Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Solstice Straw Bale Garden Update

Solstice morning in the garden.
Happy Solstice! I'm determined to eek every ounce of productive time out of this longest day of the year, so what better task to add to the list than a garden update?  It's been about a month since I planted our 12 bales, and things are looking pretty good.  I applied some worm compost (poop from red wiggler composting worms) at planting time, and have  been using E.B. Stone Organic Tomato and Vegetable fertilizer, plus every week or two I apply some aerated worm compost tea that incorporates fish emulsion and kelp. There's not much for nutrients inside the bales so the plants appreciate frequent feedings. I wish things were farther along, but our season up here in the coastal range is about 30 days behind everywhere else, and our spring finished rather cool this year. Patience is a virtue, I guess.

These rudbeckias might be the first to use the trellis. These are in a pot of the humus left over from last season's bales.
The potatoes seem to like their new home.

Nothing is growing on our trellis yet, except for an unidentified squash that is about to leap. The green bean plants I bought for the first round were supposed to be the pole variety but I think they were mislabeled bush beans. The second round I planted in the ground next to the bales disappeared, and I'm guessing it was either a mole/gopher, or the chicken manure compost (too hot) that did them in - they never emerged. Yesterday I planted another round of seeds, this time in the bales.

Strawberries. Still not planted in the STRAW bales.
Tomatoes and basil. The tomatoes are a couple of feet tall now, except the Siletz variety (beefsteak), which is only about a foot tall.

Beans and radishes.
So what am I growing this year?  Here's the list:

Flamme Heirloom
Gold Medal Heirloom
Green Zebra
Sweet 100
And one other whose tag is lost

Early Sunsation
Iko Iko Pepper Lavender Bell
Italian Long Pepper
Jalapeno Gigante

Winter Speckled Round
Green Tiger Zucchini
Butternut Squash
Sunburst Patty Pan

Bright Lights Swiss Chard
Nobel Spinach (bolted immediately)
Romaine Lettuce
Roma II Italian Flat Beans
French Pole Beans
Emerite Pole Bean
Garlic (different varieties, from a friend)
Potatoes (Yukon Gold and Red)
Persian Cucumber
Pickling Cucumber
American Flag Leeks
Kyoto Japanese Eggplant
Italian Basil
Heavenly Hybrid Sweet Corn (white)

The corn is new this year, and it's an experiment. I had one extra bale (the 13th), and despite all advice from the interwebs, I turned this bale on its side and planted corn in it. Maybe it's my midwestern roots showing, definitely my stubbornness, but I'm determined to give it a go. The baling technique used by my supplier is not standard - the cut ends of the straw are not opposite the twine, they are on the same side of the twine. For this reason, plus the extra surface area, I decided to turn this bale on its side. It's not a lot of corn, and it's planted far closer together than advised, but we will see what happens. I'm sure I'll have to put up some kind of staking system so it won't fall over.

Still, as when I first started this garden a couple of years ago, my favorite thing is to wander out there as the early morning sun hits the rows, and just drink it all in. I love the smell, the sight of the new growth, and the birds, and it fills my tank.

I'm loving these interesting flower buds on this unidentified member of the squash family (acorn?).
Green Tiger Zucchini. I chose this one because it was pretty. It's doing much better so far than my zukes have in prior years.
Finally, remember that huge pile of spent straw I hauled out of the garden this spring? I've been composting it next to the garden enclosure in anticipation of putting a bed for corn in next year, on some soil that has never been planted.  I stole some of it yesterday to put on top of another bed that has been redone - it will be a great soil conditioner combined with some alpaca manure I got from a friend. I can't wait to see what that bed does.

Spent straw used as a feeding mulch on an ornamental bed. In the fall I'll take the iris out and divide them, and then amend the poor soil where they were growing.
What's new in your garden?

Monday, May 16, 2016

2016 Northern California Straw Bale Garden Update

First day after nitrogen application, and things are heating up nicely.
Happy Spring! This is a big year for my Northern California straw bale garden (Year #3), as it's the first time that I've switched all of the bales out for new ones. The first year I started with 12 bales, and at the end of the season most of them looked good enough to use another year, so I kept them in place. After the winter, at the beginning of Year #2 it looked like three of them would not in fact make it through the summer, so I replaced them. Very shortly after the summer growing season started it became obvious that the bales were not structurally sound and my plants were headed for a rough and tumble time. My tomatoes leaned, my potatoes spilled over the edge of the hardware cloth installed to keep moles and gophers out, and it was not pretty.

Former potato row. Note collapsing bales behind the wheelbarrow, and new bales to the right of the wheelbarrow.

 Fast forward to this spring when I decided to replace all of the bales, and started trying to remove them. All of the bales that had been there since Year #1 were firmly rooted to the ground, and it was backbreaking to get them out. The bales that were only a year old were not quite as infested with roots, but the invasion was clearly starting. I used a hand tool to slice along parallel to the hardware cloth and cut the roots. Then came the back breaking process of hauling the soggy, heavy decomposed bales out of the enclosed garden area to a place where they could continue to compost. It took a good long while and several soaks in the jacuzzi to convince my body to keep at it.

Front: 15 decomposing bales. Rear: 12 brand new bales just starting the conditioning process.
What am I going to do differently this time? Well, for starters, I'm not going to reuse bales from one season to the next. I'm also putting some leftover pond liner (heavy gauge black plastic) down under the bales, on top of the hardware cloth, as a deterrent to the roots. 

I've also decided to grow potatoes, a crop that likes to reseed itself from year to year, in a raised planter box. This spring I built one out of cedar and redwood and I'm hopeful the potatoes will like it. The bonus was that I could use some of the partially decomposed straw as a growing medium, which the potatoes love, and was much lighter than potting soil.

New potato bin. I found a set of plans on eHow and abused modified them to make this. Let's just say that "lessons were learned" and I'll do better next time.
The other new thing in the straw bale garden this year is an arched tunnel where I will grow green beans, cucumbers, and squash.  The wires run between the fence posts were just not tall enough for those things, and I needed more height. My neighbor was using some of these panels, known as "stock panels" or "cattle panels" and she told me I could find them at our local feed store. Brilliant! They are made from very rigid 4 gauge wire, and make a very sturdy trellis no matter how you install them. She and her husband were kind enough to haul some home for us and after a brief, slightly bloody struggle they are installed over two rows of the bales. It was definitely a 2 person job, and would have been easier with more. Once these panels are bent they really want to bend back, and if you're not ready for it they will spring back with a vengeance and get you. Caution advised. But I'm so looking forward to seeing green beans twining up the sides, with fruit hanging down inside the tunnel. These panels are 14' long x 5' wide, although other configurations are available. My tall husband can walk under it with just a slight hunching over.

It's still early in our coastal mountain growing season here, but I'm impatient to see what this new crop of bales can do. The sunflowers and zinnias are in the ground for summertime cutting, and the marigolds will go in the bales. Some of the nasturtiums I planted the first year have naturalized on the ground, and I'm hoping they recover from the beating they took by the wheelbarrow during the removal process. I had also planted some dahlias and rudbeckias, in the bales and they are in temporary pots until the new bales are ready for planting in a couple of weeks. They definitely loved life in the bales.

I hope to keep you updated as things progress this year!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Flameworking class: Cabochons for Snap Jewelry

Join me on Saturday, April 16th for Snap To It! Cabochons for Snap Jewelry.  See below for class info.
 If you've followed me here or on Facebook you know about the interchangeable snap jewelry I've been having fun making for the last couple of years. It's a trendy, fun way to make collectible jewelry that will coordinate with clothing.  To a flameworker it's a chance to perfect one's cabochon making skills, which can be transferred to other more traditional bezel setting techniques as well as this latest popular interchangeable jewelry style.  I'll be teaching this in a new class offered in my home studio in Los Gatos, CA on Saturday, April 16th.

As far as I can tell, it started with a company in Amsterdam called Noosa, that offered stylish, Boho jewelry that featured snap-in components called "chunks", made from metal, stone, ceramic, wood, glass, resin, and more. You can unsnap them and put new ones in every day to match whatever you're wearing, and the jewelry styles offer something for everyone. The trend has caught on and now there are a lot of companies making similar jewelry styles that all fit the same snaps. Brands that are generally interchangeable are Noosa, Ginger Snaps, and more. Snaps (also called chunks, poppers, and snap charms) come in different diameters and as many styles as there is imagination.

In the class we will learn all about cabochon mandrels and how to use and maintain them, how to size your work to fit the mandrels, what designs work well in this format, and how to finish them when they come out of the kiln. You'll also learn how to source and/or make jewelry that accepts these snaps, and how to display them at shows.

Students should bring any glass colors that they want to work with, didymiums, and any tools important for your most common designs.  To purchase and save your seat in this class click HERE.  If this class fills I will add a second one on Sunday, April 17.  If you prefer to pay by check or cash, just send me an email to save your spot.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2016 Classes are Posted!

 In line with my intentions of teaching more classes in the coming year, I've posted my workshop offerings on my website. There is a nice mix of "salon" style mini-workshops in the evenings (and I'm open to more if you have suggestions), and 1 and 2 day workshops. These will be taught in my home studio (still yearning to name this sacred space) in Los Gatos, CA, a space that is becoming more and more special to me as my wonderful students attend classes. 

Starting in February is my series of 2 1/2 hour classes where I will offer demonstration and individual student help on specific topics ranging from making glass headpins on wire, using presses, making striped cane and twisties, and hand shaping. These are meant to help beadmakers that have some experience already to perfect their skills. They are very affordable at $85, and small enough to allow a lot of individual help.

In April I'm also offering a one day workshop on making flameworked glass cabochons for snap jewelry. I've been doing this for over a year now and it's quite fun, and sells really well.  If you haven't heard about the newest trend from Europe, have a look at the snap charm jewelry section of my Etsy shop and tell me this doesn't get you excited.

I'm also going to be teaching my electroforming class again, this time in my own studio in June. If you've ever wondered how to fabricate something entirely new (and often organic) to transform your bead or other artistic work, this is your class. You don't have to be a flameworker to take this class - this skill is useful to many different creative types. We will learn about equipment and where to buy it, how to electroform on glass and also organic materials such as pods, twigs, etc, and I'll help you to learn ways of troubleshooting your setup when things aren't working right. This class includes my written tutorial, as I think a student should be free to pay attention during class and not have to scribble every detail down.
So, if any of these offerings interests you, please check out the full class descriptions on my website.  The best way to reserve your seat is to go ahead and purchase the class, but if this is challenging for you in any way you can contact me to save a seat and we can discuss payment options.  Thanks for looking!

Monday, December 7, 2015


  That's pretty much what I said when I noted the date of my last post.  Seriously. I know why I haven't been blogging much, but is everyone else in the same situation? Do people even read blogs any more?  Is it all about Facebook and Instagram now? I know I've gotten out of the habit, but I'm not sure I'm representative of the rest of my artsy community.

So in the interest of getting current, here's what I've been up to since my last post.

The Gathering (annual conference of glass bead makers) in Albuquerque last summer was fabulous. I taught there for the first time (electroforming), and my 12 students all succeeded in a big way and I was so proud!  The opening party in the lush garden area of the hotel was probably the best I've been to, so green and lively. The Hotel Albuquerque was nearly all ours and they were very accommodating. Since I've become the Vice President of that non-profit (official as of Sept. 1) I attended Board Meetings and such, and got to know the inner workings a little better. But sales at the Bead Bazaar were probably the best ever, and the town just seemed to open their arms wide for us. So, that was a wonderful time.

There was also a quick trip to the East Coast in there somewhere, and I was thrilled to spend some one on one time getting to know Ann Baldwin, a fellow ISGB Board member. She taught me some polymer clay tricks one afternoon in her extraordinarily tricked out studio. That lady knows how to PLAY!

The ISGB is busy publishing a book called The Art of Glass - Flameworking, and I've been heavily involved in that this fall, as well as attending Board meetings and getting to know my responsibilities as VP. We are also planning next year's Gathering, which will be held in (drum roll...) New Orleans. It will be my first visit there and I can hardly wait. Kendra (our Executive Director) is an excellent event planner and has thought through every detail, and everyone going next year is in for treat after treat.

I toted my jewelry to show at the Sacramento Arts Festival again this fall and was ever grateful for the help of my wonderful friend Heidi during that show. She knows all the workings of most of my major shows now, and is such a delight to be around, and for customers to interact with. The first evening after we set up we were lucky to catch our friend Rick of One Eyed Riley playing their twice monthly gig at the Delta King, the first time I've seen them play outside of their rave performance at our Summer Solstice party this year. It was nice to be able to sit and fully absorb their camaraderie and musical talent without worrying about party hosting.

 Then I taught a class in November in my studio - Fine silver fusing and chain making, and it was fun to see the light bulbs go on once my students grasped that you could essentially solder silver without...solder. One of my students showed me her post-class riffs a week later and it was my turn to have my mind blown. She definitely got it and even invented her own chain design.  It's so wonderful to have my own teaching space, and I'm going to get even more enjoyment out of it next year as I crank up my class offerings.

This year it was time to muster a changing of the guard with our own local ISGB Chapter's board (we are the Silicon Valley Fireflies). We successfully rounded up volunteers for new board members and got our 2016 meeting calendar settled, and as of our holiday party on December 2 I have turned over the "key to the club" to the very capable Jackie Marr, who will undoubtedly do well for the Silicon Valley Fireflies. In their infinite wisdom someone suggested we set the tone for our holiday party by hosting a holiday pajama contest, and while it seemed a little whacky going in, I think everyone loved the casual feel. It was the best potluck we've had, with so many yummy treats that I want to put together a cook book from the event.

That pretty much catches you up, I think. This coming weekend I'm having my first ever Holiday Open Studio party, with demos, food, raffles, and fun from 10-4 on Saturday, Dec 12. It's kind of the capstone to my year and a thank you for my awesome local customers. I'll also unveil my 2016 teaching calendar - I've been hard at work planning about 9 different classes next year, from mini torch-based workshops to weekend-long intensives, and I can hardly wait to show it. My Open Studio guests will have first choice of the limited number of seats, and I will publish the calendar for everyone else on Monday, December 14th by noon. If you're in the San Francisco Bay area, message me and I'll shoot you the directions.

It's going to be a somewhat quiet holiday around here this Christmas, so I'm hoping I'll have time for at least one more reflective post before the end of the year. I've missed writing, and I've missed hearing from you. And oh yes, just a reminder.  If you're on my mailing list you have a special coupon code for a discount in my Etsy shop before the end of the year. I'm feeling the need to clear some space for fresh new things in the new year, so check back frequently!


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