How to Prep Fabric for Dyeing: Scouring

Check out the water after boiling my supposedly clean sheet!

As usual, I’m taking my shibori challenge right to the deadline. One important preparatory step to dyeing is a cleansing process called “scouring.” I’d never heard of this before now, which may be why all my casual attempts at dyeing thus far have not turned out so great. I spent my weekend scouring so I can move on to dyeing. And then on to sewing! Yikes! I’m really behind.

Scouring is deep cleaning of fabric or fiber. Scouring helps assure even color and good penetration of the dye. Cotton in particular needs scouring, even if it is brand new from the fabric shop, because apparently it is full of hidden waxes and oils. In my case, I’ll be using an old top sheet for my experiments, so it certainly needs lots of help.

Cotton and wool are scoured differently. I’ve never scoured wool, so am not going to cover it here. I understand it is also a washing process, but done with cool-ish water, so as not to felt the wool, and gentle soap. Linen also needs scouring, but I know even less about that.

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Of Stickers and Boomers

Wendell Berry, photo by Guy Mendes

A suggestion for your weekend: Make time to settle into your favorite chair with a cup of tea, or a nice glass of wine and listen to “It All Turns on Affection” a lecture by the great Wendell Berry. This is the 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, delivered at the Kennedy Center just this week.

Now, I’ll admit that this lecture is more than an hour long–which is why I suggested the refreshment and a comfortable chair. An hour is a lot to ask of our attention days, especially an hour spent watching an elderly gentleman speak slowly at a podium in front of a truly uninspired backdrop. Where are the kittens and baby sloths? you might ask along the way, if your internet video viewing habits are like mine. Best not to think of it as a video. Think of it as a radio program, settle down to listen and you will be truly and deeply rewarded.

I had trouble embedding the video, but you can view it on its NEH page. Berry comes on stage at about the 11:00 mark.

Or, if you prefer, you can read it here. I’m reading it now after my listen, and am just beginning to absorb the finer points.

This lecture is a call for us to rediscover our affection for the land. A plea for us to be stickers instead of boomers. That is, people who tend the land and honor its history and its stories instead of boomers who despoil our limited resources and move on, without thought, as if there will always be more to wealth to wring from nature, no matter what we do.

Of course, Berry is an advocate of the small farmer (as we all should be) and his remarks have much to do with farmland, and his family’s history as farmers, but I don’t think us urban and suburbanites should think his plea has nothing to do with us.  I think we can develop strong affection for our little yards. We can nurture the soil and teeming life there, making our commitment to all the plants and creatures in our care. We can also develop strong affection for and commitment to our communities and neighborhoods. If we do not have land of our own, we can care for that which we are temporarily living on, and we can fight for and nurture public land.

Wherever we are, we are on the land. And whoever we are, we are of the land.

A few quotes from the lecture:

–Economy in its original—and, I think, its proper—sense refers to household management. By extension, it refers to the husbanding of all the goods by which we live. An authentic economy, if we had one, would define and make, on the terms of thrift and affection, our connections to nature and to one another.  

–That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated. We all, in the course of our daily economic life, consent to it, whether or not we approve of it. This is because of the increasing abstraction and unconsciousness of our connection to our economic sources in the land, the land-communities, and the land-use economies. 

–As many hunters, farmers, ecologists, and poets have understood, Nature (and here we capitalize her name) is the impartial mother of all creatures, unpredictable, never entirely revealed, not my mother or your mother, but nonetheless our mother. If we are observant and respectful of her, she gives good instruction. As Albert Howard, Wes Jackson, and others have carefully understood, she can give us the right patterns and standards for agriculture. If we ignore or offend her, she enforces her will with punishment. She is always trying to tell us that we are not so superior or independent or alone or autonomous as we may think.

3 things to do with citrus peels

Waste not, want not! Our  recent post on Candied Grapefruit Peel yielded some interesting comments, and at the same time Erik made a discovery about citrus. Thus, three things to to do with your rinds:

Idea #1
Readers Terry and Barb both commented that they soak citrus peel in vinegar to make citrus infused vinegar to use for cleaning, and in Barb’s case, as a deodorant. This is an excellent idea. Infusing vinegar with cleansing/disinfecting herbs, like lavender or sage, is something I’ve known about for a long time, but don’t do, in practice. I’m too lazy. Instead, I scent my cleaning vinegar with essential oil. But we always have citrus peels laying around in piles, and the simplicity of the citrus idea is so a peeling that I had to try it. (ouch! stop throwing things!)

I filled one jar with orange peels and covered it with vinegar. After only a couple of days it started smelling really nice. Now it’s about a week old and doesn’t seem to be getting any more potent, so   I’m going to strain it off. In a second jar I’m trying an experimental blend of orange and thyme. Like citrus, thyme has excellent disinfectant qualities, but I’m not sure how its scent will blend with the orange.

I suspect our cleaning vinegar is going to smell like citrus from now on out.

UPDATE: I’ve been using orange-peel vinegar for a while now and the only drawback is that it is tinted yellow. If you spray a light surface and forget to wipe afterward, it will leave yellow stains behind. Not true stains–they wipe up easily even if they’re long dry. This isn’t a big problem because generally I am spraying and wiping, but once in a while I’ll find yellow droplets in spot I forgot to wipe.

This, of course, disqualifies this spray for carpet cleaning. (And plain vinegar spray is a great thing to use to clean up pet accidents on carpet.)

Speaking of pet accidents, I realized this first when I found a yellow spray at the base of our bathroom sink and immediately though young Trout had taken to spraying. Cryeth the cat: “O! Unfair! I never did such thing!”

Idea #2
A reader named Chile sent us this link to an old Cuban recipe for candying grapefruit pith. As you know, grapefruit pith can be quite thick. If you have some separate use for the peel or zest, you can cut the leftover pith into cubes and candy it with cinnamon. She says it’s really good!

Idea #3
Erik has learned that you can make pectin out of citrus rinds and membranes. Like apples, citrus is quite rich in pectin. This is a really good use for under-ripe, not so tasty oranges. Here’s a how to link: Wedliny Domowe. The same link also has instructions for making pectin from apples. It’s all about local sourcing, after all. An oddity of living where we do is that it is much easier to come by citrus than apples. At least for now.

On a related note, we also know that you can make clear, citrus flavored jelly by boiling organic citrus rinds in water, then straining off the solids. The resulting liquid is citrus-flavored and pectin-rich. Add sugar and you have citrus flavored jelly. It’s tasty, we’ve tried it. But unfortunately, we don’t have a recipe. If you happen to have a recipe, please share!

Everlasting Flower for Colds

Dried California Pearly Everlasting. The flowers are small, about the size of a buttons on a shirt collar.

Last summer I was happy to be able to take a class on native plant use taught by Cecilia Garcia and James Adams, co-authors of Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. One of the many things I learned in this class was that the flowers of California Pearly Everlasting, Gnaphalium californicum, aka cudweed aka rabbit tobacco, are supposed to be good for colds.

I’ve not had a chance to try it until this week. I’ve only had one cold since last summer, and that one hit so fast and hard I just sort of gave up on doing anything but riding it out. The one I have this week is more of a typical head cold, and  a good chance for a field test. And I can say that I think they helped. But I’m not sure how.

My confusion is a result of memory vs. notes. I remember James saying he takes this tea instead of Day Quill whenever he has a cold. So, having the flowers on hand, I took the tea expecting it to act like cold medicine. Because the effects are so subtle (unlike cold capsules) I didn’t think my first cup was doing anything at all–until I realized I’d stopped sneezing and constantly blowing my nose. The relief lasted for a few hours. When I started feeling crappy again, I had another cup and the symptoms retreated again.  Over the course the first day I had 3 cups. The next day, I felt much better. My symptoms were less, though I did still feel “under siege” and retreated to bed early.

During the course of that day, I dug out my class notes and discovered that Cecilia said something different than what I remembered–she said that Everlasting is an immune stimulant, and when you have a cold you’re supposed to take one cup (one!) before bed for 4 nights. It has to be 4 cups over 4 nights, even if you feel better. No more, no less. So she’s using it more like Echinacea–not as a symptom relief.  Meanwhile, random internet searches affirm that it’s good for colds, but don’t say how.

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Candied Grapefruit Peel

Erik sourced some nice grapefruits from our friend’s tree and used the flesh to do some homework for his Master Food Preserver program. This left a big pile of organic, unwaxed grapefruit rind on our counter, so I decided to do something about it, and set off to make candied grapefruit peel. This is the technique I came up with by mashing together a bunch of different internet recipes and making two batches of the stuff. The results are delish if a bit rustic in appearance. I don’t think I’d pass muster at French pastry school with my lazy technique, but Erik and I like them a lot.

You must genuinely love grapefruit, the bitterness of it, to appreciate these. If you’re not a grapefruit fan, I’m sure this would work with orange rind as well. If you are a grapefruit fan, you’ll find yourself sneaking off to the candy jar for a little more that sweet-bitter flavor punch.

We’ve been snacking on them straight, but I think they’d be really good chopped into small pieces and sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or folded into scones or dipped in chocolate. I like them as straight-up candy because they’re so intense they satisfy restless cravings, but for the same reason you can’t gorge on them. Actually, I can’t eat more than two at a time. The how-to after the break.

The Technique

I’m calling this a technique and not a recipe. Grapefruits vary in size, peel thickness and bitterness, so results are going to vary.

This is a good thing to do when you’re working in the kitchen anyway, because it takes time, but not tons of attention.

  • Chop your rind into any shape you want. I cut mine into rough strips about 1/3-1/2″ wide and and 2″ long, though there were lots of smaller pieces, too. You don’t have to trim off the white pith. Thank goodness, huh? If it’s ridiculously thick, as it can be sometimes, feel free to carve some of it away as you work. Pieces with huge chunks of pith on them will be slower to cook and dry than the rest. I guess what I’m saying is that standardization leads to consistency. Not that it matters a lot. 
  • Put the cut up peel in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, pour off the water. Refill and bring to a boil again. Boil four times total. This doesn’t take as long as you’d think. The boiling reduces some of the bitterness in the peel. 
boiled grapefruit peel
    • Use about 1/2 cup of sugar for every grapefruit. Pour the sugar into a saucepan large enough to hold the peel. Add half as much water as sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the drained peels and begin to cook over medium heat, stirring occassionally.  e.g. 2 grapefruit = 1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water.  My batches were made with 5 small grapefruits and 2 cups of sugar.  (Obviously you can play with the amount of sugar–something with little pith, like a thin skinned orange, would need less. And maybe a “lite” version is possible. Try and see.)
    •  Cook the peels over medium heat. They will soften and turn transparent. Meanwhile, the sugar syrup will thicken and reduce. Keep cooking until the sugar syrup is so thick and so reduced that its mostly just coating the rinds, and the rinds themselves are golden and clear like tiny stained glass windows. Be sure to stir lots at the end so it doesn’t burn. This process took an hour in my case. It may have gone faster over higher heat. It would also go faster with a smaller batch.
    Cooking down the syrup
      • Turn the peels out onto an oiled rack to cool and drip off any excess syrup. (Lacking a rack, I ended up spreading mine over the bottom of colanders, which wasn’t a ton of fun, but worked.)  Let them stay there until they lose their wet stickiness. How long will vary–overnight, at least, I’d say. At that point you can sugar them if you want yet more sugar. It looks nice. Put the sugar on too soon and it will be absorbed into the syrup. When they’re totally dry, store them away in something air-tight.
      When almost all the syrup was gone/absorbed, as it looks here, I spread out the pieces to cool.

      Kelly’s Shibori Challenge

      Hanging shibori fabric.  Image by Katie, courtesy ofWikipedia

      Kelly here:

      1) I know, I know. What’s with Root Simple and all this Japanese stuff? I don’t know!

      2) This is less a post than a plan. I’m going to tell you all my plan so I can’t get lazy, back out, and watch Netflix instead of working.  As I execute this plan, I’ll post some more and so hopefully will share some useful information with you along the way,

      The plan is in three parts:

      Part the First: I’m going to make natural dyes using common plants like red cabbage and sour grass, following the instructions in The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee, and Other Everyday Ingredients by Sasha Duerr. It’s a gorgeous little book and very inspirational–we’ll see if the instructions work.

      Part the Second: I will apply these dyes to fabric using shibori techniques. Shibori is the art of dying fabric using pattern making techniques like folding, binding and stitching the fabric prior to soaking it in the dye bath. It’s super-classy Japanese tie dye. Except common tie dye is to shibori as this post is  to a Shakespeare sonnet.

      I just got a book which is supposed to be the classic text on shibori from the library: Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing. It’s an encyclopedia of all the (many, many) shibori techniques–with how-to’s– and lots of photos of mind-blowingly gorgeous old textiles. As a bonus, in the appendix they tell you how to mix up your own indigo dye.

      The shibori cloth crafted by ancient Japanese artisans is maybe just a little beyond my skill set.  However, at Honestly… WTF you can see the nice results that crafty people get when they try their hand with some basic shibori techniques.

      Part the Third: I will sew this fabric up into cocktail napkins, something along the lines of the napkins in this post on Design Sponge. We need cocktail napkins so I don’t have to keep buying paper napkins when we have groups at our house, and more importantly, to reintroduce myself to the sewing machine. Technically I know how to sew, but I’ve never been very good at it, and now I’m so rusty I’ll be lucky to remember how thread the machine. The napkins will remind me how to sew in a straight line.

      Here’s the challenge:  By May 15th (1 month plus a few extra days because I have to travel)  I have to be able to show you some finished shibori-dyed cocktail napkins. And there will be how-to posts along the way. Or posts relating disasters.

      If anyone has tips on foraged dyes, shibori or cocktail napkin techniques, please do chime in.

      Return of Recipe Friday! Spicy Korean Tofu

      Ummm…Our food stylist is on vacation! This was lunch today. It would look much better if the tofu sheets were reclining whole on snowy rice and artfully sprinkled with green.

      We’ve been eating a lot of this lately. It’s Erik’s favorite meal these days, in fact. I make it for him whenever he’s grumpy and he perks right up. I like it too, and I especially like that it’s fast cooking and I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so it’s pretty effortless.

      I know, I know–there’s a lot of tofu haters out there, but this is really good–if you like spicy food.

      The key to this is Korean chili powder, called Gochutgaru. You just can’t substitute other pepper flakes. We always have this spice on hand because it’s critical for making kim chi. (If you like kim chi you’ll love this dish!)  If you have access to an Asian market, you’ll find Gochutgaru there. It’s sold in big bags and is pretty cheap. Look for bags full of fine red flakes with pictures of red peppers on the front.

      Credit where credit is due: I’d eaten this style of tofu somewhere before and went looking for a recipe–and found one on the Blazing Hot Wok blog. This is an adaption of that, which was an adaptation from a cookbook, as I recall.

      Ingredients:

      • 1 package of firm tofu (Silken tofu works too, see instructions at the end)
      • A few scallions/green onions, maybe 5 or more, depending how much you like them, chopped into 2 inch pieces.
      • This is not cannon, but you could also throw in another veggie along with the green onions for variety. Lately I’ve been adding in a few chopped asparagus spears into the mix.

      Sauce:

      • 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce
      • 3 Tablespoons water (equal amount to the soy sauce, however much you use)
      • 2 Tablespoons of Korean chili powder (This is a whole lot of spice, but we like it that way. You could use much less.)
      • 2-3 garlic cloves minced or pressed
      • 1 teaspoon of sugar
      • 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
      • Maybe some wine if you have a bottle open. See instructions.

      Optional:

      • Toasted sesame seeds or peanuts for topping. Sesame is more traditional, but we really like peanuts with this.



      Prep:

      1) Cut the tofu block in 1/4-1/3″ slices. Press some of the water out of it by laying the slices out on a fresh kitchen towel or paper towels, putting more toweling on top and pressing gently with your hands–or by leaving it there under a weighted plate while you do the rest of the prep. This is not absolutely necessary, but the dish will come out better if you do it.

      2) Chop up your green onions.

      3) Combine the sauce ingredients above in a bowl. Since I use so much chili powder, the sauce can be pretty thick. For that reason I like to dilute it with a splash of wine (of any color) or water.

      Cook:

      Get out a big skillet. Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in it and lay down the tofu slices. Cook them about 3 minutes each side over medium high heat, just so they’re nice and hot. Then add the green onions and cook a minute or two longer to soften them a bit.

      Then add the sauce and cook it all together until the sauce simmers, tuning the tofu pieces so they get sauced on both sides. At that point it’s up to you to decide whether you want to cook the sauce down for a fairly dry presentation, or serve it right away while the texture is still “wet.” Either way it will be good.

      Serve this over short-grained rice. Top with sesame seeds or peanuts if you’ve got ‘em.

      Silken Variation:

      Silken Variation? Is that some sort of feminine product or a Kama Sutra position?

      Anyway, if you’re a fan of silken tofu, as I am, you use that, too. You just do things in a different order. Heat up your skillet and add your green onion pieces and cook for a minute or so, then add the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Then add your silken tofu. Toss to cover with sauce then put a lid over the skillet, turn the heat down and let the tofu sort of steam/heat through gently. Takes about 5 minutes.

      The World’s First Lamp

      Erik’s link to the orange lamp on Saturday reminded me to post this. This is Project #1 in Making It, and we often open our lectures by building one of these, but I realize I’ve never talked about oil lamps here on the blog.

      Forgive the somewhat atmospheric photo. What you’re looking at is the simplest thing in the world: an oyster shell filled with olive oil and balanced in a small dish of sand. Three pieces of cotton string are lying in the oil with their ends poking just a little way off the side of the shell. Those are the wicks.

      This is a shell lamp. This is perhaps what the first lamp ever looked like. (A Paleo-lamp?) At the very least, this is a fundamental human technology. When you build one, you’re echoing the practices of so many cultures over so much history–from the flat clay oil lamps of Rome to the soapstone lamps of the Inuit to the the ghee-burning temple lamps in India.

      Even if you don’t buy all this romance, it’s a good trick to remember next time you’re in a blackout and running out of candles.

      One reason I burn little shell lamps like this because I like candlelight, but candles are expensive, especially beeswax candles, which I prefer over petroleum-based candles. Since these lamps use olive oil or any cooking oil for fuel, they’re a great way to us up those rancid or off-tasting oils which tend to clutter the back of our cupboards. I save the stale or otherwise suspicious olive oil from my herb-infused oil experiments for this purpose– oil which I’d have to throw away otherwise. This makes my flame habit essentially free.

      The shell lamp FAQ:

      • A lamp with a single wick burns approximately 1 tablespoon of oil per hour (burn time varies by wick size and number). You can easily top off the oil as it burns.
      • Anything cotton makes for a good wick: a bit of string or a shoe lace or a sliver of cotton rag work great. The wider the wick, the wider the flame. Also, I keep meaning to try a twist of mugwort–I hear that works.
      • Want more light? Add more wicks. The shell above has three.
      • Yes, you can add a few drops of essential oil for scent.
      • Adjust the flame height by lengthening or shortening the wick length. The oil doesn’t get hot, so you can just poke your finger in the shell and push the wicks up or down.
      • Don’t use lamp oil, kerosene, etc. as fuel–only cooking oils. Conversely, don’t try to burn cooking oil in other types of oil lamps, like hurricane lamps. 
      • Stabilize tilting shells either by nesting them in one another or by putting them in little dishes of sand, salt or pebbles. I’m using a couple of oyster shells that I dragged home from an oyster bar right now because I broke my favorite shells, but in terms of restaurant-sourced shells, I prefer big mussel shells because of their depth. Scallop shells work well, too.
      • If you don’t have a shell, you can use any shallow vessel. A jar lid works especially well if you dent one edge to make a little “V” for the wick to rest on. Lately I’ve been eyeballing ashtrays in thrift stores, wondering how well the cigarette rests would work as wick rests. 
      • Like any candle, the open flame can set things on fire, but if you knock one of these over it’s not going to erupt into a conflagration of doom. Olive oil and other cooking oils have high flashpoints. All that will happen is that you’ll stain your favorite tablecloth. The wick will most likely be snuffed out in the spill. If it doesn’t get snuffed out, it will continue burning if it can continue to draw oil from the spill.

      Why I like being groped by the TSA

      Gee, I don’t know…do you think it’s invasive? (and are those her shin bones that I see???!)

      Erik and I fly very rarely, preferring Amtrak to the Theater of the Absurd otherwise known as TSA security. This week, though, I had to fly, and for the first time I couldn’t opt for the metal detector, so I requested the grope both on the way out and on the way home. I am here to say it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I kind of liked it, and I’m opting for the grope from here on out.

      Why do I object to the scanners? It’s just wrong. The whole thing. For so many reasons. I figure you’ve got your opinion on them already, so I’m not going to belabor my reasons. I’m not here to change your mind, just to offer an alternative.

      Why do I like the grope? Ah. Now that’s more interesting. I’ve been thinking about my groping a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it was perfectly logical for me to opt for the groping, considering my other lifestyle choices. It’s organic, if you will. Sustainable and locally sourced security!  But seriously, when you choose to lead a more considered life, one closer to the ground, you often trade speed and convenience for what I can only call authenticity of experience. Sometimes that authenticity is messy or frustrating or slow, but it’s solid and tactile and often unforgettable. When you’re in it, you know you’re alive. It’s the difference between struggling to light a fire in the wind and watching one of those survivor shows. It’s the difference from picking up take-out chicken for dinner and holding a hen in your arms as she dies.

      Human touch is always charged. Always important. During my first pat down, I stood there, arms outstretched, thinking about how the TSA officer’s energy and mine were combined at that moment. I wondered what secret communications were passing between our bodies–communications which would never rise to the level of the conscious. TSA Lady and I were in relationship. Human to human. And it’s hard to articulate this, but that seemed important. It brought meaning my day, meaning and interest which I’d not have experienced otherwise.

      I walked away from the grope smiling, skin still tingling a little from contact. I’d escaped the dehumanizing scanner technology and found a more meaningful, low-tech way to pass through airport security and I’d had an experience I could chew on for a while. I was satisfied. In the halls of Security Theater, you take what you can get.

      The second search on the way home was almost identical to the first, equally positive. An odd moment of interest or intensity in an otherwise routine airport experience.

      Though more than a week has passed since my last trip through security, I still remember both of the TSA officers who conducted my pat downs: their faces, their bored but professional voices and the gentle touch of their blue-gloved hands.

      Of course, if the body search is done against your will or disrespectfully, it’s going to be a really bad experience. And there’s no denying that people have had plenty of bad experiences with the TSA since the Theater came to town. Perhaps next time I fly, I’ll draw a mean spirited TSA officer and change my tune. But until then, I’m going to go to the airport a half hour earlier than I would otherwise, with my heart full of serenity, and I’m going to say, all bright and cheerful, “I’d like to opt for alternate screening, please.”

      After the break, a description of the pat-down, for those of you who might want to give it a try:

      I think it benefits the TSA when we are terrified of the pat down. “Alternate Screenings” take time and personnel. They want you to just give up and walk through the scanner. Media reports help them by sensationalizing bad security encounters. Don’t let any of that put you off. If you’re cooperative and they’re following their own guidelines, it’s going to go smooth.

      In terms of procedure, this is how you get yourself groped:

      You take off your belt and shoes and coat send all your stuff through the x-ray as usual, but at the point  you stop and say to whichever officer is closest that you’d prefer “alternate screening.”

      At this point they’ll call for an “assist” from an employee who matches your gender. You stand to the side until this person can be produced. Both times I waited only a minute.

      The screener arrives and asks you to point out your belongings on the conveyer belt, and they pick them up. You don’t handle any of your stuff until the screening is over–they’re touchy about this–but they take it to the screening area with you so you can keep an eye on it while you’re being patted down.

      So you pad over to the side of the screening area in your stocking feet, following the agent who has all your precious goods. I believe you can opt for a private room if you like–I was offered that option the second time–but there’s no way I’d ever opt for that. Transparency is a good thing.

      Next there’s some highly-scripted patter at that point in which they ask if you have any painful areas or medical devices, and tell you how and where they’re going to touch your “sensitive areas.” Being a perpetual adolescent, terminology like “sensitive areas” makes me snigger, and I had to bite my cheek in order to remain suitably sober and cooperative looking.

      The search itself is far from a “drop ‘em and spread ‘em” kind of experience. I’ve been more aggressively searched on my way into concerts.

      The screeners ran their hands up and down my legs and torso and made elegant sweeping gestures around my breasts, knuckles down–I guess to ascertain that I didn’t have a Glock tucked in my bra. They certainly wouldn’t have found anything smaller than a Glock. My “sensitive areas” were not unduly handled. They did run a finger around my waist band, but there was no exploration of my crotch. I’m not sure if gentlemen get more of a crotch grope or not.

      After the search, they scan their gloves for traces of explosive dust or PCP or Leprechaun blood or whatever, then you’re free to go.

      The whole search takes about five minutes. You do have to allow time to get a screener assigned to you at the start. As I said, that only took a minute for me, but during holidays you’d want to count on more of a wait.

      Both times I was searched, only one other person was also opting for the grope. (Commrades!) It’s not a popular decision, to say the least.  But I think it’s a good one.

      ETA: It’s occurred to me to mention dress. You can choose your wardrobe to make this go more smoothly. Ladies–if you have a choice, I wouldn’t opt for a skirt.  Or as one of the commenters said, her overall-clad boyfriend got a serious crotch grab. Baggy is suspicious to them. Form fitting clothes are best. I wore narrow jeans and a tank top, figuring the less excuse they had to go delving, the better.

      Peat-free Planting Mix Recipe With Coconut Coir

      Nancy’s coconut coir-based planting mix. Here she’s doing the squeeze test, which we talk about below.

      From an environmental perspective peat moss is a nightmare. Mining of this material is unsustainable, contributes to global warming and destroys habitat for many plants and animals. But, for starting seeds, we’ve used it for years. Our friend Nancy Klehm taught us recently how to make a seed starting mix with coconut coir instead of peat moss. Thanks, Nancy! Here’s how to make it:

      Ingredients

      Watering the coir brick to break it up. Once saturated, this brick will expand to fill the tub.

      COIR:  A fibrous material made from coconut husks. It is sold in compressed bricks which expand greatly when wet. It is pH neutral and has no nutrients. Its role in planting mix is to hold moisture. Coir is the environmentally correct alternative to peat. Peat is mined out of peat bogs, which is a disruption of an ecosystem. Coir, meanwhile, is a by-product of the coconut industry. Of course, it has to be shipped in from the tropics, so is not particularly sustainable in that way. Nothing is perfect. So, if you have peat on hand or prefer peat you may use it in this recipe instead of coir, just substitute it, 1:1.

      PERLITE: Perlite is a volcanic glass which, upon being subjected to extremely high temperatures (850C +), puffs–sort of like popcorn, or a Pop Rock. Obviously, though its origins are natural, it is an industrial product, but it is very useful for making soil fluffy and light. You will recognize it as the “white stuff” that you see in the soil of nursery plants. As it is essentially a rock, it is a neutral player in the mix. It simply keeps things light.

      Note: you should avoid breathing perlite dust when working with it.

      Store-bought worm castings. Homegrown, of course, are the preferred alternative!

      WORM CASTINGS: Castings bring healthy microbial activity to the mix, as well as balanced nutrients and trace minerals. In addition, they hold moisture well. They are invaluable players in this mix. You can buy worm castings at the nursery, or you can keep a worm bin and harvest your own. Store bought and homegrown castings have very different textures–the store bought tends to be very fine, almost a black powder, whereas castings fresh out of the worm bin have more of a open, grainy, soil like texture– and this effects the recipe.  

      For the purposes of this recipe, we will assume you are using fine-grained, store bought castings. If you have your own castings, congratulations! But you will have to play with this recipe a little bit. You will use a little less coir, because your castings (probably) have loft or springiness of their own. We can’t tell you exactly how much less coir, because castings vary.  Start, say, with half the recommended quantity of coir in the recipe below, and then test the mix, and add more coir as necessary. The proof will come in the squeezing. Do the hand test described in the instructions below. If the mix won’t hold form when you squeeze it, you have too much coir, if the clump you make doesn’t break easily, there isn’t enough. Again, see below.

      Quantity

      This recipe makes about 4 gallons of planting mix. To make more or less, just use the same ratios. 

      Equipment

      We like to mix ours up in 5 gallon bucket, but you can do this on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow or whatever you like.

      You will also need something big, like a cement mixing tray or tub to soak the coir brick in. Remember, one brick swells into to a big bag’s worth of wet coir. If you don’t use all the coir, you can store it in a plastic bag. If it dries out, it can be re-hydrated.

      You will also need a measuring tool. For this 4 gallon recipe you will need a quart measure to scoop the materials out of the bags–like a big yogurt/cottage cheese container, or something with same volume. Again, you can make as little or as much as you want using the same proportions, so your measure could be a 1 cup scoop or a 3 gallon bucket.

      Prep

      Prepare to make the mix by soaking the coir in a large tub of water for maybe a half hour or so. Break it up as it expands. It will drink up a lot of water and grow proportionately huge. Add water if necessary so that it all gets evenly moistened. When finished, it should be wet but springy, like a wrung-out sponge.

      Put it together

      3 quarts/parts worm castings (store bought, see notes above for homegrown)
      8 quarts/parts coir
      4 quarts/ parts perlite

      Measure out the worm castings and coir into a five gallon bucket and toss them together with your hands until they are evenly and thoroughly mixed. This mix should be moist and dark, again with a nice “wrung-out” sponge level of dampness.

      Only when those two are mixed should you add the perlite. It’s easier to mix the perlite in last–trust us. Mix the perlite into the coir/casting blend until it is also evenly distributed–the mix should be absolutely consistent–no patches or clumps should be visible. You might find it helpful to dump the mix back and forth between two five gallon buckets to speed mixing.

      After it is mixed, pause to analyze the texture. Gather up a fistful, squeeze it hard and open your hand. The mix will form a ball in your fist, but if you turn your hand over and drop the ball a few inches, it will break easily. Overall the mix should be moist, light and springy. We can’t emphasize that enough. Moist, but not soggy. Springy, not heavy.

      If the mix seems a little clumpy/dense/heavy don’t be afraid to add another part of perlite. It is better to err on the side of too much perlite than too little. Lightness is everything.

      Measuring into the buckets with a quart-sized yogurt container. If you have two buckets, you can pour the ingredients back and forth between them to speed mixing. Otherwise, just toss the ingredients with your hands in one bucket.

      Notes on growing

      The seedling feeds itself from its seed body up through the formation of the first set of leaves, the cotyledons. After that, it is dependent on the nutrients in the soil. Your seedlings will be fine in this planting mix until around the time of the full unfurling of their first true leaves (the ones that come after the cotyledons). At this time–or no later than the opening of the second set of true leaves–you will want to feed your seedlings by watering them with some kind of diluted organic fertilizer of your choice. Do this maybe once a week until you transplant them.

      Feeding accelerates root growth which is even more important to plant health than leaf growth. It prepares the plants to thrive after transplanting.

      For most seedlings this means the first feeding would occur about 3-4 weeks after planting. The seedlings should be transplanted by 6 weeks of age–either into the garden or into bigger pots with real soil.

      Recycling

      You can re-use this mix to plant more seedlings, but you’ll want to recharge it by adding in more worm castings. Just dump out your seed starting trays, mix it all up and let it air a bit. Also, the coir breaks down over time, so you find you need to add more of that as well. And if you add enough castings and coir, you’ll probably want to add more perlite to balance it. There’s no recipe–you’ll have to use your intuition to create a consistency that resembles the original mix.

      Or you could compost it and start fresh. It’s safe to compost perlite, as long as you don’t mind having little white perlite bits all over your yard!

      This is the surface of the finished mix. It’s so light and moist that it has holes in the surface. Note the even integration of the three ingredient: no lumps or patches left unmixed.

      Options
       
      Another planting mix option is part coir and part compost. This is provided your compost is of the best quality–bagged compost from the nursery is not good enough. This is a hard area to generalize about because compost varies wildly in both quality and consistency, but you’d want to use lovely, lively, springy, sweet smelling compost.

      Gardening guru John Jeavons starts his seeds in mix which is 1 part compost and 1 part garden soil–soil dug from the same beds the seedlings will be going into. This way the seedlings are already accustomed to the local soil and don’t go through so much shock upon transplanting. It also makes his garden a “closed loop,” meaning he doesn’t have to buy anything or bring any materials in from the outside. This saves money, keeps things local and prevents the accidental importing of diseases.

      Using compost and soil works for him because he’s got top-notch compost and rich, fluffy soil–the kind of soil you can plunge you hand into up to the wrist without meeting resistance. This should be a goal for all of us to work toward, but in the meanwhile, while we’re developing that soil in our own yards, we’ve got perlite, worm castings and coir!