Category Archives: Kid’s Camps

Growing the Color Blue


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.


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.


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!


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. 

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

Decorating Eggs with Berries and Flowers

What a lovely morning spent in the garden with six 1st graders! They happily gathered eggs from the chicken coop and the duck house and were delighted to find that the chickens laid colored eggs. We talked about how we didn’t really need to dye them but we could decorate them… They loved the idea! I cut up some paper egg carton into four-egg sections with the tops off. Each child got their own egg carton and ran to the garden to fill them with grass. When they returned I laid out bowls of frozen blueberries with which to draw and paint on their eggs. They each got one pink and one blue egg to decorate. The eggs all looked darling in their little grass-filled cartons but they needed a little something…. hats! We ran out to the front yard to find the perfect flowers for this purpose. I had mixed up some flour paste the night before and set it out for them to use with with craft sticks. A dab of that on top of each egg and the ‘hats’ stayed on just fine. Each child created their own variation of this idea. I am ALWAYS astounded at the beauty created by children when they really SEE what surrounds them in the natural world.

Wild Plum Sorbet

It’s February and we’re already thinking of sorbet and Scrub Jay fledglings.

Yes, it’s early February and the Wild Plum outside our kitchen window is in full bloom. It’s always the first tree to bloom on our little homestead. It grows on the shady North side of the house and gets it’s water from the underground spring that also feeds the giant Redwood further back in the yard. It is always the indicator of approaching Spring. It has served as the sunning spot for the resident Scrub Jays for years and years. It was here when we bought the place and was probably planted by earlier generations of these same Birds. It’s smack in front of the “garage” doors and no human in their right mind would plant it there.

We feel blessed by this tree in so many ways. The blossoms, the birds, the fruit, a beautiful natural dye from it’s leaves, plum jam and… sorbet!

A couple of years ago my Wild Plum jam did not set and as disappointing as that was it lead to a new discovery. I realized I could simply pour it into the little Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (a Recycletown find and easily found in thriftshops) and make sorbet. I add some dried ginger but you could add fresh grated too. Plum Ginger Sorbet is a huge hit around here. We always make it during our Spring Herb Camp and the kids love it.

“Thank you” little plum tree for being so giving…

From Chaos to Cuteness

Last year some time I posted a need for fabric and sewing notions on our neighborhood yahoo group. I asked for anything folks might have left over from other projects. Some things were dropped off on our porch and I was happy. A few weeks later a neighbor contacted me to ask if a retiring teacher friend of hers could drop off a “few” items. I said, “Sure!”. The teacher’s husband arrived with a truck and proceeded to unpack box after box! It was great. I sorted out what we could use in our camps and donated the rest.

Well, this week we finally dove into the boxes of felt and had some fun. It was our annual ‘Gift-making Camp’ and the kids were ready to get to work. While trying to come up with some good ideas I stumbled upon and found the “Sock Owl” tutorial. I just showed the kids the picture of the owl and set out the materials and they ran with it!

Two owls and a cat later…

They were quite pleased with their work.

Thank you Whimsy Loft for a fun idea and thank you anonymous retired teacher for the great materials!

Honey Harvest 2011

We got to show the kids how we harvest honey and steward the backyard hive. We found LOTS of honey which was exciting but we did not find lots of brood (egg cells and developing bees). Each time we pulled out frames full of honey the kids would clap with excitement. More importantly, each time we did find brood cells they would cheer, “Go queen! Go queen! (clap clap) Go queen! Go queen! (clap, clap)”. They get it. No brood=no future bees.

We took ten honey-filled frames from the hive and left the bees that same amount to feed them through the Winter. We plan to help them with food as well.

Uncapping the comb to prepare it for the spinner. Kids can’t keep their fingers out of the cappings!

Frames in the spinner. All set to spin!

Out comes the honey. This year’s harvest was 25 pounds of honey which came to 2.5 gallons! Go bees!

While we cleaned up outside the boys ran inside and grabbed some packing paper they had been playing with. They both made their own beekeeper suits!

Cross your fingers for the our bees. We’ll pamper them over the Winter and report back to you in the Spring.

Seed Saving- Sunflowers

When the sunflower seeds are fully formed harvest the whole flower head. You can knock off a few flowerettes to check if it’s ready for harvest.

Our resident Scrub Jay got a head start on this one! Watch the birds. They’ll tell you if the seeds are ready!

Knock off all of the old flowerettes covering the mature seeds.

Then, start picking out those seeds. They are so tasty when they are fresh!

A Mammoth Sunflower gets saved for next year.

Seed Saving- Amaranth

It’s seed saving time around the ol’ homestead. The kids dove right into the process. Amaranth seeds were the favorite. It’s easy to gather, sift and winnow. Once its cleaned the seeds are silky smooth to the touch.





They also collected Queen Anne’s Lace, Scabiosa, Nigella, assorted Sunflowers, Calendula, Lambsquarters, and Iceland Poppies.

Lambsquarters Pasta with Pesto!

In Cooking From the Garden Camp making our own pasta is always one of the highlights. This year we have an abundance of a highly nutritious “weed” called Lambsquarters. I have let it go to seed in the garden to the point that it is just about everywhere. That’s fine with us since it is excellent fodder for the chickens, ducks and rabbit. Better yet, it’s highly nutritious food for us!

We intentionally got our first plant as a weed in a seedling from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center ( They grow the variety called Magenta Lambsquarters (Chenopodium Giganteum). In our garden these plants grow as tall as 6 feet. They are super high in Vitamin C and A and are loaded with minerals too. Around here we call Lambsquarters a “superfood”. They are so nutritious that friends have been making green smoothies with them. The kids love the magenta variety because they contain a pink powdery substance at the growth center of each leaf. This powder comes off with their fingers and they like to paint their faces with it. They love being able to paint their faces and then pop the leaf in their mouth and eat it. Even the seeds can be eaten as a source of protein and minerals. One half cup of seed contains 19.6 grams of protein, 1036 milligrams of Calcium, 1687 milligrams of Potassium and 27.1 grams of fiber. They can be ground and used as a hot cereal or added to bread. One plant produces seeds like you wouldn’t believe and brings Bushtits and Chickadees to the garden in droves. Just yesterday the kids were happy to find the more common variety (Chenopodium album) growing in our favorite forage field.

So… back to the pasta! We harvested our Lambsquarters and steamed it up to use instead of spinach for making green pasta. While we were in the garden we also harvested Italian Parsley, Cilantro, and Chickweed with which to make pesto.

Into the pasta dough went our pureed Lambsquarters and homegrown duck eggs. The kids love making anything they can get their hands gooey in!

A little muscle went into kneading the dough.

Then, even more muscle went into cranking out the pasta.

First, they made sheets of pasta then they ran it through the linguine cutter and hung it up to dry a bit.

Counting the noodles was a fun task. They counted 109!

I refrigerated the pasta in an air-tight container overnight. For lunch the next day we boiled it up, topped it with our pesto and a little grated Pecorino-Romano. They devoured it all! It was hit!

Herbs for Kids Camp

We harvested garlic and Stinging Nettles and both are now are hanging up to dry. We made mint sun tea and juiced lemons. The next day we combined both and made our first lemon-mint sorbet. We processed dried Lemon Balm for tea. Lucy happily filled a big jar to take home.

On our field trip to Salmon Creek School we spent lots of time in the garden. Everyone picked there own herbs for tea and we all tried different combinations. We had Spearmint and Peppermint leaves, Chamomile flowers, and Raspberry leaves. In the past we’ve used Calendula flowers, Lavender flowers and Sage too. The kids were so happy with their teas that many of them made a second cup.

They also discovered the Jerusalem Sage flowers and happily sucked the nectar out of every last one! Next to the beautiful cob greenhouse was a large Bronze Fennel. Calvin was particularly fond of munching on the leaves and with his teeth in their current state I couldn’t resist taking a picture.

Every day of camp we played the WILDCRAFT! board game, read stories from Leslie Tierra’s A Kid’s Herb Book, and tried herbal recipes from the great zine series Herbal Roots. If someone got a splinter or mosquito bite we made an herbal remedy for it. These kids are so open and curious. They really want to learn and they know so much already. They never cease to amaze me!