Sunday, May 29, 2011

A new kiln!

I got a new kiln! I ordered an Evenheat Studio Pro STP with an automated controller and an 8"x8" chamber. My old kiln is an Evenheat and I felt very comfortable buying a new one. Plus I got a great price on it from Fusion Headquarters in Newberg. It's really different having a controller so I can actually follow recommended firing schedules with the required precise control of temperatures for multi-layered full fusing. To start with I had to do a few experimental firings to figure out the schedule for the type of pieces I've been doing, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to make one bigger than I've been able to do before.

I made a big 2-layer ring of mixed opal and transparent glass scraps, 6 inches across. It came out pretty good, not far from what I expected, and is now hanging in the garden.

Once I got the firing schedule figured out, I started doing multiple pieces at once, and that worked great too. I've been really happy to see how consistent and repeatable the kiln operation is. Now I can start doing different types of pieces, lots of things that would have been completely impossible in my old kiln, now that I've got that controller.

One of my multiple firings, I did 3 pieces using the same color scheme of shades of green with amber, browns, and touches of cranberry. I had been previously siezed with this compulsion to add metal bells to some of the glass pieces, so the short icon that came out of this firing got belled:

It has found a home hanging off my front porch, where one late afternoon sunbeam has been coming through the trees and lighting up the lime green and cranberry, during afternoon sunbreaks. The bell's only going to ring if the wind hits about 40mph, but I love the warm shine of the tin, and I do love combining the metal with the glass.

I also went on a blue binge, layering a cold light cobalt blue on top of a warmer medium blue—I call it pthalo—it's as close to a summer blue sky morning as I can get.

I had been looking at my garden before the first leaves appeared and thought a lot about how I can add interest to my winter garden, and I decided that some more complex installations would go a long way toward giving me the visual treats I crave during those bare months. The first idea I came up with was to fire single-color rectangles and hang them between the rails of the wood fence between the house and the barn, where they'll catch the morning sun when it's out. The first pass of six pieces took me two firings, and I decided to hang transparent cranberry, orange, and yellow pieces on each side of the gate.

This is how it looks facing the house in the afternoon light. The orange is the only color that shows up brightly unless you're quite close to it. I'm thinking of putting some lime green pieces next to these. I'm also wondering how opal glass will work, if it's fairly light. It'll show up better against the dark barn and shadows than most of the transparent will. But every now and then from the house, when the sun's in just the right place, I can see all three colors, and it's a nice surprise. As the season goes on, they'll mostly become obscured by the foliage of the hydrangea, dogwood, and grapes planted on the fence. But when the leaves drop in November, they'll be back with their bright colors to light up my winter and spring mornings.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The infinite riches of May

Liberty apple blossom above forget-me-nots

I heard on tv a Chinese description of a private garden—"Infinite riches in a small room." I loved that phrase, it really describes the month of May in northwest Oregon. As the days begin to warm, however so slowly, the first tentative leaves and blossoms shortly EXPLODE into a lushness that would do any jungle proud. In just a few weeks the country goes from still-bare branches on everything but the flowering plums to all the cherries and maples in flower and full leaf, all the conifers showing their bright new growth, and rhodies and azaleas and more in psychedelic effulgence.

I'm really proud of this pieris because it's actually only about 8" across, and half of that is new growth. I got it late spring, a year ago, at a going out of business sale for 50 cents, and made it wait in a 3" pot till fall, when I finally got around to planting it out. This one really is working hard to make me happy. I appreciate that.

The Peppermint Ice hellebores I bought decided late blooming was better than never. It's nice not having to wait till next year. This one was definitely worth the trip to Al's for, but I haven't decided about the mislabled one I paid the double price for that turned out to be a single. I guess the lesson for me there is to never buy flowers—especially expensive ones—out of flower. Oh well, learn the hard way.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Green grow the babies, oh!

This is exciting—it's the first year I have so many baby plants growing in the spring. Usually it's only weeds that I get to watch getting bigger every day. This year I've got these little lettuces. After weeks being just bigger than specks, they're finally starting to get visible.

The big clump on the left side is where the bag broke open while I was making the two rows. The front row is supposed to be French lettuces and the back are supposed to be Italians, and on close inspection they do look slightly different. Pretty soon I'll be thinning them out and see how they taste! Mmmm! This is my first ever home-grown lettuce!

My strawberry pots are looking good, leaves are getting bigger and I can see baby flower buds on both my Quinaults from last year, and the TriStars I bought this year. They're both everbearing. This pot is the Quinaults.

The two spinach plants in the center are getting almost covered right now, they're getting more leaves but the leaves aren't getting very big. I'm hoping they'll show a little more vigor soon, but either way I'll be tasting them soon, too. It could be there's only enough room for one plant in there. Live and learn.

I was going to put both sets of strawberries in the bed behind my back door, but I had a traumatic event when I bought a big box of fresh California strawberries a few weeks ago that convinced me to keep them in elevated pots. I was cleaning them and cutting the tops off in my kitchen sink, and after I put the last one on the bowlful, I noticed a piece of leaf I'd left on it. I reached over to pull it off and it turned around and crawled back into the berry! It wasn't a piece of leaf, it was a big old earwig! Bleccchhhh! So I took that one and the tops out and trashed them, and then carefully sliced all the others up without finding any more bugs. I've had ants and pillbugs get berries on the ground, but I have a full complement of earwigs in my garden, and I don't even want to give them a chance at my berries. Anyway, now they're up at elbow height, away from bunny rabbits and ground bugs, and I can just walk out in the morning and do comparison nibbling. Last year I got about 3 berries a week from my Quinaults and they bore ripe ones all the way into October, and I didn't get them planted till late. Two pots means twice as many, I hope!

So with all these dry days—let's see, I think there have been 6 or so, so far this spring—what have I been doing? Just this—

Weeding—weeds, weeds, weeds. This is the second dump load, another 30 pounds (20 gallons) of weeds, mostly little bitter cress, grasses, chickweed, and pigweed. I'm almost caught up, I've pretty much cleared the orchard, there are just a few patches I still really need to get. I do need to get into the veggie garden soon and check on everything in there. We should have a couple dry days next week, so I'll be getting down there then and get some new pictures. I can see things growing!

So exciting!