September Shift

We are moving into the next stage on the farm, with new crops coming ripe and new colors taking precedence in the fields. The goldenrod is becoming king of the landscape, and all other flowers are stepping back to make way for His Majesty. The honeybees are ecstatic and when I walked the fields with my trusty lopper, clearing out mulberry bushes, I was surrounded by loud, industrious buzzing and hoped I wouldn’t irritate any of them enough to sting.

I have started harvesting some late summer veggies, like rainbow chard and parsnips, not to mention the never-ending flow of tomatoes and zucchini. Now and then I treat the goat, sheep, and chickens to bits of the leftovers. I wondered if parsnip greens would be tasty and left a pile in the pasture to see what they thought about it. They were a big hit.

Yum, parsnip greens!

My little orchard did not produce much this year, in spite of my valiant battle with the late spring frost. I did pick the four peaches and although they weren’t pretty, they were as delicious as the ones from the local fruit stand.

I have counted seven apples on the two trees that bore fruit this year. I am letting them mature until one falls off the tree because I really have no way of knowing when they are fully ripe. They look quite nice, and I am hoping that next year is better. The trees themselves took on a lot of healthy growth this year, especially the peach tree. I may have to look up how to prune them now for optimal fruit production next year. They are surrounded by a tangle of pumpkin vines with lots of big orange beauties.

This never-ending pandemic is keeping us home more than usual and, as with everyone, we are experiencing the plodding of every day pretty much like the one before. Before we turn in each night, we review what is coming up tomorrow and whether there is anything at all unusual to look forward to. The concert bands are trying to restart with Covid precautions and I am going to give them a try this year. Lots of masking and distancing requirements, so I hope it is safe enough. I do miss playing my horn with a group! I am a sub for the local St. Joseph Municipal Band in the park this Sunday and Monday nights and am both nervous and excited to be on stage doing my best. Normalcy is creeping forward, but no one knows if it will stick around.

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A Couple Interesting Things

This week I attended the Michigan Fiber Festival, at the Allegan County Fairgrounds. I go every couple of years and it is a special treat if I can take a class while I am there. This year I signed up for a fiber blending course.

The students throughout the festival were 98% women, which is curious to me. I sat in a circle of women around my own age with our spinning wheels lugged up from home. The teacher gave us each samples of various fibers from silk worms, alpacas, and several kinds of sheep. Some were dyed bright and beautiful colors and some were natural and waiting for a good washing.

The teacher showed us how we could make interesting textures and lovely colors by blending a variety of fibers right from our hands feeding into the spinning wheel. It opened my eyes to new possibilities and I am eager to start experimenting. I came home and spun up the remains of the fibers I’d received and plied it all together into a very random skein of yarn. There is not enough to make an article of clothing, but I think when I finish my current weaving project I will try using this as the weft and see what kind of wild and wooly fabric it will make.

The other, totally unrelated thing that I found interesting this morning is a small clump of shiny gold insect eggs deposited under the leaves of our raspberry bushes. I came upon it by accident and was surprised by the metallic sparkle. I don’t know what they are, but an internet search leans toward some sort of stinkbug. Hopefully, it is not something that will one day mature and consume my plants, but I’m not about to go on a search-and-destroy mission.

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Perspiration by Gender

I was out in the garden after a couple days off and there was so much that needed to be harvested. As the rivulets of sweat freely ran down over my glasses and I gave up trying to wipe them away, a story popped into my mind of my early training as a young girl. My mother was repeating a tale she’d been told as a child, one of those that are used to cement gender roles and the rules of polite society.

A little girl came into the house from playing and declared, “I’m so sweaty!” Her mother, shocked and horrified, told the girl, “Nice young ladies do not sweat, they perspire. The girl did not know this word and had trouble pronouncing it. Her mother said, think of it like a church spire and it’s easier to say.

The girl went back out to play and ran into the minister out on the sidewalk. He asked if she was having a nice August day, and she replied in a proud and polite manner, “It is so hot out here, I believe I am persteepling.”

This story made a big impression on me as a child. I was learning in not-so-subtle ways what was acceptable for girls vs boys. Girls had to learn to hold their knees together when they sat, not to speak too loudly, and to wait patiently for their turn, unlike the boys who were like wild things with no good manners.

Times have changed so much since those days in the 50’s and 60’s of American society. Is it any wonder how the generations look at one another with amazement for the biases they hold – or are ignoring? I think I have come a long way since my childhood indoctrination and have become aware of so much that we all took for granted many years past. It makes me sad for all the boys and girls who did not fit easily into the molds that were closing in around them and had to keep their real natures hidden in a secret inner box. Especially, I cry for those who accepted the stories they were told and hated themselves for the ways they were “wrong.”

I believe the world is gradually improving, generation to generation. The things I have overcome and the rules that sank too deep into my DNA to ever be completely erased will one day be read about with disbelief by future generations. How could they have ever thought that!?

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Reptilian Repose

We have our own “Brutus” the snapping turtle living in the pond this year. I normally only see him (or her) in the spring at egg-laying time, but I was surprised to see that he dragged himself up onto the little sunning rock for a nap. I often see several little painted turtles sharing the rock, but this monster took up the whole cabana.

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The Busy Season

August and September are crazy busy on our farm. All the summer crops are ripening up and we are switching out the spring plantings for new fall crops, such as spinach and lettuce. My husband went to town planting potatoes this spring, and today he harvested them. We are awash in healthy mounds of potatoes, thinking through who we could give them away to. We will surely store a bushel for ourselves, alongside the drying garlic bulbs, but there are only two of us.

I think we’ll offer the surplus to members of our church for a donation to the general fund. I tend to be a little protective of the gifts our farm provides, but a surplus like this is just too much.

zucchini solution

The zucchini is producing at an amazing clip and I have to be careful to harvest them when they reach 6-8 inches. The ones I miss quickly become baseball bats and there is only so much zucchini bread we can store away in the freezer. It really messes up our diets! Today, I found two big ones that escaped my notice and I just gave up and tossed them into the chicken run. I hope the girls find them tasty and leave me nothing but the rinds by the end of the day.

As I look back on my writing, it seems I am complaining about the work. Really, I love this time of the year and it gives me such satisfaction to have “put up” our own produce. The problem is that I love finishing a task, and the endless flow of vegetables filling the kitchen counters makes finishing an elusive goal. Yesterday I was freezing zucchini and making loaves of zucchini bread. Today I need to haul all the jars upstairs and begin canning tomatoes.

The fields are packed with beautiful wildflowers and give me pleasure as I walk back and forth between the house and the barn. The bees and butterflies are buzzing and fluttering all around me, and it looks like we have to schedule a honey extraction soon so that we can leave space for the bees to build up their winter supplies. My husband just finished tying up and weeding the new grape vines — before he tackled the potatoes — and the Concord grapes will ripen up next month to be turned into juice. It is a pandemonium of bounty and yes, I have mixed feelings about it — pride in our accomplishment, gratitude for what the farm gave us, and exhaustion with the never-ending tasks to deal with it all.

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Graduating the Chicks from Kindergarten

Our baby chicks are getting big, and it is time to ease them into the flock. I have begun locking the adults into their main area to leave a smaller room open to the babies where they won’t be molested by aggressive beaks. We have a little hinged door that we can open and they can hop in and out once they get the hang of it, and it has a fence in it to prevent the adults from coming into their box.

I left their box open overnight, and the next morning I found all eight chicks roaming the run, so they figured out the exit process, at least. I let the adults in to see how it would go and sure enough, the babies cowered in a corner behind a piece of lumber while the big girls stood guard and pecked at anyone who tried to break free.

I had to grab each chick individually and feed them back through their door into the box, hoping they grasped the concept for later. They were all terrified to be manhandled. Besides that, they figured out they could hide from me behind the concrete blocks supporting their box, and one wedged herself in so tightly that I had to get help to move the whole box out of the way to reach her.

We decided to drop the box down to only one concrete block height and close up all the holes so they couldn’t hide underneath anymore. I tried it again the next evening and in the morning they were out again. This time, I didn’t grab for them but instead I filled their food and water in the box and stepped out of sight. Sure enough, one by one they hopped up into their box and were safe and sound in their private space.

I feel like this is going well. The adults and children can see each other through the fencing, and in a few days I will open the door between them and see what happens. The babies should be able to escape into their box when necessary.

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Moist Days in Michigan

After an unusually dry spring, the weather has finally caught up and it is very humid and rainy. We needed it! The prairie fields around us are waving in the long-awaited yellows of cone flowers, brown-eyed Susans, and tall clover, the white circles of Queen Ann’s lace, and the bright blues of bergamot and spiderwort. It makes me smile every time I walk outside.

An unusual feature of the sudden humidity is the innumerable little toadstools popping out of the grass. I don’t remember that ever happening before. This week, I was surprised to see something on the trunk of a dead tree out at the edge of the woods, and went to investigate. I thought it was a string of dead leaves on a poison ivy vine and wondered why it had died. When I got up close it was an amazing array of fungus.

Oyster mushrooms?

I have a friend who knows his fungus, and he said it is probably oyster mushrooms, which are delicious. I am not brave enough to try them, though. What if he is wrong? I’ll stick to my springtime morels that I stumble across every five or ten years.

The goat and sheep are damper than usual and seem bored in the summer heat. The sheep are getting braver and gather close around me when I bring out their evening corn snack. Cookie impatiently paws at my leg with her hoof while I feed Dot, and they both allow me to scratch their backs and stroke their chins. I never thought they’d get tame like that.

More corn, please!

We have been mulling over having them bred to expand the flock and experience a lambing season. To my surprise, the breeder said she cannot allow sheep to come onto her property or have her own rams leave and return, for health certification reasons. I’d have to purchase a ram and then sell him to someone else afterwards if I did not want to keep him. This would mean building separate quarters and pasture for a ram and is more than I want to deal with. I don’t intend to become a source for registered Shetland sheep. I’m just a hobbyist. I will have to think this over for a while and look at my other options.

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Cat in the Patch

Mickey, the barn cat, is lonely. The other cat does not come around much and doesn’t want to play with him anyway. When one of us is out at the barn and Mickey shows up, he “meows” loudly, rubbing against and between our feet begging for some attention. I’m afraid we’ll accidentally step on him one of these times.

He knows that I come around in the early evening to pick the strawberries and asparagus, so he hangs around waiting for me. He gets really jealous of my petting the strawberry leaves as I look for ripe berries, so he squeezes under my hands and lies down on top of them. I pick him up and toss him out of the way, but he is relentless.

When I finally get all the strawberries in the carton for the night, I’ll go sit down so Mickey can hop onto my lap and get a good cuddle. He loves me to cover his face with my palm and rub his cheeks. Unfortunately, he is shedding a lot and I get cat hair all over my clothes that I have to carefully brush off so my husband doesn’t come in contact with it.

It is interesting how the seasonal cycles affect barn cats. They get very heavy and fat in the winter, as they lie around in the hay loft. By late spring, they are spending most of their time out hunting or whatever cats do outside, because they become thin and lithe. Mickey has shiny thick fur, but Emmie the black cat has a long fluffy coat that collects ticks. I bought a pour-on medication for her and waited for several weeks for her to show up so I could apply it. I hope it helped because she hasn’t been around since for me to examine her. That’s probably a cause-and-effect.

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The In-Between Weeks

Ah, the sweet moments between Spring and Summer! The fields are back up to a foot or two of growth after their spring mowing and the earliest wildflowers are beginning to bloom — purple vetch and bladder flowers. The concord grapes are all leafed out and the little pin-head sized grapes are forming into clusters as the new vines shoot up out of the grizzled old trunks.

Our vegetable garden is churning out the springtime crops fast and furiously. I chopped down a basketful of spinach stalks that had been ready to flower because I’d ignored them for a week. I’m hoping that by cutting them off I can prolong the spinach harvest for a few more weeks. Normally, I’d toss it all into the compost pile, but I thought I’d give the herd a chance to taste it first and see if they’d like the extra iron in their diet. Eddy couldn’t believe his luck! He hogged most of it but then I scattered it out on the ground so the sheep would have a fighting chance to grab a few bites without him shoving them out of the way.

I’m bringing in strawberries and asparagus every day and trying to work fresh greens into our menu as often as possible. My husband planted LOTS of peas this year, and I think when all the pods swell into ripeness I’ll be overwhelmed with shelling chores. How can you really complain about something so rare and special, though? I’ll freeze them if necessary.

We gave up on our wine grapes and planted new vines this spring, a couple northern varieties that promise to survive our Michigan winters. They are beginning to leaf out already and there are only a couple that may not have survived the transplanting. We had put in about a dozen new trees and are dumping gallons of water on them most evenings to nurse them through the critical months. At least three did not make it, sad to say, but not for lack of love.

My husband has a soft spot for baby chicks and talked me into adopting a few new ones this year even though our hens are producing well. He built a sturdy new box for them, way better than the old warped one that the hens roosted on all winter. I love their cheery peeping and their fuzzy round bodies. Soon, their long wing feathers will begin to sprout and their sweet little heads will turn scruffy and thin. Such a short cute spell!

The poison ivy is leafing out quickly, as well. The work we did to clean the scrubby growth from the bank of trees by the highway exposed more soil and the ivy is rejoicing in the sunlight. We made up a batch of chemicals and sprayed them a couple days ago and I am hoping it will suck right down into the roots to hold them off for a year. Poison ivy is very hard to do away with permanently. I don’t want us bringing the oils back on our boots or on the dogs’ fur and getting us all rashed up. If you don’t try to keep on top of it, it spreads across the fields until it is everywhere.

Another thing I always fight is the Asian bittersweet vines. I don’t know how those things get started, but they are so invasive that it’s almost impossible to stop them. They grow really fast, winding their ways up through the air until they find a branch to grab and slowly strangle. When I find them already invading a tree, the best I can do is chop the bottom so they wither away. They get wound so tight that I usually can’t pull them out of the branches. This year I’ve found them in our perennial garden and they are sprouting everywhere! One or two vines I pulled out were connected to a much thicker root that wound under and around the bushes. This may call for Round-Up on the leaves.

But you know, the summer wars with the weeds are just fine for keeping things interesting. It is like having children to care for, long after the real ones have long left the nest. Nurturing the gardens, grounds, and livestock is a labor of love and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Rhubarb Rooky

I was watching my 2nd-year rhubarb plant, marveling at the little round bulb forming in the center and how it gradually rose in a stalk of flowers. Somebody told me that you should not necessarily let it flower because then you will get fewer usable stems for pie. Oops. Well, that’s just that much less sugar I’ll be eating this summer, so perhaps it is for the best.

I’ll say this was my year of rhubarb discovery. Now, I know what happens and so in the future I will stunt the flower growth. I have chopped off the flower stalk now and, sure enough, I am getting more edible parts. On top of that, the second plant that we thought we’d accidentally killed last year finally appeared and is far behind its brother but is trying to catch up.

I find it interesting that the rhubarb I’d planted by the strawberries out at the barn never really flourished. It finally died away. This new patch is quite happy in its home and I think we’ll have it for years to come. Why?

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Nesting Surprise

I went out to feed the chickens this morning and did a double-take when I opened the coop door. This is the time each year when the turtles come up around the yard to lay their eggs. I rarely see if the eggs actually hatch or get dug up and eaten by raccoons, although I once did find a baby snapping turtle out at the pond.

I went about my business, rather than disturb Mrs. Snapper. I know how strong those jaws can be and I did not want to have her turn around and chomp me. I mused that nesting under the coop might be a really good choice, well protected, warm, and dry. She may not quite fit under the door, though.

I fed the animals and went to check on my fiber collection. I have dried it all, stuffed it back into the three pillow cases, and set up my drum carder to begin making batts for spinning. I am marveling at the differences between Shetland wool and mohair. The mohair is what I am accustomed to – silky and fluffy. The wool is much longer, probably because it is over a year of growth instead of just six months’ worth for the goat. The wool is also white and fluffy, but it definitely has different properties from the mohair. It doesn’t have the silky sheen, and from what I have read, the colors will not sparkle and pop the way mohair does. On the other hand, wool should be softer against the skin than mohair, which sometimes feels a little scratchy because it has some stiffer hairs mixed in.

I have carded about half of Dot’s wool already and am debating what to do with it. I normally wash and dye the fiber all on the same day and then let it dry. This year, I am going to card and spin it all in its natural colors and then dye the spun yarn when I know what I want to make. This seems a little more practical, because I will figure out in advance how much I need for a project and then will always have plenty of the color I want. If I have plied the yarn already, I won’t have multi-color skeins, but I can always do some creative dying to make it more interesting than just solid colors.

As with everything I create, it is an experiment. I may later regret it but how else will I ever know what works and what doesn’t?

So, after an hour of carding fiber I went to say goodbye to the animals and back to the house. The turtle had turned around and buried herself into a good position for laying her eggs undisturbed. I hope her brood hatches safely and maybe I will even get to see some of the babies later in the summer.

“I want to be alone!”
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Fleece As White As Snow

The sheep are sheared and vaccinated, and now on to the fiber! I am amazed how much wool came off those two little sheepies. I decided to work on Cookie’s first, as she is smaller than her sister. I laid it out on a table, per the instructions, and did my best to shake out any short bits that got in there and pull out clumps that were really dirty or full of bits of hay. Then I gave it a good washing in Dawn and carefully rinsed it without agitating it or changing temperatures abruptly, both of which would cause it to turn to permanent felt.

It took two days to dry it completely, but I stuffed it back into Cookie’s pillowcase and today I moved on to Dot’s. I had discovered that it is much easier to handle the wool while it is dry, although the “grease” feels like paraffin on my fingers and I smell like a stable.

With Dot’s wool, I tossed the worst sections into the trash can until I began to worry that I was being overzealous and that I may end up with only half the fleece when I was done. I got a lot less careful as I went along. The first, most discriminating batch came out of the wash just as white and beautiful as it could be. Look at the unwashed pile on the counter and compare it to the clean batch drying on the table.

I have washed two thirds of it but have run out of room to dry it, so I get a break. In between sessions at the barn, I have been crazily spinning bats of mohair that have been languishing in the closet. I don’t have any plans for making things with it yet, but there will be no room for the new stuff if I don’t get a move on! I decided I’d spin single threads to use up as much of the colors as I can and then I’ll randomly make up two-color yarns by plying together singles that I think might look nice together. Then it will sit until I can come up with something to make.

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Shearing Day Come and Gone

Thursday, the sheep shearer did indeed show up. He backed his big pickup truck into the barn and set up a metal frame from which to hang up the shearing motor over his head. Then, he laid out a big felt pad on the floor and went right out to grab the first customer. I had cleaned out the stall, stashed the chickens in the coop, and tricked the goat and sheep into the enclosed area of the barnyard so they could be captured easily — well, relatively easily. They don’t do much to help.

I had brought out our bathroom scale so he could weigh them, and was surprised that under all that hair, Dot is considerably bigger and heavier than her sister. If anything, I’d have guessed the opposite because Dot is the most timid and least likely to get a big share at mealtime. Now, they look like cautious little deer as they peer at me suspiciously from a distance. This is a bit of a problem because I have to give them their annual vaccines and worming medicines. I managed to corner Dot in the goat shed and press her against the wall long enough to administer the two injections. Cookie runs if it even looks like I might be coming her way. Somehow, I’ll have to get ahold of her soon while the meds are still fresh.

Eddy is the same big lug as always, right there next to me to see what trouble he can cause. I opened up a new section of the pasture for them as a treat for enduring the shearing. It was the section with the three black gum trees we planted in the fall. I hadn’t even finished hooking up all the electric fences before Eddy started peeling bark off the tree trunks. The little jerk! I had to quickly chase him off and go restring the fence as it was before. My husband will build some sort of fencing to put around the trunks before we open it up again.

My next trick will be to wash and dye all this new fiber. The procedure for the wool is different than for the mohair but I researched and printed it out for my folder in the barn.

The Skinny Legs Girls

I have to decide on this year’s color scheme. Maybe I should start out with the first year’s wool being natural color, no dying at all. I could do Eddy’s mohair in gentle earth tones for a fuzzy contrast. Hmmm, I’ve got to give this some thought. I normally make a day of it so that after I wash the fiber, I get right on with the dying and don’t have to dry or re-wet it in between sessions. However, now I have three times as much to work with.

So, one more “first” on the farm has been faced and conquered. Each new experience gives me a bit more confidence and another skill in my toolkit. I wish someone was giving me badges like they did when I was a little girl scout. I’d have quite the sash to wear by now!

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Crafty Stuff

I’ve been on a creative kick the last couple of weeks and I want to show off a couple of my latest projects. First, here is an old jute rug that had faded in the sun and suffered water damage from rain blowing into the back porch. I restored some of the old color and then painted it with a stencil to make it interesting and camouflage the present and future stains. Down below this picture, I’ll rewind to show the process.

Here is the rug after I soaked it in a 40-gallon trash can with olive green dye. It weighed a ton and was stiff and misshapen. I took a rake and pounded out the lumps until it was more or less flat, then gave it a few days to dry out. Today I used a stencil and painted exterior latex paint over it in twenty blocks. It was tedious but I get such satisfaction from bringing something back to life that it was worth it to me. I really think the result is fantastic!

Second, I have been experimenting with my loom and trying some harder techniques with leftover yarn, just to see if I can make them work. This project used “overshot”, something totally new to me. I had some troubles and learned some things, but the end result was pretty nice. I am okay with some flaws, and the next time will be better due to the things I learned.

Made up into pillow covers
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Shearing Time Is Approaching

I have found a sheep shearer who is willing to swing around by our farm to do the sheep AND the goat. I usually shear Eddy the Angora goat by hand but it would save me so much trouble to have him done by a professional. The shearer reluctantly agreed to adding Eddy to the job, for which I am grateful. I don’t know why he was so hesitant about the goat — maybe because they behave differently from sheep?

Eddy the Angora

Eddy has the most luscious long, curly locks but he is feeling hot and itchy by the end of winter and just wants them off. Same with the sheep — they are wide and heavy and their wool is getting matted and dirty. I see their spindly little legs poking out from under the pile of wool and wonder how they will look after it has been shaved off.

Cookie the Shetland

I am trying to trust that the shearer will come through for me although I had expected him to call by now. I’m paying him well for his time. He said he’d probably charge the same amount if I had six sheep instead of just two because it is more for the travel to the farm and set up. I’m fine with it because the alternative is a long day of struggle on my part. I’m hoping that this time next week I can show the “after” shots.

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Spring is Back On Track

It looks like we survived all the freezing nights, and things are springing up in earnest now. It feels so great to wander the farm to find new sprouts and see and hear the wildlife coming out of hibernation. I spent an hour quietly fishing yesterday and watched a little shorebird prowling the edge of the pond and plucking out treats. I think it has a nest somewhere nearby.

The orchard seems to be doing well now. The peach and apple trees are blooming, although I haven’t seen honeybees on the flowers. I hope the blooms indicate that the trees were not damaged by the freezing nights and I’ll finally get to harvest some fruit this year.

We put in two rhubarb plants last year. One got damaged and is just barely showing a couple shoots, but the other is already in full display of robust leaves and is developing a spectacular bloom. I don’t know how much it will open up because I don’t recall ever seeing a rhubarb bloom before.

I love rhubarb pie, so I am trying to patiently wait till it has gotten a good foothold and won’t mind if I chop off a few of its stalks. I’ve picked the first asparagus, and there is some spinach that over-wintered so had a head start in the garden.

Both my husband and I worked hard all week. he ordered a mountain of mulch and distributed it around the landscaping, one wheelbarrow at a time. I spent my time cleaning out the animals’ living areas. I scrubbed and refreshed the chicken coop. This is such a messy job, I do it only once a year. The chickens were furious that I’d locked them out of their nest boxes while I worked, and squawked angrily the whole time.

I also hauled away most of the old straw from their run and laid it around the bottom of the orchard trees for mulch. It’s probably full of great minerals and nutrition for the tree roots. I had cleaned out the goat shed earlier, and all that dirty straw is still in a pile waiting for me to pick it up and move it out of the barnyard. I need a new burst of energy before I tackle that task. I was tired and filthy by the end of the day, but felt really good about caring for the animals.

I also scrubbed out the back porch of all the winter dust and grime, and added some polish to the poor, tired furniture. Then, we had all my siblings and their spouses over for the first post-vaccination party. It was surreal having so many people here at once, un-masked. I got used to it after several double-takes to remind myself of what the CDC says is safe to do, and even gave some hugs before everyone went home. We grilled sandwiches and I brought out a new coffee cake recipe I had tried.

It’s called a turban, due to the interesting shape. It is a crescent of dough wrapped up around a dried-fruit compote and then tucked inside another thin layer of dough that folds over the top. It was pretty but there was one little pocket of raw dough hiding in the center so if I make it again I’ll have to find a way to cook it a little longer.

All-in-all, I think we have finally come out of winter and are fully into spring. Hooray!

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Protecting the Orchard III

How are ya, Buds?

The weather forecast says the freezing scare is now past us, at least for the next week. Last night I repeated the sprinkling strategy to apply another coat of ice to the orchard. When I looked out the window at first light, I did not see the icy patch that I expected. I went out to look closer and inexplicably, the hose had come apart from the sprinkler and was lying on the ground. That means it poured out for four hours into the field.

It was even colder last night than the night before and when I got up it was only 26 degrees. I don’t know if this negates the whole experiment with sprinkling because the buds were probably damaged anyway. They look okay to me, but I am far from an expert.

I guess I’ll have to give it a month or so and then we’ll see if any fruit forms.

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Sock repair

Let’s divert from my worry over the frozen orchard and switch over to socks. I have come to the point in my knitting journey in which I make all my own socks. It is fun, a great creative outlet, and a step towards sustainability that makes me feel good.

I have tried a number of patterns and have finally settled into one that starts at the toe and works up. I have enough experience now that I no longer have to look at the instructions and I can judge how to change the counting depending on the weight of the yarn and size of the needles. I found a method of casting off at the end that makes the top stretchy so there is no trouble sliding it over the bendy parts of my foot. It is fun.

One of the early socks I did was a much heavier pattern but quite durable and warm. It takes you back and forth over the sole so that it is double thickness, which was entertaining and a challenge to learn. I’ve only done it once, though, because it’s too thick to wear with normal shoes. I was in a stage where would make the toe in a different color just because I liked it. When I made this sock, I grabbed a ball of black yarn for the toe without regard to its properties. I think it was cotton yarn, with the rest of the sock being wool.

So here is the problem I encountered. The contrasting black toe was way too wimpy for a sock. It kept developing holes that I would have to repair with a darning needle. (My mother taught me to darn socks when I was a child.) After the third time that I slipped them on and found a new hole, I decided it was time to either throw them out or find a way to fix them.

I dug through my bowl of hand-spun mohair and picked the color that most matched the sock, and made a new toe-up section. Then I cut off the black toe with the holes and grafted the new green one onto the old sock. With the exception of the visible stitching, I am really happy with it. Is it my imagination, or is that mohair toe a lot softer and warmer than the original cotton one?

This is what I love about making my own stuff. I am free to do lots of experimental things and it is not a stressful situation of measuring and buying expensive supplies. If something doesn’t work, I will just try something else. When something does work, I feel so clever!

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Protecting the Orchard II

This morning I threw on some warm clothes at 5:45 to go out in the dark and check on the orchard. The grass made a gentle crushing sound as I crossed the frosted lawn. Leaving the driveway and approaching the orchard, it changed abruptly to a crackly crunch and I saw through the first light of dawn that everything the sprinkler had touched held a thick coating of ice. Did I just doom my trees to another year of no harvest?

When my husband came downstairs, I moaned about our big mistake. He told me the internet article that recommended this way of protecting from frost said that although it was counter-intuitive, the ice actually keeps the buds warmer than allowing the frost to settle in:

When you use sprinklers to prevent freezing injury, you are using the energy that water releases when it freezes, and changes from a liquid to a solid, to keep the temperature in the ice right at the freezing point – 32 degrees F.

The article goes on to provide lots of detailed measurements for determining when to turn the sprinklers on and off and on what range of cold this will work. I don’t have the skills or the patience to figure out how to take all these measurements, so I will just go on faith and see what happens this year.

I wish it wouldn’t be such a long wait to find out if this was a good or a dumb move.

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Protecting the Orchard

Ok, last April we knew the last freeze was on its way and we lovingly covered the apple and peach trees with sheets to save them from damage. Three nights in a row. The blossoms stayed on the trees and we felt so smart. By mid-season, the peach tree did produce lots of fruit but the apple trees flopped, four trees producing a total of two apples.

Once again, we are expecting temperatures down to 28 degrees by early morning tomorrow, enough to destroy our chances for apples. I am trying another strategy to win the game this year. We set up a high sprinkler that reaches all the trees’ buds and set it on a timer to spray from 1:30 am to 5:30 am. (I could have set an alarm and gone out in my pajamas, but I think the timer is a better idea.)

Will this work? Who knows. wish us luck!

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