Thursday, May 28, 2015

Great Lakes Fiber Festival & Waiting

Here I am in our booth at the Great Lakes Fiber Festival this past weekend.  Tari and I had a great time.  The weather was perfect during the day, though a little windy, which caused some issues since we are the first booth inside the door and the wind was blowing into the barn.  Friday night was cold, but we hunkered down in our sleeping bags and I for one had an alpaca shawl over my head, so we did all right.  It was 37 when we awoke Saturday morning.  Sales were somewhat slow, though Tari did really well with her dye plants, which you can see there on the floor.  She is really into dyeing with natural dyes and she grows many of the plants that can be used for that purpose.  I did not buy a lot, though I did buy a gorgeous shetland fleece which I am sending off with an alpaca fleece to have processed into roving.  I may make Sam and myself sweaters.  It will be a very nice blend.  We will be back again next year.

 The 2 alpacas in the front of this photo are the 2 I am waiting on to deliver crias.  They are still not here.  Maybe next week I will have better news on that front.  They will come when they are ready and not before.  After 16 years of crias, I know this, but it is still aggravating to wait and wait and wait....

Speaking of waiting, we are waiting for a weather forecast with 3 or 4 days of no chance of rain or storms.  Our hay is in need of cutting, but once cut, it needs to dry before baling.  This is the big field that Sam will put in round bales.  He has everything operating as it should, but we need the weather to cooperate.

 I was able to spend some time weeding the garden the other day, and then it poured rain and now it needs weeding again.  The lettuce (foreground) is about ready to start thinning, which means salad tomorrow night!  The carrots and beets, behind the lettuce, are now big enough that I can discriminate between them and the weeds, so I am working on that.  There are onions to the rear, squash and pumpkins to the right rear, and corn which Sam just planted over the weekend to the right of the lettuce, carrots and beets.

We moved the tomatoes and peppers this year to a sunnier spot next to the horse barn.  This necessitated  putting a fence around it to keep the chickens out.  We hope these plants will do better here than in the shadier area they have always been in in the past.   

We have been having fresh asparagus, but it is probably about done, so I am glad it is lettuce time.

I have not caught sight of the beavers this week, but I took a photo of their engineering endeavors on our walk last night.  It is truly amazing the amount of work these creatures have put in to build themselves a home.  I really need to go over there some evening without dogs and sit for a while and see if I can catch them in action.  Soon.


I have been getting some fiber-y stuff done, since I am done dyeing for now.  I have started to put the warp for my alpaca blanket on my loom!  This whole process has been a learning experience.  I am taking it slowly, so it will likely be next week before I even consider starting to weave.  One step at a time.  It looks pretty cool so far though, doesn't it?

Another learning experience is this table runner I just took off my small loom.  This is nothing like I had planned it looking like, or at least not much.  Its a long story that would not make much sense to anyone who does not weave, but I managed to get something I like out of what started out wrong.  It will probably shrink when I wash it and become a dresser scarf in Rowdy's room (our guest room).

And I finally cast on a lace shawl with beads I have been wanting to start for a while.  The yarn is a handspun gradient in wool and silk.  I started at the top with the lightest color and the shawl will get larger and shift to a lacey pattern and end with the darkest color.  It will be beaded throughout.  The pattern is Out of Darkness  and I have knit 2 or 3 other patterns by the same designer and I love knitting them.

Grover and I have confirmed entries in 2 upcoming trials, one in about 2 weeks in Sharonville Ohio and another one, this one a 3 day trial, in Latrobe, PA over the 4th of July weekend.  I will be staying with Mom for the first one and sharing a hotel room with a fellow dog club member for the second.  I am ready to get back in the ring and see if we can't finish our Novice Jumpers title.  We only need 1 more Q in that and we move up to Open.

Speaking of Grover, here is what he loves to do and why I will never see the beavers up close while he is with me:


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Done, Done and Done...Now on to the Next Thing

I think we could fit another Aussie or 2 on this stump!

Yup, finish one thing and it's on to the next.  A couple of big things are behind me, shearing for one.  That's probably one of the biggest jobs of the year, though not as big a job as it was when we had 50+ alpacas here on the farm.  We sheared our 21 on 4 evenings over a 10 day period and in the middle of that I went to help shear 16 on Saturday at a friend's farm.  There were many more hands for that job than just the 2 of us at our place, so it went much more quickly.  I'm glad to have it behind us.

The next thing I finished is the dyeing for the upcoming Great Lakes Fiber Festival, which is in only 3 days.  I dyed 8 "colorways" of yarn in varying amounts depending on the dyeing method, for a total of 45 skeins dyed.  I can dye more skeins in the same batch if I am laying skeins out and applying the dye in a controlled pattern, so I usually do 8 of those at a time, but not always.  For my kettle-dyed colors, I can fit only so many skeins in the dyebath at a time without crowding, so I will do only 5 or 6 of those at a time.  I am pretty happy with how these all came out.  All but 2 colors are repeats of colorways I have done before.  Even taking good notes and trying to do things exactly the same, sometimes my results are quite different from one batch to the next.  
All these skeins are now labeled and ready to take to the show this weekend.  I still have a nice variety of 100% alpaca yarn and rovings and batts to sell as well.  

I also added additional boxes to my 2 beehives.  Never having started a hive with a nucleus colony before I was worried about when they would need room to expand, and I needn't have worried.  They would have been fine for another week or 2 I think.  But now they have lots of room to grow.  Another thing I did when I went in was to open up the entrance a little more.  For a new hive, I use and entrance reducer at first which makes it easier for the new hive to protect their home from invaders.  As the colony builds up in numbers, they are better able to defend the larger entrance and they need more space to come and go.  So I turn the reducer to a larger opening and eventually I will remove it altogether.  You can see all the activity in front of the hives, but this was right after I went in and disturbed them.  They did sting me.  Twice. The very top boxes are actually feeder boxes.  There is a quart jar of sugar water in there for the bees to eat.  They went through a lot at first, but I think they are finding enough forage now that the sugar syrup consumption has dropped considerably.  So that is another job done for now, though I will continue to replenish their sugar water a couple times a week and will open the hives again in a couple weeks to see how all is going.

Sam is still working on getting the trees cleaned up in my practice field.  Most of the tree debris is gone now, but there are stumps remaining, which make mowing a chore.  The other  night he lit a stump and it was still smoldering in the morning.  The air was redolent of pine smoke when I woke up.  This weekend, he is planning to rent a stump grinder, which he has been told is tedious work, or "one stump per beer" as someone put it.  I won't be here for that fun.

So now on to new things.  First, we are still waiting for 2 crias to arrive.  Both mothers-to-be look like they are ready to pop anytime.  Both are bagged up, meaning their udders appear to be full of milk.  But since I do not know exactly when they were bred (they were in a pasture with the male from mid-May to mid-June) it could be another week or 2 before they deliver.  It is always a waiting game, though, even when you know the exact date of conception.  We have had full-term deliveries anywhere from 11 months to just over a year of gestation.  There is no hard and fast rule with alpacas.

Hay season is upon us.  The hayfields have benefited greatly from hot weather followed by a couple good rains.  Sam has spent a lot of time working on the big green tractor to get it to where it will work with the round baler he bought.  He did not anticipate that it would be such a difficult process, parts for the Deutz tractor being hard if not impossible to acquire.  But I think he finally has it about ready to go.  Stay tuned.

And it is Festival Time!  In just 2 days, Tari and I will be off to the Great Lakes Fiber Festival for 3 days of camping and fiber vending and shopping.  I missed last year because Sam was on a fishing trip and I was waiting for crias to arrive.  No fishing trip this year!  2 years ago Tari and I ended up sleeping in our van because the nights dipped into the 30's.  I think this year will be much better.  This was our booth that year.  I am really looking forward to this weekend.

I have sent in entries for 2 agility trials so far this summer.  I am attending one in Sharonville Ohio (Queen City Dog Training Club) in June.  This is close to where I went to high school, so I hope to see some friends while I am there and Grover and I will be staying with Mom.  And yesterday, I sent off an entry for the 4th of July weekend  for a 3 day trial in Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh.  More details on that to come.  Though for this one, we will be sharing a hotel room with one of my fellow dog club members and her dog(s).  I am not sure if she is bringing one or two.  I am sure Grover will love this arrangement.  I am just wondering how the hotel room will handle Grover and 2 border collies, one of which is just a puppy!  We shall see.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bees + Yarn + Shearing = Not Enough Hours in the Day

I have a lot of white doors that all need a new coat of paint this year.  Here is one I got done. 

And one in progress........

I missed posting last week. The timing was just off and I didn't get a chance to sit down and put something together, so this week I have a lot of content.

I'll try to be somewhat chronological and maybe I won't leave anything out that way.  A week ago Monday, Tari and I went up to Amish country and picked up my yarn at Morningstar Fiber Mill.  I  have to say I was really disappointed with my rug yarn.  They are using a different core than they used to and I had a lot of loss in processing, which I think may be due to that.  The yarn is thinner and there is much less of it  than I had expected to have.  The only difference I know of was the core.  But my 2 ply alpaca wool yarn is lovely.  I have 79 skeins, about 14 pounds. It came out to 60 % alpaca and 40% fine wool.  

 In this photo, 14 skeins have already been removed from one bag to be dyed.  I have a lot of dyeing to do in the next 2 weeks before the Great Lakes Fiber Show on Memorial Day weekend. 

Thursday, April 30th, was our treasured Rowdy's 10th birthday!  It is so hard to believe he has been with us almost 10 years (we got him at 10 weeks old).  Here is what he looked like when he came to live with us.  He is here with me at the office today, keeping me company.  

Friday I put together 10 frames  for the deep boxes for the new bees, which were arriving the following day.  In the past, my bees have come in a "package", which is just a screened box full of bees with a queen suspended in a cage in the center of the box.  I have had to dump the package of bees into a hive box, then leave the queen in the cage.  The queen cage had an entry/exit hole in it which was plugged with a piece of candy or marshmallow, which the attending bees eventually eat through in order to free her so she can start laying eggs and building up the hive.  Keeping her confined in the cage for this time allows the worker bees to become bonded to her so that they will protect her, literally with their lives.  I have always used medium sized boxes on  my hives as they are smaller and therefore lighter when full of bees and honey.  But this year, my bees came in "nucleus hives" or "nucs".  The nuc is a box in which there are frames.  There are bees and there is a queen who is already laying eggs, there is capped brood, there is honey already being made.
This is the nuc with a couple empty frames in it.  The frames in the nuc fit in a large, or deep bee box, so I had to have two deep boxes on hand and 5 more frames for each box since the nucs had 5 frames.   So I picked up my 2 nucs of bees on Saturday evening at dusk.  Why at dusk?  Because the bees in the nucs need to be able to leave the nuc during the day to forage and do what bees do.  By dusk, most of the bees are back at home in their little hive and the entry can be closed up with most of the hive's population inside. Very early Sunday morning, I opened each nuc and carefully transferred each of the 5 frames that were inside it into the waiting deep boxes.  

 It was interesting to note that one nucleus hive was noticeably stronger than the other even as I was installing them in the hives.  The hive on the right, or foreground, in this photo was very strong.  And yesterday, upon sitting and observing the 2 hives early in the day, it was easy to tell that that hive was just busier.  They were coming in with loads of pollen and I could see that they were backed up at the hive exit like airplanes at O'Hare waiting to get out.  I just hope the other hive will catch up soon.  I'll bee keeping an eye on them.

Next, after the bees, came dyeing.  I dyed on both Monday and yesterday (Tuesday).  I have one batch of yarn hanging to dry, though I did not photograph it yet, and one batch still soaking in its post-dyeing wash.  This is a colorway I have dyed at least twice before and I always sell out of it.  It is wet in this photo and will look much nicer once washed and dried.  I tried a new colorway with the first batch I did and I'm not sure I like it.  I may like it better once it is dry. 

And on Monday, we started shearing!  Most of the year, the alpacas have about 80% of the barn for their use,  but during shearing season, I have to re-arrange the barn to give us room to work around the shearing table, so I did that Monday afternoon. When Sam got home from work on Monday, we were ready to go and we got 6 of the 13 alpacas in the main barn done before dark, including the 2 pregnant girls.  Our plan is to shear again this evening and Friday evening, and then we should be almost done.  

Here are a couple of shorn alpacas and a couple un-shorn alpacas.  I am glad we are getting this done as it is forecast to be around 90 degrees this weekend.  And to  think I was wearing coveralls just this past weekend!   It is hard on the alpacas when it gets so hot. Especially when they are not yet shorn.  Here is what Peg likes to do to keep cool 

 I filled that little pool for her yesterday.  It is from last year and I think I originally bought it for the dogs.  It's a bit small and this morning I noticed a rather large hole in it that wasn't there yesterday.  I need to remember to stop and buy a new one on the way home today.

Another thing I am happy about which I have not mentioned in a while is the beaver pond.  I was afraid that the beavers were no longer in residence as I had not seen much sign of new construction and I had found a snare near their lodge in early February.  It was not a legal snare as it had no identification on it.  I had to remove it from the water to determine this.  So sorry about that whoever set it.  I had some conversations with my neighbors this past weekend and was delighted to discover that they are all in agreement with me that the beavers are doing no harm where they are and we all want them to be left alone.  And then on Saturday, I saw a beaver!  This is only the second time I have seen one of them since I noticed their presence back in October (?).  I have noticed renewed work on their dams and the pond is getting bigger.  I plan to go take several photos of it in the next week or so as time allows. This beaver habitat is on national forest land and no one's farm fields or roads or anything else are in danger of flooding, so I hope these animals will be left in peace for me and anyone else who cares to to enjoy and observe.

And work is still being done to remove the pine trees from Grover's and my training area....


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring is Burtsting Out

There are myriads of daffodils in bloom on my neighbor's property, so I took the pups up this morning and photographed them amongst the flowers.  I call this one Daffy Dogs.

My gosh, things are just popping out.  We had very warm weather over then weekend, and then some rain and a cold front, so this morning we actually had a very light frost. These tulips did not appreciate it.

The woods are starting to green up and the grass in the hayfield is tall enough to ripple in the wind, which we have had plenty of.

 Here you can see the trees starting to leaf out and the hay in the foreground of the pasture which is being enjoyed by the older girls and the mothers of the two weanlings.

There are buds on this vine growing on the gate. 

 And on the peach tree.

Grover and I attended our dog club's last trial until September this past weekend.  We only went on Friday and Sunday, though it was a 3 day trial.  This way I did not have to stay in a hotel and I got some work done outside on Saturday.  We had a very successful weekend.  We ran both days in Novice Jumpers with Weaves and Q'd and got first place both days.  These were our first Qs in jumpers and now we need one more to move up to the Open Jumpers classWe also ran in Open Standard both days, and while I was very pleased with our run on Friday, we had a couple of errors and did not qualify.  However, on Sunday, not only did we qualify, but we took first place in our class.  And there were quite a few 20" dogs entered.  Since our club is not hosting another trial until September, I will hopefully be attending some trials at other venues over the summer.  That is my plan anyway.  I'd like to do one a month.

On Saturday, in addition to planting lettuce in the garden and tomatoes and herbs in pots inside and finishing up the painting on the front windows,  I moved my agility equipment out of the way so Sam could cut down a few more of the pine trees that are in that field.  When we bought this place in '98, this little area was chock full of white pines, which I think were intended to be Christmas trees.  But they had not been cut or pruned and were so big that there was no space between them.  We cleared out most of them to use the space as pasture and over the years we have cut down more as they have grown bigger and bigger.

Sam will split this wood up into small pieces for us to use in the maple syrup evaporator.  But first I have to get out and cut all the limbs off and move them to a place where we can burn them.  Then I think we plan to finally rent a stump grinder and get rid of these 3 stumps as well as the ones left from the last time we harvested trees.  Then I can hopefully keep my agility area mowed.

This week I also replaced all the "heddles" on my big loom.  I decided since I would be threading hand-spun alpaca through the holes in the center of these heddles I would rather have nice smooth new ones than the old rather dirty flat steel heddles.  Look how nice and shiny those are!  And I can slide them across the bars with one finger.  So nice.

Here you can see the difference between the new heddles on the left and the old ones on the right.  I just this morning finished putting the loom back together and hopefully next week I will start to put the warp on the loom for my alpaca blanket.

 In the meantime, I am knitting a little shrug/cardigan that my mother requested.  It is the Abria  sweater and I am doing the cropped version and using a natural colored cotton/ silk yarn.  I hope Mom will like it.  She wants it to go with a dress she plans to wear to a wedding in June. 

My yarn is ready to be picked up at the mill, so I plan to make a trip up there this coming Monday.  Then I will be getting out the dyepots!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Short Post this Week

I have not had time to get out with my camera, so I have almost no photos, which makes for a boring post.  But there you have it.....

I am delighted to say that my alpaca rug that I entered into the local art show took first place in textiles and 3D!  Its a shame that the 2 are grouped together, because I don't know how the judge decides between totally different mediums.  I am glad I am not the one who has to decide.  I am very pleased and even more so that not only did I get first place, but this rug and another one I had for sale at the Art Center both sold!  The Monroe Arts Center has art from member artists on display for sale and is open 3 days a week for people to stop in and see what our local artists are doing.  By the way, that is my father-in-law's "junk" cat sculpture to the left of my rug.  Talk about keeping it in the family, my mother-in-law also had several paintings entered in the show!

The other big news I have this week is that I FINISHED the spinning for the blanket I plan to weave!  I washed it all and hung it out to dry on Sunday.  There are over 5500 yards of 100% alpaca 2-ply yarn in 4 colors:  white, fawn, brown and black.  I looked at past blog posts and determined that I was spinning for this in June of 2013.  It is a long time, but considering that except for the white yarn, which I spun from some fleeces I had processed into roving (ready to spin fiber), the rest was hand prepped with either hand carders (black) or on the drum carder ( brown and fawn).  I am very pleased with how this yarn came out.  It is gratifying to take all that yarn (we're talking 3 miles of yarn here) and put it in to wash and see the magic that occurs.  Carding and spinning forces the fibers to be somewhat straight and compacted, but once water is added, they return to their original state as much as possible, which means they fluff up and become lofty.  And for alpaca, this yarn was no exception.  It is beautiful. I just hope I don't ruin it when I put it on the loom.  When will that be? Maybe I will start next week. I have purchased new "heddles" for my loom which I think will be kinder to the yarn than the old flat metal heddles that were on there and so right now my loom is in pieces  getting cleaned up and ready for new hardware.  More on that next week.

Upcoming:  this Friday and Sunday, Grover and I will be in Zanesville at our 5th agility trial.  We are still in the Novice class in Jumpers with Weaves (JWW) so this weekend's goal is to Q in that at least once.  We have not Q'd at all in JWW.  We have moved up in standard to the Open class and since our first attempt at that was a complete fail, I would just like to get a couple good runs in there.

Also, my yarn is ready for pick-up at Morningstar Fiber Mill, so I need to plan a trip up there so I can get to dyeing for the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster over Memorial Day weekend.  I will NOT miss it this year.

And this coming Tuesday, I am taking Rowdy back to the Veterinary hospital at Ohio State for a re-check on his right hock joint.  If anything it is more swollen than when he went in in November and his activity level has dropped off again despite the medication.  He will be 10 on April 30th, and he still has several years ahead of him and I want his quality of life to be good, not marginal.  He will not be happy unless he can be active.  As it is, he wants to catch the flippy flopper and chase squirrels and swim in the pond and it is hard to try to limit these acitivites.

By my calculations, we could have 2 crias due sometime in the next month or so.  I do not have exact breeding dates, which is different than in the past, so we'll see how that works out.  Also, soon it will be time to get out the shears.  We have 21 alpacas to shear this year.  I think we did 22 last year.  So much easier than 50!


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Outdoor Time Begins!

Grover loves to be the center of attention
We have had some glorious spring weather this week as well as storms and torrential rains.  But our weekend was beautiful.  I decided to start off Sunday by moving some alpacas around.  I had spent time Saturday doing maintenance on the 3-sided run-in building in the small pasture across from the guest house, as well as clearing some of the brush off the fences on that field.  The grass is growing nicely and last year's crias  are now over 10 months old and yet to be weaned.  The best way to do this is to move the mamas out of sight and out of mind (well not really out of mind).  So I moved Dulcinea and Tempest along with my two oldest girls, Peg and Chiquita, and Miracle all down to the summer pasture.  The two "weaners" are doing fine.  There is some whining going on, but they will be just fine and their mothers can put some weight back on.

It was a gorgeous morning and I really needed to update my website so I went out to take alpaca photos.  I have no good way to latch the barn door from the inside, so it wasn't long before Rowdy opened the door and he and Grover joined me with the alpacas and the LGDs in the back pasture.  Rowdy and Grover are generally not allowed in the alpaca fields as Rowdy has a very hard time controlling his strong (untrained) herding instinct.  But he was much more interested in dog play.  So this happened:

And this:
And this:


The body language here is too funny

I truly think a good time was had by all.  You can be sure that Rowdy was the instigator of all mischief, and I had a hard time limiting this to the 5 photos here.

In addition to moving alpacas, I moved some of my agility equipment around into a different configuration and I got my deck furniture (or most of it) out of the barn.  I hosed pounds of mud off the buggy (and Sam said the neighbors gave him a hard time about not knowing it was him without all the mud) and Sam has been cleaning out the garage.  That is a chore that has needed doing in a big way.

We have had rain and thunderstorms daily since Tuesday.  Last night it seemed one thunderstorm after another rolled through all night and dawn brought torrential rain.  When I went out to do chores, the water was almost up to the level of the big bridge.  When I came out of the alpaca barn 15 minutes later, it looked like this

Grover thought about crossing here but wisely changed his mind.  Though to be honest, I am somewhat reluctant to cross the footbridge when the water is racing under it from edge to edge.  It is a little unsettling.  

For a little while the chickens have a waterfront property

Sam has been working on repairing my loom by using a metal plate.  However, he put it on the wrong side of the post and where it is it interferes with the handle that tightens the warp when I advance it, so he will need to relocate it to the other side of the post.  Once that is done, I think it will work just fine.  I finished spinning the last of the the white yarn for my alpaca blanket and I am now working on the very last skein, about 2 additional ounces of a fawn color.  Once that is spun and plied, I will wash all the yarn and hang it outside to dry and then I will be ready to start measuring warp.  I added up all the yardage so far and I have over 5000 yards spun.  I started spinning it in the fall of 2013, so it has been a while in the spinning.  This blanket should be about 72" X 50" when woven and wet finished.  I have never done something on this scale before, so I hope it goes well.  I'd rather it not become a dog bed.  But then again, I don't know how I will keep that from happening!