Where there is a will there is a way

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to knit striped alpaca baby mittens and hat in the round

  (4 - 10 months, baby stage after newborn)


The alpaca wool that I used was 8-ply.  I bought it from Silverhill Alpacas.  Alpaca wool isn't scratchy, like sheep wool, so it's a great choice for babies.  One 50gm ball of royal blue, one of red.

Sustainable living struggles:  It is best to find and support a local supplier if possible.  The alpaca blue and red I used here was sold by a local alpaca farm, but they imported their bright colours as they are breeding for the natural colours (not usually white).  But they do sell white undyed fleece - maybe I could talk to her about it and learn how to dye my wool brightly in future...and get it spun by locals?  Or just buy from someone else who does dye it locally. 

To make the mittens

Cast on 24 stitches onto 3 double-pointed needles, 8 on each needle, of the blue wool.  These needles are 4 mm.  Knit 2K 2P, and repeat for 7 rows, which will create two stitch wide rib.

Because the number stitches is even, each needle will always start out with 2K and end with 2P.  Because you are knitting in the round, there will be no need to invert the pattern after each round, it will happen automatically.

Change to the second colour, and K one round, stopping before the last stitch.  Create an extra stitch from this one (I use the KFB method).  Repeat for 5 more rows.  Switch colours every 2 rows (the stripes are two rows in length), taking care that the colour string you are leaving is up over the work.

Above photo:  see how the blue string I have just finished with is over the work, not below so I won't create a hole.

Now take a large needle such as a tapestry needle and push it through the 6 extra stitches you have made, pulling a piece of wool through them to place them on hold.

Knit on as usual, excluding the 6 stitches on the outside of the circle.  (Later the thumb will be knitted onto these stitches.)  4 rows later, decrease by K2together on the last stitch of the row, then shift the stitches on the 3 needles to allow for all the decreasing you will be doing at the left and right sides of mittens only as it makes a better shape.  So every round, K2together at the sides of the mittens.  Repeat until you have 4-6 stitches left.  Take a large needle and pull your remaining wool through (cut it), then bind it off with a few knots, camoflauging the wool ending somewhere, gliding it inside the wool.  


More on the decreasing:  I shifted more stitches onto the needles where I knew I was decreasing.  For example, I wanted the mitten back to be a little wider than the front so it curved around a bit, so I shifted stitches so there was a total of 14 on two needles for the back (9 stitches on one and 5 on the other), and 10 on the other needle.  I always decreased at the beginning of the needle with 10 stitches on it, and at the start of the next needle with 9 on it, so that the decreasing was only at the sides of the mittens.

To knit the thumbs

Take up those stitches, onto 3 needles, and knit away for several rows, then start decreasing - I just ended them by eye as long as I thought a thumb should be.  If you don't like feeling your way around, 7-8 rows in total?  I had the cool idea of not trying to end the thumb rounded, but in a point.  A pointy thumb wouldn't bother the baby, and like a pointy hat, would be cute.  

Finishing them:  A very important last step is to weave one string of the wool using a tapestry needle in and out around the wrists of the mittens to act as a drawstring (see photo above).  Babies are active things; they will otherwise throw them off and lose them.  (I was originally going to fasten a string between them, as you do with older childrens' mittens so they don't get lost - but with babies that could be a hazard.)  

To knit the hat

The baby hat (or toque, as they say in Canada) was just knitted in the round, and ended with a point.  I just looked up the common diameter of a baby's head - like this:

0 to 3 months - 29.2 to 33 cm
3 to 6 months - 35.6 to 40.6 cm
6 to 12 months - 40.6 - 45.7 cm  

And of course, I finished it off in a point!  (Because elves are cool.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Making bread at home becomes easy - just like everything else

One thing I have found is:  

Everything is hard the first few times you do it.  Then it becomes easy.

It was the same with getting used to using my breadmaker instead of just buying bread.  Although it took only five minutes a day to throw the ingredients in the breadmaker, at first there was a real investment of energy as I got the right measuring cups and ingredients ready, and actually read enough of the manual to figure out how to operate the breadmaker.  But that investment has paid off, since now I can't believe it took discipline to use a breadmaker at first (instead of buying bread).

After I got used to the routine of using a breadmaker, and in fact used it so often (and sometimes forgetting things like THE WATER), it broke after about a year.  But I also at that time visited my family in North America, and my Dad showed me how to make no-knead bread - as they now make all their bread this way.  Once more, it took awhile toget set up with all the things I needed, and to truly understand the process.  Now making no-knead bread is easy.  (And using the breadmaker - I've since gotten it fixed - is just like falling off a log...)

Don't get me wrong - regular bread is easy too - kneading is quite therapeutic.  And I love whipping up pizza dough with my hands, when I am in the mood for it.  But if you have to work too, as we usually too nowadays, and you still want to make bread at home, it's good to have an easy method so that you actually can realistically accomplish it.

Easy bread links on this blog:

How to make crusty white no-knead bread (artisan bread) in five minutes
How to make100% whole wheat no-knead bread (brown bread) in five minutes
How to make buns (bread rolls) easily at home using a breadmaker

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Video on making artisan bread (no-knead bread)

How to make crusty white no-knead bread (artisan bread) in five minutes

On artisan breadmaking...

Adapted originally from Jim Lahey's method, and Peter Reinhart - the process further refined by my parents who then showed me - some minor modifications in baking timing by me after reading The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting by Brett Markham.

At first I thought they were making this kind of bread because it was easy - but it also tastes better, due to the slow brewing of yeast in the fridge.   In his retirement, my dad was searching for how to make bread as good as the crusty bread he had had in France.  One important factor is the high protein flour they use - so check that your flour is of high protein. 

The dough is very spongy, full of air, and you try to touch it as little as possible when you shape it and bake it. (It's also sticky). The final bread has lots of holes in it.   Disadvantage: your jam might leak through.   Advantage: tastes great, uses less of the expensive ingredients such as tonnes of yeast with bread improver (when I use my breadmaker), or sugar.   Also, no machine or hard labour is necessary.

This method is also featured in The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting by Brett L. Markham.  He is a chemistry person, but also a self sufficiency person - in his book he includes photos, and offers a much needed explanation as to why this method of making bread works.   

From the chapter called, "Artisan Breads on the Stone":

"Artisan breads hove traditionally been time-consuming to make, but the combination of two innovations allows you to make no-knead bread in as little as five minutes a day. The first innovation was introduced in 1994 by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. This was the incorporation of a substantially larger proportion of water into the dough and allowing longer sitting times. This allows the gluten chains to link without kneading.

"The second innovation was introduced in 2007 by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, and consists of the simple fact that dough made in this fashion can be refrigerated. When the two innovations are combined, you can make delicious artisan bread in mere minutes.... The core idea of the method is that if you make a very wet dough and set the dough aside in the refrigerator, the gluten chains will interlink on their own over time, thus obviating the need for kneading the bread to obtain a good consistency.

 "The dough can be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and all you have to do is take it out, cut off a portion of it, let that portion rise, and then pop it in the oven. Over time, as you save portions of the dough from previous batches for your new batches in the same bowl,  your bread will develop its own sourdough character without need for maintaining separate sourdough cultures."

Also, says Markham, and this is really fascinating:

"Artisan bread has only four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt,and yeast.  That's all. Nothing more is needed.  Bread made in bread machines needs to rise rapidly, so sugar is included so the yeast will have immediate access to food.  Because the dough for artisan breads is allowed to sit, during which time a certain amount of autolysis occurs, some of the starch in the flour is naturally converted to sugar. 

"Salt is used in bread for two purposes. The first is to limit the activity of the yeast so you don't wind up with huge air gaps in your bread. The second is to strengthen the gluten. The yeast used for bread is the same species as that used for wine and beer, but the specific variety has been selected for baking purposes. The yeast eats sugars and makes alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide makes the bubbles in the bread, and the alcohol evaporates during baking. 

"A potential fifth ingredient can also be included, and that is lactobacillus lactic acid bacteria. Lactobacillus can live symbiotically with bread yeast. When it does, it turns the alcohol byproduct of yeast into lactic acid, which gives sourdough bread its flavor. The lactic acid helps to preserve the bread and gives it a shelf life that is nearly as long as that of commercial breads containing preservatives. Up until the 1800s, practically all leavened bread was sourdough because yeast and lactobacillus as separate organisms were unknown.Once the difference was discovered, yeast was cultured by itself for the purposes of leavening. So, interestingly,by separating the symbiotic yeast/lactobacillus culture for convenience, preservatives in bread became necessary."


The Five Minute Method

Makes two loaves.

600g lukewarm water (3 cups)
2g granulated yeast  (1/2 tsp)
16g salt (2.5 tsp) 
800g white unbleached flour (6 cups)

You will either need a digital scale or measuring cups, two plastic containers for storing the dough in your fridge, and butter or other stiff grease for greasing the containers.

It is important that your flour is of a high protein level. I did find a local supplier (mybreadmix.co.nz)of very good flour, it is 13.5g of protein.  Look for high protein flour, or your bread will not be good. 

Making the dough

Short video just showing the texture of no-knead artisan bread

To lukewarm water, add granulated yeast and salt.  Stir and add flour until all the flour is incorporated.  Yes, you can use a bread mixer - or even your hands.  But I wouldn't advise it!  It's very sticky.

When measuring using measuring cups (as opposed to a digital scale), the amounts must be accurately measured.  Use a table knife to shear off the excess flour at level.

Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, and then stir vigorously for 1 minute.  The dough should be sticky, wet and shapeless.  Divide into two pieces and place in greased container that is large enough to allow for the rising (about one third to one half full).  Leave the containers at room temperature for a couple of hours, then place the containers into the fridge until you are ready to bake them, from 1-14 days (can use from three hours).  Alternatively, you can leave the containers out in room temperature for at least 12 hours before baking.

I put the dough in my fridge in ice-cream containers, leave them to rise in room temperature for a few hours (not in hot sun either, slow rising is fine), then place them in the fridge for baking the next day (letting them rise in the containers for a few hours first).  Then you don't have to bake them 12 hours from now - usually falling on 2am or some other inconvenient time! 

Baking the bread

Using a heavy cast iron pot (dutch oven), or a pizza stone: 

Step 1 - Get your container of dough and let it warm up for a few hours at room temperature. When you are ready to bake, flour a surface, dump the dough onto it.  Shape it by pulling up the sides to the center top.  This is called a "boule" (ball in French).  Flip "de boule" onto a floured wooden board.  Let rise for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees C / 500 (22 degrees F, (220 degrees on fanbake), with the heavy cast iron pan (no need to grease) or pizza stone inside.

If you are using a pizza stone - as I do - add a pan underneath to get heated.  In a moment you'll add some water.  This is because it's the vapour that will make the crust.. crusty.  You don't need to do this if you are baking in a heavy pan with a lid on top - as the contained moisture will do the same thing.

Step 2 - After 20 minutes have passed or when your oven and pot are hot enough (about 40 minutes rising time in total - too long of rising time and the boule will be too flat and spread out), open the door and...

Take the lid off the pot, and slide the boule from your floured board - or fwap the boule from the towel - or set it, baking paper and all - right into the nongreased hot pan.  Put the lid back on (using hotpads of course), and shut the door.

Pizza stone:  Add 1 cup of water into the broiler pan underneath the stone.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Cast iron pot:  Set a timer and bake for 15 minutes.  After15 minutes, take the lid off and bake longer, could be 5 minutes more, 10, or even 15 - depending on how dark you would like your crust.  I found 10 minutes was just right, but check every 5 minutes to see (using a timer!). 

When it's done to your satisfaction, flip out onto a wire rack (or upside down) to cool.

For instructions on making brown (whole wheat) artisan bread on this blog, click here.  Also, click here to watch a video on making no-knead artisan bread.

How to make whole wheat (BROWN) no-knead bread in five minutes

Adapted originally from Peter Reinhart's book, Artisan Breads Everyday, and the process further refined by my parents who then showed me, Ann and Heber Jones.  

With no-knead breadmaking, half the dough is water instead of the usual ratio of a third.  Longer sitting times means the dough forms the gluten chains on their own.  (For more on the fascinating chemistry of breads, and also wine, beer, etc,  read this book: The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting, by Brett L. Markham)

The Five Minute Method

Makes two loaves.  My dad's modification:  you can use either instant or non-instant yeast with this recipe.  Ann and Heber say:   "We found weighing the ingredients with a digital kitchen scale gave consistent results."  I use the whole wheat no-knead bread as my opportunity to add multi-grains, and linseed, sesame, or sunflower seeds.  Hey, if you're going to be eating brown bread, you might as well go all the way and make it as healthy as possible.  The white no-knead (artisan) bread is more of a yummy bread to have with dinner, or as toast.

539g lukewarm water 
14g salt 
5g yeast (or 4g instant yeast)
43g oil 
43g sugar or honey 
680g whole wheat flour

You will also need a digital scale, two plastic containers for storing the dough in your fridge, and butter or other stiff grease for greasing the containers.

Note: It is important that your flour is of a high protein level. I did find a local supplier (mybreadmix.co.nz)of very good flour, it is 13.5g of protein, whatever that means.  Look for high protein flour, or your bread will not be good.

First, I get all my materials together - two large bins of flour, both whole wheat and white, a mixing bowl and wooden spoon, the scale, salt, yeast, sugar or honey, oil, lukewarm water,and little containers for measuring the salt and yeast.  (I always find this breadmaking process relaxing, since I first did this with my dad.)

He always mixed the dough in an ice-cream pail - see photo, on right.  But any bowl will be fine.  A light plastic bowl for measuring the flour is good, though.

Making the dough

Step 1 - Measure all the ingredients but the flour together in your mixing bowl (or container), and mix well.

Heber says:  If you are using honey, measure the oil first - then the honey will come away more easily.  If you are using sugar - measure the sugar first.

Step 2 - Measure the flour, and add part of it, mixing with your spoon - "get it wet" first.  Then add the rest of the flour.  You are done when the dry ingredients are no longer visible, the flour is mixed in.

At this point, resist the urge to grab it with your hands!  It's really sticky!  You can use a dough mixer, if you find the stirring difficult.

Step 3  Wait 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, stir vigorously for 1 minute.  Give it hell, stretch and pull it with the spoon. 

After I got this little timer for no-knead breadmaking,  it has done wonders for my life as I am a forgetful person  I use it for everything - it even has a magnet so it can stick to the fridge.

Step 4 -  Divide the dough into two even portions, and place into greased containers.  Let rise for a couple of hours at room temperature, then place containers in the fridge for baking 1-4 days from now.

My parents always have a few containers in their fridge slowly brewing - in a cycle of mixing up, storing in the fridge, baking, then freezing the baked bread.Alternatively, you can leave the containers out in room temperature for 12-24 hours before baking.

Baking the dough
1- 4 days later (with the white recipe it's up to 2 weeks, but bugs know what real food is), when you are ready to bake your loaves remove the containers from the fridge and let the dough warm up for a couple of hours.  Then, shape the sticky dough into loaves, and place in greased pans.  Let rise for another couple of hours.  Let it rise only as high as the walls of the bread pan.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (350 degress F) and bake for 45 minutes.

My dad showing me the bubbly texture of brown, risen no-knead bread dough as he shapes it to place in a pan to bake it.


I use butter - but it is best to use something "stiff" to grease your containers, and especially breadpans.  No-knead bread dough is very very sticky!

For instructions on making crusty white no-knead bread (artisan bread) on this blog, click here.

The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting by Brett L. Markham

This book is punk.  "The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting.  Self-sufficiency from beer and  cheese to wine and vinegar.  WINE - CHEESE - BEER - VINEGAR - BREAD"

Winemaking, beer brewing, how to make vinegar - and even has no-knead artisan bread in it! (my Dad showed me this method, it's punk too).

I always need more than a recipe - this explains how it works, so you can experiment at your own whim - and know what it is that you're doing.  He has a chemistry background, but just keeps you on a "need to know basis".

Requested this book at my local library - and of course I tried to scan in all sorts of bits before realizing it's cheap as chips as a Kindle edition - right now I want a copy of the bread, and wine sections - but all sections in time.  (Like vinegar making!)  Right now my plums are growing on the trees, and I want to be ready for them properly this year.  But the bread section is also brilliant.  Simple to understand, very well put together.  This is a great book.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Madagascar, Lemur and Spies - Natural World doc, 2011-12 ep10 of 13

My post on the Gibson Facebook page:

"Hey Gibson.  I just watched episode 10 of 13, of the BBC series, Natural World (Madagascar, Lemurs and Spies).  That was interesting.  Apparently you used to buy illegal rainforest hardwood from Madagascar - the source of the demand.  Illegal loggers would make your guitar parts right in Madagascar to ship to you.  Wasn't too impressed by Gibson's response either, ie, 'Madagascar is really screwed up anyways.'

"If someone hadn't risked their life to get evidence and prosecute you, you'd still be doing it.

"Shame on you, Gibson."


The point is, a kind of lemur which is amazing - "Silkies", the "ghost of the forest" (as they are so shy) are being destroyed due to the usual reason - loss of habitat.

Madagascar is screwed up because of people like you, Gibson guitar-makers.

. . .

A few days later...

The response so far - not from Gibson but from some random Americans:

"Ricky Underwood: What is so DUMB about people like this guy is they don't ever think that amybe, just maybe some one is replanting TREES for future generations. Tree huggers..... 

"Slick Camden: think u best take message to china. still doing it 

"Nonavee Dale: Trees take along, long time to grow. So do forests. 

"Nonavee Dale: Ricky - the logging was illegal, poachers were taking logs from their national parks because the country was too politically unstable to do anything about it. So you don't believe in law and order? That would be the only way such things (replanting at the right rate) could be organised. So you believe that you can take what you want. I'm not a treehugger, humans won't be able to live either soon if this sort of behaviour continues.

 "And Ricky - I'm a woman, not a guy."

From BBC's website:

Sascha Von Bismarck

Sascha is a Harvard graduate and ex-marine who runs the Environmental Investigation Agency in Washington DC. He is passionate about defending the environment and making corporations and governments take responsibility for their actions. Sascha spent six years lobbying to get the Lacey Act Amendment passed into US law and believes strongly that it is the way forward. In his view it has the potential to revolutionise world trade – when for the first time the companies who create the demand for precious wood – like Madagascan ebony and rosewood, are held to account if they have imported illegal wood. But he has no illusions about the mountain still to climb. Even if the music industry is a small part of the problem compared the China, it can become the spearhead of the solution. With the Lacey Act behind him, Sascha is continuing his battles to save the World’s forests.

Erik Patel

Dr. Erik R. Patel is a primatologist who earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University and his Masters from the University of California at Berkeley. He has worked in Madagascar every year since 2001 studying the behavioral biology and conservation of one of the most critically endangered primates in the world, the silky sifaka lemur (Propithecus candidus) both in Marojejy National Park and the Makira Natural Park.

Link to more on this program here.

Life and Death

I too want to live forever.

I love life.  But that's part of the give and take of life, every day I eat meat, a creature must die.

It would be egotistical to assume that one day, that taking, would not one day require a give.

listening to Nina Simone, a very bright light (that still gives light)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Reading "Little House in the Big Woods" to my kids (after the B.F.G.)

We just read the BFG - that's "Big Friendly Giant" (by Road Dahl).  It's a must for little kids - mine are 5 (Luke) and 7 (Troy).

Kids and other real people will find it hilarious.  It's great for the imagination - he walks the streets at night, blowing dreams into the windows of little children with this great trumpet.  Not to mention whizzpopping (farting).  The soda he drinks in giant-land - let's just say the bubbles travel down...

My kids confided to me that they believed that he was real, and I didn't dare contradict them.

We read a chapter or two every night (unless I was too tired, then too bad), and they were hooked.

This has honed their little attention spans for a set of books I have been wanting to read to them for awhile - the "Little House on the Prairie" series.  If you only remember the TV show, try to forget. 

Laura Ingalls was a real little girl, and you can read all about her life, and how she lived, with lovely simple drawings for the imagination.  (She lived when people were settling in the West, born in 1867.)  We have started reading the first one, "Little House in the Big Woods".  It's written for the child's mind - for how they need to hear it to imagine it perfectly. 

Everything is described - how they smoke meat in a hollow log turned on one end, with a little roof on the top, and how after they prepare the pig's meat to last them over the winter, they blow up the pig's bladder for the girls to play with (little Laura, 5 or so, has a bigger sister Mary).  Lukie really wants to try churning butter in the ceramic jug they used to use with the stick (dash), with a lid with a hole in it.  I would like to try to find an antique one and try it!  (Think I'll pass on trying the pig's bladder idea, though!)

Laura, sitting on a pumpkin in the attic with her sister Mary.  Mary has a wooden doll, and Laura has a little wrapped up corncob for a doll.  I was fascinated with this little girl's life when I was also little.

How to churn butter.  Mary having a turn while Mother rests.  The little girls helped with the work to the best of their ability.

Vertical Forest in Milan

Artist impression, link here.

Real photo, link here.

Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, being constructed in the heart of Milan by Stefano Boeri architects, is to have 900 trees. Better than a treeless apartment, but still very controlled. And what if some trees grow really really big? Or would they in that environment? What do you think of this as our future?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Feeling the stillness in Stillwater

There is something special about touching another living creature.

Usually I feel too rushed doing the next chore, or working on a work project, to take a moment to feed the birds by hand as I encouraged my children to do.

Recently, feeling a little bit of depressed one day - I took a moment to do this.  I felt a thrill as eight of the wild dove touched down on my hand, and felt his dry little scratchy feet.  It was like touching another part of yourself, another part of God in another creature.  Another part of the Greater Spirit.  I felt uplifted.

Taking that moment to feel our world, is probably a source of unhappiness for we often unhappy people of the world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Forest and Bird rejects Joyce call, stands firm on appeals" National Business Review article

Found at http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/forest-and-bird-rejects-joyce-call-stands-firm-appeals-wb-129471 on September 26, 2012, by The National Business Review

BUSINESSDESK: The Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society will press ahead with appeals against resource consents for Bathurst Resources' proposed open cast coal mine on conservation land in the Denniston Plateau region, above Greymouth.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce called on Forest & Bird and a West Coast environmental action network to drop appeals against consents granted last August, citing the need for West Coast mining jobs after state-owned Solid Energy announced the mothballing of its Spring Creek mine.

Some 220 of the 440 job losses at Solid Energy will be at Spring Creek. Bathurst says it would employ around 400 people at the Escarpment mine, the first of several Bathurst plans in the area.

However, Forest & Bird says Mr Joyce "is being opportunistic in deflecting the blame for the mismanagement of the Spring Creek mine".

"I feel for the people who are losing their jobs, obviously," Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell told BusinessDesk.

"That's a real issue. But mining is a boom-and-bust industry with a long history of it on the West Coast. It's one of the reasons their economy has never been as strong as they would like.

"The long-term future is having industries that are much more sustainable."

He questioned also whether Mr Joyce's intervention in favour of Bathurst's proposals could put the minister foul of the legal process playing out through resource consent appeals, and the statutory process that would follow if Bathurst succeeded and sought ministerial position for an access agreement to Department of Conservation land.

"There would be a serious question, given his public advocacy, about whether such a decision has been influenced by government policy," Mr Hackwell says.

Bathurst chief executive Hamish Bohannan has reported frustrations among shareholders over delays to the Bathurst consent process, saying the company has spent $15 million so far on consenting issues.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Using reusable containers for buying meat (to avoid plastic waste)

The one thing I do to prevent plastic waste, that actually works well - both for environment and for my family - is simply to bring reusable hard plastic containers to a butcher or supermarket meat counter.  They can tare the scale to zero, then put in whatever I am buying.  The plastic disposable bag is then unnecessary - the repetitive waste is out of the loop.

Then you can put the containers in the freezer as they are. Ha ha.

(I do sometimes get complaints if I use the meat container to pack a lunch or something.  Best to keep these ones as meat containers only I guess.)

Recently though - the grocery store they built which was closer to our home was made without a meat counter, and the butchery I went to closed (likely put out of business by the grocery store, which did have alot of meat - just all on polystyrene/styrofoam trays).  So I was SOL.  And driving for a half hour to go to a grocery with a meat counter would not get me anywhere as I would, too ironically, create more greenhouse gas pollution.  But I am proud of the fact that I went and explored and found a new place to go and do this, a pretty close drive away in our 2nd nearest shopping area.  The Butcher Lady in Orewa, NZers.  She'll even let me text her to  make sure she has what I need unpackaged.

So just explore - I am sure you'll find a place near you that will let you do this.

RCN e-waste - electronic recycling in Albany

There are many companies recycling e-waste now.  I just had the coolest experience a month or so ago.

I ruined our computer monitor by spraying too much water on it when I was cleaning it, and we also had an old computer to recycle, and a broken heater.  I looked up a local e-waste recycler that had been doing some advertising at my kids' school - RCN e-cycleThere were others, but I chose a larger more mainstream one that was actually close to us, to add my little activity to the larger stream, if that makes sense, to support this future way of doing things to the best of my ability.  

They took the computer and computer monitor for free, and charged a minimal charge for the heater - and after taking them apart, will recycle every last bit they can down to the wires (or reuse).  Right on.  The relief I felt at getting rid of that stuff properly was palpable, lending to a spring in my step (oh yes).

Wherever you are, look it up - I sure you'll find an electronic waste recycler near you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to prevent weeds without using plastic weedmat

Look at all the plastic waste I cleared from just one little section - plastic weedmat left behind by prior owners!

In New Zealand, if you don't prevent weeds in your garden (yard) they just might grow larger then you! With all the lovely sunlight pouring down, and rain, the biggest challenge when gardening is helping the right species flourish, as every species crowds in where it can. Unless...

Non-breathable plastic weedmat (straight plastic) is not a good choice for preventing weeds for this reason. As a weedmat it soon becomes uneffective anyways, as new soil forms over top of the weedmat as plant matter breaks down on top of it. What you end up with is a sandwich of soil, then a layer of plastic pollution, then more soil underneath (but compacted and straining for oxygen, with no earthworms).

A better choice is anything that breaks down, like jute weedmat, or they even have wool weedmat here in NZ. But these options are expensive. Some people suggest using a thick layer of newspaper - but in my experience it goes all over the place. We did try something called "Geocil", my husband bought it because it was affordable and does break down. But to a perfectionist (such as me) that's not perfect - although breathable it is made out of polypropylene and will cause some pollution to the soil as it breaks down. (The plastic separates into smaller pieces that you can now see are made up of many strands - until you grab them and dispose of the pieces bit by bit into the landfill anyways.  Not a great solution at all.  See photo below.)

From my feel for it, and seeing forests, and also suggested by horticulturalists - you can avoid using weedmat at all though by using ALOT OF MULCH. In a foresty garden, mulch is bark nuggets, or best ever - pieces of ponga log. In a veggie garden straw, or hay is great for nitrogen release. This represses weeds without choking off the air that the soil needs, and keeps the soil from drying out - making a lovely cool environment for worms to flourish.

Mulch is a great option for hot and dry climates too. My sister-in-law Iris is a great gardener who lives in near San Diego in Ramona, California, where the growing season is very hot and dry with less than 12 inches of rainfall per year (300 mm). She can't swear enough about the value of using mulch on her veggie garden for preserving moisture (and preventing weeds).

For more about weedmat and soil, check out this page: Greg's Indigenous Plants and Landscapes, a website about environmentally friendly landcapes by Michael Hough, Professor of Landscape Architecture, from York University, Canada. He really goes into depth about the subject.
Key points:
"Plastic weed mat was widely used to suppress weeds for revegetation projects during the 1970's and 1980's. However it use is now largely viewed as a disaster and has been replaced by biodegradable weed mat.
"Unfortunately the landscaping industry and the gardening public did not get the message. Woven plastic weed mat is still used widely by the industry and in worse case scenarios black builders plastic is used as a cheaper alternative.
"Plastic weed mat will cause many problems for your soil and your garden:
  1. It impedes or stops rainfall soaking into the soil.
  2. It prevents worms from mixing organic matter from the mulch through the top soil.
  3. It impedes or prevents aeration of the top soil.
  4. Its slippery surface causes the mulch to slide off exposing unsightly patches of bare plastic.
  1. Weeds still grow through cuts and holes in the plastic or on top of it and then you unavoidably tear large holes in it when you remove them."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How to kettle dye wool (yarn) - in Utah with my sister Wendy

When I visited my family, some who now live in the US, I dyed wool with my sister Wendy (who I believe will one day be famous, she's so creative). She showed me how to kettle dye wool with "acid dyes". I am very excited about it.

You can save money by buying undyed wool, then artistically dye it yourself.

Above - one kilo of undyed wool (Peruvian Highland Wool, Worsted Weight, "Bare" by Knitpicks).

You can do this either on the stove, or using an electric kettle. In the States, we used Pro Washfast Acid Dyes. In NZ, Wendy suggested Ashford dyes.

Electric kettle. (I think that would be better than on a stovetop anyways - safer.)

Wendy suggested 4 colours. I wanted to choose both the blues and greens of the ocean, and also the deeper darker greens of the NZ bush (forest). This is for a jumper (sweater) for my husband. Forest Green, Avocado, Moss, Turquoise.

First you soak the yarn in warm water with 1/2 cup of citric acid (white powdery stuff). The citric acid makes the dye take faster, a "faster strike".

Dissolve each colour of dye in a separate cup. (About 1/2 cup water and 2 teaspoons dye).

Sometimes the dye (especially turquoise) can be hard to dissolve. Try to dissolve the gummy stuff as best you can - can take a lump out to keep soaking and add later.

Next, Wendy (wearing gloves or else you'll get very colourful hands) took the wet noodley yarn out and placed it all in the heated kettle (with some water in first so the wool doesn't get burnt). She had her kettle heated up to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C).

Arranging the hanks (skeins) like this...

Then she just started pouring dye all over it!


I call it..."where the forest meets the sea..." or something like that. Seamoss forest? Anyways it's both forest and ocean colours together. THEN wait 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes, she added more water, especially between the wool and the sides to prevent burning, and let it cook for one more hour.

At which point Wendy and I found something industrious to do. This is my sister Wendy, spinning wool.

1 hour later. Ok. Let's see what it looks like...

Lookin' good!

After the dyeing, the remaining water will be quite clear if the dye has been "exhausted". If not, Wendy always throws some extra wool in there to soak up the dye. This is unspun wool. She saves an assortment of wool dyed in this way, until she has enough to do something with.

Then wash the wool, adding 1/2 cup of vinegar, and at this point you can add a few drops of essential oils to help it resist bugs - we used lemon and eucalyptus, but I imagine tea tree oil would be really good too.

Not bad!

Now I just have to figure out how to knit a jumper (that's "sweater" to you, North Americans).