re-use and upcycle common items.

Here’s a step by step of how to make these neat little ornaments.

You’ll need…

  • A relatively smooth, straight and evenly round stick or small log of appropriate size
  • A saw of some sort to make clean cuts in the wood
  • A drill with a very small drill bit
  • A pencil
  • A scarp of thin cardboard with a straight edge
  • Sandpaper
  • A wood burning kit (These run from $25-$50 depending on what you get)
  • Ribbon, string or wire for the loops
  • Beads or other stringable decorations (optional)
  • Tung oil or other wood finisher (optional)

First, find a stick that you want to use that’s straight and smooth.

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Some notes about the kind of stick you should use. The wood type isn’t really as relevant as the literal shape of the stick. You want to pick a stick that has a fairly consistent width and is as straight as possible with very few knots and knobs. Make sure it’s long enough to cut enough discs of the sizes you’d like with enough extra to hold safely while you’re cutting. You also need a stick that is VERY dry and has been stored indoors for some months. A wood that’s very dark in color will have less contrast then a wood that’s very light, especially if you choose to oil it.

Next, pick a consistent width for your tokens and mark off one disc of wood. Cut and repeat until you have as many as you want to make. You can wing this but if consistency matters to you it pays to mark and cut carefully.

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Inconsistent cutting because I winged these means wild angles and different widths.

Next, put your drill to work making a small hole in the top of each one. Be careful about your angles. If your drill goes between the wood and the bark, the bark will probably peel away.

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Note the red staining on the lower disc on the right. That came from the blade of the circular saw. It’s just a surface scuff and will be sanded off later.

Bring your discs to a flat work surface and start to sand them. Sand both sides and lightly sand the bark edge as well. This makes the surfaces smooth and clean and nice to handle. it’ll also keep the wood from flaking. If you cut a piece wildly uneven (like I did), you can use the sandpaper to help even those out. Don’t over-sand the bark edges. You’re just trying to rub away some roughness, not take off layers of the bark. The whole piece of wood should feel almost soft.

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Now you’re ready to burn in some patterns. You’ll need a good wood burning kit. Choose a simple round pointed tip and set up your wood burner. I was using a Walnut Hollow kit, but there was a serious problem with it. The cord is extremely short, and it pulled itself off of the table onto the floor. One of the nibs broke and it snapped off inside of it. I have yet to restore the functionality of this wood burner. I had a backup, but in general, be very careful not to make my mistake.

A wood burner is just a hot metal pen, so you can draw anything with it if you’re careful. I did lots of designs, you can get extremely creative. I did a bear, a cat, a fox, a computer, a cross, theater masks, stars, etc. Just draw it out with a pencil first and then burn it in… But right now I will be showing you how to burn in a simple but pretty snowflake.

First, burn the ends of the hole open so they are clean and easy to work with. Then line up your straight bit of cardboard in the middle of the wood disc, across the hole to the bottom. I used a torn off tab from a box of cookies. Anything is fine as long as it’s straight and disposable.

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Burn a straight line from top to bottom, then do the same thing at a 90* angle so you have a big cross in the middle. At 45* angles from that, still using your straight edge, burn an X shape that’s about half the length inside it.

Next, you simply start filling it out with the crystal structure. Whatever you do on one long line, do the same thing to all the others. They can be straight lines or at angles pointing outward or even X shapes, so long as they are symmetrical across all the long lines. On this one I went for pointed angles on the long branches, and then pointed angles on the ends of the short branches, with straight lines under it. A good rule of thumb is two branches on each line.

I filled up some of the extra space with a moon and some stars. Stars generally have five points so a simple round, pointed nib can make a fuzzy star shape by simply burning five equally spaced points as tightly together as you can.

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At this point, I oiled all of the pieces I was doing. I used some tung oil that I had sitting around and an old scrap of towel to apply it. When you apply an oil like tung oil to the wood, it will dramatically change the base color of the wood. It will make it dark and rich, but it will also reduce the contrast. You may want to go over your wood burn again to make sure it comes out dark enough.

When you are done oiling you may find some of the edges of the wood are a little flaky, especially if you have a large grain sandpaper. That’s OK. Just use the side of your wood burning pen to burn those edges down flat.

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You can see what the oil looks like on these various patterns as well, and you may notice some flaking on the edges. Note that the very center of the wood may absorb the oil differently than the rest of the wood disc. If this is very bothersome, gently and quickly burn over just the center to darken it just a bit.

Now I’ll show you how I attached the bead. Start by deciding how low you want the ornament to hang, then double it (because the ribbon will be a loop). Then add an inch or two depending on the size of bead you’re using, and another couple inches for the knot on the top. These were a larger sized set of beads so about 2 inches would be right. I just guessed at a ribbon length, personally. Cut your ribbon and run it through the hole. You may have to fold it or use a needle threader or some such to make it go through if the hole is very small like mine were. String your bead over both ends of the ribbon.

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Part the ends of the ribbon down over the top of the bead, then bring them up through the bottom of the bead again one at a time so they form loops on opposite sides. Then simply tighten the loops with the beads close to the wood disc and it will hold very securely. Tie a knot at the top and you’re done!

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Let them sit for a time to absorb the oils, but at this point your gift is done. Cute, pretty and simple. Possibly most importantly, nearly free (if you don’t completely break your wood burning tool in the process).

I hope you enjoy crafting these!

 

BUT WAIT!

What if you make a mistake!?

If it’s a deep enough burn, you should probably just start over with a new disc. I mean, these are made out of sticks from your wood pile, after all. But if you have a light burn or don’t want to make a new disc you can actually just sand the burns out. It may take a while to actually get through the burn marks, but any blemishes on the surface of the wood can simply be sanded out with a little elbow grease and then re-oiled.

Happy crafting, friends! Until next time!