Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Frigid Fiber Festival Followed by the Arrival of Summer Weather

Rowdy seems to have adjusted to his summer haircut, so he is posing for me again.  He really does much better without all that heavy coat in the summer.  It never dries out and he starts to smell like mildew after a while.

Wow, it's been quite a week.  Grover and I attended our obedience class again on Thursday night.  I have to say we are having fun with it.  I bought a treat pouch that I can wear around my waist and is easy to open and access a treat, which is important.  Plastic baggies in one's pocket are just not easy and fast to get into.  So I wear it all the time we are outside and Grover never knows when I will ask for a sit/stay or to walk next to me.  Sam was very impressed with Grover's sit/stay.  He IS getting good at it.

Friday I packed up and left with my friend Tari for the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster Ohio.  I had decided to borrow my father-n-law's very large van, which runs on natural gas/gasoline because a) it would get us all the way there and back on free natural gas   b) it is easier to load than the pick-up truck with a cap on it  and  c) it would be more comfortable to sleep in if we needed to do so.

As it worked out, a, b and c were quite true.  Tari and I packed a tent to sleep in and even set it up and then we decided that since there were frost warnings (!) it would be warmer to sleep in the van.  There are 2 bench seats in the van and we each picked one and that's where we slept.  We awoke both mornings to bright sun shining through icy windows.  While we did not sleep like we would have at home, I am sure we slept better than if we had slept in the tent.

The show was nice.  I think from what other vendors said attendance was down, which is odd since the daytime weather was perfect for this type of event, in the low to mid 60's.  Last year, it was in the mid 90's.  It was HOT last year.  My sales were ok, not great, but I had little expense in being there, and had a lot of fun with Tari and other people I know.  I was even declared a "genius" when the owner of Morning Star Fiber Mill stopped by and saw what I did dyeing the yarns he processed for me.  That was fun.

On Monday, we finished up shearing the last 5 alpacas.  At least these 5 girls were warm over the weekend.  We completed shearing in only an 8 day period this year, during which we actually sheared 4 days.  Love it!  Having less than 25 alpacas is so much easier.

So I think by Tuesday, the weather was up into the 80's and feels like summer.  All around us people are mowing hay and Sam mowed ours yesterday, so we should be baling on Saturday.  In this photo, you can see the mown hay and at the far end of the field you can see lots of heavy equipment that is being used to put in the gas pipeline.  We had to go over and take a look on our walk last night.

 There were FOUR of these big excavators sitting down there.  I'd love to play with one someday.  I think they are fracking the wells on the first pad about 2 miles from us.  It occasionally (usually about 7 am) sounds like jet engines revving up.  They are getting ready to drill even closer.  Yipee.

Tuesday I also got into both bee hives to see how things were going.  Both are healthy and active, though I don't have enough honey yet to harvest.  Maybe in a couple weeks.  Excited about that prospect.

Also on our walk last night Sam cast his line in the pond a few times as he often does.

And while he is doing that, this is what is going on on the other side of the pond


 I don't think any fish were caught.  Wonder why.


This is the one week a year when the multi-flora roses which we battle against constantly are actually pretty.  They bloom with tiny white flowers and fill the air with the fragrance of roses.  They are everywhere (you can see them behind Sam in the photo above) and are a scourge to anyone trying to keep fields and pastures clean.


I have not written much about fibery pursuits lately.  I am almost finished with a summer top knitted with a hemp/cotton yarn.  I had knitted a top from it 3 years ago and did not like it, so I ripped it out and re-purposed the yarn.  I am liking this one much better.

 I am spinning alpaca for the purpose of weaving a blanket.  I spun white all weekend at the fiber festival and have black on another wheel.  Of course I purchased some fiber at the festival and also a turkish drop spindle, which I will post about next week, since I forgot to photograph it.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Started (and almost finished!) Shearing

Can you find the hidden dog?

Yes, we finally got down to the dirty job of shearing.  And It is indeed a dirty job.  I recall I was told Mike Rowe once featured alpaca shearing on "Dirty Jobs".  I have never been able to catch that episode.  He can come help me shear any day!
 This is what I look like after a day of shearing.  Heading back to the house for something cold to drink.  This was Sunday and Sam and I sheared 8 in about 3 hours.  We did the rest of the females in the main barn (5) on Monday evening and last night we did the 5 males.  We have only 5 left to do. That makes us very happy.  Last year when we had shorn 18 we were way less than halfway done.  

We had to shut the dogs in the house while shearing because Grover was getting very vocal and excited when the alpacas would make any noise.  Unfortunately, Grover decided that he would knock over the kitchen trash can (which he has never done before) and eat much of the contents, including several paper towels I had drained sausage on, chicken bones and, believe it or not, a whole mushy red pepper that I had recently discovered in the refrigerator.  The seeds were all over the dining room and Grover's poop was quite multi-colored the next day.  There is almost nothing that dog won't eat!  I am sure Rowdy helped with the chicken bones and probably the paper towels, but not the red pepper.  Now the garbage can is going on the back deck while the dogs are unattended in the house!

 So here are some of the younger females all denuded of fiber.  They will be much cooler even though they look funny. 

And some of the males waiting at the gate for their morning feed.

This weekend is a big weekend for me.  I will be attending the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster Ohio with my friend Tari.  We are planning to camp on the fairgrounds instead of splurging for a hotel and we are sharing a booth, so space will be limited.  I will take my rugs, but may not put them out as they do take up lots of room.  I finished dyeing my  last lot of yarn and did up a sample swatch so people can see and more improtantly FEEL what the yarn is like knitted up.

Here it is in skein form

and in knitted form, which also shows the color
 variation.  It kind of forms an X in this swatch, but most knitters will be knitting a larger project and the colors will spread out a bit more.

Grover continues to do well in Obedience Class and the instructor asked me last week if I had ever thought of doing agility with him, to which I answered that yes, I had, but wanted to see how he did with obedience first.  That is kind a pre-requisite anyway.  Rowdy and I did agility together almost 4 years ago and I determined at that time that Rowdy did not think agility was fun.  Grover thinks EVERYTHING is fun.  We are not allowed to take photos until graduation day, which is fine because I have my hands full in class with Grover, a clicker and treats anyway.

Grover likes to do whatever Rowdy does, and has even taken to sitting and now sleeping on the stairs.  I had never seen a dog do this prior to Rowdy .  It just verifies to me that a younger dog will look to and learn from having an older dog around.  Hopefully, the older dog will be a good role model!

This iris was given to me by a friend shortly before he died much too young.  The first time it bloomed was the day of John's memorial service 2 years ago. I will always think of John when these bloom.  They are blooming like crazy by my back door right now which is fitting as I am shortly leaving to attend a memorial for another young man who has left this world much too soon.  Now I will think of Bryn also when the iris blooms. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lots of Preparation

Look how high that hay is getting!
Yes, there is a lot to prepare for right now.  And it is not just us on the farm.  All around us preparations are under way in our area for oil and gas drilling.  It has been going on for a while, but now it is coming within sight of our property, so it is becoming much more obvious to us.

 This hill is just above our one alpaca field and hayfield, across the road from the guest house.  It is kind of hard to see in the photo, but yesterday this tall structure appeared.  There has been a lot of heavy equipment movement up there the last 2 or 3 weeks and I know they are planning to drill here in the near future.  Noise from dawn to dusk.  It will be 24 hours once they start drilling.

This is a gas pipeline that is going in just about 50 yards from our far property line, so just under a mile from the house.  This is where it crosses the road.


On to more fun preparations!  Next weekend (Memorial Day) is the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster Ohio, which is about 2 1/2 hours from me.  Most of my prep consists of dyeing up my most recent batch of 100% alpaca yarn so that it will be ready for the show.
I have dyed 2 more colors this week:

Once I dye and wash the yarn, I usually re-skein it because I think it looks better re-skeined.  To do that, I put the skein of yarn on an umbrella swift, which folds up just like an unbrella when not in use.  It adjusts to the circumference of the yarn skein.  Then, I use my "niddy noddy" to wind the yarn into a larger circumference skein and that splits up the color variations so they are no longer in blocks.

Umbrella Swift and niddy noddy

Here is the swift clamped to the  desk at our office and the niddy noddy is leaning against it.  The swift spins around as I wind the yarn onto the niddy noddy.  Time consuming, but I like the re-skeined look.

Here are 3 colors.  The skeins on the right of each pair are how they look out of the dyepot, and the skeins on the left are how they look re-skeined.  Once all are re-skeined, I will label them and they will be ready for the festival.

In addition to this preparation, I have also been moving some panels around in the alpaca barn to make room for shearing, which we will likely start this weekend. 

I am glad we had not shorn as of yet since we did have a stretch of rather chilly weather this past weekend, with daytime highs only in the 50's and 2 mornings of light frost.
My mother was visiting for several days from the Dayton area, which is 3 1/2 hours away.  She and her dog arrived on Friday and stayed until Tuesday morning.  So for Mother's Day we had her and also Sam's mom and dad over for a nice get together and dinner.  Unfortunately we were unable to enjoy a meal on the deck due to the very cool weather, but it was very nice despite that.

Last Thursday was the first obedience class for Grover and me.  We are going to Parkersburg Obedience Training Club where Rowdy and I did agility about 4 years ago.  It is a nice facility.  I think Grover did very well at his first class.  We did our homework prior to going but have not been as good this week.  Having a houseguest and a 3rd dog in the house for several days kind of put us behind, but we will do fine, I hope, when we go back tonight.  Grover is very responsive and attentive.  We are using clickers and as soon as I get that clicker out, I have his full undivided attention (and Rowdy's).  Grover just wants to be on top of us.  He does not discriminate.  He will get into the lap of a total stranger, given the chance (meaning if the stranger sits down).  We call it "encroachment".  First, he comes over and puts his head on the arm of your chair and gazes lovingly at you with those multi-colored eyes.  If you even acknowledge his presence (looking at him counts) he begins a slow climb onto your lap:  first the head and neck, then the front legs, then one leg at a time the rear legs find their way up and next thing you know, you have a 50 pound Grover in your lap.  If you don't sit down, why he just leaps up on you so he can be closer to your face.  At first it is cute, but it gets old fast.  He is definitely a work in progress!

The yard and deck are invitingly shady once again


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dyeing Again

Life's Tough
As you can see, we are enjoying life here on the farm.  We are getting the garden in and have enjoyed some of the year's first homegrown asparagus.  There is lettuce starting to come up, potatoes are planted, as are beets.  Squash will be next and tomatoes and peppers as well.  I even picked some rhubarb yesterday and hope to make a yummy dessert with it.  Sam has picked some morels in the woods and he is not sure if they are done or not for the year.

Yes, I am once again dyeing.  I got my 3-ply worsted weight 100% alpaca yarn last week from the processor and while it is a smaller batch, only about 7 pounds, I am happy with it.  Since I am to be sharing a vendor space at the in Wooster Ohio over Memorial Day weekend with my friend Tari, I am wasting no time in dyeing it up.  I am using a different dye technique with this, kettle dyeing.

I am also doing a tonal dye process in which I basically use shades of only one color in different concentrations.  So far I have done 2 batches, one in teal and one in salmon

Since this is the first time I am using these methods, there is some trial and error, but in general I am happy with the results.  I am taking good notes in my "Dye-ary" so I can look back and see what I would change and/or do again.  I am dyeing only 5 skeins in each colorway which is 1250 yards since I have less to dye and the batches are limited to what will fit easily in my dyepot.

The bees are well.  Both Saturday and yesterday, Tuesday, I got into the top bar hive to refill their 1:1 sugar water feed.  On Saturday I also pulled the combs out to look for evidence  that the hive is thriving and was happy to find capped brood, which is the stage of larval development where the larva develops into the adult worker bee.  So things are looking good.  This weekend I hope to open the orchard hive and see how they are progressing with the new box and frames I gave them 10 days ago.  I am anxiously awaiting a shipment of additional frames, however, in case they are ready for another box.

This morning I sent 4 alpacas off to Virginia to a new home, bringing us down to 23 on the farm.  So now I am contemplating breedings for this spring.  I want to continue to breed for fiber production as well as to make some of the females I have more sellable, but I don't want to get to where I have too many alpacas again.  It's a hard balance.  I would like to stay under 25.  There are 6 females I am thinking of breeding for crias for next spring.  I may have 2 due this fall.  Stay tuned.

Our weekend weather was fabulous.  I took advantage of that on Sunday and went horseback riding again.  Rode a fun little paint who was happiest bringing up the rear and who I was warned has a penchant for wanting to get down and roll on the creek crossings.  I managed to keep him on his feet.  It's a bit cold yet for a dunking!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bees, Trees, Fine Weather, I Could Go On & On.......

That's a GroverGator
This may be a wordy post. I know its been hard to keep the photos to a minimumWhile we had much needed rain on Sunday and Monday, otherwise we have been enjoying some fabulous weather.  

So first, I guess I will mention that while I don't write about it much, our area is experiencing an oil and gas drilling boom.  It is really bringing some changes.  Not all of them good, in my opinion.  It has hurt our Real Estate business in that, since we specialize in farms and acreage, no one is selling right now.   Everyone is hoping for a windfall from gas and oil leases and drilling royalties.  Some folks have benefited from this already.  It is interesting to see new barns being constructed and new pick-ups in driveways.  But, there is constant noise.  And lots of traffic. About 50 yards beyond the far end of our property they are installing a gas pipeline across the road and parallel to our property line.  Yesterday, at least 2 semi loads of huge pipe went by the house. Hopefully once the gas line is done, we won't see much traffic anymore, but the noise will be around for awhile, I think.

Despite that there are still lots of wonderful spring things going on right now.  First, I checked into my top bar hive on Thursday to see if the queen had been released from her cage, and she had.  I also fed them more 1:1 sugar water.  And since I want to be sure this new colony has lots of sustenance to help them draw out comb so they can reproduce, I also got into the hive yesterday (Tuesday) to feed them again and to check on the status of things.

Here is a view between 2 of the top bars.  The bees are gathered on newly made comb.  They had drawn out quite a bit over the last week and while I did not see that the queen had started to lay eggs, I DID find her, which is a good sign.  

The bees kind of make bee chains and I think that somehow helps them to build their combs the right size and shape.  To the left, you can see bee chains that I have disturbed by separating 2 adjacent bars with comb-building in progress.

I will need to feed the bees again Saturday, so will be looking then for signs the queen has started to lay eggs.

So that is the top bar hive news.  The other hive, which I will now call the orchard hive, also needed some tending.  Last week I had moved some of the boxes around and had found the bees to be building comb where they should not have been, which led me to believe they were in need of more space.  So on Friday, I gave them a fifth box.

4 boxes

hive open

I remove the covers and here you can see the tops of the frames.  The bees have been smoked, so most are down inside the hive.

Here is my new box with brand new frames 

I stack it on top of the open hive and replace the cover
5 high

And now the bees have 10 more frames to draw out comb on and to hopefully fill with honey in the next month or so.  This top box will be the one I remove and harvest the honey from if all goes according to plan!

The pollen and nectar flows seem to be in high gear.  The bees have been very busy on the maple trees in our yard, which are also dropping bright yellow pollen all over our deck. 

We also have beautiful blossoms on our peach and apple trees.



And of course, it is time to start thinking about shearing alpacas.  It will seem so much easier this year with 1/2 the number of alpacas to shear!  It is now May, so I think we will likely start in the next few days, maybe this weekend.

And speaking of shearing, my worsted weight yarn is on its way to me from the mill.  I expect it today or tomorrow and I need to do some practice dyeing since I would like to try a new-to-me technique.  More on that later.

Here is another photo of the shawl I finished up last week.  I am so pleased with how it turned out.  

On Saturday the weather was incredible and I sat out on the deck and hand carded some of the black fleece I had washed on Thursday and then spun some of it up.  This is the start of the yarn for my handwoven blanket.  I will be spinning 3 natural colors and want to do a plaid pattern.  But I won't be weaving it anytime soon!

Rowdy turned 8 years old yesterday.  He had a hamburger (well half, Grover got the other half) for dinner and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Happy Birthday Rowdy!