Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Done Dyein' (For Now)

Ha, look at Grover squinting in the bright sun.  This photo was obviously NOT taken this past week!  The sun has been elsewhere along with the warmth.  It has been a good week to do indoor things, though the outside work must get done as well.

So, yeah, I dyed up my last 2 batches of yarn.  The Knitter's Fantasy show that I will be vending at is a little over a week away.  And while the dyeing is done, there is still a lot to do.  All yarn needs to be reskeined and labeled for sale, rugs (3 lovely new ones) must be cut apart and fringes must be tied.  There is baby alpaca/blue-faced leicester (wool) roving to be weighed out and packaged and a sample spun.  I need to go through all my retail paraphernalia and make sure I have everything I need, like business cards, etc.

This is batch 5.  My personal favorite so far.  I love it.  It reminds me of comfy old jeans.

And here is the last batch, which actually was meant to use up leftover dyes from other batches. I really wanted red reds, but after washing the yarn, it is more toward the purple-red side, which while still nice, is somewhat disappointing.  But it will be loved by someone!
A nice thing about being done dyeing, is that I can finally have the mess out of my mud room.  I used to dye in the kitchen, but the space was limited and I don't like having the dyes around food, so I moved into the mud room, which has everything the kitchen has with the addition of more space (once I moved in a 6' table) and better lighting.  There is water.  There is electricity.  And the added benefit that I do not need to put everything away between dye sessions, just tidy up.  And I think Rowdy really liked having a cave under the table he could occupy while I was occupied.

So, you can see my huge mess.  I have a small microwave dedicated only to dyeing since the dyes need heat to actually "set".  The 6' table is much more spacious than my kitchen counter and is plastic and cleans more easily.  There is a lot of natural light plus a big fluorescent light fixture overhead.  So this is now all put away and I have this:

  That's quite a basket of yarn! (and yes, that is Bridal Veil Falls at Yosemite in the background)
As for knitting, I am working on a sample of some of my hand-dyed yarn to show prospective customers what the yarn looks like in a finished project.
 I am making a simple "cowl" using a drop-stitch pattern.  I will knit it like a scarf and when it is about 45" long, I will graft the 2 ends together so it makes a loop, which can be worn wrapped either once or twice around your neck, depending on how much warmth you want to add.  I am about 1/2 finished and it is knit on large needles for an open look so it will go quickly.  I don't foresee any problem with it being finished in time.
So that's pretty much what I have been up to on the farm.  Everyone is just waiting for sunshine and warm breezes.  It seems to be past due. 
I have to admit this was from last week, too.  See the sunshine?



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waiting for Spring!

Grover has been signed up for obedience classes.  Hopefully we will start in May
It's kind of like when I was a kid, waiting for Christmas, only the difference is the calendar SAYS it's spring, but it ain't.  18 degrees here this morning and it hasn't warmed up much as of yet.  The poor little peepers were singing their hearts out a few days ago and hopefully haven't frozen!  I am looking around the farm while I do my chores all bundled up in my coveralls and thinking about projects I will start once the weather decrees spending days outside instead of inside.  I will have to make a list because otherwise, many of those projects will never happen.  Good intentions and all that.....


I did get another batch or 2 of yarn dyed up this past week.  I think 2.  I'm up to 4, which means 2 more to go.   The yarn to the right is more orange than the photo shows.

Here are the 4 together .

 I got a nice shot of Chiquita Margarita this morning.  Chiquita is one of our original alpacas and came to live with us as a 6 month old back in 1999.  She will turn 15 this year and has had 12 crias for us.  2012 was the first year she did not have a cria and we did not try to breed her for a 2013 cria.    She has earned her retirement and life of leisure.

I finished up the hat I was knitting to donate to our Humane Society fundraiser, which is this weekend.  It is not alpaca, but wool and made from leftover yarn from last year's project.  I think the hat came out very nice, though it is much too large for my head.  

So now I am knitting what will be an "infinity" scarf with the purple yarn above for a sample for the show I am doing in a couple weeks.  Once I get that done I can move on to  more fun things.  Just in time for outdoor weather to start.

My rugs are not yet off the loom.  I have had limited time due to work and things like dental appointments.  But I am running short on time, so maybe I can get them done this afternoon.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Finished with Syrup Season!

I think they want to come inside.  

I don't think I'd like March very much if it did not eventually bring spring.  This past weekend, as we were doing our last sap boils, we had sunshine and 60+ degree weather.  It was glorious.  Everyone loved it.  Today, 32 and snowy outside my window.  By this weekend, it should be back into the 50's with rain.  I am so ready for spring!

It doesn't help that my back deck is loaded with sap buckets, taps, tubing and pans that all need to be sanitized and stored away until next year.  It is a messy job that is best done outside with a hose and some bleach water.  I was able to get about half the buckets done on Monday, but then it got too cold to think about getting wet outside.  Which is inevitable.  

Sunset from the sugar house Saturday night
So we boiled off almost 30 buckets of sap Saturday and Sunday. That is approximately 105 gallons of sap.  Resulting in almost 2 1/2 gallons of darker maple syrup.  Due to chemical changes, the syrup gets darker and stronger in flavor later in the season.  Personally, I prefer the darker syrup to the light amber syrups of early season, but the light amber seems to be what most producers are looking for. This year I started a syrup journal as opposed to just writing numbers in on our wall calendar.  I kept track of morning temperature and high temperature each day, along with # of gallons of sap collected, # of gallons of sap boiled and total time along with the amount of finished syrup.  We set 28 taps on February 9th and did 12 boils starting Feb. 11 and ending March10.  Our total production was 41.25 quarts or just over 10 gallons.  I won't bore you with temperatures and how much sap was actually collected, but since it is about 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon finished syrup, it would be about 400 gallons we hauled from the sugarbush to the evaporator.  My goal was to have 6 gallons to sell. I think I have made my goal!  Next year, we hope to have a new sugarhouse and bigger evaporator pan that will handle more sap in less time.  Then we can put out even more taps!

While it was nice on Sunday, I had Sam check on the bees.  I was surprised when he told me there were bees coming and going from BOTH hives, even the dead top bar hive.  But this made me think that maybe  that hive had been dead longer than I thought and that it could be that hive #2 had robbed the top bar hive and caused the hive to die out.  Bees will go into other hives and steal their honey and take it back to their own hive if they can.  So it is a good thing we are planning to relocate the top bar hive before installing a new colony in it.  More on that next month.
Having wonderful warm weather over the weekend allowed me to finally finish up the shawl I have been working on off and on since October.  I knitted it out of my hand/dyed/blended/spun alpaca/bamboo laceweight yarn I spent a lot of time creating last winter.  It blocked out to almost 4' square and used a little less than 5 oz of yarn.  I wish the color was better represented in the photo, but I had to stand far away to get the whole shawl in.  It is beautiful.  I am very pleased with it.  This is a free pattern on Ravlery, the Spanish Armada shawl

So then, I started on my next knitting project, which is a hat to donate to our Humane Society fundraiser later this month.  It has a dog theme and I am using a wool yarn that I had leftover from last year's fundraiser knitting.  I  love when that works out!  This pattern is in a book called Shear Spirit that I got from the library and it is called the Wolf Pack Hat


I was unable to find time this week to dye more yarn, but here is my second batch that I dyed a week ago Monday and had not yet photographed at last week's posting.  Tomorrow I have nothing on the schedule except my spinning guild meeting in the evening, so I hope to dye up another batch.  I already have my colorway planned.

I do have rugs in progress on my loom here at the office and I really should get busy on those.  Here is the first of 3.  It is about 75% done.

So that's about it for this week.  I often wonder where my time goes.  

I will end with this link:

I think it's funny :)


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March Comes in Like?

Ok, who can resist that face?  Buck does not mind the snow at all!


Wow, Mother Nature has sure thrown us for a loop or 2 this past week.  Last Friday and Saturday we had snow on the ground.  Not a lot, but it was snow covered.  This was my kitchen thermometer on Sunday morning when I came down to start the coffee:


 And it looked like this outside.

By the time I took the dogs for their walk on Monday afternoon, it looked like this and was a comfortable 50-ish. 

Last night, we had yet another winter storm come through, and while it did not produce the snow they said it could (mainly I think because the temperature was hovering right around freeze/thaw)  here are some photos from chore time this morning.

Our 5 adult male alpacas


                                      Our hayfield

A stormy early morning sky.

Sam and I also had to cut a tree off the fence in the alpaca field before I left for work this morning and he started the sap boiling.  It had come down in the night and taken out a section of fence with it.  It was nice it came down right where 2 rolls of fence were joined or it would have taken out way more than 1 section.  I knew the alpacas would not get out, but the dogs could have.  I'm not sure they are smart enough or motivated enough, but did not want to chance it.

So Monday has been the best day of the week.  We did cook down sap  on Sunday.   We topped 6 gallons of finished syrup.  The cold weather put a temporary stop to the sap run, so we did not run any Monday or Tuesday, but Sam is boiling again today and it looks as though I will be doing likewise tomorrow.  This weekend might see the end of it though, as it is forecast to go up into the 50's.  I'm ready for a break!  Next year, we hope to have a better system which will allow us to boil off more sap in less time.

On Monday, I decided I needed to check on my bees and start feeding them to boost their population increase to prepare for spring nectar runs.  I was very sad to find that I had waited too long on my top bar hive and it was full of dead bees with no honey left.  They were flying in the warm weather we had had in late January, but must have run out of stored honey in the last couple of weeks.  My newer hive, started last year, still had capped honey in their frames and were rather cranky at my attempts to help them, so I think they will be ok.  I will be in there checking their progress on a regular basis though.  I have ordered another package of bees to arrive in April and in the meantime we will relocate the top bar hive closer to the house and get it cleaned up and modified and get it ready for a new colony.  

I have also started dyeing the 12 pounds of yarn I picked up from the processor in January.  Here is the first batch I did on Sunday drying in the Monday afternoon sunshine.  Batch number 2 is at home waiting to be washed and hung up to dry.  I will have 4 more batches to do.  The color to the right is one I did up last year and sold out of.  I tried to make it as close as possible to last year's from the notes I made.  It is not exact, but close enough.  I need to have all of this done by the first week of April for the Knitter's Fantasy show in Youngstown, OH.  

Things are much different now than in January when it seemed there was little going on.  I really don't expect that it will slow down now until June, but even then once shearing is over we will have the garden and mowing and all that fun stuff to do.  It really never is dull around here.  One grows to appreciate the quiet days.

The chicks are ready for spring and lots of bugs!