Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weaving Bean Catchers

  Weaving "Bean Catchers" for Happy Gardeners & Healthy Green Beans:

Around here we are all about hobby gardening for fun and skills.

Hobby gardening and homesteading doesn't mean we are trying to be totally sustainable or attempting to raise the majority of our own food. What we are doing is enjoying the experience, participating in the learning process, and co-creating a beautiful and healthy space in the time and abilities we have.

This means that we don't grow as much as we can. We grow as much as we can manage. It also means we don't always do things the easiest way, or the most efficient. Sometimes we do something the most fun, expressive, and even lovely way we can.

Bean Catchers are surely one of those.

We hit on the idea when building our traditional bean trellis, out of saplings, down branches, and twine way back in 2009. Here it is, a fine clever green bean trellis. This one was done as a bean tunnel for our then six year old daughter. Look closely and you'll see a small section, woven as a "Dream Catcher" pattern, on the far right end. We were almost done I realized I could weave one there. 

Now, it's not our goal here to precisely teach you how to weave Dream Catchers. In fact, that entire craft has come to symbolize a rather distinctive form of cultural appropriation among the Native American community. We were once directly involved in that community and while we did learn a number of crafts, such as this, during our time among it, we also developed a deep respect for the reality of they indigenous cultures of North America, and not the the idealized mythology that come to be prevalent in some of the dominant culture. So, this brief rant will suffice to express that. To do this simple garden craft, you do need to know the weave pattern used in Dream Catchers. So go online, learn the process, and bring it to your garden for it's decorative style, but please don't assign any contrived Native traditions to it. These are, in fact, just a nice weave of cordage, that looks good and holds up beans. Nothing more.

So, you've learned to do the basic dream catcher pattern. Now, you can create it in other forms.

Once we did the one above, we experimented with a few other bean trellis techniques. We used a straight fence one year, and  the deer created a perfectly straight browse line down it, neatly cropping off all the beans and leaves from 4 ft. down. With much experimentation, we hit on this. A series of tripods, woven on two sides, and between each set, with Bean Catchers. 

2013 Bean Catcher Trellis

So, you need a tripod of strong sturdy logs. I used standing dead wood from our lot. I rarely cut green wood, but yes, there is sometimes a need. You can find much in the way of useful standing dead wood, dried and ready to use. Don't take too much from a particular area as many animals use it. Shown here are 2-4 logs of mostly locust, a very hard, very rot resistant wood. Some are also hickory, similar to locust, but lighter, and will rot in the ground. (Locust can last for decades if not longer!) Also, likely some maple in there, which works just fine for our need here.

In the pics below, you can see the details of lashing the tripods. I am using a particular hitch, which is also a Native American technique, called a tipi hitch. It is used for lashing the tripods of those iconic lodges together. It is very strong and puts the logs in a particular order that holds the tripod firmly. It also creates a tripod that is pitched back and flatter on one side. This allows for a more even spacing for us, with our path system through our beds. You'll note in the pics we are using plastic bailing twine from our straw bales. This is one of the few times we ever use any synthetic materials in our garden. We intentionally use biodegradable twines for almost everything. This is so if we lose material in the garden, it will rot away properly. Additionally, birds and other wildlife will gather fibers of any kind for their nests. You only need to find a bird with plastic line wrapped around it once to make that a firm rule. However, for secure structure, it is best that the line not have a chance of rotting out and failing, so we use the twine. We are very careful to recover it each year.

We learned this hitch from putting up tipis in past years with friends. However, we did refer to the important work on the tipi, The Indian Tipi: Its History, Construction, and Use by Reginald & Gladys Laubin. It is a great book that is filled with interesting ideas. Every homestead should have it on their shelves, in honor of this land's first homesteaders. However,  as long as the book is out, and you are using the lashing up to teach a little bit about tipi construction and Native American life, you might as well let your home schooler read under one a bit.

So, you've got your tripod up, and your ready to weave a bean catcher....not quite. In our area, our gardens are a bit exposed, and sometimes windy. Also, the tripods are very large, over six feet tall, and rather heavy. We don't want them falling on anyone or anything. So we stake them.We cut stakes from similar wood as our tripods, only slightly smaller in diameter. I tend to make a half dozen or so a year, adding to our stock of stakes and replacing any that have rotted or have broken. They are about 18-20 inches long and cut and sharpened on one end with a hatchet. They are very useful in the garden for such things, and additionally, you are fully prepared for any vampire attack.

 Most feet of the tripod get a single stake, lashed thoroughly. The center point, downwind side, gets two, set in the ground at angles for extra strength. Our winds are not usually that fierce, but why take chances and worry about it? Take the extra time in your garden spaces, to do jobs well, and you won't have a mess to clean up, or lose a crop in a storm. Hobby gardening doesn't mean sloppy gardening. Quite the opposite in my approach. Not doing too much, means doing what we do, better.

Build your tripods correctly and securely and at the end of the season, you can pull your ground stakes and just fold the tripods up and store them for the next year. You'll certainly need to recheck them, and maybe relash, but it does make it easier. Here we are pulling out the tripods for the 2014 season. You can still see the weaves from the previous year on them. We cut those free and composted the twine. Then we just stood them up, and staked them down.

Once the tripod is up, and secured, we are ready to weave. Once again, I won't show this in detail. You need to go learn the weaving process and practice it. Part of what makes this fun and easy for us is that we have made so many in the past that we can weave fast. About the twine, we use jute, not sisal, not hemp, not cotton. Jute. It lasts a long time, and it is inexpensive. For three full tripods, woven on two sides, with a third space between them, we used about 500 feet of jute. It cost $2.69 on sale at our local farm store. You'll use most of it so buy two rolls, one for your tripods and one for your general garden needs. Jute is great stuff, and it is our favorite fiber for using in the garden.

Now, let me be clear again about this. This isn't the easiest or simplest weave for a bean trellis. There are lots of others out there that work just as good or better. This is very strong and support an abundance of growth. It allows easy access to the mature vegetables. However, most importantly, it is neat, fun, relaxing and attractive. We've never seen anyone else do this, and we hope that this post will spread the fun. If we were growing beans on a commercial level or practicing large scale sustainability, this wouldn't be practical at all, but we aren't. We're hobby gardening. This is fun.

So rather than try to show a bunch of details of how we weave, with confusing pictures, here is a short video of the process. The video is a little shaky as it was filmed by our girl, but it gets the point across.

Once they are up, prep the soil underneath and plant your climbers. While we primarily use them for green beans, they work for any climbing vine. We tend to inter-plant with cucumbers. We also sometimes add a bit of nasturtiums on the ends for snacks and sunflowers for their sheer beauty. Once the beans, or other foliage is up, they are so thick and dense you can sow greens, like lettuce, that benefits from the cool space under. Of course it's nice to get under them as well, so leave a little room for that, or build over a bench, like we did this year.

They really do look great. You can hang ornaments from the center of the webs, or wind chimes off the tripods. It is a garden ornament and structure all in one. The beans certainly love it. Here is one year when the catchers were catching their fair share!

Happy Hobby Homesteading. Go make something beautiful!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Garden Journal: May 23, 2014

Cold Frame Border of timbers around a bed of cabbage, lettuce, and broccoli.
Catching up is so hard to do....

It's been 29 days since our last update. This is entirely due to our hectic crafter's life. We do want we can, up to the end of April, then spend a few weeks working frantically for our Mask Making business with Spring Shows. This year was a bit more challenging due to vehicle troubles. However, gardens and homesteads know no calendars other than turning of the Wheel of the Seasons, so, we soldier on.

Just before we left for our first show of May, the Spoutwood Farm May Day Fairie Festival, which happens to be on an amazing and lovely organic farm in Glen Rock, PA, we finished our second coop area.The garden has been going on it, like crazy, and work, work, work. So, this will be a picture post, mostly up to May 20th, and more to come.

Some of the stone balances in our rock field are the ones I did the week we moved in, eight years ago.

A rare sight of our adult girls ranging on a bed. Home in the mtns. lots of predators, and no fences, and nasty rooster, so they spend a lot of time in the run. We had a chance, with the rooster in the coop.

Adding a half lap joint to make a strong door.

The funniest news of April. Getting our egg license. State of MD regulates egg production for health issues, so you need to be licensed. We can now sell eggs at events.

Spring rains, and heavy mud and long work days. I am the Green Man, and am sprouting.

Our finished coop addition. We call it the nursery.

Littles in the Nursery Coop addition. Wire fence between them and the Bigs for integration.

Another view of the addition.

Pallet half wall for draft protection. Roost behind it, but the don't use it. Roost on the top of the pallet. The long term goal is a small coop in that corner, like a half size of our main one.

Leah working our cold frame bed.

Hand feeding the Littles. Very different flock than our others.

A robin egg, found under a tree with a Blue Jay nest in it. Confused us for a bit, until we learned that Jays will steal and eat eggs from other nest. Yet more proof that Jays can be kinda jerks, but that is their nature. They are part of the crow family.

White violets from Spoutwood and silly girl.

White Violets tucked around a stone and dancing fairy.

The most awesome news for us. Our asparagus bed made it. Shoots coming up. Photobomb by Ellawyn.

Another Spoutwood gift. Compost. Biodiversity shows that individual compost bins have not only different micro flora and fauna, but perhaps entirely unique ones. That is, the bio-digesters in the Spoutwood bins may be genetically unique to that valley, that farm, and maybe even that bin. So, mixing it up, bringing in compost from other bins, as long as you know it's safe, can increase the diversity and strengthen your bio-herd. Now, that said, there is also a spiritual and psychological thing about bringing compost from Spoutwood. Fellow composters will get that. Fellow lovers of the marvel of Spoutwood Farm will get it even more.

I like dandelions. Certainly, broadleaf weeds crowd out grass, and become an issue. However, we know they are sign of healthy system. Whenever we drive past a home, with a perfect lawn, mowed in lines, with no dandelions, we know that is a home that uses herbicides.

Meager, but one of the first harvests of the season and the first EVER of asparagus. 

Rainbows over our home. We get them a lot.

Spring rains mean glass season. We joke we will start our own pick your own broken glass and rocks farm. That bucket has pickings from about a hour of weeding. The shard in front of it, sticking out of the ground a good two inches, is directly in a spot we've weeded many times. Erosion, frost heave, etc, brings it up. If we put our shovel into the ground in a new place, we tend to turn up glass. That is a fact of life in the Appalachian Mtns.

Life is lovely, and it's better if there is a Scarlet Tanager in your trees. Pretty nice. The Rainbow, the Tanager, and the Swallowtail below all happened on the same day.

Just gorgeous. Better because the pic was taken by our daughter. Feel free to use it as a desktop.

Planting a free tree from Arbor Day.

So glad the Hummingbirds are back. Our home was famous for them before we moved in.

Creating lilac water for bathtime.

Life in hand. Every Amphibian is a precious gift. They are the first great casualties in these dying times we are living in. I hope we can turn back as species, instead of joining them in that. 

Yes, it's true. Once you get chickens, then items featuring them become more appealing. We are picky and careful with out money, etc. However, this chicken shaped basket was at the thrift shop and had to come home. There were two. We have them on the counter for sorting eggs.

Spring is wet season. Our first one with the coop in place and we are learning our drainage problems.

A moat around the back of the coop ready to be filled with gravel.

Mulching the upper bed, with pumpkins in it, with paper and straw.

All tucked in. The far end is pumpkins. Then a couple of rows of onions. Finally the asparagus trenches. We haven't needed to fence this one...yet.

So nice is the weather, that our Tree Dwelling Faeries have awoken and rehabbed their door. Chinked in with moss over a clay and compost cob mixture, with embedded crystals and a jaunty fern growing from the top. A spring wreath adds that home touch.