Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sun, Rain, More Rain & Head Start Field Trips

Star & Buck hard at work guarding alpacas.

Once again, I have managed to keep busy.  The end of last week we had a beautiful warm sunny day and I celebrated the arrival of nice weather by scrubbing part of my deck (I ran out of steam) and getting out my deck furniture so we can once again dine "al fresco".  Now I just need to get to the wrap around part of the deck.  Our deck is like another room to our house in the summer.

Once the leaves on the huge maple trees in our yard open up fully, the deck is in shade pretty much all day long through the summer and is rarely too hot to enjoy.  We have speakers out there connected to a CD player in the kitchen, so we usually put on a CD and enjoy post-dog-walk cocktails followed by dinner most evenings that we aren't too busy.

Sun going down across the creek

Of course, the wonderful weather only lasted a day or 2 and then on Saturday we got rain that measured in inches.  There were no less than 3 small waterfalls cascading down the hill behind the house and the creek actually came up OVER the bigger of our 2 bridges.  That has only happened once before that I know of.  

Right behind the house

2 cascades

The water levels recede quickly once the rain stops, though the creek is still quite full and there is a constant sound of running water.  I kind of like that.

On Monday, the first of my 4 groups of Head Start Pre-schoolers came out.  They have been doing this for several years.  I always stress about whether I can entertain them, but pre-schoolers are pretty easy.  They loved the pups, especially Buck, and they love to feed the alpacas little tiny handfuls of grain.   

Monday's group

Thursday's group

I try to tell them a little bit about the alpacas and what we do with them and then I usually show them some things made with alpaca and if the weather permits, do a short spinning demoWell this year, I have my studio to use!  Here is how it looks all set up for the kids.

 I have a hand-spun, hand-knit sweater for them to touch, my drum carder (no touching please!), spinning wheel and raw fiber and some of my woven rugs.  I have the kids touch the raw fiber and then I card some so they can see how it smooths it out, then I demonstrate how the carded fiber easily pulls apart into fluffy bits unless I twist it, then I show them how the spinning wheel twists it. I have coloring pages for the teachers to take back and each child goes home with a snack baggie into which I put my business card (so mom and dad can see where they've been) and a bit of raw fiber and a bit of spun yarn.

After all that, they get one more treat, which is to see Rowdy do some tricks, which the kids love and so does Rowdy.  It amazes me what a child friendly dog he is, not having grown up with kids.  He is my empty-nest dog and came along about a month before my youngest went off to college.  But I digress.....

Isn't my studio looking nice?    I still have 2 walls to stain, but I ran out of stain and I wanted it to look nice for the field trips.  I put interlocking foam mats on the floor and plan to put a covering over that when I find the one I want.  All stuff that will be easy to hose off.

I also planted lettuce last week and hope to have our first asparagus for dinner in the next couple days.

I am ready to weave my first rugs on my "new" loom!  Tune in next week to see how it goes.  
I am in the process of binding off the purple lace shawl, which is requiring me to crochet, which I am not real good at, so it is taking some extra time.  

Here is the view lookin' out my back door last Saturday when the creek was raging!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April is Moving Right Along.....

Rowdy has been banned from the barn for eating alpaca feed and is intently watching a barn cat on the other side of the creek.  However, it is one of the older wiser cats who will not run from him, so he knows there is no point in racing over there.     

All right, I can check one more thing off my To-Do list:  I finally finished skirting fleeces for rug yarn.  I now have about 120 pounds of skirted, sorted fiber to take to the mill and have spun.  I'm not sure if I will take it all at once, though, because they will want payment ahead of time and at approximately $15/pound, that's a lot of cash to put out.  I will decide in the next few days how much I will take.  Always keeping in mind that shearing season is almost here. 

 The 9 bags of fleece on the right side of the shelves and the one on the floor are all ready to go.  I found a few fleeces that were too nice to go into rug yarn as well, so they will be held for roving or regular yarn or for sale.  Notice my box collection?  I have never had to purchase a box to ship anything (ok, once I shipped a big drum carder) because I hoard boxes.  Living where we do, we buy lots of things by mail order, so boxes are always coming in.  My collection is rather modest right now.

I purchased some stain for the walls in my studio this week and hope to do that by the end of the weekend.  I also purchased some foam floor panels that are like big jigsaw puzzle pieces and plan to buy a big woven stall mat to put over those.  Whatever I use has to be hoseable for easy cleaning.  

Another item I checked off my To-Do list was to go up on the National Forest where I hike several times a week and clear off 6 months worth of downed trees.  One in particular had come down in October and it was quite dead and very large and the top of the tree with its multitude of branches was the part across my path, forcing me to go around through the plentiful multi-flora roses in order to get past it.  So, I got out my Christmas present and had Sam drive me up on the 4-wheeler and drop me off since I did not feel like carrying that chainsaw up that hill wearing my heavy duty chainsaw safety chaps.  Yes, I wear safety gear, chaps, ear and eye protection.   I managed to get my trail well cleared in the hour before I met Sam for a ride home.  Now, my biggest problem with the chainsaw is that every time I start it, I acquire a new lovely bruise.  The butt end of the chainsaw must be secured between ones legs just above the knees while the operator holds the saw with one had and pulls the starter with the other.  Even with jeans and chaps on, this is what I end up looking like by the end of the day. I have always bruised easily.  


Sam has our top bar beehive almost finished.  We are debating the "roof" for it.  We were planning to use metal, but on thinking more about it, I am afraid the metal roof will act like an oven in the summertime without any insulation.  Cedar shakes would be nice.  Need to learn to make those.  Here is the hive as it was this morning in Sam's workshop:

 There are 2 sliding end panels and the 2 bars you see are what the bees build their combs on.  The combs will hang down from those.  As the size of the hive increases, you add more of the bars and move the end panels to give the bees more room.  The end panels and top bars will all be slid together to form a secure enclosure and there are entry holes drilled in the sides of the hive.  The "floor" is made of mesh for air circulation.  I am anxious to see how this will all work.

 Remember those "whiny weaners" from last week's post?  Here's what they look like after 2 straight days of rain!  Everyone is wet and muddy.  For some reason, these guys prefer to sleep under the pine trees in the rain to going into the building.  Alpacas are odd that way.

I had the vet out Friday to "float" Apache's teeth.  He had checked them when he was here 2 weeks ago when 'Pache was down and having trouble getting up.  He needed some dental work, which is basically using a rasp like tool to file off sharp edges.  'Pache had to be sedated for this and my job was to hold his tongue out of the way while Dr. Kemp applied his dental tools.  Not sure if the teeth are the reason Apache lost weight this winter or if it is something else, but Dr. Kemp says he is in about perfect body weight.  He has always been somewhat overweight and he looks good.  Now I need to find someone to trim up his feet.  They need it.  It's hard to find someone who will come just to trim one horse's feet.  I'm working on it.  Apache is still having pain in his hip, especially the left side, I think.  I have started him on a supplement I put in his feed every day which is supposed to help the joints and hips.  I am worried that  if he is still having trouble by fall, I may not want to put him through another winter.  These things are hard to think about, but necessary. 

My neighbor on the road up the hill has hundreds or thousands of daffodils planted all along their road frontage.  It is so pretty.  This photo shows only a portion of them.  A true sign of spring.

Another sign of spring are ticks.  Picked the first one off Buck the puppy the other day.  Ugh.  I keep the dogs Frontlined, but they don't make a Frontline for people, so Sam and I do regular "tick checks".  They used to really creep me out, but anymore they are just one of the bad parts about country living, which are so outweighed by the good parts.   

We also have some asparagus starting to poke up through the ground!  Can't wait to eat that!  It is about time to till up the garden and plant some lettuce as well.  We will eat salads almost every day from early May through to July.  The sad part is that we can never get lettuce to thrive when the home grown tomatoes are ripe.

As for fibery pursuits, the fleeces are skirted.  I am still working on the purple lace shawl, though I expect to have that off the needles here in the next few days.  Then it will need blocked.  I am about 2/3 done warping my loom for more rugs and should finish that today.  Tomorrow night is my spinning guild meeting, and since I have not attended one since January, I am looking forward to going and doping some spinning and socializing.  

Next week and the week after, I have Head Start (pre-school) classes coming to the farm so I need to think about that.  I'll take pics of each class to post here.  

I kinda like that old CCR song "Lookin' Out My Back Door", so once again, here's the view lookin' out my back door at about 7 pm last night after 2 days of rain.  The creek's up and the grass is green.  You can see a green haze on the hills in the background as the leaves get ready to open up on the trees.  Promises of outdoor weather to come!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yeah, It's April!

Doesn't Rowdy look cool in a hat?

 True to form, we are on a weather roller-coaster now that April is here.  Today, it is gorgeous and sunny and upper 60's.  The kind of day one really hates to sit inside at a computer.  Just 2 days ago (which I spent at a grant writing seminar all day), I don't think it got out of the 30's and was just damp and dreary and cold. Our weekend is supposed to be in the 70's.  I guess I will gettin' out the deck furniture!

We've had some changes around the farm.  This past Saturday, 7 alpacas went to their new home in Florida.  6 were all under a year old and 1 was a pregnant female.  They had a long ride in a small trailer, but all arrived safe and sound and will hopefully enjoy the warmer climate.  Myself, I think it would present a whole new set of challenges to raise alpacas in Florida, but lots of folks are doing it.  

So after they left, I moved the last 2 fall crias to the weaner pasture
Whiny weaners!
to join the 3 that were left over there.  Today, the black one on the left in this photo is going to her new home over in western Ohio.  She is the one we got Buck for in partial trade.  The other 4 are all that's left of the 2010 cria crop.  

We also have some long-time boarders leaving this weekend.  1 female who has been with us for years and her last cria, also a female, who  is now a year and a half are moving to a farm closer to their owner.

So our alpaca population wil have gone from 53 to 43 in a week's time, which is fine by me.  Especially with shearing season coming up.  Of course, there ARE 6 crias due in May and June, so there is no fear of me not having enough to do!

Speaking of things to do, I finished up one of those to-do list items, finally.  I put up the last of the siding in my studio on Monday.  I had to go purchase one last sheet as I had mis-calculated a bit on my needs.  The last wall of course was the hardest as that is the one which has the window and door and the electrical outlet and light switch, but I think I did all right.  Now I need to stain the paneling and do something with the floor.  I have an idea, but I'm not yet ready to commit.

This is the corner that gave me fits.  Straight wall?  NO!

Front wall with window, door and lightswitch

 Last week, I put in our order for 3 pounds of bees, so Sam is busy (as a bee?  Really?) this week building a top bar hive. 

Photo from a web site about top bar hives

 A top bar hive is more horizontal than the hives you usually see and are more like the hives the bees would choose on their own.  They build their honeycombs hanging down from the bars that lay across the top of the wooden box and the comb is in a shape the bees would make in the wild.

The bees will be arriving in Ohio from California at the end of this month, so I guess I got some studyin' to do.  I have been thinking about getting honeybees for some time, and I guess this year just seems like a good time to jump in. 

Here is the view lookin' out my back door a week ago today.  Of course, there is a dusting of snow, but if you look closely you may note that the huge mountain of POO has all but entirely disappeared!  Don't worry, I already have a good start on replacing it all!

I am actually getting my new loom warped up this week.  It is a little different than my old one, so I am doing it a new (to me) way that is taking some time, but I should have new rugs working shortly.  I finished up 2 hats I was knitting.  I was hoping to get 4 done in a short period of time, but it was really not realistic, so now I can wait a while since it is pretty much past alpaca hat time anyway.  I've gone back to working on the purple lace shawl and hope to finish THAT in the next couple of weeks: time permitting.  I still have a few fleeces to skirt for rug yarn (everything else has seemed more fun than skirting), but should knock that out tomorrow or Saturday.  I want to dye some more fawn fleece for rug yarn as well.  You see, I have lots of grand plans, and just never enough time in the week.  

This week I will leave you with a couple photos of Phoebe the alpaca doing what alpacas really like to do:  Taking a dust bath.  

First one side......

Then the other!