Barn Cats and Lazy Chickens

I’m so lucky that both the barn cats we adopted four years ago turned out to be the kind that love humans. Emmie is a little stand-offish when her “brother” is present and she hisses at him to make it clear that he is not welcome to share in the attention. Mickey is oblivious, though, and is right there winding between my feet and rubbing against my ankles when I come to the barn.

We had a sunny day last week and I went out to prune the peach tree. As I walked around it, nipping at the branches that did not conform to the upside-down umbrella configuration, Mickey surprised me by leaping straight up into the cradle of the tree and staring me down. He has that tiger-stare all figured out. All he wants is to be picked up to cuddle into my shoulder.

The chickens are another story. We had gone almost two months with no eggs at all, and I decided to do something about it. I’d already tried every trick I could find to get them back on track, but I was feeding, watering, and cleaning up after 20 birds with nothing in return.

I finally put an ad out on Craig’s list – Hens that have stopped laying, FREE. I do not have what it takes to slaughter an animal, but if someone takes them off my hands, I was prepared to not think about what would happen next. Sure enough, I got an email the next day and an enthusiastic guy arranged to come and pick up the seven I was offering. (They were the ones I had never named, so I guess that really does make a difference.) The night before he came, I captured all of them and put them in a caged area by themselves, covered overnight to stay warm. I didn’t sleep well, worrying about them out there separated from their flock.

The next day, the guy quit communicating altogether and I got irritated. I had put in all that emotional energy and physical effort for nothing. I dismantled the cage and gave them a reprieve. Now, interestingly, I’m beginning to get eggs! They are brown and white ones, most likely from the hens who were on the edge of being exiled just a couple days ago.

What’s the moral to this story? Maybe: Why did the chicken lay the egg? … To stay off the dinner table.

Posted in Farm Animals | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Some Recent Weaving Experiments

After all the detailed instruction-following required to make the pretty placemats that were my last weaving project, I felt like going free range and weaving up some of my stray yarn. I did a fast, undisciplined job of warping the loom and learned yet again that I HAVE to consult the instructions regardless of how sure I am that I know it all. Grrrr. It took twice as long as it should have because I had to string, unstring, untangle, and finally tie on a warp about twelve inches wide. I’d been shooting for about sixteen inches width, but I got so mad about the tangled mess that I just threw away a pile that I’d measured and cut.

I’d made a pretty yarn in a blending/spinning class this summer and could hardly wait to see what I could make out of it. The resulting fabric is very nice, although shorter than I thought it would be. It was made from a combination of wool, mohair, silk, and alpaca and was thick and soft. I’m using it for a decorative accent on our living room coffee table.

I recommend the book on my table, “Creatrix Rising”, by a blogging friend of mine, Stephanie Raffelock. It is aimed towards women like myself – done with child raising, done working for a paycheck, and coming into their own as another kind of creator. That’s my description, anyway, and I found it really inspiring.

So, the warp I’d measured was way longer than what I was able to use with the skein of craft yarn, so I looked around for something else to keep weaving. I grabbed four or five balls of heavy mohair yarn that I was storing in a bowl. I liked the blend of colors, so I decided to randomly mix and match them and see how long the resulting creation would come out. It is long enough for a decorative table runner and I’m really happy with the result.

This was fun and I like what I got, but the next project will go back to following a pattern. I have several projects planned for Christmas presents and I haven’t quite figured them out yet, so I’d better get a move on!

Posted in Fiber crafts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Elusive Raspberry Shade

I’m still working on my quest to get the yarn my friend wants, in the right weight and color. I decided it is so tricky to get a consistent color from a dye lot that I make up by myself that I’d just go and buy it off the internet instead. I ordered “raspberry sorbet”, and voila! A good, solid raspberry pink. I did a little batch of saffron yellow just for some variety. This was on Eddy the goat’s latest shearing.

I’ve gotten experienced enough now, that I sheared him in a couple hours, washed it and dyed the first batch all the same day. His hair had not grown as much as it usually does by October, but it is enough to get the job done. I carded it over the next few days as it dried, and have already spun up three hundred yards. It is not as intense a color as I’d expected, but it will work.

I wanted to also do some wool from the sheep in the raspberry color to compare them. The wool is already carded and stuffed into bags in the closet, so I decided to take a chance and try dying it in the batts rather than spinning it first. I knew I was risking a big felted mess, but I was very slow and cautious, not changing any temperatures abruptly and not agitating the fiber any more than I felt I needed to do to get the color all the way through the batt.

I moved what was left of the mohair to the side and laid out the batts to dry. But then I couldn’t stand the suspense and decided to unwind the batts and stretch them across the table so they would dry quicker. Actually, I was afraid I might find them to be solid bricks of felt, so unrolling them was a sneak peak at how bad it might be. It came out a really nice solid color, darker and more consistent than the mohair. When it was dry, I ripped it into smaller chunks and fed it back through the drum carder and it went smoothly and easily. Whew!

I spun the first hundred yards of wool yarn today and am washing it up to see if it is as nice as I hope. I’ll give my friend the option of wool or mohair, whichever has the properties she likes best. I’ll use the one she doesn’t choose because I like them both.

Posted in Fiber crafts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Be Like a Machine?

I have a project that I don’t know how to complete. A friend loves the idea of home-grown, home-spun yarn to make a little sweater for her granddaughter. She showed me the pattern and told me the color she wants, and offered to buy the yarn it if I would spin it for her. It didn’t sound that hard, and I wanted to please my friend, but I am discovering that the consistency that can be achieved by machines on a factory floor does not come so easily on the farm.

This requires a set of skills that I am still just developing:

  • How to dye a large amount of fiber in the same color if it doesn’t all fit into one batch of dye solutions, aka dye-lot
  • How to get just the exact color (raspberry) that is requested
  • How to spin in a consistent yarn weight, and the right one

So, I have my engineering problem-solving hat on and am learning through trial and error just what it will take to make this work. I spun the first batch from Cookie’s wool, which I hadn’t washed that well and had lots of waxy lanolin still in it. I think this “spinning in the grease” method made it easier to keep the yarn thin and it ended up in what yarn stores call “sport weight”. It is thin and light. One batt made 220 yards. This one I spun before dying and in a previous post I showed how I dyed it in two shades just to see how that would work.

The next batt was from the other sheep, and I guess I’d washed the fleece a lot more thoroughly because it was light and fluffy with no waxy feel. This one I dyed before spinning and the variation in the colors was easy to even out as I spun, assuming I wanted that to happen.

The second skein made only 120 yards and it came out in a heavier weight, more like what they call “worsted”. The thickness of the yarn makes a huge difference when you are knitting clothing. Using the wrong size yarn will cause the size of the finished item to be way different than you intended. (I learned that the hard way!) I’ve always wondered why yarn in the store is measured in ounces instead of yards, because you always have to calculate the length. That seems kind of a silly way to present it. But, if roughly the same amount of weight per batt creates about the same amount of space taken up – whether in thick yarn and big needles or thin yarn and skinny needles. Maybe weight does make more sense after all.

I have read that one difference between home-spun and machine-spun wool is in the stretch. The machine keeps a strong, consistent tension in the fiber that doesn’t happen between the spinner’s fingers. Machine-spun may shrink a lot more due to this initial stretching out of the springy fiber.

It seems that the more I learn, the more I discover that I don’t know. Ignorance is bliss. It’s just like so many other things in life. Humility is hard-won sometimes.

Posted in Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Weaving and Yarn Experiments

I joined the local Handweavers’ Guild this year to get some help understanding why my loom was giving me so much trouble. One member was especially kind and helped me identify things I was doing that were getting in the way, so I bravely launched into a complicated project with my fingers crossed. It was a little hairy at the beginning, but once I got going it went well!

Here is a placemat I made with a technique called “overshot” that can create intricate geometric patterns. To me, it was like magic. Sure, I made mistakes as always, but I’m pretty proud of how well it went. The one problem I ran into did not show up till I was all done. Apparently, I was not consistent in my technique because the first placemat was 21 inches, the second 22, and the last two were a whopping 23 inches! It had never occurred to me that the length would be variable. I guess it is logical but I’d just assumed that if you follow the pattern, you’ll get what you expect as a result. I guess when we use them I’ll be able to set out large plates, dessert bowls, and lots of special silverware and glasses. Everything will fit on these massive place settings!

I am now excited to start another of the projects for which I’d bought yarn a few months ago before the gardening chores took over my life. I feel confident that I can at least handle the loom, so that my inexperience will be my only major obstacle.

Another thing I was wishing for was to get started spinning and handling the sheep’s wool that was sheared back in April. I have it all cleaned and carded in nice soft batts in the closet. I took one batt and spun it up into 220 yards of 2-ply yarn. Then I decided to experiment with dying it in multiple shades. I found that you need to get the water down to a pH of about 4 in order for the dye to bond well with the fiber. I used vinegar for that and tested it with my husband’s wine-making test strips. Then I had to slowly bring up the water temperature with the wool in it because sudden temperature changes will shock wool and felt it up (or so they tell me.)

Next, I wanted to have the skein come out with a shifting color. I mixed the first color and soaked the wool till it had absorbed the dye. Then, I hung the skein from above and dangled the ends in the pot while I added a new color. This seemed to work pretty well. I washed it up really well afterwards to get the excess dye out and also because the wool was almost waxy with lanolin when I spun it and I needed to get that out to soften the fibers. When I went to hang it to dry, I untied too many of the ties and it got badly tangled, forcing me to spend an hour straightening it all out. I hope won’t make that mistake again, but it wasn’t the first time!

In the end, here is my first skein of variegated yarn. Now I have to decide if it is practical to dye all this yarn after it has been spun or whether I should do it in the batt form first and then spin it. So many things to learn!

Posted in Farm, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Short Trip to the Market

One of the best thing about living here is that the produce section of our local market is just out the back door. I was thinking about what we need for the next few days of meals and decided to see what the farm still had to offer. Parsnips and carrots tonight! There were also a few summer squash ready to bring in, and a little cantaloupe for dessert. I think I’ll cut up a few of the last cucumbers for a healthy snack and bake some bread to eat with the raspberry jam I cooked up last night.

I picked the last four of the eight apples we got this year. I still don’t know how to tell if they are totally ripe, but they look done. Maybe a little Waldorf salad? I guess I’ll have to head back out and pick a little lettuce first and get it crisping up in the fridge.

In the wine aisle, I see about twelve gallons of white Michigan wine in the works. The yeast has done its job and the juice has been racked off into bottles to let the debris settle. It is very milky but once the old yeast by-products precipitate out it will be clear and beautiful. Making the wine is my husband’s project but I love helping to drink it.

The animals are not contributing much right now. The chickens haven’t laid an egg for a month! I did some research last night and this may be due to stress as the eight young hens try to find their place in the flock. Or, it could be a worm infestation. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth all around the run and the coop and added a little to their food. This is said to be a remedy for that problem. I did mysteriously lose one hen last week, so perhaps that is the cause. Either way, I have to go to the commercial market to bring home eggs now and it feels quite strange to have to put that on the grocery list.

The goat and sheep were quite pleased to receive the tops from the carrots and parsnips. Eddy is due to have his coat sheared in October. I can’t believe it is time already. With his last haircut being a professional buzz cut, it doesn’t seem as long as it usually is by shearing day. I will wait till later in the month and give it another half inch. I am still toying with the idea of having the ewes bred in November if I can find someone willing to do the job. Well, I mean, a ram would surely be willing, but it is his shepherd that I have to convince. I feel like I am soliciting.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Gardening | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Lessons Learned About Grapes

Ok, last year I thought I was smart to prune my concord grapes in the early summer, giving the lovely little green baby bunches lots of sunshine and air. At the end of the season, I was so disappointed to see no grapes at all! I figured I must have made a mistake when I pruned.

This year, we went out in late winter and pruned the vines down to the trunks, according to grapevine lore. I was optimistic when the leaves got growing fast and bunches of fruit were forming again. I resisted the urge to prune and just let them do their thing all summer. Today I went out to pick, and found… raisins!

I had to go get the pruners and cut out a lot of ten-to-fifteen foot young vines just so I could find the fruit. It was so disappointing that most of the grapes had dried up and fallen off before I got a chance to pick them. The first two years, I held off on picking until the yellow-jacket wasps were all over them, thinking that was the sign they were at their peak. That was the clue I was looking for this year. If I hadn’t forced the issue and hacked away at the jungle, I would have missed even the small amount that was still hanging on.

After methodically moving down both sides of the vineyard and gathering all the grapes I could find, I collected about a third of what I had been hoping for. I did bring them in and cleaned and sorted them, so that now I am running two batches through the juicer. I guess the good news is that it will take less time than a bigger haul would have.

I am guessing that the key to a successful harvest will be treating the vines early for the fungal diseases which probably were the culprit. It seems that our farm suffers from all forms of these. The chestnut tree needs to be sprayed in the spring to prevent blight. The orchard leaves need to be sprayed so they don’t curl up and the peaches need protection from bugs that eat them from the inside out. The vegetable garden suffers from powdery mildew towards the end of summer. It is quite frustrating.

In the end, I still got seven beautiful purple quarts of grape juice. Each one is a treasure and I drink them sparingly or give them as gifts to just the most special grape juice appreciators.

Posted in Farm, Gardening | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Gardening | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Farm, Fiber crafts, Gardening | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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!?

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Beekeeping, Farm, Gardening | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Farm Animals | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Gardening | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Farm, Gardening | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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!”
Posted in Farm Animals, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Fiber crafts | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Farm Animals, Fiber crafts | Tagged , | Leave a comment