Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Making Harvest Baskets

We gather a lot of vegetables and flowers. For major harvests we use a wheelbarrow or cart. But most summer days we pick smaller amounts, enough for a meal or two, berries for jam and baking, or flowers for tables and windowsills. Our primary basket was a wedding present we have been using for over three decades. My wife likes to use it for carrying her cut flowers and that often interfered with my collecting veggies for dinner. 
Woven Harvest Basket, 35+ Years Old
It became obvious that we needed more than one harvest basket (that we call a trug). My wife presented me with one that works okay, but is too small, and, like her basket, has a handle that often deflects thrown peas and beans so that they miss the basket. Both handles also get in the way when grabbing peas or beans between hands when they are on opposite sides. My first trug raised the handle pretty high, attempting to make it easier to fill and empty. This design was heavy and the handle still got in the way. Permanently erect handles also makes baskets bulky to store. Empty, they take up a lot of space.
Commercial Harvest Basket: Coated Steel Wire Mesh
My First Trug: Too Heavy, But Won a Prize
An ideal baskets should have handles that swing out of the way. When you have more than one, they should also stack, one inside another. They should be light enabling heavier payloads. My next one incorporated a handle that could swing to the side for filling, emptying and storing. It also used only a frame of wood and very lightweight rawhide for lacing.

Trug with Handle Swung to the Side
Trug with Handle Erect

Three Trugs Together Showing Relative Size
Trugs Fills With Produce
 The rawhide I used for the swing-handled trug came from a deer I harvested with a bow and arrow when I was still in high school. With only a limited supply of rawhide, I used one-inch wide webbing for the next pair of trugs that I made for four-year old twins. These work great and though they are a bit large for them now, they'll grow into them and should last their lifetime. To make them waterproof so that veggies can be washed in the trugs, both the rawhide trug and those made with webbing were given many coats of marine varnish that also melds the webbing to the wood frame.

Twin Trugs with Handles Swung to the Side

Stacked Trugs






Monday, January 16, 2017

Scroll Saw Bowls with Segmented Feature Ring

A year ago my wife gave me an interesting book on how to make bowls without a lathe. At that time I did not have a wood lathe and the prospect of making bowls without creating mounds of wood shavings intrigued me.
Carole Rothman Uses a Scroll Saw to Make Her Bowls 

Carole Rothman has developed techniques that transform flat boards as wide and long as the dimensions of the piece into incredibly beautiful bowls. One drawback: these bowls typically have sides that are around 45 degrees. 

I like to make things that are useful and have been planning to make a series of sturdy bowls for chopping vegetables and nuts so that the process doesn't send pieces all over the place. My wife's mother had a very functional wooden bowl and chopping knife that she used many decades.  The bowl was shallower than the one pictured above so, in order to use a scroll saw, I had to modify the technique. 
Mother-in-Law's 12.5 Inch Diameter Bowl and Chopping Knife
My first attempt used two boards of hard maple to make the bottom four layers of a bowl. Turning a solid piece of wood involves slicing through the grain at various angles. It is much easier to cut "with the grain" than "across the grain". The woodworking group I belong to introduced me to segmented bowl techniques and the advantages of creating layers that have no "end grain". For the fancy top layers, I added feature rings of trapezoids.
First Chopping Bowl with Cherry Feature Ring on Top of Four Layers of Maple
Side View of First Bowl


Two Handled Chopping Knife, Handles Cover Blade When Not in Use
Second Bowl with Cherry Feature Ring and Pine Separators
Top View: Second Bowl Showing Trapezoids and Separators
Second Bowl Complete

Discs on Left Have Been Cut Out of a Square Board at 45 Degrees. They Will Be Cut Again to Make Layers #2 and #4 of Two Bowls.  Stacked Discs on Right Are Layers #1 and #3 of Those Bowls.
The Four Bottom Layers of a Bowl

Glued Up Stack of Four Layers of Yellow Birch

Feature Ring: Alternating Trapezoids of Walnut and Cherry

Feature Ring Added to Four Layers of Yellow Birch
Chopping Knife with Leather Cover


Bottom View of Chopping Bowl #3

Top View of #3

Top View of #4: Yellow Birch Layers 1-4, Alternating Trapezoids of Cherry and Oak, with Purple Heart Separators

Bottom View of Chopping Bowl #4




Monday, December 19, 2016

Weird Cardinal Encounter

This morning, on my way to filling the bird feeder, I noticed a cardinal who seemed frozen on the deck. He was beautiful so I captured a few photos from a foot or two away. Five minuted later he was still frozen (temperature was 15F). Ten minutes later, he was gone! Did he fly away? Or did something eat him? No sign of feathers anywhere! Did he have a seizure?
"Frozen" Cardinal, Photo Taken from Around a Foot Away
Second Photo, as Above
Third Photo, as Above


Friday, November 18, 2016

Final Tally: Bean Tunnel

 Harvesting dry beans is relaxing. They take their time to dehydrate and even if their shells mold or discolor, bean seeds inside turn ever more brilliant. Frost typically kills late bloomers and seeds in later pods don't fully develop. This year's bean tunnel produced a little over two pounds of immature fruit that chickens and Guinea fowl heartily devoured. Some years we don't get around to pick the drying bean pods until December but I was anxious to quantify this year's production a bit earlier. Shelling them took about three hours.
Scarlet Runner and Purple Pod Beans Hanging to Dry
The two dozen purple pole bean plants produced around 30 pounds of fresh string beans but we let most of them mature and dry so that we now have two pounds of seeds for years to come. Any that don't get planted will become soup.
Purple Pod Pole Bean Seeds
Scarlet runner beans we grow primarily for show because the fresh large pods are tough to eat. The beans inside are beautiful and the four dozen plants produced five pounds of these shiny gems.
Scarlet Runner Bean Seeds
The real champions in producing food this year were the Italian Zucchino Rampicante squash (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). Not only did they produce immature fruit from early August through October totaling over 200 pounds, the four squash allowed to mature for seeds together weighed over 25 pounds! These now are the color of butternut squash and will probably cook up like winter squash. Maybe we'll make a pie with a small piece of one for Thanksgiving dinner!
Mature Italian Zucchini, Formerly a Pale, Splotchy Green
We did plant some cucumbers but they produced little edible fruit. Opposite the cukes were beautifully red yard-long beans but we didn't know when to pick them nor did we have recipes for preparing them. We fed seeds that birds didn't steal to our fowl. In another part of the garden we had planted sweet potato squash and they taste exceptional and are quite beautiful. They earned a section in next year's bean tunnel.
Sweet Potato Squash: Some Are Dirty From Growing on the Ground

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Planting Garlic

I have been too busy to get our garlic in the ground before my target date: October 31. In September, a family member helped separate the best 350 cloves from heads but they sat in a carton waiting to complete harvesting, a birthday celebration, a hike and a quick visit to both west coast daughters. A dear friend planted almost half while we were away for two weeks that enabled me to plant the rest in only a few hours.
Garlic Cloves Going into Rows with Hay Fork, Bucket for Worms and Carton of Separated Cloves
My favorite tool for planting is a hay fork because its skinny tines slip so easily in our soft soil and don't often hurt the worms that are so plentiful. Most of the worms, grubs and caterpillars end up in a pail for transport to the chickens and Guinea fowl. The garlic beds get covered with a few inches of ground up leaves and grass for insulation and weed/moisture control. By next June, most of this organic matter will have been processed by worms so that the bed is ready for parsley seeds.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Happy to Find a Wood Turtle

I've lived in rural upstate New York since 1973 and typically spend some time outdoors every day. I've seen plenty of painted turtles and snapping turtles but never a wood turtle. I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, about 150 miles south of here, and spent thousands of hours with my brother hunting and documenting snakes and turtles. Wood turtles were the most common reptile we came across there, especially in spring when they congregate in streams looking for mates.

This past weekend my wife spotted a wood turtle walking down the road in front of our home. Spending time on pavement is not safe for any animal so I relocated him to the most remote pond edge near here, far from roads and fields that get periodic tractor visits. 
Mature Wood Turtle with a Stub Left Front Leg
Front View: Wood Turtle
Wood Turtle Bottom View Showing Plastron and Two Stub Front Legs
This fellow sported two front leg stumps where some animal, long ago, chewed off his paws. They healed well and he's able to get around pushing hard with his fully intact rear legs. Judging from the rings on his scutes, the shield-shaped patterns on his shell, he's at least 20 years old. His plastron, the bottom part of a turtle shell - opposite the carapacewas concave indicating he is a male since females need more space to hold eggs inside, requiring a convex plastron.

Box turtles were the second most common land turtle in eastern Pennsylvania and I've never seen one of these here either. They were my favorite because they can close up tightly and protect both sets of legs. I also had one for a pet that I hand fed and she followed me around our yard for years. Now I am hoping to find a box turtle!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bean Tunnel: Growing Four Months

By July, bean and squash seeds planted along the edges of the bean tunnel had grown a foot tall with some flowers. This first week of autumn has already given us two light frosts, killing tender ground hugging squash leaves. In the meantime we've harvested a few hundred pounds of squash and many meals of fresh string beans. We are letting most of the beans dry for use as seeds and soup.

 One very neat aspect of the Italian Zucchini variety we tried is that they become a winter squash with a hard shell when they mature. We're letting a few turn butternut squash color so that we can harvest their seeds when we try them mid winter. This variety has been remarkably productive, way beyond any other we've tried. Now, in late September, a dozen plants are still producing more than 50 pounds per week. A few vines have wilted leaves from insect/viral damage but most are still healthy with vines growing longer. They have avoided frost damage by climbing high on the trellis that raises them above the coldest air near the ground. 
Tender Young Squash Leaves Shriveled by Frost: September 23
July 11: Beans and Squash Starting to Flower
August: Vines Reaching the Top 
Purple Pole Beans Producing a Bumper Crop!
Most of the Chinese Yard Long Beans Hang Low Outside
One Week's Production of Zucchino Rampicante
Italian Zucchini Hanging Down, Making It Difficult to Drive the Tractor Through
Squash Behind Purple Beans
More Italian Zucchinis
Italian Squash Fruito Becoming a Hard Shelled Winter Squash