Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Please help the Beads of Courage program on December 2

I know you're probably focusing on turkey and family right now, but what are you doing on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving?  Did you know it's #GivingTuesday?

Beads of Courage, a program near and dear to my heart, needs some help to get 300 kids off the waiting list for beads.  You can donate here on their Crowdwise funding page, or copy and paste this link into your browser:  It's easy and you can rest assured that Jean and her team use these funds expertly, with incredible passion and energy for kids facing serious illnesses.

Here's some more information about this program, straight from their website:

Did you know that not all Beads of Courage children get their beads at a hospital? MANY children get their beads in the mail through our "Beads from a Distance" program - either because there is no hospital program in their area, or because their hospital does not provide beads for their particular illness.

The "Beads from a Distance" program is offered FREE to all children and teens who meet the criteria to participate. These are children with both acute and chronic life-threatening illnesses.

As word has spread of this popular and empowering program, an ever-growing demand for "Beads from a Distance" has outpaced our ability to provide beads to all children and families requesting them.

A lack of funds for "Beads from a Distance" has resulted in a current waiting list of 300 children in the U.S. and 100 on the international waiting list, with only a few fortunate children per month officially moved off the waiting list and enrolled in the program.

The long wait to start receiving Beads of Courage is extremely frustrating for children and families who are already coping with the stress of serious illness.

Through the "Beads from a Distance" program, children receive colorful beads for every test, treatment, and procedure they undergo. The beads serve as powerful visual symbols of courage and help children (and those around them!) realize how strong they are in the face of sometimes frightening medical challenges.

Beads of Courage have been shown to:

• Decrease illness-related distress
• Increase the use of positive coping strategies
• Help children find meaning in their illness
• Restore a sense of self
• Provide a way to tell others of their experiences

We need YOU to make beads come true!

Please help us reach our goal of $20,000 by Giving Tuesday, December 2, 2014.

"Giving Tuesday" is a global movement added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is a day for giving back after the two biggest spending days of the year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Jewelry Booth Display - Fabric Covered Grid Panels

I know that a lot of you enjoyed reading my post on my Compact, Portable Art Show Booth.  Since then my booth has evolved a lot, and I thought I would update you on what I'm using now.  As always, it's a work in progress, and who knows what it might be in a few years.  This is the arrangement I used most recently at the Sacramento Arts Festival.  This year I downsized from a corner booth to a middle one, and it was cozy, particularly when both Heidi and I were in the booth.

I wanted to make better use of the vertical space in my booth, and also avoid the hassle and anxiety I experience just before a show in trying to figure out what goes where, on which busts, at what eye level, etc.  My new design is based on using the grid panels as functional elements - previously they were used mainly to hang framed pictures from.  My new booth uses upholstered styrofoam panels as display boards that hang from fabric covered grid panels on legs.

The new booth.  A work in progress.
I bought some L-shaped legs to support the four grid panels, and learned the hard way that they need weight on them to stay upright.  I didn't want the legs sticking out to the front (unsightly and a trip hazard), so they're in back and that plan unfortunately cost me some floor space.  Over the legs in the back of each of the grid panels is a board with a weight on it. 

I bought some painting drop cloths, cut them down and sewed sleeves to make the grid panel covers, and then I dyed them.  You know all that fuss about "dye lots"?  It's worth paying attention to if you decide to dye things in more than one batch.  Trust me.  I'm also using some shelves specifically made for grid panels, and they work well to feature a tiny vignette drawn from the work above on the grid panels.  They are fabric covered as well. 

I found the shutters at a neighbors' junk yard for free and have made earring cards for my earrings - I kind of like them showing this way.  Much less visual clutter, and I love working with paper, especially paper with a subtle texture to it.  The table below the shutters is the same one I used in between my two tables in my last setup - it's a cardboard box with a weight inside of it, and a plywood top.

I found some neutral colored decor and upholstery fabric remnants to cover the styrofoam display boards, and attached them with spray adhesive and display pins.  I'm still working on a plan to frame them somehow - for now there are a few framed in rope braid trim from the upholstery section of the fabric store, but I'm not sure how I feel about it.  I think they could use some kind of framing. 

The lights on the grid panels are just clip on LED lights from Lowe's.  The lights over my one table are a custom arrangement that I also use in my studio at home to support a length of PVC that has a set of 3 track lights on it.  This one is a smaller set of 3, cable tied to a 2" diameter aluminum tube (also from the neighbor's junkyard - God Bless the hoarders), and it's held by some black iron pipe (covered with a burlap sleeve).  Each upright goes into a flange fitting that I screwed into a thick plywood base.  It's pretty sturdy.
New sign holders.  These were made from mortar (in a plastic cup), copper garden plant markers, and sheet moss.  They will not tip over.  I love them!
The display boards get transported in a big plastic tub, padded with bubble wrap, and are well protected.  They are super lightweight and effective at presenting work in related collections.  I think that's the part about this setup that I love the most - I can group things ahead of time when my mind is at ease, and fill in any gaps better. 
My small table.  There's an earring rack and a few other items on busts or on a tray.
One drawback of having so much work displayed on the walls is that there is little room for my posters - I'll have to work on that.  Browsers like to have a feel for what's in your booth before they commit to walking in.

So that's the 50,000 foot flyover of the new plan.  Is it less work than the old one?  Well, I can tell you that I didn't enjoy putting together and breaking down those multi-tiered buffet servers I used to use.  And lugging around 50 lbs worth of broken glass to use underneath my jewelry displays.  And trying to figure out how to lay everything out during those rushed moments before a show opens.  And I no longer use the camping tables with the scissor legs after a couple of mishaps resulting in all my jewelry on the ground at one show where the footing wasn't terribly level, and a few times where customers tripped on the extra long legs (they had PVC risers on them).  I've also decided that my work shows best on a light background, so I'm no longer using black busts and table coverings - instead I'm using revamped busts in a lighter scheme. And one thing that's a constant for me particularly with indoor shows on concrete is the gel or interlocking foam square flooring.  I couldn't do the shows without it.

I'm sure the next time out with this will see some changes.  But that's what makes it so much fun, right?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Capping and Coring Workshop!

Yesterday afternoon I hosted a lovely flock of talented ladies from our local Silicon Valley Fireflies ISGB chapter for a bead capping and coring workshop in my studio.  It was a great opportunity for me to clear the cobwebs (among other things) out of there, and get things organized once again.  But I must admit, it made me nervous to have to actually put away my torch and kiln to clear space on my workbench for metal working.  The thought of not being able to use it at a moment's notice was, well, anxiety producing.  But tomorrow I'll do the quick switch to get it back in glass mode, and all will be well.

About the workshop.  For the uninitiated, capping and coring is the process of applying bead caps to a bead and riveting them in place using metal tubing, like the one shown below.

The ladies learned  how to make caps a couple of different ways, and tried out three different tools to rivet the caps onto the glass beads. 

There was tapping.
And dapping.
And riveting.
And excellent results!  Look at these beautiful beads.
Thanks for attending my very first workshop! 
I had fun teaching this, and the space worked great. No beads were killed and everyone picked up the skills well.  You can't ask for much more than that.

Looks for more workshops in 2015!  I have a few fun topics in mind.  I'll be posting the classes here, on my glass page on Facebook , and who knows, maybe on Instagram too (I'm new to that, so no promises).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five things you might not know about my online shop

I've been thinking a lot about my customers lately.  I'm trying to better understand our relationship, and see things from their point of view.  In doing this it has occurred to me that there are probably things that the customers I interact with at shows aren't aware of concerning my online shop.  Things that seem obvious to me, but maybe aren't obvious to them. 

Anyway, a little prelude.  I sell on a website called Etsy It's a massive marketplace of what used to be mostly handmade things, but now includes vintage and supplies.  I have my own "mini-site" there with beads and jewelry, and Etsy provides some online tools for me to manage my shop, in exchange for some fees associated with the privilege of listing and selling things.  You can also message me there and I always respond within the day.  It's open 24/7, and yes, if you find yourself (ahem) unable to sleep some night, you can peruse to your hearts' content.  Trust me, you won't get back to sleep very soon.  If you've never shopped on Etsy, all you need to do to buy there is to create your account following these simple instructions.  All they want is an email address, a user name, and a password. 

So let's clear up some mysteries, shall we?

Five Things You Might Not Know About My Online Shop
1.  I offer gift certificates.  If you think your special person would probably like my jewelry, but can't decide what to get them, you can let them do the choosing, in a very civilized way.  All you have to do is purchase the gift certificate, then give me their email address and I'll send them a special code to use during checkout to use their certificate.  Or I'll send them a paper gift certificate if you prefer.  By law gift certificates don't expire in California, so they have plenty of time to browse my offerings and choose something pretty.   Easy.

2.  I ship all of the items in my shop anywhere in the United States for FREE.  Pretty nice, huh?   I do ship internationally, but charge for it as it's gotten quite expensive.  So it costs you the same to purchase my things whether you do it in person at a show or online. 

3.  I custom fit most of my items according to your desires, at no extra charge.  You don't have to worry if the item you order fits.  I try to provide all of the information you need to decide (height, width, size, color, etc.), but you can also send me some key information and I'll help you make a good choice.

4.  I package my items so that they are ready to gift.  To yourself, or to someone you love.  I do my best to recycle and reduce landfill waste in the process. 

5.  I happily refund your money if the item you buy doesn't meet your expectations, for any reason, if you return it within 2 weeks.  You pay the return shipping.  It's only fair since I paid to send it to you, right?

I also offer some special deals through my newsletter, but that's a topic for another day.  Have I left out anything?  Please let me know and I'd be happy to answer. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sacramento Arts Festival!

It's show time again!  Many rooms of our house are presently invaded by my multifaceted preparatory work for the Sacramento Arts Festival coming right up on 7-9 November.  Yes, I have a nice, still new-ish studio, but I can't help but spread things out everywhere.  Working on that.

But this year I'll have a brand new booth design and I'm so excited!  I'm trying to efficiently use my smaller booth space (I'm in a center booth this year, not a corner), and at the same time convey a better sense of my "brand".  Yes, I'm going down that path, trying to communicate better with my potential customers about what I do.  As you may have seen I have a little bit of a logo now (thanks to Sonya Paz Design), and I'm carrying that consistent theme through my booth design and signage, my packaging, my Etsy shopmy website and my blog. 

My new booth design will display jewelry on vertical surfaces as well as a few smaller tables, and it will be easier to set up and tear down.  I'm also incorporating some small tweaks I learned when Judy Mountain gave a booth design workshop in my studio to the Silicon Valley Fireflies.  Work in each color and design theme is displayed on fabric covered boards, and it's helping me to think more about "collections" of work and how design themes consistently carry over a number of pieces.  It's helping my brain game too, and I'm hoping it will enable more calm moments as the show comes together.

With that, here's a few peeks at some of the new work I'll be bringing to the show.  I'll be sharing some images of the booth setup in a few days.

Pine Creek earrings, with memories from a recent hike in the Warner Mountains.

Dewdrop Honeycomb interchangeable ring.  This ring top unscrews, and you can fit my other ring top designs onto the same base.
Leather snap bracelets with my lampwork cabachons.  The charms unsnap and you can collect all the colors you like, to create your own unique look.

Lampwork and antiqued brass necklace in earthy greens, golds, and taupe.
With all of the changes I've made to my booth since the last time I posted about it, I think it's time to do a new blog post focusing on booth design. I swear, I've been just as busy with the sewing machine, glue gun, and paper cutter as anything else this fall!

For those of you who can't make it to the show (or can't wait!), I'm stocking my Etsy shop with many of my new pieces before the show.  The shop will be closed during the show, but you can shop up until it starts and not miss out on anything.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New Work

Greetings!  Are you as excited about fall as I am?  I'm so yearning for rain, and cool weather, and fires in the fireplace, and home made soup.  After a busy, warm weekend away in a wonderful class with Kristina Logan, I'm back home and in the home stretch preparing for the Sacramento Arts Festival.  This year I have a completely new booth, so if you're coming to the show, look for me in space 628.  It's a center booth (not a corner), and I'm looking forward to a more intimate arrangement, with more work on the walls, and a stepped up branding experience.  More on that later.

I'm trying to be better about posting new work to Etsy on a regular basis, so here are a few things I've listed in recent weeks.  We've had to have quite a few dead trees removed lately, which we always hate, but the upside of that is more light for photography outdoors.  I now have a great spot in the front where I can take soft box shots with natural light, and I'm loving the results.
"Ancient Fruit" necklace.  I love how the etched Reptilian spacer beads harmonize with the copper focal, don't you?

Vibrant Fuschia Acorn Necklace.  Sometimes you just have to tweak nature a bit.

Speckled Tan Acorn Necklace.

Earthy Browns and Greens Lampwork Bead Necklace.  This is more lampwork and less metal, and I love how it turned out. Inspired by a fabric bunting-style banner made for me by local artist Eileen Brewer of ThrowintheTowel.

Heart Shaped Felt, Glass, and Metal Brooch.
If any of these pieces are softly calling to you, my advice is to grab them while you can, because they're heading to Sacramento with me in a few weeks and may not be back.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The 2014 ISGB Gathering! Thanks for the memories.

I'm just back from an incredible week in Houston attending the 2014 International Society of Glass Beadmakers' annual conference in Houston, and will probably be basking in the glow for weeks to come.  In case you can't imagine what such a meeting might be like, picture a few hundred people from all corners of the world who are addicted to melting glass all converging in one place to take classes, catch up on each others' lives, play on the torch together at night, honor their members, hear amazing technical and inspirational talks, sell their work to the general public, buy tools and supplies, and generally have fun.  All of this while freezing in the hotel and hardly ever venturing out - ha!

This happens every year, and despite the sad sound of "Houston in July", I decided to submit a presentation proposal and also take a class.  I put together a presentation highlighting a number of years of collaborative work with metalsmiths, seed bead artists, and other glass artists, which also included a filmed demonstration of some of my techniques.  It was so much fun to recall the inspiration and creative processes, and share photos of the work in progress, and I really enjoyed my first time as a presenter.  The class I took was from UK bead artist Amanda Muddimer, and it was incredible.  More and more I find myself pushing myself to master precision work in glass (it's hard!), and her sundial and harlequin cabachon designs are both challenging and stunning.  I can't wait to translate these skills into my own designs.

The Meanies were front and center in my presentation as they were part of my first collaboration with Cyndie Smith.  At the show in Houston I showed them in a new way, as a botanical specimen collection.  What do you think?

Meanie cultivars.
My most recent collaboration, while not covered in the presentation, was to work with the amazing Joy Munshower (glass sculptor extraordinaire) on an aquatic-themed donation piece for the live auction the night of the banquet.  It included one of Joy's incredible octopus focals, plus some of my own hollows, electroformed shark vertebrae, and gemstones brought back from Israel a few years ago.  

The slideshow below includes many of my wonderful memories from the conference, and also a shot of Penny Dickinson (ISGB Southwest Regional Director) modeling our collaborative piece that she won in the auction.

Are you making lampwork beads and intrigued about the benefits of being an ISGB member?  Visit: to learn about the various levels of membership and their associated benefits.  I am deeply grateful for all of the opportunities to learn and grow that have come my way through this organization.  And if you're a Silicon Valley area bead maker please visit our local Silicon Valley Fireflies chapter's website to learn how you can attend one of our monthly meetings and become part of this wonderful group.

P.S.  I won a Paragon kiln in the raffle.

Straw Bale Garden Update: Week 15

I've been out of town for a week and the garden has skyrocketed!  I'll show you what's happening there, and then my next post will be about my trip to Houston for the ISGB Gathering conference.  It was FABulous!

How does my garden grow?  FABULOUSLY, thank you very much.
Yep, we've barely begun to start the harvest and I'm a convert.  This is already the best producing, healthiest, lowest effort vegetable garden we've ever grown here, and I'm still loving it.  The bales are getting drip irrigation once per day for about 10-15 minutes, and they seem pretty happy with that schedule.

Spanish Musica (a lovely flat Italian bean) and Kentucky Blue Lake beans are starting to ripen.
Persian cucumbers - love 'em!  This one is almost a little too big now.
The German Orange Strawberry tomatoes are nearly ready too, and they're the biggest we've ever grown.  Oddly, this determinate plant is one of the smallest of the lot.  The sprawling Sungold (indeterminate) has loads of tiny little tomatoes.  I'm starting to think I may actually need that tall trellis after all, at least for some of our tomatoes.
We've got a number of clusters of plum tomatoes, and some seem to have blossom end rot.  I ground up some egg shells and watered them into the bales.  I'm hoping this will work, since calcium is supposed to address that in soil, at least.
The onions are getting big too.  I may have to harvest some as green onions to allow the rest to bulb out.
OK, so technically these leeks are not in a bale, but they're looking great!  I planted them deep and slowly added soil around them as they grow, to make more of the tasty white part.  Like the onions they will need thinning.
Squash, eggplant, basil and broccoli.
We've gotten at least one yellow pattypan squash to date, and I need to harvest some basil to make pesto.  There is one eggplant in process, and the tiny plant has several more stunning blooms.  I can't imagine that tiny plant growing even one of those enormous vegetables.

We have had a problem with broccoli caterpillars.  I tried hand picking them every day for almost a week, but the moths just keep laying eggs under the leaves (ick).  I made a concoction of soap, water, and cayenne (it clogged the sprayer until I ran it through a coffee filter) and sprayed the top and undersides of all the leaves, and miraculously the worms have abated, but I see new eggs to next I'm going to try some Bt powder from Safer.  Broccoli is a lot of work!  I remember my dad growing it when I was a kid (organically?  who knows) and he would just soak it in a sink full of salty water to eliminate all the worms before we ate it.  <>  I guess another alternative is the floating row cover, to prevent the moths from laying the eggs.

I'm feeding worm casting tea, sometimes aerated, sometimes not, and I imagine that's largely responsible for everything being so vigorous.  And I feel warm and squishy all over every morning when I go out to walk among the bales and soak it all in.  This is truly food for my soul.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Straw Bale Gardening Update - Week 10. Progress and plant list.

The garden on the Summer Solstice.  The broccoli and potatoes seem to be growing the fastest these days.
Happy Solstice!  It's a comfortably warm high overcast day here in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, and I'm trying to focus more on the warm growing days to come rather than the downhill trend of the light.  We had a lovely little Solstice Eve dinner party last night and it was heaven to be able to be outdoors lingering over our appetizers and cocktails, enjoying the light and warmth.  Coincident with the World Cup we chose a South American theme for our food and drink, and yes, it's true that Pisco Sours pair wonderfully with Peruvian ceviche.  Yummm!  And while the last course is seldom something I attempt, this dessert was absolutely killer and easy to make.

Much has passed in the garden since I last posted.  Shortly after putting up the fence we're pretty sure one of the 4x4 posts had a deer encounter.  Or vice versa.  One morning on my typical bathrobe garden patrol I discovered the deer netting in one corner was sagging, and the 4x4 post was wobbly and had a chunk missing from one edge.  WTH?  The fencing was not breached, just loose.  I had marked the enclosure all around with white flags as instructed, but it sure looked like a deer had knocked into it, and my discovery of a half eaten stalk of green grass on the wood chip covered ground next to the post confirmed that hypothesis.  My husband dug up the 2.5' long metal fence post stake we used to install the 4x4s and found that two of the four welds was broken.  Fortunately it was fairly easy to pry it up and he installed a new one and we're back to business.  As a precaution I bought some solar powered spot lights to illuminate the posts at night, and they're working great. 
This is the long stake that holds the 4x4 posts for the deer fence.  These are the two welds that broke from the deer encounter.  I bet he had a headache for a spell.
True to my nature I've been impatient with the rate of growth of the vegetables, and insanely check everything at least twice a day to see how they're doing.  When I look at photos from a few weeks ago I guess I can see the progress.  I've been feeding everything with organic fruit and vegetable food from the nursery, as well as aerated worm compost tea.  I take a handful or two of castings from my worm bin (where we recycle our kitchen scraps) and run water over them in a sieve over a 5 gallon bucket until it's about 3/4 full, returning the dazed and confused invertebrate helpers back to their bin.  I add a tablespoon or two of molasses and seaweed extract, and about a cup of fish emulsion.  Then I use either an aquarium air pump or my oxygen concentrator (with a bubble stone on the tubing) to aerate it for a day or two until a scum forms on top.  This is a food and beneficial bacteria treatment in one that I can water with or spray on the leaves.  It's a bit labor intensive and I have yet to do this for an entire season, but I hope to continue it and report good results in the fall. 

Sunny Delight squash may be the next eaten since the sugar snap peas have finished.
Heirloom tomato German Orange Strawberry is laden with fruit.
This Midwestern girl loves her potatoes.
Looking down the tomato row.  I've interplanted some kale here and there for lack of space.
What started as tiny little onion sprouts are now starting to hold their own.
Here's a list of the 28 different food crops we're growing in this 23' x 18' space in our Sunset Zone 15 garden, in the 12 bales and a few extra containers:

Heirloom tomatoes:  German Orange Strawberry, Isis Candy, Black Krim.
Other tomatoes:  Roma, San Marzano, Sungold
Swiss chard, dinosaur kale
Cucumbers:  Green Finger, Diva
Beans:  Kentucky Wonder pole, Spanish Musica pole
Potatoes:  Red Norland, Yukon Gold
Evergreen hardy white onion
Squash:  Sunny delight, Cocozella heirloom squash
Peppers:  Red Beauty bell, Golden Treasure heirloom pepper
American Flag leek
Marathon broccoli
Albion strawberry
Italian basil
Mexican lime

In containers on the deck I've got radishes, more basil, Improved Meyer lemon, Black Mission fig, and sugar snap peas.  Among the vegetables I've also got lobelia, marigold, Alba nasturtium.  My husband is also looking after some salad greens, corn, and additional chard and kale in a shadier area. 

Maybe next time I'll share a little about my worm composting setup and how I make the aerated tea.  How is your garden doing this year?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Straw Bale Garden Update: Week 7

I think I was recalling the bucolic vineyards in New Zealand that have roses planted at the ends of the rows.  Why not marigolds to attract beneficial insects?
 Things are really shaping up nicely now in the new straw bale veggie garden.  The bales would have been fine to plant in a month ago, but between work and life, I'm approaching this slowly.  It's not too out of whack for our coastal mountain gardening zone though, where we lag at least 30 days behind what's growing down in San Jose.  As of mid-May we're past any danger for tomatoes, but the true warm summer weather is (technically) at least a month away.

So what have we accomplished since the last time?  Everything!  Well, not quite.  I still need to put in the irrigation.  But I've installed the vertical structure for the tall things in two of the four rows of 3 bales where support will be needed.  There's a ginormous structure for the tomatoes made from salvaged aluminum conduit and wire fencing.  I did the prescribed straw bale garden fence using metal fence posts, a salvaged 2 x 4 top beam, and fencing wire for the beans and cukes.  I can tell you with certainty that the my new fence post driver is elbowing the leaf blower out of the top spot as my favorite tool.  That danged thing got a fence post in our hard clay ground faster than a speeding bullet - so much so that it's actually shorter than I'd like right now.  Get one - much safer than swinging a sledge hammer too.

Fence Post Driver.  Hole on the bottom, solid and weighted at the top.  Fits right over fence post and you'll never miss it when you swing.
Holy Tomato Tower Batman!!
Beans and cukes.
I ordered, assembled, and installed the metal deer fence gate, and got the final wall of deer netting up (with help).  My wonderful husband helped dig the post holes for the frame, and did the concrete.  The McGregor Fence Company makes a wide range of gates for their deer fencing products, and while I didn't get the deer mesh from them the gate is the bomb.  They have online videos of the assembly process and their customer service is great, and shipping is free.   I still want to install a permanent threshold under the gate as there is a gap big enough for a rabbit to squeeze through, and the same for the vertical gap where the gate meets the frame.

Planting in the bales was a learning experience.  Don't expect to gently part the fibers with your hands and nestle a plant in the straw.  These are very tightly bound bales.  The thing that worked best for me was my husband's dykes - pliers with long handles that have a fairly good biting surface.  I used the pliers to extract clumps of straw to create each planting pocket.  In doing this I found that the density of the bales varied widely.  But for each of them I needed the pliers to pull the straw out.  I discovered that just below the outer surface of the dry looking bales there was loads of moisture, which was reassuring.  I had been watering them with the soaker hose every day for about 15 minutes, and it was keeping them plenty moist.  Anyway, once I pulled enough out to fit a 4" potted veggie plant I put a handful of soil in the hole, inserted the plant, and used the removed straw to make a little collar around the plant.

The potatoes were planted about 2-3 weeks ago (late for around here, but I'm hopeful) and some very healthy looking leaves are already poking out of the tops of the bales.  At the same time I planted some onion seedlings, and for those I added a little more soil to help keep the very tiny sprouts moist until they got larger.

Potatoes - YES!
 And then my reward was to make it pretty, so I put some marigolds on the ends of the rows (on the side of the bale - apparently this works fine), and a few nasturtiums here and there to wander.  For me the sight of neat rows of edible plants is beautiful enough, but the flowers will make my early morning bathrobe-clad trips out there even more special.  Also on my list is to find four ornamental fence post toppers for the 4 4x4's holding up the corners of the deer fence.  Something fun.  Maybe glass obelisks?  Know anyone who blows glass? 

As soon as my muscles recover and I get some time I'm going to hook up the irrigation - I'm going to run 1/2" poly tubing supply lines to each of the rows where it will connect to the soaker hose segments. 

OK, that's the garden update for today.  Even though the hard part is nearly done I'll be posting updates as things grow.  I'm planning to make another batch of worm compost tea (the aerated kind) very soon, as liquid fertilizer is best for this gig and I'm keen to do it again.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Straw Bale Gardening Day 14 Update

 It's been two weeks now that I've been conditioning our straw bales for this year's vegetable garden.  Some of the bales have started sprouting grass, which I have read is common.  It won't be hard to pull out or trim once it's bigger.  For the past week or so I have not added any more fertilizer, but have continued to keep the bales moist with the drip hose. 

The temperature of most of the bales is now about the same as the ambient temperature, back down in the 50s.  I won't be planting in them for a while, as the safe date here in the coastal range for tomatoes is around mid-May, but I'm going to keep them moist and might see if I can get a little more decomposition going with one last shot of fertilizer.

Unknown heirloom climber. 
Meanwhile, a crazy old climbing rose I've got has no sign of life at all on the bottom 10' of cane (and there is only one), but the top has grown up into a small oleander tree and is hanging down over a walkway - it's quite charming don't you think?  I'm a sucker for those big lush blossoms, and the yellow is delicate and lovely.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Straw bale gardening, Day 7

Tonight it will be a week since Don delivered our straw bales.  Things are cooking along now as I loosely follow the bale conditioning process from this blog.  I'm keeping the bales moist and applying about 3/4 cup of ammonium sulfate very other day, and then watering it in.  Temperatures in the bales are varying a bit, with the lowest being around 90, and the hottest around 110 degrees F.  The bales are still very firm, and I can't imagine trying to plant in them.

I'm watering by hand after nitrogen application to make sure the crystals dissolve into the bales.  Then, for deep watering I'm using a temporary drip hose setup, to be replaced by a cleaner design later.

Temporary watering setup.
I'll admit right  now that I have not bought the Straw Bale Gardening book, and I probably won't, because I think my training as a Master Composter taught me the skills I need to get this going. The bale conditioning process is basically just "hot" (rapid) composting, which is a process where you add nitrogen to carbon, keep it moist as a wrung-out sponge, and aerate it periodically.  Aeration is something I do when I hot compost with dead leaves and grass clippings by turning it over, but is not possible to do with a straw bale because of it's tightly compacted form.  I may be tempted to stick the bales with my pitchfork at some point, just to see what happens.  I love science!

Anyway, what's going on in there is that a heat-loving family of bacteria called actinomycetes (a fungus-like bacteria found naturally in the environment) is multiplying and helping the decomposition process.  There are mesophilic bacteria that are most active from 70-100 degrees, and thermophilic bacteria that thrive from 113-160 degrees.  The bacteria have an earthy, forest floor kind of fragrance, and looks white or grey, like a fungus.  When these organisms are done decomposing the straw and the nitrogen (which won't be finished by the end of the 10 day conditioning period, but much later), there should be a rich humus replacing the straw.

With that scientific digression, here are a few things that are helpful to remember:
  • Keep the bales moist, but not dripping wet or dry.  Your mantra should be "moist as a wrung-out sponge".
  • Check the temperature with a composting thermometer (photo below).
  • Outside heat has nothing to do with this process - it can happen in the middle of winter, or even in a shady area.  It's a chemical reaction.
  • Make sure you add some form of nitrogen to the straw.
You can get a long composting thermometer like this at your local home improvement or garden store.
If you're interested in learning more about composting, here are some great links:

University of Illinois Extension Service
Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission

My clematis this year are outRAGEOUS!   And yes, if you were wondering, they grow in a container on the deck, and I do fertilize them with worm poo...

 Now, off to the studio to melt some glass!


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