Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rim Fire on My Mind

When I wrote last week, I was anxiously waiting to hear what would happen with younger son Zac.  A wildfire had broken out nearby 5 days previous, and when I wrote, it had gone from 800 acres to 16,000 acres and the lodge where Zac lives/works and surrounding areas had been evacuated.  Over the past week, I have watched online as the fire has grown to over 290 square miles burned.  Evergreen Lodge is well within the burn area: as it is within walking distance to "Mather" shown on the map.

However, the good news is that while much of the Stanislaus National Forest that surrounds Evergreen has burned, firefighters were able to save both Evergreen and Camp Mather.  The photo above and to the right are from Evergreen Lodge's Facebook site.  You can see that the trees on the property are still standing, but outside the property is ash and char.  Very sad.

I have been fortunate so visit Evergreen and the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite 4 times over the period of time my sons have been there and it is so sad to think of areas like this burned.


 This is Cherry Creek, which is in a canyon.  I understand the fire roared up this canyon, so all those trees are likely black.  This was in 2010 and Sam and my sons, Ian and Zac and Ian's now-fiance, Michelle and their friends Ryan and Bethany (who were due to get married at Evergreen less than a week from today) and I had all driven down a fire road, left our cars when we could drive no further and hiked another 2 miles to this secluded spot. 

We passed a couple of these old mine entrances on the way and ended up at this fantastic deep cold pool which we had totally to ourselves.  This is the benefit of having personal tour guides.  This is NOT in Yosemite, this is in the Stanislaus National Forest, to the west of Yosemite National Park.

Look at that water.  It really is that color.  And cold.  It all originates as snow melt run off.  Pure, cold and clear.

So, while the lodge is still standing, we have not heard when Zac will be able to return.  We really don't know if there will be water damage to the buildings, I have not heard.  I do know Zac left most of his belongings behind so he could fit more people in his van.  

There is an area in Yosemite many people do not see.  It is called Hetch Hetchy and is very close to Evergreen.  It is a man made reservoir from which pure mountain melt water is sent to San Francisco.  This is the area of Yosemite that has been most impacted so far by the fire.   It is a gorgeous remote area which we have hiked several times.  This is older son Ian and me at Hetch Hetchy in November 2009.  

So I am keeping an eye via internet on the Rim Fire.  As of yesterday, I believe it was about 23% contained.  Watch this clip for more info if you like:

Things have been quiet at home on the farm.  We are getting ready for our annual Labor Day weekend party, so cleaning and mowing and buying food, etc.  Sam's brother sent me a 1/2  bushel of peaches on Sunday, so Tuesday I canned 7 quarts of peaches.

 I hope they taste as good as they look.

 My new chickens are doing well.  I kept them in the yard until Sunday and then opened the gate for them to roam during the day so they can eat bugs and worms and whatever else they scratch up.  The last 2 nights, only 7 have gone into the coop to roost and the 8th is hanging around outside in the morning.  She is obviously confused about how this is supposed to work.  Roosting outside the coop leaves her vulnerable to becoming dinner to a raccoon, fox or possum, so I hope she gets with the program soon.


I have also finished the body of the sweater I have been knitting.  I am actually almost finished with the first sleeve as well.  Here is the body.  Next week, I should have at least one sleeve to show you.  I don't think I will get any knitting time this weekend as we will have 2 houses full of family.  

It just wouldn't be right to blog without a photo of Rowdy or Grover!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Summer is Winding Down

I have to admit I hate to see summer coming to a close, but in general, I love fall.  Fall weather, fall activities, fall colors, fall light, fall food. But we still have some summer left, even though the weather has been cooler than normal.  We had a morning or 2 in the lower 50's and upper 40's!  Incredible for August, but I'll take it.

Yesterday I spent a great deal of time on the computer here at our office searching for any and all news I could find of the "Rim Fire"  near Groveland California.  This is a wild fire outside Yosemite National Park that went from 800 acres on Sunday to over 16,000 acres by yesterday evening.  My reason for obsession about info on this fire is that my younger son lives and works at a lodge that is only about 10 miles cross country from where this fire was by yesterday and we were waiting to hear if they had evacuated.  He had actually called me 2 nights in a row to let me know what was going on.  Finally, as of 6 pm or so my time last night they did evacuate the lodge and he called around 8 pm to say he was safely in Curry Village in Yosemite Valley (which is another 20 miles or so east of the fire) and would keep me posted as to his future plans.  IF the fire can be contained soon, he will go back to the lodge.  If the worst case scenario comes to pass, the lovely lodge and surroundings will be lost and Zac will likely head on up to Portland, OR to stay with his brother, Ian for a while.  I am hoping for a good outcome for all.

Mike, me, Mom, & Larry
There have been a lot of other things going on this past week.  First off, I drove to southwest Ohio on Friday to join my 2 younger brothers in surprising my mother for her birthday.  Her birthday was not until Monday, but Friday was the only day I could get away and it was a milestone birthday and we could not let it pass.  She really was surprised.  She thought she was just going to younger brother Larry's for dinner and did not expect Mike and me to  be there.  Larry prepared bruschetta with tomatoes and fresh basil I provided, Lake Michigan salmon he had caught the previous week, fresh brussel sprouts and rice and I cooked some fresh acorn squash from my garden, sweetened with some of my maple syrup.  It was a very nice dinner.  Nothing makes a mother happier than having all her children together.  I know.

I had to be home Saturday afternoon to put in the last of the year's hay.  We had one large field and a very small field to do and had about 175 additional bales of second cutting to put in the barn.  The large field is way up by our pond and is accessed by a farm road through the woods which is about 1/2 mile long with 3 "switchbacks" to maneuver.  Needless to say, this can be tricky with a large pick-up and a full trailer load of hay and trees  Unfortunately, as I was coming down, I lost several bales off the front of the trailer, which wedged themselves under the trailer wheels and I came to a complete stop.  So when Sam came down the hill behind me in the little truck, he found me on my back in the mud with both feet on a wedged bale pushing with everything I had to get it out from under the trailer.  But we eventually prevailed and got it all into the barn.  Good feeling to have that chore done for another year.

Tuesday I picked up 8 pullets, or young hens.  My 9 hens were about 2 1/2 years old and I was only getting about 3 to 4 eggs a day from the 9 of them, so I needed some new layers.  These 8 chicks should start laying in a couple of weeks.  Right now they are still too scared to venture very far out the door of the coop and I will not allow them to free range until I am sure they know where home is to go back and roost every night.  For now they are restricted to the chicken yard.

That brings up the question of my old hens.  I struggled with this for quite some time.  Last Thursday, my friend Tari came over and we butchered my old hens.  They are now in my freezer and will make wonderful chicken stock.  This was a hard thing for me to do, but it is the eventual end for layers past their prime unless one wants to keep them around as pets and feed them.  It was a huge step for me as I have never personally killed and processed anything I have eaten.  But I decided if it was going to be done, I would be doing it.  I sincerely thank Tari for showing me how to do it.  I know many people will not agree with me on doing this, but I have been a carnivore all my life, I don't plan to change, and since I am, I need to own it.  I figure these hens probably had a more humane life and death than the chickens wrapped in plastic in the grocery store.
Thank goodness I won't have to do it again for 2 more years. 

The garden is doing ok.  The cool wet weather seems to be affecting the tomatoes and they are not ripening like they should.  And they have a funny bumpy texture under the skin.  Not sure what it is.  Sam's hops are doing well.  To the left is one of his smaller vines.  You can see lots of hop "cones" on it.  I also dug up a couple potatoes the other day and they look pretty good.

The wet summer has been good for the pastures.  Here is the small pasture across from the guest house that I took the 5 females off of a couple weeks ago.  It is looking wonderful.

As for fibery stuff, I have been working (slowly) on some hand-dyed alpaca batts.  I have dyed some blue and red alpaca and am carding in some sparkly purple "Firestar" which you can best see in the blue batt.  My plan is to make layered batts on my drum carder with some silk I dyed purple sandwiched between the red and blue alpaca.  I hope to have these ready for sale at the Wool Gathering in Yellow Springs Ohio next month.  We'll see how they turn out. 
Thomas peering out of the (hay filled) loft

I am still working on my cardigan out of the wool/bamboo blend yarn.  I have finished the body and am ready to do the sleeves.  Maybe I will have a photo update for next week.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How Does Our Garden Grow?

Grover loves tomatoes......
Yes, Grover loves tomatoes.  Grover loves to eat many things I think are strange for a dog to eat, like watermelon rind.  He also loves to eat burrs once I pick them from his coat or Rowdy's, which I find exceedingly weird.  Now if only I could get him to just remove the burrs from Rowdy's coat instead of involving the middleman (or woman as the case might be!).

Things are kind of quiet on the farm right now.  Our garden is starting to produce.  So this week, I am posting lots of photos of the garden and what is coming from it.  This photo is taken form the end closest to the house.  The squash is literally taking over.  To the left rear are lots of tomatoes, starting to come ripe in larger quantities.  I hope to be able to do some canning soon.  There is corn in the center rear, which we planted late and it is just now in tassle and forming ears.  We hope to beat the raccoons to the corn this year.  We have not grown it in several years due to the fact that the raccoons got more of it than we did.  We saw little point in doing the work for them.  But this year we had extra space and figured, why not?  Maybe we could have Grover stay out in the garden at night and keep the 'coons away.  In truth, he would likely eat all our tomatoes....

 Here are cornstalks with the silk of newly forming ears and tomatoes in the background.

 Peering into the squash jungle we find butternut and acorn squash sharing space.  

And here is some of what we have picked.  We have been eating tomatoes on a daily basis.  BLTs, hamburgers with fresh tomato, a favorite Cooking Light recipe: Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce (the sauce includes only tomatoes, fresh basil, a little salt and crushed red pepper), fresh salsa (made by Sam) and an omelet with eggs fresh from the nest box, tomatoes and chipotle cheddar cheese.  We have also had our first baked acorn squash with butter, brown sugar and a bit of pure maple syrup.  Yum!

In other news, Sam is mowing hay today, so on Saturday, we will be baling and stacking again.  Since we already have all the hay we need, this will likely go up for sale.

I am getting 8 new pullets (young hens just coming to laying age)  next week since my current hens have really reduced production.  

The biggest news, which somehow I neglected to post last week, is that older son, Ian, and his long-time girlfriend, Michelle, have decided to get married!  The wedding won't be until September 2014, so there is a lot of time to make plans, but I know it will be here before I know it.  The wedding will be in Oregon.

 Fibery stuff:  my wool/bamboo cardigan had a setback on Sunday.  It was a beautiful day and the weatherman had said NO RAIN til at least Monday or Tuesday and I was taking advantage of that  by spending time on the deck knitting on my sweater.  Beautiful sunny day, no clouds in the sky.  At about 6:15 it was time to walk the dogs up to the pond.  When I got up there I discovered the neighbors, who Sam had been helping to clear a path from adjoining property onto our property, were up there and the teenage girls were wanting to zip line, so a pond party began.  There were drinks which miraculously appeared from coolers on 4-wheelers and I had a swimsuit at the pond and the girls went home and got theirs on and we zipped into the pond.  No sooner had we started this than clouds appeared and shortly it was raining and then pouring.  At which point I realized I had left my knitting on the table on the deck.  No point running home in the rain, it was already wet.  I was just glad I had not left my MP3 player or tablet out there!  When I got home, I wrapped the sweater in a towel to squeeze out water and then spread it on my sweater dryer over my bathtub to dry.  In the morning I took it outside in the light and to my horror, once dry, I could see stripes of discoloration!   I could not imagine what had caused it.  My best option was to remove the needles and cut off the yarn and wash the sweater with some wool wash and put it out to dry again.  Which I did, hoping for the best, fearing the worst.  Half empty glass......I need not have feared, once washed and dried, I can see no sign of discoloration.  I can only guess that the rain coming through the maple leaves which shade our deck picked up some pigment of some kind from the leaves and deposited it on the sweater.  Whatever it was, it came off, that's all that matters!

I am also thinking ahead to the Wool Gathering in Yellow Springs which happens Sept 21 & 22 and at which I am vending.  All my yarns are dyed.  I have been carding up some dyed alpaca and am planning to make some layered spinning batts with 2 colors of alpaca and dyed silk.  We'll see how those turn out.  I have one color carded and am working on the second.

Our Labor Day weekend party is also  coming up soon.  Only a little over 2 weeks away.  This year it is on Aug 31 and if you are reading this, you are invited!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mid-Summer Farm Activity

Early morning newly mown hay
I really didn't forget to post last week, there was just not much to post about.  It was kind of rainy and dreary and I did not get any photos taken.  This week made up for it though.

We have been very busy here on the farm.  We have had a break in the rain, which was actually a good thing.  Usually this time of year we are bemoaning the lack of rain as we watch the garden dry up.  Not so this year.  Last Friday was nice and I spent it going to a flea market with my friend Tari.  She is the one with whom I have attended many fiber festivals, including the very cold Great Lakes Festival this past May in which we slept in the van.  We had a great time Friday. Perfect weather.

Saturday it rained fairly steadily most of the day.  A neighbor who has bees and started with them about the same time I did came over with 6 frames of honey and I showed her how I extract honey from one of her frames and then she did the  rest and went home planning to buy an extractor like mine.  Sunday, I took 3 more frames of honey off my hive, but haven't had time to extract it yet.


On Monday, I moved the 5 female alpacas who were in the pasture across the road from the guest house down to the garage pasture.  This will give that pasture a rest, plus Miracle, who is one of the five, is due to have a cria in September and I want her close to our house.


Then I mowed 5 of our alpaca pastures for weed control.  They look so much nicer.

Monday morning I had been over at the shelter where I volunteer taking down some fence for some major improvements we are making and I brought home enough of the old fence (which we are replacing) to re-do my chicken enclosure.  It really needed to be re-done.  I had used old recycled fencing the first time I did it 2 years ago and that fencing was in poor shape at the time.  So Monday evening, I replaced that.  It looks so much nicer and is higher than what I had previously.

Sam was watching the weather forecast all weekend for a 3 day window with no rain because hay needed to be mown.  Sunday, it got mowed.  Rain is forecast for today, Wednesday, so that meant raking and baling yesterday and getting it in before the rain.  Due to all the rain, we figured we would have a lot of hay and we were right.  We called on our neighbor, Charlie, and he and his son Harv came and helped us.  300 + 50# bales of hay is too much for 2 people, especially when you have to start picking it up while 1 person is still on the tractor baling. We loaded our big flat bed trailer 3 times as well as the truck bed.  Sam also took 2 small loads and put them up in the lofts of 2 of the 3-sided alpaca sheds.  The electric elevator is a great help and once Sam finished
baling, there were 2 of us up in the loft and 1 person loading the hay onto the elevator.  My job at this point is usually to climb up on the hay and Sam throws the bales up to me and I stack.  I keep getting higher and higher and eventually end up clear up against the rafters.  Thank goodness the bats have left the barn for the night by this time!  At least the weather was fairly cool (for August) because the heat just stays up there in the peak of the barn and the sweat just rolls.  Not for the faint of heart!  By the time we are done, my shoulders and upper back ache and my clothing is full of hay which is sticking to me.  We started loading about 4:30 and finished up around 9 pm.  A vodka tonic tasted really good!  By the way, 300 bales is approximately 7   1/2 tons.  We still have 2 more fields to do.  They will yield less however.

Here are our males this morning.  I was trying to get a picture of them with their halos created by the sun.

As for fiber, I have not had much time.  I have been working away at my wool/bamboo cardigan.  Here is how it looked last week.  The top of the photo is actually the hem.  I have gotten up to where the sleeves will be, so about 5 more inches than this photo shows.

 I really like it so far.  Those lace panels run up the sides of the back and there is also a panel on each side of the front and there will be one on each sleeve.  It is not a heavy sweater and will be great for fall over a tee-shirt.