progress reports

My best ideas often arrive in startling flashes of cognition that give me  an image of the end product, and a great deal of start-up initiative.  Linen garb?  Find seeds now!  Leather shoes?  Call the butcher for hides!  That’s the easy part.  The long slog between concept and product  is the part that requires perseverance.  I like to pause for review every now and again, to reassure myself I am making progress.

Abundant rain and long summer days have the flax trial proceeding well:

Flax plot, three weeks old. Sweden is lagging, there in the upper left plot.

Four weeks along.

Five weeks, and most stems are well over a foot high. Time to get a taller measure!


At six weeks, interesting things are happening.

The Czechoslovakian strain, though not the tallest variety, has set the first flower of this trial. Look at that gorgeous blue!

This Hungarian variety is very close to blooming.

The tallest plant so far is one of the Belgians. It is not budded out yet, either--I wonder if the growth rate slows after flowering? TIme will tell. The stick is ruled in inches, by the way, consistent with the data records of the USDA germplasm repository.

Updates from the hide-tanning realm:   remember I had another brain-tanned hide yet to soften?  I thought I would put it on a rack and soften it with a stake instead of by hand.

I slitted its edges all the way around . . .

. . . and laced it onto a rack. Spread out like that, it soon dried enough so that when I stretched it, it turned opaque.

I used a canoe paddle, by-product of a long-ago woodworking course, to stretch the hide.

This should have been easier, overall, than hand softening as I did on the previous hide.  Alas.  Two hours later, parts of the hide were still too damp to stay stretched.  By evening dew the hide still wanted more working.  I moved the whole rack indoors, turned a fan on the hide, and worked it another half-hour.  And then I stopped.  I tightened up the slackened laces all around the hide, left it on the rack in front of the fan, and went to bed.  By morning, the hide was dried stiff and smooth like parchment–not soft drape-y buckskin, but not useless either.  I will use it for bookbinding later on.

From the top: bark-tanned deerhide, grain-on, racked not softened; brain-tanned deerhide, grain-off, racked not softened; bark-tanned kidskin, grain-on, softened not racked; brain-tanned deerskin, softened not racked.

Same samples, bottom to top. The softened buckskin on top is thick, almost spongy, compared to the rest.

The other two deerskins are still in the hemlock bark tanbath.  I stir them around every few days, when I add fresh bark-broth.  I’ve begun work on a veal hide, too.

This one soaked in the buck for over a week.  The hair slid right out.

The spots show up on the skin, too, at least at this stage.

The dehaired hide hangs at about 18 lbs, or maybe 5% of the veal calf’s live weight.  This hide may have been worth as much as $15 dollars to a dealer, or it might have been worth nothing at all.  Depends on the market.

This part is the same as for the deer hides--rinse in the brook for several days, membrane the flesh side again, then into a bark vat for tanning. The main difference: thin deerskins tan in a few weeks, while thicker calfskin will take three months to tan through. Mature cowskins are longer yet, I hear, somewhere on the order of 6 or 8 months. If ever I tackle a big one, I will need to start it first thing in springtime so I don't run out of weather.

The veal hide has been in the tanbath for less than a week. I think the two deerskins are almost tanned through, after these past warm weeks.

The color is fairly even all through the thickest part of the deerskin. Compare that to the very thick neck-skin of the veal hide, from a calf probably only 6 months old! No wonder the veterinarian has to literally punch a hypodermic needle through cow hides.

The field corn I planted is up and grown past danger from crows.  Corn is sometimes “knee-high by the fourth of July” but not in my garden, not after this cool wet spring.  I planted late, on the 10th of June, but in theory the short-season Painted Mountain corn will mature by mid-September anyway.

Looks like almost every single kernel germinated! These are way too crowded, but I don't want to thin them until I take some anti-sheep measures.

I will hoe the weeds and hill the baby corn plants one more time, to encourage stronger roots.

These stalks are well-started, but look sort of flimsy at the bottom.

Soil mounded up around the stalks shores them up against torrential rains and other miserable weather events.

Part way through the first row, I found a critical observer. Toads are good luck in the garden, I always think, and I don't mind their presence as long as I see them first. One time, when I was picking potatoes, I picked up a toad by mistake because it was lurking under the potato-mulch looking very much like a clod. I would have hollered, except my liver was up in my throat and I couldn't make a sound.

The corn needs thinned, probably weeded and hoed once more after that, and then it's pretty much on its own until September. I hope the sheep fence holds--I had to get a new electric fence charger, because the one I had blew apart in a lightning strike this spring.

The flower beds are making progress too.

This iris bud, which incidentally is wound counterclockwise like every iris bud I examined this spring, unfurled . . .

. . . into one of these, my very favorite silveredge iris.

This oriental poppy started out as a kiwi-fruit-looking bud . . .

. . . then for a while mimicked a carnation . . .

. . . and spent a few days showing off exotic contrast.

When this pod dries to a grey-brown husk, I will be able to harvest a teaspoon or so of poppyseeds.

This entry was posted in farming, fiber, garden, hides. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s