Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Home From the Super Summer Knittogether (SSK)

Yes, I am home and I had a great time!  I have a lot to blog about today because time did not stop just because I was away and neither did the rain.

I had the news on on Monday and the weatherman said we had had 11 inches of rain in the last 7 weeks and were on track to have 12 inches over 8 weeks.  I believe it!  It is the end of July and there is water in our creek in the yard, which is generally dry from June until about November.  The dogs love it.  The weeds in the garden are as tall as the corn (which we planted late), but nowhere near as tall as the tomato plants, some of which are close to 6' tall.  In this photo, the tomatoes are on the left, then corn, then weeds and in the lower right you can see some beets.  I have already canned 2 batches of pickled beets and should have one more to do.  

 And check out the squash!  We have acorn and butternut and they are going crazy with all the rain.  Once the beets are all out of the garden, the squash can take over that area as well.  I much prefer the winter squash over summer squash.

On Monday I dug up my garlic.  It is now hanging in my studio to dry.  This should keep us in garlic for a while and I will take a couple bulbs and replant the individual cloves this fall for next year's crop.  

Sam is in charge of the potatoes and I have not checked to see how they are doing since I got home.  

My herb garden is finally taking off.  I used the first herb from it in some pasta the other day, parsley.

 The parsley is in the lower left.  In the center is oregano with thyme to the right of it and several basil plants.  I'm not sure what the big plant at the back is, it was there and is some kind of perennial, so I left it. In the far back corner is a poor dill plant which I think has suffered from water pouring off the roof of the building onto it.  It is not doing well.  I needed some cilantro, but could not find any when I was planting.

 Right before I left for SSK this tree came down on the alpaca fence.  I was happy it landed right on the post instead of the actual fence.  No damage was done and it was easy to cut off since the post held the tree up.

And I came home Sunday to find dead trees in our yard were being taken down, finally.  I had been wanting one in particular removed for some time but it was in a place where if it fell wrong it would take out the footbridge or the chicken coop.  Neighbor Lee showed up and dropped it neatly between the 2.

Some of the branches did bend the corner post of the chicken enclosure, but otherwise, no damage done.  You can see the chicken fence on the right and the bridge on the left.  This tree will now contribute to the maple syrup production of 2014.

That's pretty much it for the farm update for now.  Not much going on with the alpacas.  I do need to get into the bee hives this week and check on them.  I'm not sure how this wet weather affects them.  I'm not experienced enough at beekeeping to know.  But I have a meeting on Monday and I am sure this topic will come up.

So, on to SSK!  I left last Tuesday and drove to Mom's and spent a nice evening with her and then drove on to Nashville the next morning.  I had never attended a knitting retreat before and I actually had to put my name in a lottery last August in order to get into this one as there is room for only about 150 people.  The venue was the Scarritt Bennet conference center which is next to Vanderbilt  University.  It was originally built as a Methodist Episcopal college for lay people, but closed in the mid-80's.  There is a chapel on the campus where Martin Luther King once spoke (and a wedding was held here on Saturday while we were there).  The architecture is beautiful.  To the right is Gray Hall, where we were fed breakfast and lunch every day.  How Hogwart's is that??

 This is Gibson Hall, built in 1940, where my room was.  I forgot to photograph my room.  It was about 12' X 10' with a chair, small dresser and a single bed and window.  Attached to it was a small bathroom, which was shared by the room next door.  You could lock the door to the adjoining room when you went in to the bathroom, but had to remember to unlock it when you were done.  My "roomie" actually locked me out one night and I had to pick the lock to get in at 2 am.  I got her back (unintentionally) by locking her out the next afternoon.  OOps!

 Here are just a couple more shots of the campus.  There were lots of doorways with stone arches and arched windows with leaded glass.

But, the retreat itself was great fun.  I took 2 classes, one on Thursday, a photography class, which was very good.  It was all about taking good photographs of yarn and fiber to put in online shops.  I learned (among other things) that using black velvet as  background really makes colors POP!  The instructor, Gale Zucker, is a photographer who has done lots of work photographing sheep and yarn and garments for pattern books. 

 My class on Friday was a spinning class with Jacey Boggs, who has done some spinning DVD's and has also just started a new spinning magazine called "Ply".  The class I took was called "Back to the Draft" and took us through all the various forms of drafting the fiber (using your hands to pinch and pull the fiber to the size you want as the wheel is putting the twist in) to the big one, Long Draw (capitalized) which I had always wanted to learn.  I can now do it!  Excellent class, excellent instructor.  I would take a class from her again at any opportunity.

Saturday was the vendor market.  There were about 20 vendors at the event and it was open at 10 am to SSK attendees only.  I think this was the high point of the event for many.  I understand some people lined up at 7:15 am to be the first inside!  As someone who felt no need to act like it was "Black Friday" I found there was plenty left to buy when I got in there at a little after 10.  I bought some yarn, some spinning fiber and a few other things.  Nothing like some people, though!  At 1 pm the market opened to the general public but had a $5 entry fee.

There were also opening and closing receptions on Wednesday and Saturday nights with lots of door prizes.  I didn't win any. And the rest of the time, people sat around and knitted and talked and laughed and went out and saw Nashville sights and went out to dinner and just had a good time.  I'm glad I went.  I would say about 2/3 of the attendees had attended last year and about a third of us were first-timers.  I do not plan to enter the lottery for 2014 and give someone else a chance to get inAfter all, there are many other retreats to attend and I heard there was a long waiting list for this one.  Maybe I'll try to get in again in 2015.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wet July Weather

I think the weatherman said yesterday that we were into our 15th day of at least some precipitation daily.  Mostly we seem to get it in big doses.  I have to say that while I certainly appreciate rain in July and the benefits it provides for the growth of crops and hay and the water levels in the pond and creeks, I think we have had about enough for now.  I don't write much about my volunteering at our local no-kill shelter because it does not have to do with the farm, but there have been 3 times in the last month that I have had to go over to the shelter and help mop up scoop up, etc mud and flood water in the building.  We are a very small organization operating on a very small budget and it is difficult.  We need to put out some money and make some major improvements to prevent this in the future.  Last night was one of those times.

6:45 pm July 9
At least here at home the flood waters do not get into the buildings.  Our creek is subject to flash flooding but it is on a steady downhill route to the Ohio River, so as soon as the rain lets up, the flood waters begin to subside rather quickly.  In the photo to the left, Grover is near our footbridge and the bridge we drive over is just a ripple as it is entirely submerged.

a few minutes later

Now the end of the footbridge is under water and the water is quite close to the chicken house.  They were already on their roosts for the night.

And you know it's bad when the water snakes are heading for high ground, or up a tree as in this guy's case!  He's a good 4-footer.   He didn't seem too happy about me getting in his face for a photo, either, but it was getting too dark to use the zoom.

So by 9:15 when I got home from the shelter and had an opportunity to get the dogs our for a very wet hike down the road, most of the water had receded, though I could see in the dim remaining light that our hayfields were still partially submerged and part of our road was under water where a culvert had clogged up with debris.  There was a lot of debris on top of our bridge once the water went down, as well as a whole tree trunk wedged up against it.  But no major damage.

Sam has been working on getting some wood in for winter.  He cut up one tree that came down in last June 29th's derecho storm and has it stacked in front of the house.  Having been down a year it is nice and dry.  Then he started on a huge red elm that came down last month across the road and was just cut enough to get it off the road until he could get to it and cut it up.  He had a good start on it but then Saturday our neighbors, Rick and Deb showed up to help finish it up.  Sam hauled the splitter to the tree and we had Rick's pick-up and our little white truck and we made 4 truckloads and it's all stacked.  That was one big tree!  So there is a good start to a winter's worth of stove wood.  I should mention that once the last of the wood was stacked, it began to rain (surprise) and the 4 of us sat on the deck in the rain and enjoyed rum runners and beer.  Well-deserved.  Rick and Deb went home with a pint of honey and a dozen eggs.

I believe last week I was about finished clearing out the area between the fenceline and the creek.  Here is a photo of how it looks now.  Over 500' of fence clear (more or less) of multiflora roses and weeds.  It is such a good feeling.  I am still working on my hiking trail since the weather has conspired to keep me from getting up there.  I'd rather not be working on it when the footing is not the best (ie wet).  

Next week I will probably not be posting as I am going to be traveling once again.  This time I am attending a knitting retreat in Nashville, TN.  It is called the Super Summer Knittogether (or SSK) and is put on by 2 young women who have a videocast that I watch, the knitgirllls  It should be a great time.  I am taking 2 classes while I am there and will spend several days just hanging out with other knitters and spinners and having fun.  Plus, I have never been to Nashville and am looking forward to that. 

As for my knitting and spinning, I have just finished the shawl/scarf I posted photos of last week, but forgot to photograph it, so watch for it next time.  In the next few days I need to cast on several projects to take with me to the retreat since I am not sure what exactly I will want to work on while there.  I am also plying off 2 bobbins of white alpaca I have spun for the proposed woven blanket.  I need the empty bobbins to take with me since one of the classes I am taking is a spinning class.  I am kind of anxious to see what kind of yardage I get from these bobbins.  I also have my second bobbin of black alpaca about 1/2 full. 


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Graduation, A Trip and Back to Life as Usual (for a week or 2)

I am so proud of how well Grover did in his obedience class!  He got a first place ribbon at graduation.  Of course I realize that it was teamwork that actually earned him the award, so I guess it was my ribbon as well.  I have to admit, though, that I have been very lax since classes ended and I need to get with it and continue his practice sessions.

View from the condo looking toward the dunes
So a week ago Monday, I drove up to Grand Rapids Michigan to visit my cousin for a few days.  Her family has a condo on the Leelanau peninsula, which is best known for the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, and we traveled up there to spend a couple of nights on Wednesday.  We ended up staying 3 nights, 1 of which was actually spent at Tracey's in-laws' lake house right on Lake Michigan, and 2 at the condo.  The weather was perfect and we spent one day on a boat with a friend of Tracey's on Glen Lake and even got into the water to swim.  Since we stayed up at the lake until Saturday, I had a long drive home, but that was ok.

Sunday I got into the beehive and harvested another 6 frames of honey, or a little over 2 gallons.  In my last post I explained how the wax caps need to be cut from the frame before the honey can be extracted.  Here are the wax caps after being cut from the frames being cleaned of every last drop of honey by the bees.  I think I will melt this wax down and make a candle from it.  The whole sheet pan is covered in it, so there should be enough.

On Monday I brought a male alpaca over to the females' barn to test the females I had been breeding over the past month to see who might possibly be pregnant.  I was attempting to get 6 females bred, 3 to my white male and 3 to my grey male.  One of the females, who I was planning to breed to Opi, the grey male, was never receptive, so never bred.  The other 2 females I bred to Opi are both showing signs of being pregnant.  Very good news.  However, none of the 3 that were bred to my white male, Lightning, are pregnant.  All 3 were still receptive to being bred, despite having been bred to him (twice) and having shown signs of ovulation (which means they spit at him at one week post-breeding).  We had several crias from this male in the fall, but last spring I had no luck using him either, so he is not a very reliable breeder.  Or maybe he is only fertile when the weather is cooler in the fall.  Either way, it is very disappointing that we will have only 2 crias next spring.  It looks as though we will have 2 crias this fall, though, one each from Opi and Lightning.

Our weather has been great.  Lots of rain, mostly at night.  It has been difficult to keep up with the weeds in the garden.  I try, but I admit not that hard.  Everything is growing like weeds!  I will be harvesting beets soon for pickling and canning, as well as garlic.  There are green tomatoes on the vines and the squash plants are getting huge.

Speaking of huge, look at this skin from a black snake that Sam discovered in our vacant alpaca building.  It is a good 6-footer.  And you know they shed those skins when they get too large for them.  At least there should be no more mice in that building!
One of the chores I have been working on lately is cleaning up the fenceline along the creek in our main alpaca pasture.  The fence runs along the road, but there is the creek between the road and the fence.  When we put in the fence 13 years ago, we left enough space between the fence and the creek to get a mower down.  But over the years, the bank has eroded and in places is only abut 18" wide.  Sam just got me a new brush cutter with a metal blade and I have been making progress.  In this photo, you can see the creek and the steep bank and then the fence (sort of).  I have it mostly cleaned out, but forgot to take an "after" photo, so will post that next week.  I have also been up on my hiking trail on Wayne National Forest clearing it out.  I only got about 100 yards on one tank of gas in the brush cutter on Monday.  It is pretty thick.  Considering I have about 1/2 mile to clear, it might take a while, but it will be so much nicer to hike on.

I started a new shawl last week and took it along with me on my trip and had some time to sit quietly and work on it.  It is the Daybreak shawl  and I am knitting it in a skein of my hand dyed millspun alpaca and a skein of my natural brown millspun alpaca and LOVE how it is coming out.  I am more than pleased with the colors in my hand-dyed.  You just never know until you knit something sometimes what it will look like.  This will not be a large shawl, more of a crescent shaped scarf.  

I have also made progress this week on the black yarn I am spinning for the blanket I plan to weave.  I still have a long way to go before I am ready to start warping my loom! I need at least 4 bobbins of this black and then I need white (which I have a good start on) and brown and fawn.  January?
Of course Michigan is known for its cherry crop, which unfortunately was not yet ripe when I was there.  But no trip to Glen Arbor is complete without a stop at the Cherry Republic, where you can graze your way through their wonderful samples of chocolate covered cherries, cherry salsa, cherry jams and more.
So what did I buy?