Thursday, April 9, 2015


Well, things are rolling around to springtime again, so it's been out to the garden/field for me.  It looks as though my Maris Otter barley has survived the winter; with a few more sunny days, it should pop up fairly quickly.  My hops also appear to have survived, at least mostly: the Cascades and Willamettes are already full of shoots, and there appear to be at least a couple of shoots from the Sterlings and Magnums.  The "retired" Cascades are set to go berserk this year, as well.

As a bit of insurance, I ordered one of each type of rhizome this year from Midwest Supplies; they arrived earlier this week, and I got them into the ground yesterday.  The Sterlings and Magnums went to supplement last year's, and the Cascade and Willamette went into new areas by a fence between my back yard and the "back field".  I'll let them climb on the fence, for this year, then put up poles for them in the fall, for next year.

I've got to say, also, if you're going to order rhizomes, go through Midwest.  I'm not affiliated, yada yada; I'm just exceptionally happy with the rhizomes I got this year.  Last year's, from another source, were kind of wimpy; they looked like they'd been out of the ground for a while, and might not have been viable.  (They're hops, and tenacious; at least one of each variety survived long enough to put up shoots; I had deer problems...)  The ones this year were sizable, and had at least six or seven shoots  on each rhizome.  (The Magnums had probably a dozen, and the rhizome itself was thicker than my thumb!)  Yes, they'll be establishing roots, this year, but I'm confident that if I can keep the critters away, they'll be productive next year.

I also managed to sow my Bere, Hana, and Sprat barley, with another test-planting of volunteer wheat.  It's year 3 for the Bere, so I'm reasonably confident in it; I hope to double my yield of Hana, this year--I might have gotten 50g from the 5g sown, last year.  This is year 1 for the Sprat; we'll see how it goes.

I've got a few other things going plant-wise, right now, as well... New blackberry plants, in a location hopefully relatively safe from the deer.  I've got some hazelnut seedlings in, and hope to be able to "play" with those in a few years.  My apple trees are all budded out nicely, and the cherry trees are looking to follow suit--in a week or two, I expect the orchard area to be awash in white and pink petals.  Plans are afoot to get some beehives; their location is selected, and if things to go plan, I'll get the bees next spring.  Things are moving along!

Monday, February 9, 2015

What's cup!

So, due to Winter(tm), and the associated weather, my outside brewing has been limited, lately.  Instead, I've got three batches of mead burbling away.  One is a traditional, made with Radish and Christmasberry honeys; the second is a Blackberry/Raspberry melomel, with these berries in some blackberry honey; the third is my wife's popular Cranberry, with varietal honey and two pints of homemade cranberry sauce.  The ciders from the fall (2.5 gallons of perry, 5 gallons of apple) are seemingly quite happy, as well--settling out and clearing nicely.

So, given the abundance of "free time," I've been playing with wood.  But not just any playing--no, being me, this is SCA playing.

I wish I could say that I'm using period tools, but I'm just not there yet.  (Yes, I did say 'yet.')  I'm working up to using period materials--I want to get some basic skillsets down before I go whole-hog and pay the pretty pennie$ necessary for the right wood varieties.  So, I'm practicing on and off with chest-making; I've got a pair of Mastermyr-style chests done.  I really like them--the sloped sides are aesthetically pleasing to me--but finding hardware is a pain.  I'm working up to being able to make my own--but blacksmithing is a whole 'nother skillset...

Most of the fun, though, has been woodturning: bowls, cups, and plates.
Drinking vessels, in assorted birch, maple, ash, and cherry. Banana for scale.
 It's relatively early days, yet.  I'm almost to where I really want to be with the basics--I don't have to do much post-processing (sanding), if I take my time and work methodically.  Still, I'm running 45 minutes to an hour per vessel; I might be able to bring it to more like 30 minutes, given enough practice.

I'm doing quite a bit of study, too, to find period-appropriate shapes and styles.  Oddly enough, wood types matter here, too, although it's not quite as crucial.  Most of what I've been turning have been drinking bowls and cups--and they tended to be maple, ash, or birch, depending on what part of the world you were looking at.  (Maple seemed to be a universal; ash and birch--mostly ash--were popular in Russia, while alder and birch seemed to be favored in England.)

So, I'm doing up a class, for Gemutlichplatz (a semi-local event, focused on brewing and brewers), on turned wooden drinking vessels.  I hope to have enough examples to do a bit of drinking with them, too.

But a thought which struck me, recently: how much demand is there, in the SCA community, for period wooden drinking vessels?  Is there enough to support my getting a business license, and peddling them at the odd event or two?  Perhaps an Etsy shop?  I've been thinking about this more than a little bit, lately...  Perhaps three "tiers" of wares, to start:
  • Period material and design (researched design);
  • Period design, modern selection of material;
  • Plausibly- or non-period design (inlays, etc.), modern material.
At the least, it might support my hobbies somewhat--even if only to make the turning sustainable.  (Woodturning is an amazingly fun way to make a whole lot of wood shavings...)  I have designs, eventually, on making some pottery and pit-firing it, too--probably using the shavings from turning--which might find its way, eventually, into the second or third tier of the storefront.  Add in carved things (spoons, bowls--particularly the big dough/bread trays), and it starts looking really interesting.

I plan on gauging the reaction at Gemutlichplatz, and asking a few trusted individuals between now and then, and making my decision towards spring.  If I do go for it, it wouldn't be before fall; I'd have to build up an inventory.  What say you, good Reader?  Is there interest? 

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

So, my resolution for the year is to actually get this blog running again--and, hopefully, revamp my "static" website, by mid-year.

What's been going on since last I posted?  Well, I'm glad you asked:

I got a chunk of field tilled.  This was an undertaking in itself; I don't think the fields here have been tilled in at least 50 years, probably more, and whatever they were growing, they've left a fine crop of stones.  Still, I have a lovely area about 25 feet by 50 feet, give or take; it's a little short of half sown with winter barley (Maris Otter/Halcyon mix), and as the days turn cold, it's preparing to go into its dormant phase.

Come springtime, I'll plant the rest with Bere, Conlon, and a bit of wheat.  I've got Hana, as well, but only enough for a "test" plot (about 4' by 4').  And I found another period strain: Sprot-barley, also called "Sprat".  Supposedly, its awns fan out in a palm shape, instead of straight up.  It's a 5-gram sample, so it'll take a bit to grow up, but I'm excited for it.

The hops are over-wintering; I've got some doubts as to what will come up in the spring (definitely the "retired" Cascades; probably the Willamette; possibly the Magnum--but the "new" cascade and the Sterling I'm not sure about).  I've got table grapes growing (this will be their third year--I don't expect fruit for two more), and a couple of apple seedlings planted.

I have plans for tapping several trees in late winter--I've got a couple of maples that look promising, and I want to try out the walnuts.  I'd love to do a birch, as well, but I've only got the one of those, and don't want to stress it until I can get a few more going...

Then there's woodwork:  I've finally got a shop of sorts set up, and I got myself a lathe.  I've been teaching myself the ins and outs of the latter by making lots and lots of cups and bowls...  Once I really get to where I know what I'm doing, I'd like to make a set or two or three based on extant finds, and maybe even start to sell them.  But that's way down the line.

I've been playing with Oseberg/Mastermyr chest plans.  I've built one, and I'm working on a second, and will probably be making several more.  The first was painted, with store-bought hinges.  The "in-progress" one has a woodburned design in the front, and I'm looking at hinge options.  Both are pine; future versions will likely use better wood.

Speaking of which, I've found a lovely local-ish source of fine lumber: a sawmill, only about an hour's drive.  It's run by a nice Mennonite family, and has stacks of quartersawn white and red oak as far as I could see, plus piles of cherry, maple, ash, and other...  Delightful.

As far as brewing, I haven't been doing much over the last few months.  I've got a couple of ciders going--a half-batch of perry, from home-grown pears, and a full batch of apple.  All of them pressed on the re-built cider press from my dad.

And that's where things are at present--everything that leaps to mind, at any rate.  The plan now is to post something new every other week or so, and keep at it until it's a habit again...  Hopefully, I can make it stick.

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