Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May is Here

I have to say that, though it has been rather cool, the wildflowers have been spectacular this spring.  We had a very warm few days, but then the cool weather and rainy days have set in, which is more typical for this time of year I think.  The trees are leafing out and everywhere I look in the woods there are tiny colorful flowers and green, green green.

Just after my last post, Grover and I ran in our April agility trial.  It was a 3 day trial.  Our first day was our best.  We got second place and our Novice title in FAST first thing in the morning and then got first place and our Excellent title in standard.  I consider that a success.  So for Saturday we moved up to Open FAST and Masters standard.    The FAST class is always first thing in the morning and I have been entering it to get Grover out and on the course before the standard class in an effort to get some of the crazy out of him.  It really does seem to help make that standard run a little better.  Unfortunately, we did not Q again all weekend, but our other runs were pretty good, except for Sunday's standard run which was terrible (no FAST class on Sunday).  It was our first run of the day and Grover often does not do well on the first run.  But in all I was pleased with the majority of our runs.  I have entered a trial in June in the Cincinnati area and will know next week whether I get in or not.  If they have too many entries they will draw to see who gets in.  We are not trialing in May.  I wanted to go to a trial in Pennsylvania, but could not find anyone to room with, so decided against going.  That's ok.  There's a lot to do this month already.  
This Saturday our dog club is holding an Obedience Trial in Marietta and while we are not entered, I will be there all day Saturday to work.  I have never seen an obedience trial, so it will be new to me.

I have planted more lettuce and beets and  swiss chard in the garden.  I have tomatoes and peppers and herbs started in pots.  We are already enjoying the lettuce Sam planted under the cold frame as well as aspargus.  Sam picked some wild ramps last week and we have had those with the asparagus and in salads.  They are very good.  Kind of garlic-y/onion-y in flavor.  Sam has been quite disappointed in the lack of morels this spring.  He has found very few. 

We need to get our 5 alpacas shorn and may do that Sunday if the weather is good.  This will be such a change, even from the 20 or so we sheared last spring.  We will finish in only about 3 hours, start to clean-up.  I suggested going through our combs and cutters and using the worst ones and then just throwing them out instead of sending them out for sharpening.  I am sure we have some that we could do that with.  

Our son's wedding is only a little over 4 weeks away.  I have been busy figuring out hotels and car rental, etc.   Part of the pre-wedding festivities include the wedding party attending a Portland Timbers soccer game on June 1st, so I even ordered Timbers T-shirts for Sam and me so that we can be in the spirit.  It should be fun.  I am really looking forward to it.

I have a couple of rugs on my big loom here at the office.  I should get those off today or tomorrow and then I think I will weave a  rug that is not alpaca.  I found a pattern in a magazine and I think I have what I need to make it, so I shall.  Always fun to try something new.

I am almost done with the top part and sleeves of the lace sweater I am knitting.  I plan to take this to Oregon with me at the end of the month, and I am on track to be finished.  I really like how it is turning out.

This is how things often look on our stairs at home.  The boys are keeping an eye on the driveway because you never know when someone might show up:
And oddly enough they find this a comfortable place to sleep.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fabulous Weather Means Lots of Outdoor Time

We were blessed this past week with sunshine and warm to very warm temperatures.  I was able to complete some tasks outdoors that have been waiting on just that type of weather.

On Thursday, I bleached the maple taps, finally.  This is cleanup that is best done outside because it is just messy and warm weather is required because one cannot do this without getting wet.  Once I run bleach water though the spyles and tubing I hang them on the fence panel to dry.  It works well.

On Friday, which was even warmer, I bleached and scrubbed the remaining buckets, about 30 or so.  Now all this is put away until next February.
 I also washed the handspun alpaca/shetland yarn I have been working on.  I wanted to see if it would finish out to the size I wanted it to be and yarn changes a lot after spinning once you wash it.  It tends to "bloom" a little and get loftier.  At least that is the hope.  And I am quite pleased with this.  My plan it to spin enough for Sam and I each to have a sweater from it.  
Saturday I checked in on the bees and gave each hive additional room to expand in the form of another box of frames.  I took the sugar water feeders off as I think there is now enough natural nectar and we don't want honey made from sugar water.  The bees were quite docile, which I appreciated. 

Sam decided he would like to catch a swarm this year if possible, so he made a couple of swarm traps with some drawn comb and lemon oil in them to attract bees who might be looking for a new place to live.  Swarming is how bees multiply;  the worker bees make a new queen and the old queen takes half the hive and leaves to look for a new place to set up house.  Our hope is that if a hive swarms, they will find our "trap" and move into it.  Sam put one trap up by the pond and one along a path we walk regularly just up from the house.

We will keep an eye on these and if we see bee activity we will go up after dark, close the entrance and bring the box home to install in a hive.  Incredibly, after Sam put these up, he found a wild bee colony way up in a sycamore tree not far from the pond.  I will also be watching that over the summer and maybe I can get some photos.  It is not easy to get to, though.

I also got out my deck furniture and cleaned it and we ate our first dinner of the year on the deck.  We eat most meals outside from spring through fall, weather permitting.  And it is so wonderful to be able to do that once again.

On Sunday I mowed the agility practice area and set everything back up again.  Grover and I have a trial this weekend, and we had some trouble in class last week with the tunnel under the A-frame.  He will choose the tunnel over the A-frame, even when I give clear direction that I want him to take the A-frame.  So that has been an area we are working on.  Notice on the tunnel that my sand bags are made with cat food bags.  They work well for a while, but they eventually break down in the sun and I have to re-bag them.  So I looked around on line to find a way to make vinyl bags and found a blog with some directions to do so.  Yesterday I made 2 sets of tunnel bags.  I still need to fill them and cut the straps that will go across the top of the tunnel, but so far I am pleased with how they turned out.

 They are made of Marine vinyl, which is meant to be outdoors, so they should not disintegrate in the sunshine, and sold in many colors (to my surprise) at JoAnn Fabrics, so easy to come by and a reasonable price if you have a 50% off coupon, which I did.  And these will look a lot better than cat food bags and baling twine.  I need to make some more to put on the teeter and the tire, but they do not need to be joined together, so will be a little easier to make.  

The lettuce is doing well in the garden.  I uncovered it on Friday since it has stayed above freezing at night and I've been watering it since it has been quite dry.  I think I will plant some beets and some swiss chard next week since I will be away all weekend.  I think we should be getting some rain in the next couple days, so the soil should be good for planting.  Sam has been hunting for morels in the woods (that's how he found the bee tree) and is hoping that some rain will make them pop up.  He has found a few, but it really has been too dry for them.  

 From the look of the maple trees in our yard, the deck will soon be covered in pollen and the bees will be buzzing in the branches. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Just a Quick Post

We are still kind of in a holding pattern around here waiting for spring to really arrive.  We've had a few nice days, but in general, it has stayed pretty wintry.  We have had lows in the 20's over night many nights, and even a covering of snow last week.  However, the forecast is calling for 60's today (and we have bright sunshine) and a warming trend continuing through the weekend.  I have no plans for the weekend, but I do need to work on my beehives and I think it may be about time to get the deck furniture out of the barn. 

I peeked into the  top of the right hand hive yesterday  morning and the feeder jars are empty, which is fine because we don't want sugar syrup mixed in with the lovely wildflower honey that I hope to have to harvest in June.  It was sunny, but quite cool, so the bees were not yet out and about and I can quickly lift the lid and look inside where I have quart jar feeders on top of the inner cover.  So I need to get those off the hives and give each hive another box of drawn comb.  

Grover and I attended an all day handling seminar last Friday in Huntington WV.  We drove down Thursday evening in a steady drizzly  rain.  I was delighted, despite the rain, that I-77 between Parkersburg and Charleston seems to have been lined with redbud trees, and they were all in bloom.  It made a dreary drive a little less so.  

The seminar was a lot of fun.  It did make me feel like I still am such a novice.  The instructor was very entertaining and  extremely knowledgeable.  I hope I will be able to put some of what she taught to use because I think it will only help me to be clearer in what I want Grover to do.  

Sam got my A-frame set up and I have sent Grover over it a few times.  The last few times I have taken him out to practice, though, it has been incredibly windy and we have not stayed out long.  My wing jumps keep blowing over.  We do have an upcoming trial next week.  It is a 3 day trial in Zanesville and will be the last one held there until September.  

Last week I said something to Sam about tearing down some of the fence in front of the garage, between the driveway and where my agility stuff is.  I came home from work the next day and he had already started.  This was fence we put up in 1999 when we got our first alpacas and many of the boards were broken and the wire behind the boards was very rusted.  This will make the area much easier to mow.  The rest of the fence will stay up, so I still have fencing around my agility practice area.  I just can't see us ever having to use this area for pasturing animals again.

 I started a lightweight lacy sweater, which I hope to have finished before we travel to Oregon for Ian and Michelle's wedding, which is less than 2 months away.  I think Oregon in early June is likely to have some variable weather so this will make a nice layering piece.  Here is a link to what it will look like when finished:
Lacy cardigan

I need to get some new rugs on my loom.  I may start working on that yet this afternoon.  



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Officially Spring!

I think Rowdy's favorite part of the day that does not include food is our early morning walk.  It is easier on him than the longer afternoon walk, which he still goes along on. I can tell he hurts, but while it still makes him happy and he wants to go, he can go.

I used to try to do a blog post weekly, and I know I have not done so recently.  The tail end of winter is just not a great time to get out with the camera and since this is pretty much a photographic journal for me, I don't like to post when I have no photos.  Things may pick up here now that the weather is improving almost daily.  

Sam has already planted lettuce/arugula under the hoop frame in the garden and done some tilling.  The bees seem to be doing well and the next warm day we have when I am at home I need to open the hives and possibly add more space for them.  I am thankful we had a mild winter and they over-wintered all right.  I may get a honey harvest this year.

One of my recent projects was to build 3 wing jumps.  I needed to add a few jumps to our practice area and decided this was the way to go.  I enjoy building this stuff.

Here is Grover demonstrating his jumping skills.

In a little over a week, Grover and I are attending an all day agility seminar in Huntington WV.  I'm looking forward to it.  While we go to class every week, it will be nice to get input from another source.  It will also be good for Grover to experience a new facility.    Since last August, we have not run anywhere other than the club's practice building and the Fieldhouse in Zanesville.  I hope to go to some trials at other venues again this summer, and it will be nice for Grover to go someplace different prior to

Sam also built me a practice A-Frame, which I have been working on painting.  It is heavy, so once we get it out in the field, it likely won't move very often, but it will be nice to have.

I was just having fun with the camera yesterday, calling Grover through the weave poles.  Rowdy knew there were treats at the end, so he was running along.  

It looks like I will need to get out in my practice field with the mower before too long, doesn't it?  Our neighbors have already mowed.  I think it goes against all Sam believes in to mow before April 1st!  We'll see if he decided to mow the yard today while I am at work.  

I finished a  sweater a couple weeks back and never got any good photos of it until last week.  I absolutely love this sweater.  

I really don't have any projects going right now except a pair of socks, and that is nothing to get excited about, in my opinion.  I'll come up with something soon, I hope.  Meanwhile, I do have spinning ongoing, and a scarf on the small loom.  My big loom is empty and I am trying to decide what to put on it.  I think I may need to get some rugs going.

My son Ian's wedding is coming up in just over 2 months.  We have our airfare booked and I have bought my dress and some new boots and a jean jacket to go with it.  I still have some travel plans to make, but I know the time between now and then will just fly by.    I am really looking forward to the big event.  Both my brothers will be there, both my sons, my mom and Sam's mom and my aunt.  And my sister-in-law, niece and nephews, who I have not seen now in over a year.  It should be a great time.  That and Michelle becoming an "official" member of our family.  I wish everyone could attend, but it is a long way to travel and I understand some people just can't make it.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

It Was a Short Syrup Season

Sam pulled the taps this past weekend while I was away at trial.  We had run our last batch the previous Monday and then the temperatures soared into the 70's and the sap pretty much stopped running.  We got in 4 runs, and produced a total of just over 4 gallons on 38 taps.  I think next year we will set out more taps and therefore we can collect more sap while it runs and produce more.  We will have some syrup for sale, but not a lot.  The dogs enjoy hanging out while the sap boils down.  There is a lot for them to do up by the pond.  And of course for Grover there are never enough buggy rides.  

Here is where all our sap comes from.  There really are a lot more trees to tap, though not all the trees in this area are maples

In the fall of 2014 I marked a lot of trees.  They are much easier to identify when they have bright yellow leaves on them than when they are naked.  Those big M's kind of help, too.

The trees themselves are  well above the pond where the sugar shack is located.  We can get 9 buckets easily in the bed of the buggy but maneuvering on the hills in the mud, which is inevitable in March (unless it is icy) can be tricky.

Our syrup pan is a 2' X 3' divided pan we purchased a couple years ago.  It works quite well.

Sam retrofitted a stock pot as a pre-warmer with a built in filter that we just let run slowly into the evaporator pan and re-fill as needed.

My least favorite part of the whole set up is the fire box itself.  It needs some improvements and, while Sam did improve the door this year, it is still not easy to work with.  It needs a better closure system.  But it works.  

So now I just have all the buckets and taps to bleach and store away til next year.  That job will wait for a warm day because it just cannot be done inside.  

Meanwhile, my bees seem to be doing quite well.  I opened the hives a week or so ago to feed them and they were a bit testy with me.  I changed their sugar water solution to  1:1 where I had been giving them 2:1 all winter.  They emptied their jars in a very short period of time.  I hope for some nice weather this weekend so I can get in and see what really needs to be done.  One hive has only 2 boxes on it and so I need to give them some more room shortly as I expect the population of both hives to increase rapidly very soon.  I would really like to get a honey harvest in a couple of months.

Grover and I attended a trial this past weekend.  We were nowhere near as successful as we were in February.  We only got 1 Q out of 5 runs and that was in a class we just started and are at Novice level in.  It is before our other classes on Saturday and I am really entering it to give Grover a chance to run off some of his "crazy" before our standard and jumpers runs.  Saturday was the best of our 2 days:  Grover dropped a bar in standard, but otherwise ran really well and then in jumpers, we had a gorgeous run going all the way to the very last jump, which he decided to run around instead of jumping over.  It was a fun course, but there was only a 25% Q rate for our class.  I was really disappointed and have no idea why he ran around the jump.  Maybe because he is a goof.  Who knows?  Sunday, our standard run was a total disaster and in jumpers Grover didn't finish his weave poles.  There's always next month.
I knitted a cowl and started a pair of socks during syrup season.  Small things that are easy to cart up to the pond with me and don't take of a lot of thought, though the cowl has a lace pattern.  But not a difficult one.   My spinning is going well and I should be able to start plying the first 9 ounces or so next week.  

 Sam got the tiller out yesterday and tilled the garden and planted lettuce under the hoop frame.  I've been thinking of starting some tomatoes and peppers and herbs inside, but I haven't had a lot of time in the last week to do so.  It's just nice to think about all these springtime activities, even though we are still 4 days away from the equinox.  Still, those little spring peepers have been peeping and we have set our clocks ahead to Daylight Savings Time.  I love it!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

We've Made It!

I always feel like getting through February and into March is a big deal.  The worst is behind us, right?  I can be hopeful despite the fact that perusing last year's Syrup Journal entries, I see the we had a low of -8 F on March 6th last year.  

February ended on a high note.  The 28th was sunny and 65 degrees.  I was cooking down sap for maple syrup again, as I had done the previous Sunday.  On the 21st, we put about 60 gallons of sap into the evaporator early in the morning and didn't get back to the house until after 8:30 pm.  I only finished off 3 quarts of syrup from that.  The photo above was taken by the light of our Coleman lantern with my phone, so it isn't very good, but you can see we have "all the comforts of home"  a couch (an old van seat) and dogs.

This week, we had only about 45 gallons of sap to put in the evaporator and started around the same time, but we were back at the house closer to  7 pm.  And I finished 4 quarts of syrup off from that run.  That means the sugar content in this run of sap was higher than that of last week's run.  That's a good thing.  

The crazy warm weather kind of put a stop to the sap run, the best conditions being below freezing at night and bright and sunny and above freezing during the day.  Hopefully this weekend we can get another boil in.  

Not much else going on around here.  The barn work is so much easier that I am having more time for things like housework (ugh) and knitting and spinning and weaving.  I actually finished my big sweater project on Monday and I washed it and it is now drying.  I will post photos once it is dry and I put buttons on it.  It came out great!  I posted a photo last time of a skein of yarn I had dyed to use up leftover dye in a dyepot and I am knitting a lacey cowl with that.  It has been nice to work on while tending the fire under the evaporator pan.  I also started a new pair of socks for me.  

I am happy to have started a new spinning project.  Last year at the Great Lakes Fiber Festival I purchased a gorgeous Shetland Wool fleece. I sent it off with Mayhem's 2015 fleece and had the 2 blended into a ready to spin roving which came out beautifully.

I have plenty of this roving to spin into yarn to knit Sam and myself each a sweater.  The yarn will match, but the sweaters will be different.  So I have started spinning for sweater yarn, and I am very happy with how this is spinning.  A nicely prepared fiber is a joy to spin and one that is not nice can be no fun at all.  I figure I need to spin about 4 pounds and hope to spin about 4 oz a week while the weather outside allows.

I spin while watching TV in the evening, and once we are staying outside until it gets dark at 9 pm or so, I won't be getting much spinning done.  That's ok, there's no rush.

I also started tearing out a closet in Rowdy's bedroom.  I decided I wanted to use that space for my sewing machine table and we have another closet in that room.  So both closets have been cleaned out and a lot of stuff has been disposed of in one way or another.  I may have quite a mess in Rowdy's room right now.  We are trying to figure out how to work around a problem with the ceiling in that closet that was probably caused by the chimney fire of 2010.  We'll figure it out.  

Winter Woods Fungi

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

All Kinds of Weather and A Fabulous February Trial

I meant to post last week, but time got away from me.  Our weather has been typically crazy, so maybe it is just normal.  Who knows?  Rowdy has been happy with the snow.  In fact, last Thursday night it was 2 degrees F at 9 pm and I could not get him to come inside.  He laid on the dog bed on the front porch for an hour and a half and stared me down every time I tried to get him to come in.  He loves the cold.
But only a few days prior to that night, we had a wonderful warm weekend with bright sunny skies.  It was so warm that I heard a lot of buzzing coming from under the big maple in the back yard and found honey bees raiding the bird feeders in search of protein.  This photo is at the base of the tree where a lot of the seed gets dropped, but the bees were actually in the feeders as well. 

The three female alpacas took advantage of the sunshine and warm temperatures to get out in the pasture in search of something green to eat. I'm not sure how successful they were.

And 2 days later, it was back to snowy, frigid February.  

 This past weekend, Grover and I attended the dog trial put on by our dog club in Zanesville.  Our last trial was in December, so it was fun to be running again.  Going into the trial, Grover had 2 of 3 legs of his Excellent title in Jumpers with Weaves and 1 of 3 legs of his Excellent title in Standard.    We had a really great day on Saturday, getting qualifying scores in all 3 of our runs!  In addition to Jumpers and Standard, we ran in a class called FAST at the Novice level.  This was only the second time we have run in this class, so we have to start at Novice and work our way up like with the other 2 classes.  One of the reasons I entered this class is because it is the first class on Saturday morning and Grover is usually pretty wound up in the first class he runs, so this kind of gave him an outlet to burn off some of that craziness, which he did, getting a Q and second place.  He then went on to Q in Excellent Standard, with a third place and then a Q in Excellent Jumpers with a first place.  So he earned his Excellent Jumpers title, which moved us up to Masters level for Sunday.  I was so thrilled with our day.  There was no way I was expecting Sunday to be as good.  And we started out with Standard and a couple mistakes that caused us a no Q there, but our Jumpers run was wonderful.  Out of 16 dogs that Q'd, we were number 11 and we ran it in 9 seconds under the official time.  So we got 9 points toward our eventual goal of a MACH.  But we need a LOT more!  Here is our run in Jumpers on Sunday:  

Masters Jumpers Run 2-14-16
After the trial, Grover and I went over and spent a couple days with my mom before we headed home yesterday.  So things have been rather busy.  I think Sam is planning to tap maple trees today, so I may have more on that next time.


I warped up my small loom for a couple of scarves this past week, but haven't taken photos yet.  And I continue to work on the long sweater.  I am onto the second sleeve and still have hopes of finishing while it is cold enough to wear it.  I think I'll make it.  I will possibly finish it while I am feeding wood into the fire under the sap evaporator in the next couple of weeks.  It is so nice having the evaporator enclosed in the sugar shack.  It stays toasty warm in there.