I made shoes!

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As regular Root Simple readers know, I’ve been obsessing on making shoes for some time now, but was not able to wrap my mind around the process without help. Help arrived this weekend in the form of the wonderful–and wonderfully patient– Randy Fritz, who taught me and four other intrepid souls how to make turnshoes over the course of the last 4 days.

Lesson 1: As we have all suspected, shoes are not easy to make. Seriously not easy.

Four full days of work may seem like a lot for a pair of shoes, but it was just barely enough for us all to reach the finish line. I think all of us walked away with a new respect for the craft and complexity of the cordwainer’s art.

Lesson 2: Cordwainer is the proper term for a shoe maker. A cobbler repairs shoes. Who knew?

Randy estimates he could make a pair of turnshoes in about 10 hours, but leading a pack of wayward newbies through the process is takes 32 hours. More, really, as we had homework. I’d say 40 hours went into each pair of shoes. After doing this, I will never again balk at the price of a pair of bespoke shoes.

Lesson 3: It is, in fact, worthwhile to make your own shoes.

Turnshoes are very much like gloves for the feet. We crafted custom patterns for our feet, and the resulting shoes were as unique as we five students are in every other way. To see our same-yet-different shoes lined up in a row was to realize that how much we are cheating ourselves when we shove our feet into standardized prefabricated “foot coffins”.

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Casts of our feet on their way to become patterns

Lesson 4: Crafting is more fun in groups.

I know some people are very content as solo crafters, puttering away alone in their work rooms and man caves, but for me, one of the best parts of the last four days was getting to know four other fascinating people; to gossip, bitch and celebrate together as the shoes started to take shape. As I know from outdoor adventuring, nothing facilitates bonding like shared adversity! It really was very much an adventure, and it also felt strangely like a vacation. I know many people would balk at a 4 day class, but believe me, it was no hardship. I would happily just keep on doing it.

Lisa, Lee, Pilar and Ruth, I salute you!

The Shoes Themselves

Turnshoes are soft soled leather foot gloves, very like moccasins.  I like to call them “Euro moccasins” — they are patterned on a shoe style prevalent in Europe, particularly Northern Europe, from about 900 to 1400AD. The shoe is constructed inside out, and only turned right way around in the final stages. Thus, “turnshoe.”. (The act of turning the shoes inside out takes time and considerable finger strength. We called the turning “shoe birthing” — as it required a good deal of grunting and cursing, but resulted in a beautiful newborn shoe.) The result of this technique is that all of the stitching is hidden inside the shoe, even the sole stitching. The only visible stitching is the decorative lashing around the top.

We started the process by making patterns off our feet, both tracing our soles and using duct tape (a common medieval technology) to make casts of our feet. Then we cut open and flattened those 3D casts to form the pattern for the uppers. The uppers were made of buffalo hide, which is strong and buttery soft, and the soles of latigo, a thick leather which is a traditional soling material. We stitched the leather together with strong waxed thread.

The shoes are meant to fit like gloves–and they do. As I said above, each one was a perfect expression of their maker’s foot. Mine have a distinctive duck foot shape. Don’t get me wrong–I like my feet. I think they are quite fetching in profile, actually, but years of flip-flopping and barefooting have spread my toes wide.  As a result, most shoes are uncomfortable for me. It is amazing to have a perfectly fitting pair at last.

The finished shoes were so pretty and soft that three of the five of us decided to reserve them as house shoes, for which they are ideal. I want to tramp around in mine, though, so I opted to paint a layer of protective gunk made out of shredded tires on my pretty red soles. That gunk is drying right now. I’m itching to take them on a hike!

More Shoes?

The key to mastery is repetition, so I should make another pair soon. Right now, with my fingers still sore and tingling from all the scraping and punching and pulling, the idea sounds less than appealing. As a compromise I’m going to find myself a nice sheet of felt and make a pair of house slippers with the same pattern, just to walk through the process again while all that information is still floating around my sieve-like brain. Later, though, I’d really like to make another pair. Perhaps with an ankle extension to make booties.

A Fantastic Teacher

Hats off to the inimitable Randy Fritz for teaching this class with such grace and wisdom. I cannot adequately describe the Zen-like patience he displayed as he shepherded the five us on this journey full of inexplicable and sharp tools for four full days. I think I tried him the most, because I was very good at goofing things up.  (Common Kelly phrases: “Oh, I wasn’t supposed to cut that?” and “Is this supposed to look like this?”) Randy was always there to save my bacon–and my shoes.

If you are now wildly jealous and want to make a pair of turnshoes of your own with Randy, there will be chances to do so in the future. He’s working on his website, so I have no linkage for you, but we’ll keep you informed as things develop, and announce his future classes. We’re hoping to see a sandal class from him next year!  Ooh ah. You could also send him an email to get on his mailing list, or to invite him to teach a class for a group: [email protected]

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We worship the shoe god. I’m second from the right.

How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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Did you know that apples should be stored at room temperature for the first seven days and then go into the refrigerator? That ginger should be stored only at room temp? Preventing food waste is a topic getting a lot of attention thanks to a new documentary, Just Eat It. Estimates are that 40% of all food ends up in the dumpster.

UC Davis has an incredible resource for preventing food waste in our homes in the form of a pdf you can print out and post on your refrigerator. We’ve linked to it before, but it’s worth repeating: Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste.

Kimchi Class with Hae Jung Cho November 15

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Kimchi master Hae Jung Cho is teaching a how-to class on November 15 at 10 am:

This 3-hour class is a hands-on experience where you make two kinds of fermented kimchi – napa cabbage (poggi) and radish (kkakdugi) – and one quick pickle. We then share a light meal of rice, kimchi, soup and other side dishes. You leave the class with three containers of kimchi and pickles that you have made, printed recipes and the know-how to replicate the kimchi at home. Fee: $75.

Anyone interested in this class should email Hae Jung at [email protected]. More info here.

Saturday Tweets: Food Waste, Log Floors and Trash Can Potatoes

How You can Help Dragonflys

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Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

Want to help dragonfly populations? The Migratory Dragonfly Project is a citizen science project you can participate in. All you need is a pond or wetland to visit and a computer.

Participants monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies, and note any additional behaviors in a directed migratory flight such as feeding or mating. Photos or videos are strongly encouraged to aid in identification. When gathered across a wide geographic range and throughout a span of years, these data will provide answers to questions about which species are regular migrants; the frequency and timing of migration in different species; sources, routes, and destinations of migrants; and patterns of reproduction, emergence, and movement among migratory dragonflies along their flight paths.

Ways to Critter Proof Your Vegetable Beds: A Competition

Day and night superimposed: bird netting fail!

Day and night superimposed: bird netting fail!

Root Simple is proud to announce our equivalent of the X-Prize. No, we’re not asking you to figure out a low tech method to catapult rich silicon valley executives into the vacuum of space. What we’re looking for is a means to mammal proof vegetables beds that is:

  • Convenient
  • Effective
  • Attractive
  • Wildlife friendly
  • Easily disassembled in the off season

Note that we’re going to be particularly stringent in judging the aesthetics of the solution. Mrs. Homegrown has an M.F.A., and is a blistering in-house art and design critic around our little homestead.

Participants can leave a comment on this post linking to an image, or send us an email at [email protected] The winner will get a package of our newest publication–a series of booklets we wrote in collaboration with the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano.

I will also be participating in this competition which does seem unfair, but we’ll let Mrs. Homegrown be the judge.

021 The Queen of Quince

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A conversation about the ultimate slow food, quince, with Barbara Ghazarian, author of Simply Quince and Simply Armenian. If you have room, you should definitely make room for a quince tree. If not, you should work with this amazing fruit. During the podcast Barbara discusses how to prep and cook quince. We also talk about savory dishes made with quince and take a detour into a discussion about muhammara. We also discuss:

You can find out much more about quince on Barbara’s website: queenofquince.com. You can connect with Team Quince on Facebook and on Twitter: @gotquince

If you’d like to plant a quince tree check out the selection of bare root trees at Bay Laurel Nursery. Order soon as they sell out.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Yet More Reasons to Mulch

Image: Wikimedia.

Image: Wikimedia.

From a water conservation perspective alone, our trees need a good layer of mulch. But there are many more reasons to mulch, according to research by James Downer, Farm Advisor with the Cooperative Extension in Ventura County, California:

  • Mulch provides nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
  • A serendipitous accident in one of Downer’s studies revealed that mulch changes soil structure so that mulched soils are able to absorb more water than un-mulched soils.
  • And, most astonishingly, mulch provides habitat for beneficial fungi that repel the dreaded root rot organism Phytophthora cinnamomi.

Downer is also a mulch myth buster:

  • Adding a layer of mulch does not rob soil of nitrogen.
  • And Eucalyptus mulch? Not a problem.

His recommendation is to apply a layer of six inches of mulch made from chips approximately an inch in length. This application will settle to around 3 to 4 inches. Why is this the optimal amount? According to his research, more mulch risks leaching nitrogen into rivers, streams and oceans. Less mulch does not give you the benefits.

There are other caveats and subtleties to mulching. For those details check out Downer’s handy pdf, Mulch Effect on Trees.

Free Online Gardening Lectures from the University of California

I just got back from a combined Master Gardener/Master Food Preserver conference put on by the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (I became a Master Food Preserver back in 2012 thanks to a truly awesome training program put on by our local Extension Service and taught by Ernest Miller, a guest on episode 14 of our podcast).

I’ll share some of what I learned at the conference in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I thought I’d link to a bunch of Master Gardener lectures from UCANR that you can watch online. There’s a lot of good advice here that will apply to backyard gardeners, even those outside of California. Time to cancel the Netflix:

UC Master Gardener Videos