Dyeing with Black Walnuts

If you’ve ever handled black walnuts you know how well they can dye your hands, countertop and many other things you may not want a deep brown color.  Dark brown yarn is lovely.

Black walnuts ready to be harvested!

Black walnuts ready to be harvested!

The first step is to carefully harvest your walnuts.  I always use gloves to do this as the fruit is a bit caustic and even a little juice will stain your hands. Once you have the fruit put it in a bowl and pour boiling water over it.  Mash it a bit with a fork and let it sit for about an hour.  No mordant is needed.

Ready for the yarn.

Ready for the yarn.

Put the yarn in your dye bath and leave until a shade darker than desired is reached.  Pull the yarn out and wash in clear water.  Be careful to rinse out the dye that hasn’t fixed to the wool or it may stain your body or bleed on to other clothes.

This dye can be used for basket materials, cotton or wool.

UFH 077

Some of the brown yarns are black walnut dyed.

Have fun!



Grapevine Wreaths

It’s a wee bit early to be pruning grapes but I wanted to neaten up the front yard so trimmed off the long, ropy vines.

Using these vines to make wreaths is easy and they turn out great.

First choose the vines you want to use and trim off the side twigs. For a more rustic look, leave the tendrils on.

First choose the vines you want to use and trim off the side twigs. For a more rustic look, leave the tendrils on.

These are my favorite pruners.

These are my favorite pruners.

Wrap the vines around and twist in the ends. Trim off anything that sticks out.

Wrap the vines around and twist in the ends. Trim off anything that sticks out.

Here are three finished wreath. You can use these as is or as a base for baskets.

Here are three finished wreath. You can use these as is or as a base for baskets.

Great activity for a frosty, sunny day!

Great activity for a frosty, sunny day!






What do all urban farmers in this brisk chilly climate need?  Warm knit hats!  It’s easy to make these using circular needles.  I like to use number 8 needles and usually cast on about 95 stitches to start for an adult hat.  Once the stitches are on I do a rib stitch with two knit to one purl stitch for about 8 to 10 rows; this will give the band some stretch.

A hat in process.

A hat in process.

 Now it’s time to use your creativity and go crazy with patterns and color using a knit stitch.  Once you have 34 rows  start decreasing to form the top of the hat.  To decrease knit together two stitches every 10 stitches for one row then knit normally for the next.  

All finished

All finished

As you get to the top of the hat knit stitches together every row then when there are a few stitches left use a darning needle to go through the remaining stitches and draw this tight.  Now tuck in your yarn ends and you are all set!

Here are some different examples.

Here are some different examples.

Making Applesauce

Fall is here and thats means apples.  Many of the apples grown west of the Cascades have scab or are infected with coddling moth.  The result is that apples that aren’t very appetizing to eat out of hand, but still can be used to make great applesauce.   You can also buy apples by the box at your local farmers’ market and these can be used straight or mixed with your homegrown apples.  I like to talk with the grower and see what breeds they like to make into sauce.  One of my favorite growers is Tonnemaker Family Orchard.  They have great produce, good prices and often have seconds boxes that are lower priced and great for canning.  Last week they suggested Gravenstein apples so I bought a box to mix with my own apples.

Here are directions on making your own applesauce:

Pick out apples that are free of mold and rot. They don’t need to be pretty but they should be wholesome.

Core your apples then cut them up into about one-inch chunks and cook them over a low heat until soft.  Then put the mixture through a food mill to separate the skins from the fruit and turn it into a sauce.

Here is a food mill I got at Fred Meyer. They can also be found sometimes at Goodwill.

If the sauce is too tart then add in a bit of brown or white sugar.  I like to put in some cinnamon as well.  Heat the sauce, while stirring constantly, to boiling and boil for one minute and pour into sterile jars.  Be careful because blobs of the hot sauce can leap out of the pot and give you a burn.

Here it is heating up with cinnamon added at the end of cooking. Once it begins to bubble it will be ready for the jars.

Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes and you’re good to go.  Applesauce can be eaten as is or can be used in many recipes.

I like lots of cinnamon so often add even more before I eat my sauce. My family varies on their degree of cinnamon adoration so I go light when canning it.

I can’t resist a living history museum so off to Camlann for a Michaelmas celebration!

A story teller with lots of sleight of hand.


Melting wax for candles.

Pulling the fibers into line.

Natural dyes.

A friendly source of wool.

Making flower crowns.

Ready for potage.

Caligraphy room

Ink and quills

Putting Your Garden to Bed

Farewell to summer!

Farewell to summer!

With shorter days, cool winds and rainy weather it’s time to put part of my garden to bed for the winter.  I am sad to let summer with its glorious brilliance go but the soil needs to rest and rebuild.  I have a few plots planted with winter herbs and vegetables and will soon plant garlic and flower bulbs so not all gardening is done but the wild exuberance of summer is over.

Here’s my list of tasks:

  • Write down in your garden journal what worked this year and what didn’t.  Did you have a special type of snap pea that grew really well and tasted great?  Was there a tomato that just didn’t live up to its vibrant name?  Is there a neighbor who planted a kind of squash you’d just love to try?  Write this all down or come next January when the seed catalogs start to awaken your garden lust they will be faded memories.
  • Clean up the beds and remove the vegetation.  If you have a super hot compost pile then you can compost your garden waste.  If you don’t then it’s probably a good idea to put potato and tomato plants, weeds with seeds and so on in the clean green container to be hauled off.  If you’ve had any kind of disease problem with your vegetables or fruit be sure to pick up and dispose of all fallen fruit and leaves.  It’s also good to rotate your crops and not plant the same thing in the same spot each year.
  • Bring in your garden tools, tomato cages and empty containers.  Clean the soil off, sharpen tools and store inside so they will last longer.  If you don’t have room inside then put them in an area where they will stay dry and out of the reach of animals. I oiled all my tools and handles one year with some old coconut oil and was really surprised in the spring to see that some animal had carefully gnawed off all the oil on the handles leaving pocked rough wood behind.
  • Plant garlic and flower bulbs.
  • Repot and bring inside any geraniums or other houseplants that have been out on summer break.  You can pot up some herbs to bring in too; oregano, chives bay and sage usually do well inside.
  • Test and amend your soil.  If you do this now you will be all set for spring.  I usually work some manure and compost into the top layers so they can break down over the winter.
  • Plant a cover crop.  A cover crop both protects your soil from punishing winter rains and builds up nutrients.
  • Sit back, have a warm cup of tea and enjoy your neat and tidy garden.

Plum Wine!

Last year I did the following post on plum wine.  A couple of days ago I did the final bottling and it turned out very well; it tastes more like brandy than wine but it’s very drinkable.  To do the bottling you sterilize your siphon and bottles then carefully decant the finished wine from the carboy into the bottle.  The wine mellows as it ages so it’s advised to let the bottles lay on their sides in a cool place for another six months before drinking.

This year we have few plums but you could dry this recipe with other fruit like peaches or nectarines.

Finished plum wine.

Finished plum wine.

Recently my neighbor invited me to pick his plums.  “Sure!” I said with avaricious glee.  Later that night as the fruit flies multiplied in the plum filled sink and the smell of fruit on the edge filled the air I wondered what in the world I had done; my freezer was packed, my shelved were filled with dried and preserved fruit and by tomorrow this treasure would be compost.

“Wine!” I thought “I will make wine!”  I had never done this before but desperate times call for desperate measures and as the unwashed dishes began to pile up and the flies reached a fever pitch of activity it was clearly time to do something.

Plums for plum wine

Plums ready to become wine.

A survey of the internet showed a huge amount of differences in formulation. But after a while a few patterns did begin to emerge; most recipes needed campden tablets, pectic enzyme, yeast, acid and sugar.  I ordered the more exotic items on-line, as well as a hydrometer and began to pit the plums.

wine ingredients

Extras to make great wine.

Once the plums were pitted I weighed them out, covered them with boiling water, crushed and added a couple of campden tablets and let them sit overnight.  The boiling water and tablets discourage the growth of unwanted organisms.

The next morning I added in the pectic enzyme and acid.  The enzyme helps break down the fruit and the acid improves flavor and storage.

That night I made a sugar syrup and added this in.

sugar syrup

Sugar syrup being made.

The following morning I put in a packet of yeast and covered it up to ferment.

wine yeast

All important yeast!

When I got home the house had a faintly alcoholic smell and the pot was foamy and bubbling.  I took a hydrometer reading to see where the starting point was and recorded it on a page in my homesteading  journal.



To get a good reading you need a long tube so the device can float.

Getting a good reading.

How to get a good hydrometer reading.

The fruit was also starting to break down.  Each day I gave it a good stir with a clean spoon in the morning and at night to break the cap on it.

fruit cap

Cap on the wine.

After a week I siphoned it into a clean carboy, put the airlock on top and crossed my fingers.

air lock

Air lock

Now it needs to sit for six months then I will bottle it and hopefully have some lovely plum wine.


In the carbuoy and ready to transform into wine.

Here is the recipe that I wound up using:

  • 16 pounds of plums
  • 8 pounds of sugar, (half the weight of the plums)
  • Two teaspoons of pectic acid
  • Two campden tablets
  • One packet of yeast
  • Enough water to cover the fruit


Making Dried Flower Bouquets

Each year I look at the riot of colorful flowers in my garden and want to save them for the dark winter months.  One of the best ways I have found to do this is by making dried flower bouquets.  After a lot of trial and error the plants that seem to work the best for this are chives, yarrow, money plant, lavender, hydrangea, oregano, pearly everlasting and grasses with showy seed sprays.  Other flowers will dry but a lot of them fall apart or quickly fade.

To dry the flowers cut them with long stems and strip off the bottom leaves.  Next tie them at the top with string or wire and hang them in a dark place until dry.  I string a piece of rope across the rafters in my basement and hang the bunches from there.  Once dry you can arrange them in whatever way you like.

Try out different flowers from your yard and let me know what you like to dry!

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Pine Needle Baskets

Willow basket season is months away so it’s time to use pine needles!

Soaking the needles makes it easier to start the tight coil then I’m using wool yarn for binding. You can use twine or other materials as well.

Spindle Spinning

Spending time on my aunt and uncle’s sheep ranch I cleaned and carded wool but never got around to learning how to spin.   A few weeks ago I got a drop spindle and have been giving it a go.  I’m not very good yet but it is hypnotic to get the spindle going and watch the wool twist into a tough fiber.

Drop spindle

Natural wool comes in many different colors.



Here is the rather lumpy yarn.  Hope it gets easier!

A rustic look.

To learn more visit the Northwest Regional Spinners site here.