Category Archives: Beneficial Insects

Growing the Color Blue

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This is my second year growing Japanese Indigo from seed originally purchased from FIBERSHED Marketplace.  It is easy to grow from seed and seems to love my garden.  You can save your own seed from year to year.  Start it in the Spring and harvest it in the Summer.  When I went out to harvest it yesterday I noticed that the honeybees were loving the beautiful pink Indigo flowers.  I try planting for the bees and birds and us so this made me quite happy.

IMG_0396Yesterday, Lily and I used the “one-day” recipe out of Rebecca Burgess’ wonderful book HARVESTING COLOR.  We harvested the Indigo and removed the leaves from the stalks.  We put 3/4 pound of leaves in a 2 1/2 quart jar of warm rainwater.  I use rainwater because we catch it here but you could use filtered water.  You just don’t want the chlorine in city water going in your dye bath.

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The jar was placed in a big pot of water we heated to 170 degrees.  We used a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.  The water immediately turned blue!  The leaves heated in that jar for three hours.  We have an outdoor stove so we didn’t have to heat up the house in the process.  After the three hours of heating I put a colander over a stainless steel pot and strained the solution.  The leaves were then squeezed over the pot to get the rest of the liquid out.  They were then thrown into the compost and the work began!

A tablespoon of baking soda was then added and for the next 10 minutes Lily and I poured the solution from one pot to another to oxygenate it.  It changed color before our eyes (which this dye bath did many times throughout the day!).  As it was poured back and forth it got darker and darker and turned a very dark bluish green color.  At that point we added a tablespoon of Spectralite I got from Dharma Trading Company (thank you Julie!).  Lily very gently stirred this into the dye bath trying her best not to make any bubbles.  The Spectralite removes oxygen from the dye bath.  We kept the liquid at 100 degrees by putting the dye pot on top of the pot we heated the jars in since the water was already hot.  After 8 to 10 minutes it was supposed to turn yellow.  Our dye bath stayed blue-green so we were worried that it wasn’t going to work.

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We forged ahead anyway by putting in Lily’s pre-wetted wool yarn and my silk scarf.  They had been soaking in the warm water pot.  We put them in the dye bath gently so we would not make any bubble and add oxygen.  The yarn was immediately blue so we were still concerned since they were supposed to come out yellowish and turn blue when they hit the air.  We left it all in the pot for 10 minutes or so and when we pulled it out it was a yellowish light blue.  Like a magic trick it turned a gorgeous deep blue right in front of our eyes!  The neighbors probably thought we had lost our minds were so excited!

IMG_0427Last Summer the kids and I used the Indigo leaves fresh by putting them in a blender with rainwater and making a raw liquid dye.  We used some raw silk shirt scraps from a thrift shop purchase and they made little bags.  They made their own cordage handles with Japanese Iris leaves from the backyard and were quite happy with themselves!

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Why use natural dyes?  As Rebecca Burgess point out on her website, “The textile industry is the number one polluter of fresh water resources on the planet, as well as having an immense carbon footprint.  The average CO2 emitted for the production of one t-shirt is up to 40 times the weight of that shirt.”

We can use locally grown fibers for clothes and locally grown plants for dyes.  Since I am not a knitter (yet) but I am a thrift shopper I buy used clothes and dye them with plants grown in my yard or gathered in my neighborhood.  Just about every color is available from plants.  Now, I’ve got blue!

Letters from the Kids

These letters just came in the mail from the first graders who visited us last month. Excuse their spelling errors. It is their thoughts that really count.

We had two hours together. They fed snails and worms to the ducks, checked the temperature of the compost piles, examined our rainwater-fed duck pond and fed the fish in it, harvested Calendula flowers, explored the greenhouse made of recycled redwood and salvaged stained glass, collected warm chicken eggs, heard a Mockingbird do a variety of other birds’ calls, decorated easter eggs with berries and flowers, and ate lunch in the garden.

Dear Suzanne, 
I lovd the ducks and I also lovd feeding the ducks and also lovd the chickins. I also lovd holding the snales and worms. I also lovd wen we were picking the flawers. And I also lovd macking the Easter eggs and I also lovd finding eggs. That was fun wen we wer living (leaving) at the last moment a chickin lade a egg. Thank you it was a funn day.
Love, Tierra

Dear Suzanne, 
 I liked the ducks because I like the noise they made. I liked the chickens noises and thair soft fethers and i also liked the stinky-stinky-stinky composts. It was enteresting checing the dugrees and the hot hot mud by mud i meen soiol (soil). And I alsow liked painting the eggs. Thank yuo for inviting us to your farm. 
 Sincerely, Alex 

 Dear Suzanne, 
 I liked feeding the ducks. I also liked peting the chickens. I also liked harvesting the flowers. I liked the smell of the farm. I also liked hearing the sound of the birds. I also liked decorating the Easter Eggs. I also liked collecting the chicken eggs. I also liked going in the greenhouse. 
 Love, Devi 



Dear Suzanne, 
 I loved wen wee fed the ducks snails. I liked peting the chicen. I like how you dye peices of cloth it looks reale cool. I also liked wen wee dyeed Easter eggs. And I thingk that it is cool the way you get water in the duck pool. And I thingk it was reely fun! Thank you a lot! 
Sincerely, Zoe

This boy had a really hard time settling into the visit here. He wouldn’t touch anything or participate until the very end when I led him into the greenhouse to meet a worm. I left him there and he stayed for a long time emerging happy and with a new friend in his hand.

Dear Suzanne, 
I lovd making frinds with a worm. Gathering flowers and decorating eggs was fantastic. I loved the greenhouse. The colored glass and the special wood and the plants made it really beautful. I loved your garden. 
Thank you. 
From, 
Nathan


THIS is why I work with kids here at the ol’ homestead.

7-spotted and Asian Multicolored Ladybugs

While transferring ladybug larvae to our fruit trees this morning I noticed something. There were two distinctly different kinds of larvae! Well, upon further investigation I found that we have (at least) two different kinds of ladybugs in the ‘nursery’. One is the 7-spotted from western Europe and the other is called the Multicolored Asian Ladybug. Just yesterday one of the kids was looking at the ‘nursery’ plant and said, “Wow! That ladybug has a lot of spots!”. Well, she was right.


So, the larvae I showed in the previous post belongs to the Multi-colored Asian Ladybug (Harmonia axyridis). The larvae I found today belongs to the 7-spotted ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata). These are not as spiky. They look more like little gray alligators with orange spots.


Here is the adult 7-spotted Ladybug.


The fruit trees are now full of ladybug adults, eggs, larvae and pupae. It’s an amazing site to behold!

Here are some ladybug eggs on the underside of a cherry tree leaf.


Here is the in between stage from larvae to adult.


Watch out aphids! These kids are voracious!

Aphid Infestation or Ladybug Nursery?

There is a Fava Bean plant in our sidewalk bed that is covered with aphids. It looks awful! There are LOTS of other Fava Bean plants in the front yard without aphids. One plant has them. Why not pull it out? Well, there is good reason….

On closer look one will find an entire ecosystem in action. All of it existing on one plant. First to show up were the aphids. They started sucking the juices out of the plant and excreting a syrupy substance on the leaves. Then, lots of different aphid-eating insects appeared and went to work gobbling them up. At one point little yellow eggs appeared on the undersides of some leaves. I had seen adult ladybugs among the other hungry insects so I waited to see if the eggs belonged to them. Ladybug larvae eat aphids in large quantities so that plant would be a perfect spot to lay your eggs if you were a ladybug!


Sure enough, little prehistoric looking creatures appeared all prickly in orange and black dots. Those colors are these babies protection. Even though they look prickly they are actually quite soft-bodied. In nature the colors orange and black represent something that is inedible. The Monarch butterfly is the best example of this. They taste horrible to birds so many, many other butterflies use those same colors for protection even though they might be quite tasty.


So, if you see these little larvae do not be alarmed. Be happy! They are important helpers in your garden. Each day I transfer some to the fruit trees in the back garden to eat the aphids appearing on the new leaves. It’s working!