Spinning Cotton

handful of white cotton bolls
Sea Island White Cotton Bolls

This is about five bolls worth of, what’s the term for cotton picked off the plant but still has the seeds inside?  ‘Picked cotton’ perhaps?  This is Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton and it typically has three lobes per boll.

close up of a cotton leaf
Bleak Hall Sea Island White leaf

This is a close up of a typical Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton leaf.  It typically has three lobes that are deeply cut.  I wonder if lobes on leaves indicates number of lobes on the bolls?  I think a short staple cotton plant has much shorter lobes on their leaves, but this is the only type of cotton growing here so I can’t post a picture to compare.

close up of yellow flower and cotton boll
Flower and boll of Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton.

The flowers are yellow with some red in the center.  It makes bolls with three lobes instead of what I’ve heard is the more usual four or five on the short staple cottons.

Folks also talk about it being painful to pick cotton, something about stickers on the bolls or something.  Bleak Hall Sea Island cotton doesn’t seem to have the same sort of stickers.  There’s a point at the tip of each section of the pod around the cotton fibers, but that point isn’t sharp or even particularly hard.  It usually is somewhat soft and curls back on itself.

The cotton fiber and seeds pull easily out of the bolls and the fiber comes off the seed easily and cleanly.

pile of cotton bolls, some seeds with fluff pulled off and a pile of fluff
picking seeds

Removing cotton seeds from the fluff, (which is usually called ‘lint’, I think), anyway removing the seeds is called ‘ginning’ although there’s no gin or even rum involved.  I don’t have any mechanical means to remove the seeds since Eli Whitney’s famous cotton gin uses these sort of toothy saw blades to get the lint off the seeds.  Which doesn’t work for a really long staple cotton since that method tears the fibers into short strands.

One of the reasons for the decline of long staple cotton may have been a lack of machine ginning for it, I think.  It would take a roller gin instead of a saw toothed gin to keep the staple long, I’m not sure if there were a lot of roller gins or what.  There was also the boll weevil and the Civil War that took it’s toll on the cotton fields of Sea Island cotton.

This particular variety of cotton, Bleak Hall Sea Island White, was last commercially grown in 1922, I think.  It did sell for a much higher price than the other varieties of cotton but what with the weevils and war, it wasn’t commercially grown after that.

The USDA collected seed from it in 1934, I think it was, and a friend of mine, Joey on Maui, got some cotton seeds for some genetic experiments he was doing in the late ’70s.  He chose ‘Bleak Hall Sea Island White’ because he thought the name was interesting, at the time he didn’t care about staple length or quality of fiber.  He did his experiments in collage and then put the remaining cotton seeds in the refrigerator.

At some point, he grew out some of the Bleak Hall cotton and then came to get an angora bunny for some matching fibers to go with his cotton.  As part of that, he brought me six plants.  I gave two of those plants to one of my rabbit wranglers to have a reserve in case something happened to my plants.  The remaining four have been planted here for 697 days now (just under two years) and are still growing and producing bolls.

It’s a tropical cotton so it likes water and grows for at least several years.  I’ll see if it dies off after another year or so.  So far it’s grown into a medium sized sort of spindly shrub.

seeds with cotton fluff pulled away from them
Lint pulled on seeds

To ‘gin’ the seeds by hand, I just pull the ‘lint’ out from the seed and then pinch the seed out from the middle or pull the fibers off, which ever is easiest at the time.  Occasionally, a seed with at least a portion of crazy long fibers shows up, sometimes I’ll plant that seed.

cotton seed with a portion of four inch fiber

This particular seed is the last one I planted.  Not all the fiber is as long as that one section, but that one section is crazy long.  From what I hear, most cotton has a staple length of about three eighths to maybe half an inch.  Most of the fiber length from Sea Island cottons are almost two inches but if I can grow cotton with a four inch staple, that would be amazing.

pile of cotton fluff from the four or five bolls in the earlier picture
fluff from four or five bolls

This is the fluff from the four or five bolls that were picked yesterday.    I should have put the ruler in the first picture, I guess, but oh wellos!  These things aren’t scientific, just making yarn from cotton in hopes of maybe growing a shirt someday.  There’s enough now for a washcloth, not sure if I want to make a washcloth first, though.

three skeins of cotton yarn, one dyed blue
Bleak Hall Sea Island White yarns

The smaller white skein on the bottom is the one made from the four or five bolls picked yesterday.  The blue skein at the top is one which has been dyed with fresh indigo.  Indigo grows as a weed around here.  Next time it flowers, I’ll pick a bunch and dye all the yarns blue.

So there’s still some more work before a shirt has been grown, but it’s got a start at least.

Last day of June

Summer is here, it’s the last day of June and soon we will have July.  Woot!  Not that it makes a whole lot of difference to our seasons or anything.  We do get more flowers appearing in the summer.  This one is a volunteer.  I think it’s a gloriosa lily and it’s somehow survived 27 years of neglect in the back yard.

I think it’s supposed to be poisonous so it won’t be fed to bunnies, but it is very striking looking.  A long spindly stalk with almost vine habits that has flower buds that look more like pods and then these flowers appear.

When opening the flower buds they go through a ‘helicopter’ stage with is interesting.  Then the flower petals go up like alarmed bunny ears.

Another question is how or when to harvest oats?  These are special ‘hull less’ oats which are supposed to be able to be harvested and processed without machinery.  I have an oat flaker, so if we can figure out how to harvest and dry the seeds and get the husk off, then they can be made into oatmeal.  I’m sure the bunnies will want to eat the grassy parts.

There’s the current state of the garden.  The lettuce is still hanging in there pretty well.  A few of them are thinking about bolting but haven’t done much about it yet.  There’s been tons of beans, still no tomatoes.  The oats are the silvery green in the back left corner.  The orange in the middle is a large marigold.  The really red lettuce is outside the picture as well as the gloriosa lily.

So far there’s just one melon but it’s bigger than a softball now.  It’s escaped out the back of the garden and is climbing all up the hillside.

The watermelon isn’t the only climber around.  Ziggy climbed up and over the wall between the baby bunnies and the three adult REWs.  So, Ziggy was visiting with her aunties, Dolce, Petunia & Suzie.

The rest of the ones who weren’t climbing over to visit with the Aunties had ti leaves to munch on for awhile.  Hopefully Ziggy will decide to stay on the side with ti leaves.

Garden Eating

bowl of green beans

Lots of food in the garden at the moment.  Two different types of green beans were harvested today.  They were tasty!  The Good Mother Stallard have a nice creamy texture when the beans inside are a bit older.  I may let some of them get ripe enough to be soup beans, I think they’d make excellent soup.  Bean with bacon soup made with Good Mother Stallard beans may be exquisite.  I’ll have to grow some to the shell bean stage and find out.

It’s really hard to get a good picture of how red this lettuce actually is.  It’s a deep dark ruby red, very vibrant.  Tastes good, too!  There’s a green leaf lettuce, a green blushed with red romaine and then this really red leaf lettuce.

baby watermelon hiding in the leaves

A new baby watermelon!  Yay!  This is a variety called ‘Hanby’ and hopefully it will be tasty.  Here’s a link from the Baker Creek seeds website with a description of it: http://www.rareseeds.com/hamby-watermelon/

Ha!  Can do the beans, too, I guess.  Ha!  The Good Mother Stallard are a pretty bean.  I’d forgotten they were pretty when I planted them.  http://www.rareseeds.com/good-mother-stallard-bean/

Their website claims 5 to 6 beans per pod, but I’m only seeing 2 to 4, it’s still early on in the harvest, so maybe there will be the larger beans later.  I’ve left the ones with 4 beans in the pod to save for seed, although there’s also another bean growing alongside so maybe they shouldn’t be saved for seed until the other bean is gone.  This is the other bean, the McCaslan 42 is a more or less regular green bean so I wouldn’t want to cross the two.

The garden is all powered by bunny berries, I’m amazed at how well bunny manure works.

In the bunny world, Janet’s babies are opening their eyeballs now.  

They’re also starting to wander out of the nest.  Not very fast, not very far but they are getting more mobile.

 

Now it’s African Violet Time!

box of African violets packed for shipment

So my friend got three boxes packed just like this.  The plants that you can see the leaves of are standard African violets.  Each one is a small plant and each one is different.  The white packages have semi-miniature to full miniature plants in them.  He got three boxes like this!  Over 100 different African violets!

So, of course he drops by to open the boxes at my house and it took hours to unpack them all.  However, occasionally there would be a leaf which had broken off or had a bent stem.  So those leaves were potted up and will hopefully sprout a new plant.

Aftrican violet leaves being started

Mine!  If they all sprout a new plant I have no idea where they will all go.  Maybe outside somewhere in the shade.  African violets can grow outside since we’re in Hawaii as long as they don’t get sun burnt or eaten by the chickens.   All of these leaves are from the standard sized African violets.

small leaves being started

These nine leaves are either ‘semi-miniature’ or ‘miniature’ African violets.  Some of them are fully grown and flowering in a two in pot and their leaves don’t go over the edge of the pot.  Way too tiny, but really cute.  The tiny leaf in the middle with the white edges is from a miniature African violet called “Bunny Hop”.

tiny pink African violet

Isn’t that just the cutest thing?  It’s the one called ‘Bunny Hop’.  That’s a two inch Dixie cup that it is planted in.  The leaf being started from this plant is in a small terrarium.  That may increase the odds of it surviving.  These aren’t my plants, I just got some leaves from some of them.  He got them from a place called ‘VioletBarn’, I’m sure there’s an online link somewhere if you need African violets, too.  https://www.violetbarn.com/    Aha!  Thought there would be one.

So we will see how many of these sprout into new plants.  If they all sprout, then we will have to find a place to put them all, but one thing at a time.

close up of black bunny showing fiber quality

I don’t know if your screen is big enough, but can you see the utterly soft fiber on that bunny?  I’m pretty sure that’s Ziggy and the undercoat is the really soft fiber that we harvest to make into Hula Bunny yarn.   Ziggy is going to make fiber for ‘Moonlit Dance’ color.

Little black bunny eating grass to make into fiber

Ha!  Those gourmet folks are always enthusing about grass fed beef.  What do they know?  We’ve got grass fed yarn, that’s gotta be better, don’tcha think?

Here’s our Grass Fed Yarn video

 

 

 

Grapefruit tree oopsie!

grapefruit tree taken out with moneytree

Ooops!  The roots of the grapefruit tree were all tangled with the moneytree being taken out next door.  When one fell over they both went.  Oh wellos!  Guess we will have to get a new grapefruit tree.  Maybe the next one can be a ruby red grapefruit tree.  I like those much better than the white grapefruits.

last grapefruit and first beans

So this is our last grapefruit, but we did pick the first beans today from the Mother Stallard vines.  They are producing about a week before the other bean vine.

We’ve been eating the lettuce and beet greens for over a week now, too.  The little garden is going well even if excavators got the grapefruits.

The Power of Stacked Concrete Blocks

Well, we’ve been eating salad now for a few weeks and I don’t think all the garden construction pictures were ever assembled in a tidy manner.  There’s been some interest in it on an online garden forum so I thought I’d put the pictures here, too.

This is the fifth stacked concrete block garden so far.  The first three were on flat land and the same height all around.  The fourth is just off the side of this newest one, although I planted too many ‘permanent’ plants there (grapes, cotton, papaya, mulberry) so it is too full to plant lettuce and salad greens.

This newest garden is not only a garden, but also a terrace to hold back the hillside.  I’m planning to make another garden behind this one to continue terracing up the hillside.  Perhaps for that one, a much longer but narrower one which wouldn’t be accessible from the back.  We’ll see when it gets built what it ends up looking like.

 

This is the beginning picture with the problem hillside.  It’s too steep to mow very easily and we have things growing 24/7 around here so it is a continual problem.  Turning it into small terraces will hopefully make a problem into a benefit.

This new salad garden is very close to the kitchen door, so that will be handy for greens and herbs.  In the picture, the digging has already started a little bit.

I should have taken more pictures at this stage, but we were busy digging in the dirt and hauling concrete blocks around.  We were using whatever blocks we had laying about, it’d be easier with all the same size blocks.

When choosing the final size of your garden,  layout the first layer of blocks where you’d like your new garden.  That will give you an idea of how big it will be.  Then stack up a column of blocks as high as you’re planning on building the sides.  Reach into to the middle of the garden area over the column to see how easy it will be to garden in the middle.  It’s easy enough at this point to make the garden a half block narrower or wider depending on how far you can reach.  Since it’s accessed from the front and the back, you can make it as long as you like.

When building multiple gardens, leave a walkway wide enough after the plants have reached their mature size to still fit through between the gardens.  I had one set of raised beds that were too close together and after the rosemary had gotten large in the garden on one side and the asparagus on the other, there wasn’t much room between them.

At this stage in the picture, we’d dug down to the level of the lowest concrete block and spread weed mat across the bottom to keep weeds from growing up inside.  There’s also weed mat along the sides to keep weeds from growing in from there, too.  Depending on how aggressive your weeds are, you may not need to do this part.  If you’re in a dry area or concerned about anything in the concrete blocks leaching into your soil, then a layer of plastic would be an option there.

Notice the rebar stakes stuck in the blocks.  It would be better if it were every hole but we didn’t have that many of the rebar stakes.  You could also use old pieces f metal pipe, short fence posts, pretty much whatever metal reinforcement you can find.   The wire bunny cage in the middle is being used to screen out miscellaneous roots and rocks from the soil being shoveled back into the garden.

That’s 1/2″ x 1″ screen for the bottom of the cage which is a nice size for screening garden soil.  Being part of a cage, it holds it up nicely, too.  If you don’t happen to have a small animal cage handy, you could make a wood frame and nail the screen to that.  It’s rather a lot of soil, buying screened soil would possibly get expensive.  For this particular garden, it was made with stuff laying around so we didn’t have to go buy anything specific for it.

Well, we did get some new seeds while on vacation.  There’s a seed bank in Petaluma, California which is just an astonishing place.  All heirloom and open pollinated seeds and varieties I’ve never heard of before!  Woot!  I don’t know if you enjoy seeds as souvenirs, but I think they’re great.

view looking out of the seed bank's windows

This was one of the highlights of my vacation in Napa, California.

interior view of the Petaluma seed bank

It used to be an old bank building, now it’s full of seeds.  All of them heirloom and open pollinated so I can grow them and save seeds and continue growing the same varieties.  Having all these seeds and nowhere to plant them had been a driving factor in building the new garden.  Okay, back to the garden now!

garden helper co-opted with a bribe of new seeds

All those new varieties of seeds were useful in bribing our local youth to help shift soil and blocks around.  We added in some bunny manure from the bunnies we have here along with the bribe of seeds so he was enthusiastic in helping.  A bit disrespectful sticking his tongue out at the camera, though.  Ah, youth these days, eh?  It’s so hard to get good help, too.   (insert grins and snickers here)

pile of soil behind garden being built

It was rather a lot of soil to move around, the pile there is what was dug out of the area to start with and still needs to be moved back into the raised bed area.  It was a lot of moving of soil.  Fortunately, once it’s built, it doesn’t need that level of effort again.

almost filled new raised bed garden

It doesn’t look all that much different from the previous picture, but it was hours of work to screen and fill.  These gardens have more soil in them than you’d expect.

I’d thought about lining the top row with solid flat concrete blocks, but didn’t have enough of them and decided to plant small plants in the concrete block holes instead.  Small low herbs like thyme will go well there.

At this point when the added soil was several inches down from the top, we started adding in the best soil as well as the amendments.   We have acidic soil, so crushed oyster shell was added.  We have really high rainfall which washes out the nutrients, so we added bio-char (crushed charcoal) to trap and hold the nutrients for the plant roots to find.  There’s also a lot of bunny manure added.  We have a whole herd of English angora bunnies who are very interested in garden greens so they do their part to help.

Planted five types of lettuce only three showed up
Missing two lettuces

All the little round things at the top of the soil is bunny manure.  It is a ‘cold’ manure and doesn’t need to be composted although by the time the greens are big enough to harvest it will have broken down quite a bit.

picture of a raised bed garden
New garden April 22nd, 2017

This is the garden after it’s been seeded and we put the little fence around it to keep the chickens out.  At least, we thought it’d keep the chickens out.  One still got in and scratched things around and ate a lot of the hulless oats we’d planted.  So now we have a fence across the front, too.  I may make one big fence panel to make it easier to put the fence up and down.  Or build a fence about six inches shorter so it can be gardened over easier.  I can reach and weed the front several feet but can’t reach the middle with the fence up.

That picture was taken on April 22nd, just after putting in the new seeds from the seed bank and a thyme plant at the front and Joey’s Tomato at the back.  The same person who gave me the Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton seedlings also gave me what he swears is the world’s best tomato.  He had been growing it for ages so it’s acclimatized to the islands, but he was down to only six seeds so I’m growing it out for him and will hopefully get some new seed.

picture of tomato seedling

Interesting leaf shape and he says it’s an indeterminate variety so we should continue to get a lot of tomatoes from it once it starts.  I put it in the back corner so it can grow huge and escape out the side.

The other little sprig of green in the beginning garden is a small thyme plant.

the new garden at six weeks later

This is the garden about six weeks later.  As usual, I put in too much seed.  The lettuce still needs some severe thinning and the beans are at war with the tomato.  The ‘mater will last longer, though, so in a couple months the beans will die off and the ‘mater will still be there.  The beans provide nitrogen for the growth stage of the tomato.  They provide beans, too.

growing beans

These are ‘Good Mother Stallard’ soup beans, I should mark the first pods to be saved for seed later.  With things like beans that I want to make pods early on, I’ll save the first seeds.  With lettuces, which I want to take awhile before bolting, I’ll save the last seeds.

I should take another picture from the same angle as the first, I suppose.  Just to show what six weeks and a small excavator can do.

six weeks later

 

One Month & One Day

The bunnies aren’t getting any new drastic size changes now that they’re a month old.  When they’re very small, they seem to change quicker.  Now they look like small bunnies instead of baby bunnies, but they still don’t look as fluffy as they will in a couple of weeks.

little black bunny sticking out his tongue

Zookie Schwartz is still being his usual quirky self.  Today he stuck his tongue out at the camera.  Guess he wanted something tasty instead of a flash bulb.

red leaf lettuce in the garden

Not sure why the dark red color doesn’t come through in pictures.  There’s more green in the lettuce along side  of it, too.

crowded leaf lettuces

It’s about time to thin the lettuce in the garden.  Still no beans yet, though.  We’ve had a few messes of beet greens, those are quite tasty.

Down to the last forty eight hours before we can hope to see more baby bunnies!  It seems like it takes forever sometimes, but considering how long folks with horses and cows have to wait to see if there will be babies, I suppose we’d get no sympathy if we complain.