Thursday, August 15, 2019

August 2019 Garden Update + Hollyhock Madness

Early in the gardening season, I almost gave up on my veggie and cut flower garden. With Mark having surgery I wasn't sure if I was going to have the time to plant, mulch, weed and harvest my garden. I talked to The Farmer about it and he urged me to do it. I also thought about how much I love having fresh flowers and fresh food in the summer and so I gave it a go once again. 

I never plant my garden until late in June. I buy plant starts instead of dealing with seeds - except for sunflowers which I do plant from seed. I buy my plants from Walker Farm up in Dummerston, VT. 

Now that the end of August is getting close, I am really happy I got my garden in. We have been eating zucchini and yellow squash every night. Green beans are coming soon and the basil needs to be turned into pesto. The cukes got some kind of blight and died but I replanted with zucchini and am hoping it will grow and give us some late season squash. I planted Kuri squash and Butternut squash and they both seem to be taking over the world.

Last year I bought one of those spiralizers and it is a great way to use up some of the larger zucchini. I feed the really big ones to my chickens and they devour them in seconds. 

The sunflowers are slowly growing. We haven't had much rain this summer so they have been slow to grow. I think they will bloom in September like they usually do. I didn't plant them until July and they took forever to germinate because of the lack of rain. One day, we got some rain and like magic, they germinated in a few days. I can't water my garden because we don't have much water in our well so I do a heavy mulch with leftover bales of hay. The mulch really helps things grow. 

The zinnias are doing fantastic after a brief bout of black spot. I ripped all the affected leaves off and gave them a hit of Azomite and they are now performing beautifully. That stuff is like magic. I think I shouldn't mulch them as heavy as I do because I think it causes the black spot but it also makes them grow. I get that black spot every single year. 

I usually only grow the large Benary strain but this year, I bought a 6 pack of Come and Cut Again and they are doing great. 

Here's an overall view of the garden with my Pottery Studio behind it. I love this view. The little building is so sweet and the flowers just make me smile. 

This year for some crazy unknown reason, I had an outbreak of Hollyhocks in the garden next to my office. Usually I plant sunflowers and annuals in this ramshackle garden but with the emergence of small Hollyhock plants, I decided to see what happened. I didn't know what color they were going to be but I guessed they would be lemon yellow. A few years ago, I had one lemon Hollyhock plant (just one) so these seeds must have been just waiting to do their thing. Has anyone else ever had an explosion of Hollyhocks? 

I hope they come back every year although I would love some pink and red Hollyhocks too. They are almost done blooming now and I will harvest the seeds and give some to friends and maybe spread them around our place. The bees and the butterflies love them. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Making Pottery + 100 Days of Vases on Instagram

I've been working away in my little pottery shed for the past couple months. I have signed up and been accepted to be a vendor at The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival at the end of September. This is the first time I have done an "official" show selling my pottery. Most of my pottery sales in the past couple years and over 20 years ago were done at my own home at Open House formats or on-line. 

I have never been to the Garlic and Arts Festival but I have heard it is a great time. It is similar to The Common Ground Country Fair in Maine but on a smaller scale. I got accepted to sell my ceramics, my tea towels and my books. I will bring our 10 x 10 pop-up Farmers Market tent and hope for the best. My good friend Kay has volunteered to help with sales. Thank you Kay!

I've got lots of pottery in progress. This summer I have been throwing lots of vases and mugs getting ready for the fall selling season. I've also made a lot of smallish platters and some larger ones. My plan is to list all the leftovers on-line on my website after the Garlic and Arts Festival so if you want something but are far away, you will have a chance. 

When I am sitting at my wheel, I look out to the hill behind it and the field that some of our sheep spend the warmer months in. They hunker down during the day and sleep next to our portable corral. In the beginning, they were skittish of me but as we spend more and more time together they just look on. 

The dogs come down to check on things too. They are curious as to what the heck I am doing spending all this time in the little shed. 

I've got so many pots made now and the next step is decorating them all with underglazes. This is the tedious and time consuming part of making my ceramics. It is also what adds to the price because each piece takes quite a bit of time. I treat each piece differently depending on the shape of the object. In the photo below you can see vases in different stages - unfired white clay, underglaze painted pieces, and glossy glazed finished pieces. On the bottom right side of the photo, you can see 2 vases that haven't had their black lines added yet. The addition of that line finishes the piece and makes the motifs stand out. I use very bright colors of underglaze but they don't look bright until they are gloss glazed. 

I started a 100 Day Challenge on Instagram! I've always thought of doing this kind of project but never really thought I could find enough time in the day to do it. I'm giving it a go and am on Day #12 coming up. Each day I post a photo of a vase or two or whatever I have been making in the studio. I hope I can keep it up. It does help to keep me focused on making and creating. 

You can follow my progress over on Instagram here. My feed also posts automatically to my Kristin Nicholas Designs Facebook Page here if you don't do Instagram. Make sure to follow me if you are interested in the progress. 

Hope you are enjoying the summer as it quickly turns to autumn!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

July Update - The Flower/Veggie Garden

Summer is in high season here at Leyden Glen Farm. We have had an extraordinarily hot July with absolutely no rain — unlike last year when the rain wouldn’t stop. Until a few days ago when it rained and rained and rained. So glorious. I got my annual flower garden/veggie garden in and we are eating lots of squash and cucumbers, parsley and basil. Lost the beans to the birds - bummer - they love bean sprouts. Two weeks ago I planted the sunflowers. With the lack of rain, the sunflowers weren’t germinating. But the recent rain changed that and they are popping through the soil. Yay.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to plant this huge garden. With The Farmer’s hip surgery, I almost didn’t. But in mid June, just after before he went in the hospital, I decided to give it a go. I am glad I did because it gives me some quiet time outside by myself with the birds and the bugs and the disappointments and victories of gardening. I think that is what keeps gardeners gardening..... the possibilities of the next garden, the next year and what might be. All the unknowns - the weather, the bugs and blights, the weeds, the birds snacking on sunflower and bean sprouts - they all are uncontrollable by humans and they make it all so interesting and challenging and beautiful.

I have been spending a lot of time in my Pottery Shed getting pieces thrown and dried out enough for the underglaze decoration. Like I shared a few posts ago, I got accepted into The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival which happens the weekend of September 28/29. The Pottery Shed is next to my garden and right next to the sheep pasture. It is a walk from the house and I have to tote buckets of water down the hill to use while making the pottery. It is a very sweet little building that is serviceable and simple. The renovation of the Pottery Shed was part of my last book Crafting A Patterned Home. I totally love this space and the hours I spend there working with the clay on my wheel and building slab pieces. 

Making pottery is a lot like gardening. Because I am no expert wheel thrower - nor do I every intend or want to be - I sit down at my wheel with a ball of clay and then see what happens. I “center” the clay with an idea of what I want to make that day. And then I see what happens as I work it with my hands. Lately I have been making oodles of vases. Cut flowers from my garden have always been an important thing in my home and the vases that hold them - whether antique or handmade - are full of color and pattern. The vases look so pretty on a shelf all year long. I hope that people at the festival will think the same thing too. 

Next week I am going to try to start making some mugs because I know people who love and buy handmade pottery love a new coffee mug. There is something so intimate about making a handmade mug that will be used by the purchaser often. There is a special connection between maker and buyer that a handmade mug makes happen. That a handmade mug will go out into someone else’s home and become part of their special morning or afternoon ritual of coffee or tea is just so sweet. 

Here are a few photos from the summer garden and work in progress in the studio. 

Hollyhocks in front of the studio. I didn't plant these - they appeared magically. A few years ago I had a lemon hollyhock that died off. These must have come from it. 

The veggie and cutting garden. All mulched except for the sunflowers. 

Zinnias all pruned - now waiting for flowers.

The pottery studio

Some of the vases I have been making

The sheep grazing every evening behind my pottery studio.

Vases in progress - before and after decoration and awaiting firing.

Some finished vases and some before bisque firing but already painted.

Hope you all are having a nice summer and getting some outside time and projects done!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Fruits of my Labors

Here's a sneak peek of the small vases that just came out of the gloss firing in my kiln. I will be debuting them on Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market in our Leyden Glen Lamb booth. The hours are 8 to 1:30. I'll try to take some photos of the set-up so you can see how the vases are displayed.  

I ordered a small wooden display rack from this shop on Etsy. It looks like mini stairs and was designed for selling homemade soaps which are a brisk mover at many farmers markets. I made sure that all my vases would fit on the stairs. It is very well made and was ready for paint. I painted it yesterday and it is all set to go tomorrow. 

Here's a close-up of some of the vases. This is all a grand experiment. At this point I don't plan to put any of them on-line but we shall see. I've got to concentrate getting more work done for the Garlic and Arts Festival at the end of September. 

Have a great weekend everyone and maybe I will see some of you tomorrow. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Second Firing + The Potters Cast

My latest batch of ceramics went through its first firing cycle which is called bisque. My kiln fires for about 8 hours and then cools down for a couple days. I unload it all onto my studio table. This latest firing has 30 small vases that I plan to take to the farmers market and sell at our Leyden Glen Farm booth. Cut flowers are very popular at our market with about 5 different stands featuring all kinds of beautiful blooms. I thought it would be perfect to have small vases to complement the flowers others are selling. I hope to debut them this coming weekend. 

After the bisque firing, the next step is to coat each piece in a clear glaze. I use a shiny clear glaze from Amaco called LG-10. I paint it onto all sides of each piece so that the entire piece becomes covered in gloss. 

The clay I use is called earthenware and it is low-fire (different from porcelain and stoneware which needs a higher temperature to mature). I love this clay because it is smooth and easy to work (sometimes called plastic). It has no grog (little bits that are added to stoneware which I find annoying when throwing). Because it is low fire, the kiln doesn't have to get as hot so it is less expensive to fire and fires quicker. The underglaze colors fire very bright and vivid. 

Many earthenware pieces "sweat". You probably have some vases that leave rings on your wooden furniture - that means they are sweating. To combat the pots sweating and ruining furniture which leave a water ring, I cover the bottoms in glaze. It adds a step to glazing but I think it is worth it. When loading the kiln, I raise each piece on something called stilts that are pieces of high fire clay with needles sticking out of them. The little needles keep the pot from fusing to the stilt and only leave a little mark that I sand off before selling them. 

Because I am not a "trained potter" (i.e. I didn't go to college for this), I have had to learn a lot of this myself. Before the internet, it was pretty impossible to figure things out but now there are thousands of pottery videos that I can watch. There is also a growing ceramics community on Instagram. It seems to be a friendly and supportive community and although I don't add much - there are many potters I follow and watch what they are making. Unlike the knitting/crochet/Ravelry community, there does not seem to be too much nastiness nor politics mixed in. Let's hope it stays that way.  

Handmade ceramics seem to be having their "moment". There are so many people who want to learn how to make pottery or have started collecting it. There are amazing ceramic artists out there. It is fun to be a part of this growing community. I listen to a great podcast called "The Potters Cast." You might want to add it to your podcast feed. They are interesting interviews and I always learn something. Here is the link to find The Potters Cast. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Updates - My Farmer and Pottery

Farmer Mark had his second hip surgery last week and he is resting and recovering. He had a different procedure from the last hip replacement which is supposed to have a quicker recovery - it is called anterior as opposed to posterior. He went back to the doctor this week for a check-in and they are very happy. He is sitting and moving around with a walker. He has been on some nice easy short walks. You can only imagine the frustration he is feeling not being able to take care of his animals. Last year he discovered farming videos on YouTube and they are keeping him somewhat entertained. 

This is one of his favorite YouTube channels called FLANK. It is about British Farming and features a Mum - Sarah - being filmed by her son Rufus who comes back to the farm he grew up on. The mum is quite hilarious and I find it entertaining too. Check out their first introductory video here

I'm doing my best juggling the house, the family, the healing farmer, the garden and the sheep. Luckily most of the sheep are out on pasture grazing and as long as the grass holds out and they stay in, they aren't much trouble. I say that - but last week I spent an hour and half along with some neighbors getting 12 sheep back in their fencing. One ewe got her head stuck in the electronet and the rest escaped. She is fine and they all went back in eventually.  

I have been accepted into the North Quabbin Garlic And Arts Festival in Orange. MA which happens September 28 and 29th. I will be selling products of my own design - tea towels, books and whatever pottery I can get made. I have heard that it is a great event so I am super excited for it. Evidently people travel from far away to attend. I had better get busy making so that I have enough product to make a good display. 

I found this bookcase on the side of the road a couple weeks ago. It was black and looked like it had been in someone's garage or basement. I am always on the lookout for shelves for books or supplies or my pottery studio. I took it home - luckily it fit in my SUV - and painted it in this pretty green color. I've been filling it with my pottery that is waiting to be fired. 

Here are some other pieces that are waiting to be bisque fired. My kiln is a Skutt 1027 and it takes me a while to fill it. I think I have almost enough ware to fire so I will do it while The Farmer is recovering from surgery. 

Hope all is well with all of you as we head into the beginning of official summer. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Mom's Couch and New Surface Designs

My Mom has been repairing her screened in porch and wanted to update the cushions on her wicker furniture. She asked me if I would re-color one of my designs more to her taste. I did. I did 4 versions for her. 

She chose the gold background and I ordered it for her. My sister Nancy - who is a very talented seamstress - sewed the cotton/linen canvas into cushions for her. Here is how it looks. 

The Birds, Flowers, and Bugs surface design is available to anyone over on my Spoonflower shop. The design can be printed on over 25 different fabrics. Spoonflower also has changed their website some and you may find it easier to navigate. I just noticed that when I go to a listing, besides the fabric sample, they also show each surface design on some of the Roostery products that they produce. Here are some screenshots of a blanket, pillow and duvet cover. 

It is such a cool concept that my designs can be digitally printed and made into products. Unfortunately, it is really hard for someone to find me on Spoonflower unless they have a direct link to my "Spoonflower Shop". There are so many designs and designers, I am just a little blip in the world. C'est la vie. 

I think it is great that Spoonflower has started "Roostery" - their finished product division. That way, folks who don't sew or don't have the time to sew can still purchase independent surface designer's work on pre-made textile products. Find my designs on Roostery here

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

June Update From Our Farm

Hi there blogging friends. How are you all doing? Things are busy here at the farm. Most of the sheep have moved from the barns out to pastures. There are still some lambs being born and because the ewes are lambing on pasture, the little lambs are wild as heck. So far so good on that front.

Spring has sprung. The apple orchard bloomed. We are at least a week behind the normal growth cycle because this spring it has been so rainy and wet and cold. Everything is late to get going. 

My garden was just tilled and over the past couple days I got half of it in with plant starts from Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT. 

I have ordered my sunflower seeds and they should be here in a week or so. I will stagger the planting over a few weeks. I find that here I can plant as late as the middle of July and still have sunflowers. It all depends on the weather but I like my sunflowers to start blooming in September and end in October. I get my seeds from Johnny's and Sunflower Selections. I always order new seeds because I haven't had luck with germination with planting year old seeds. 

Here are some other photos of what it looks like here at our farm. I haven't been using my big camera nearly as much as I have done in the past. It's too bad because it really does take good photos. Guess not enough time to lug it around and then download photos to the computer, tweak them and upload them here. 

This little garden is just outside my studio. I am really excited that tiny little hollyhock seedlings made it through the winter and it looks like I am going to have gorgeous hollyhocks just outside my window. I have no idea what color they will be. Can't wait to see. 

This is one of my favorite combinations - lambs ears and lady's mantle. I have grown it together in every garden I have ever tended. It is looking lovely today. 

Tomorrow The Farmer goes in for his second hip replacement surgery. Fingers crossed the recovery goes better than last year's trials and tribulations. Please keep us in your thoughts. 
So that is what is going on here. What is new with you? Do you have summer plans that you are looking forward to? I am going to miss having students come to the house for the retreats that I have hosted for the past ten years but I will be busy making lots of things, helping with the sheep, and hoping The Farmer's healing process moves along better than last year. 

August 2019 Garden Update + Hollyhock Madness

Early in the gardening season, I almost gave up on my veggie and cut flower garden. With Mark having surgery I wasn't sure if I was g...