There never seems to be a shortage of fun activities to do in the fall. As it flies by (which it always seems to do in the Midwest) we do our best to take advantage of time outside, observing and honoring nature’s wise rhythms. Dyeing with plants is a fun and fascinating way to preserve the miraculous beauty of summer and fall.
One of the coolest aspects of using natural dyes is the low cost of dye materials. They can be wildcrafted, grown in your garden, or collected from the kitchen’s compost. A lot of native trees, perennial plants, as well as common annual flowers and herbs, make fabulous dyes. So, your options for color are quite varied!
Here are just a few of the many regional sources for natural dye:
apple tree leaves and bark
avocado skin and pit
black eyed susan
And that’s really just scratching the surface.
After gathering dye materials, one must bring together fire, water, metal (or a mordant), natural fibers (from plants or animals) and time to initiate a truly beautiful alchemical process. All of these elements and factors can be modified to create different dye outcomes. Different fibers take on hues differently depending on what mordants and plants are used. So, no two hand dyed garments are ever really alike. Dyeing with plants is a way to allow the plants to express themselves, and preserve their beauty in a special way.
Join Delight Flower Farm and local educator Nora Love on Saturday, October 22 from 1-3 PM at the farm for a natural dye workshop! We will be dyeing with marigolds, and experimenting with using alum as a mordant. Bring an item of clothing to dye – it’s best if the garment is made of a natural fiber (wool, cotton, hemp, silk, linen, etc.) and is already light colored. Come ready to harvest marigolds, and dye clothes over an open fire!
The cost of the class is $20 at “the door,” but scholarships are available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interesting in a scholarship opportunity. The farm is located at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery at 4410 N. Lincoln Ave., Champaign, IL 61822
This year brought on a lot of changes for Delight. Here are a few lessons that I learned over the course of this busy summer.
1. When things fall by the wayside, don’t be hard on yourself.
We are three very busy women who are trying to run a budding business while still working day jobs, so it can be hard to find the time to get things done on the farm. Thank the heavens (literally) for long summer days, or we’d never get our CSA harvests done. (We definitely harvested in the dark a couple of times this summer.) Still, even with more daylight and three pairs of hands, there are tasks that fall through the cracks, goals that get modified, and dreams that are shelved for the season. This year, our plan to put up a fence around our less-than-a-quarter acre of planted land got tabled again and again. Each week, we found that we didn’t have the time to invest in this project. Trust me, we paid the price for tabling that task. We struggled to keep visitors from trampling young daffodils and tulips; to keep our dogs from plowing full speed through the middle of rows; to keep goats from midnight-snacking on our sunflower crop. That goat hurdle was our “last straw” moment. Now, just as the season for cut flowers is wrapping up in our zone, we’re putting up a fence. It’s OK! Not great, but surely OK. We certainly would have benefited from getting this bad boy up earlier, but the rush could have potentially compromised the integrity of the structure, or put a big strain on our already strained work/life juggling acts, or put us in a financially sticky place, or, or, or. I have to believe that this fence is going up at exactly the right time. And in the end, we’re getting it done with help from our amazing mentors and friends.
Short of it: There will always be tasks, goals, or dreams that fall (or get pushed) to the wayside. When that happens, don’t be hard on yourself.
2. Divide and conquer.
As I said, we’re three busy ladies. And although we love working and playing together, it’s not always efficient to operate the farm that way. This year, we found that more land means more tasks, and that getting it all done means less people doing more things all at once. Early on, ‘divide and conquer’ was deemed our route to less wasted time. Now, we try our best to split up responsibilities, and time at the farm. The beauty of having three heads in the game, is that we can all fit in farm time when it works for us. If we can all get in the field at the same time, that’s great. But it’s not necessary for us to fill orders and tend to ongoing projects.
Short of it: We try to split up the work, and we still end up goofing off all together on occasion.
3. Don’t leave your clippers in the field.
Easy enough – just don’t do it. Don’t think, “Oh yeah, I’m leaving them right by that pink zinnia row, got it. Yeah, got it. I’ll find them. Not worried about it.” You will lose them. You will have to buy new ones.
Short of it: I said it once before, but it bears repeating. Don’t leave your clippers in the field.
4. Actually, don’t always use clippers to harvest.
Our goddess of a mentor, Linda Chapman of Harvest Moon Flower Farm, told us about the wonders of harvesting with box cutters early this spring. I’m definitely a believer. Box cutters are cheaper and often more durable than floral clippers, they get a great cut on the stem if your blade is nice and sharp, and they save our hands and wrists from repetitive stress of squeezing clippers over and over. All of us want to continue to farm, while trying our best to keep our bodies healthy and strong. Any tricks or strategies that can protect the body and ensure longevity of tendons, joints and muscles is worth trying.
Short of it: Try swapping a box cutter for clippers during harvest.
5. Break the rules.
I risk getting us into some trouble with this one, but breaking the rules came in handy this season. Early in the summer, we were in the market for a walk-in cooler for flower storage. Our beloved mentor says you’re not a real flower farmer until you’re using one. She’s right to some degree – a cooler undoubtedly changes the game. After a bit of searching, we found one online – right size, right price. One problem: it was in Wisconsin. So we took a leap, rented a truck strong enough to haul this massive cooler home, loaded up the dogs, and hit the road. Let’s just say – it took thousands of dollars, hundreds of miles, many generous angels, a couple broken laws, two new tires, and one minute of shit-scared-stressed-out tears to get this cooler home. We did it. It was one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done, and I don’t regret it one bit. We wouldn’t have this cooler today had we not bent and broken the rules a bit.
Short of it: Break the rules when the universe gives you the go-ahead.
This past winter really challenged us to put on our big-girl-pants and get serious about: budgeting, marketing, crop planning, ordering on time, writing a business plan, drafting contracts, forming an entity, creating a partnership agreement, and answering more emails than ever before. All of this behind-the-scenes work has meant a lot of late night meetings – meetings that can only happen after we’ve all finished our day jobs – that occasionally involve a way-too-late cup of coffee. (Tip: if you’re looking for a good laugh courtesy of three over-caffeinated farmer gals, try attending one of our Tuesday night meetings.) But, I tell ya, we’re ready (oh-so-ready) for a change of scenery. It’s nearly time to trade laptops for clipboards, iPhones for shovels, and notebooks for blooms.
We’ve started moving our starts out of the greenhouse and into the light of these gorgeous spring days. It feels good to be able to bring flats home from the greenhouse and nurture them right on our back porches. The warm sun, rain and gentle breezes will gradually help the flowers grow stronger and heartier, so that they’ll be able to weather the summer elements. Another exciting development from this week: bed prep! Wes Jarrell of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery got out in the field early this week to mow down the rye poking up in our beds. Next, we will till and make necessary soil amendments, and then the beds will be ready for our mighty little transplants.
We know there’s a lot of hard work ahead, but we’re so excited to get our hands dirty. We are ready for the reaffirming and invigorating work that goes on during the summer. It’s easy to lose sight of the dear magic of plants when we have our noses pressed to glowing screens. Still, balance is a key to steady success and contentment – we need the quiet planning of winter to balance the colorful chaos of spring and summer.
This week, after a bout of tulip harvesting, we all had a chance to lay in the grass on our humble little piece of land (no shoes, no cell phones). A deep breath all together in the evening sun gave us a little glimpse of summer’s sweetnesses to come.
As we ease into the cold months, we’re already thinking ahead to the 2016 CSA season. We’re pleased to share that we will be among the farmers and makers present at the Second Annual Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Fair in Urbana this year! This event is hosted by Urbana’s Market at the Square, The Land Connection and the Urbana Business Association. The fair is an opportunity to meet and talk with farmers about CSA offerings for the 2016 growing season. Many farmers – like us! – will be signing folks up for shares at the fair. It’s like shopping for future you; pay a little now, and receive your share of the abundance down the road. Learn more about this event here.
Delight expanded so much this year – we took on a lot of custom orders, donated many arrangements to fundraisers, supplied flowers for a wedding, made a record number of wreaths, and did a pop-up collaboration with Flying Machine Coffee. But CSAs were and are still certainly the bulk of our work. The CSA is the heartbeat of this operation. By purchasing a CSA share with Delight Flower Farm, you will be supporting us as we leap (with faith!) into many new endeavors: new land, experiments in season extension, new flower varieties, and MORE flowers than ever before!
So, here are the nitty gritty details: The Second Annual Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Fair will be held at the Urbana Civic Center on Monday, December 14 from 4-7 pm. The Urbana Civic Center is located at 108 East Water Street in Urbana. We will be signing folks up for the 2016 CSA season. Full shares cost $180.00 before December 31, option to add $50.00 for delivery all season long. Share prices will increase in 2016! If you know you’d like to sign up for a share, you can bring a check to the CSA Fair – please make checks out to Maggie Taylor c/o Delight Flower Farm. We will have special treats and swag for those who sign up!
P.S. A big, warm thanks to all who ordered holiday wreaths this season. We were overwhelmed with support from customers and friends, old and new. Happy holidays from the ladies of Delight!
Our CSA season may be over, but the flowers are still popping! So, to take advantage of this abundance, we decided to create some custom arrangements for our favorite local cafe, Flying Machine Coffee. We harvested the first round of flowers on Sunday, and delivered them to the cafe in the early evening. Most of them are perched on the bar near the shop’s windows. They look so beautiful drenched in sunlight. Holly and I have been stopping in to care for and freshen the bouquets, and we’ve had some wonderful comments from folks about the flowers! It feels so good to receive those little moments of support.
There’s more: These arrangements are for sale! Each bundle is priced at $15, so you can take one home if you fall in love with these flowers! Our little operation is local, chemical-free, and woman operated, so purchasing these special arrangements means choosing those qualities in a product. Special thanks to our friend Josh Lucas for his support with this little collaboration. Flowers and coffee…it’s a good match.
A bit more news to share: We’re teaching a class at Common Ground Food Co-op this weekend! We will be leading Flower Power! on Saturday, August 29, from 2:00 pm until 3:00 pm in the Flatlander Classroom. This workshop will cover: a bit about Delight CSA and our beginnings and journey, the benefits of cut flowers for veggie gardens and pollinators, and the basics of cut flower growth and care. Participants will get to arrange their own flower bundle (just like we do!) from a selection of blooms that will come straight from our farm! This class costs $5 for owners, and $10 for non-owners. We hope to see some folks there! Click here to sign up online!
We are so grateful for the warmth we’ve had this past week. The flowers needed that good, nourishing sun to make some food! And the soil was in need of some drying. The difference between weeks of endless rain and weeks of sunshine definitely shows. This week we harvested lots of queen anne’s lace, gladiolas, zinnias, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, pink sunday sage, marigolds, and the last of the goosenecks. The colors in the garden ranged from deep oranges, to dreamy purples, with buttery yellows and bright pinks in between. There was one sunflower whose head was almost as big as any of ours, roughly 7 feet tall, with a thick stem. We decided not to cut this baby, but to leave her standing tall in the entryway of the garden. Thank you, sunny guardian!
:: speaking of thanks ::
Just before our first harvest of the season, and just after weeks of preparing the garden in oh, so many ways for the season, my mother and I took a trip all the way across the world to Bali. It’s marvelous to me, to know that people all over the world celebrate life every day in a different kind of way. While so many parts of my trip and this new country struck me as remarkably unique, one of my favorite things that I witnessed was the daily offering, which no visitor of Bali could go without experiencing.
Outside nearly every doorstep, on every street, in every town we visited, people would set out a daily offering to the gods, called a Canang Sari, consisting of an assortment of flower, incense, food tidbits, tobacco, whatever one had to give just little of–all wrapped up in a little box, handmade out of a coconut leaf. Walking through the streets we often would smell incense burning for blocks and see groups of friends making more little boxes for the days to come. So many people we spoke with while there expressed an appreciation for the gifts of every day, and the desire to recognize them and to give back–this notion I loved and shared with them, and upon coming home I wanted to make sure could hold on to this sort of kinship with life, and others in it.
:: back in the garden ::
When we got into the garden for harvest #1, we were all so excited to see the first teddy bear sunflower (named for its fluffy, shaggy aesthetic) ripe for picking. It was a bit early for sunflowers, so this early bloomer seemed so special. We talked about who might get that one in their CSA bundle that week. As Holly went to harvest it, the flower’s stem snapped all too close to the head. It was too short to put in a bundle. We shared some ‘ahhs’ and ‘awws’ about it. But not for long. Holly suggested we make it our offering for the day. “This is what they would do in Bali,” she said, as she placed the flower floating face-up in a bowl left over from that morning’s breakfast. She laid the bowl in the center of the garden, where the ray-shaped flower beds met to complete the sun-inspired garden layout. Now, we make offerings almost every week.
It’s often that a beautiful flower’s stem snaps in an unfortunate place during the day’s harvest, making it unsuitable for the CSA bundles. In an effort to memorialize it’s beauty, and show gratitude for all of the beauty that surrounds us inside and outside of the garden, we offer it up – sometimes to the universe, or to the “gods”, maybe even to each other and this amazing opportunity that we share. Whether it’s a snapped sunflower, or a shorty-marigold, or a droopy gladiola bloom, we give thanks.
There is only so much work we can do as plant-tenders:
Nurture the soil,
Plant the seeds,
Water + mulch.
But the seed is the real worker! Covered in the Earth’s darkness, it primes itself to thrive, to jump up, unfold, and kiss the sun’s sweet rays. Meanwhile, we wait. We plant and surrender.
I am constantly amazing by the intelligence of seeds. They need so little to prosper: soil, water, sun. Though we as farmers do much to nurture the growing process, we can never take full credit for the precious life we grow. Nature’s brilliance is the true master here!
The start of the season was quite busy for us. We went to work in early spring starting seeds and spreading the word about CSA shares. As the weather warmed, we amended the soil in the garden, created a completely new layout for our garden beds, and put up a new fence with help from our dear friends.
Now, as spring sets into summer, we calmly wait each day for more flowers to bloom. Waiting means we must surrender to that which we can’t control. The recent abundance of rain has really tested us to let go. While the storms persist, we naturally worry about our little flowers. But they have more resilience and tenacity than we always acknowledge. I am happy to report that despite the all of rain that we’ve seen in the past weeks, our flowers are slowly peeking out.
Our first harvest is this week! Maggie, Holly and I are all so excited to get out in the garden, pick the season’s first flowers, and create some beautiful arrangements for our shareholders. A new year and new flowers offer themselves to our hands and imaginations. Some of our early blooms include: daisies, goosenecks, marigolds, calla lilies, snapdragons, sweet peas, zinnias and sunflowers. This is only the start!
May your last days of spring be filled with sweetness.