Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's Been A Long Time

I've been very naughty about staying on top of things here. Too many distractions I suppose.

I took a weaving class in the fall and have fallen head over heels in love with it. It's certainly stealing time from my knitting and spinning.

My job has also been a little challenging and about 3 weeks ago I got a promotion, so I think it was worth all the hard work. But now I have to learn how to do the new job well!

As a reward to myself for the new job, I went ahead and got myself a Smartphone. This is a Samsung Galaxy S III. The learning curve for this old lady is rather steep. I still remember using a rotary dial phone!

So, what does this new phone have to do with my fiber life? I think (not sure but hopeful), that I will become better at taking pictures and uploading them to both Ravelry and to this blog. I'm also on the lookout for some applications for fiber adventures. I got Ravolous and the Ravelry picture uploader already and I found a neat knitting app for counting rows.

For my birthday my husband got me a new computer. The old one was literally on it's last bit of functionality and a week after the new one was up and running, the old one refused to turn on at all.

For my birthday I bought myself a little workshop sized loom. It's a used Leclerc Minerva. They don't make it anymore, but I can still get all parts. I honestly think I could build a whole new loom from scratch if I needed to... but there are a few things I still need to get. First, I need to order a crank for the warp beam. Then I really need to get a different reed. This one came with a 12 dent reed, but I tend to use thicker yarns (at least right now) and I think I would be happier with an 8 and 10.

I've ordered a new shuttle already. I have two, but the Minerva has a fairly narrow shed and so I ordered a slim shuttle made just for narrow sheds.

Of course, I will need to order new yarn... lol

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall Pictures

The colors this year have been amazing. Here are a few pictures I took today.


I took a week off from work.
I helped set up a weaving studio on Sunday.
Monday morning I showed up and made coffee then became one of 12 beginner weaving students at the Tavern Spinners and Weavers Guild studying under Elaine Bradley for the next five days.
She had us warp our looms, weave a sampler, pick something from the sampler and weave a small table runner, play a bit, cut off the warp, wash the project, dry it, press it and admire it. Then she had us warp for a long scarf (a choice of two projects: Crammed and Space Scarf or Random Warp Scarf). We sampled until we found the right color combination with the right yarns, then started weaving. Most of the students finished about 3:30 p.m. on Friday. Three or four of us didn't quite finish but will soon.

Judy M. and Sandi were the driving force who found all the looms, benches, warping boards and other equipment for 12 students, ordered the yarn and got our instructor safely to the classroom each day.

It was mind bending and opened up a world of possibilities for me and I am saving up my pennies for a small Harrisville portable loom now so I have something I can weave on at home besides my rigid heddle loom. I am so excited by what I learned and at least for now, I'm not afraid to try warping from the back anymore. She made it very simple and shared lots of tricks and tips. If you have an opportunity to study weaving with Elaine Bradley from Atlanta, GA; jump at the opportunity! She's great!

Saturday, July 09, 2011


In late May I ordered a 2 gallon stoneware crock with the intention of making sauerkraut. I figured that even if the kraut didn't work, cabbage was cheap and I could use the crock for some decorative purpose.

Well the crock arrived (including wooden "lid") and I sliced up my organic cabbages as thinly as I could and recruited Ken to help me pound it a bit as we layered it into the crock and sprinkled with sea salt. Moisture from the cabbages came out, just as promised. I topped it off with an extra cup of salt water just to be safe. We put the wooden lid in which is supposed to work like a press and push the cabbage down and keep it under the brine. On top of that I put a gallon plastic bag filled with water and put the whole thing on the floor under the air conditioner (the coolest spot we could find). To keep the kittens out of it (and flies) I laid a wooden cutting board over the whole thing.

In about three days, the kraut started to bubble. It bubbled so much, in fact, that it spilled out of the crock! I cleaned up that mess and then put the crock on top of some old paper grocery bags. About every three days for the next two weeks, it would bubble over. The third week there appeared to be no bubbling and I opened the crock and pulled out a little kraut.

Well, I say "I opened the crock"... lesson learned here... the wooden lid expanded in the brine. So much so, it took Ken some good force and ingenuity to get the lid out. But he did manage to remove it.

It was good! Really good. But I wanted it to be really, really done.

Ken refused to taste it raw (his loss), but we sealed it all up again for another week.

Finally, I could not wait anymore and reopened the crock. We filled five sterile quart jars with kraut and I had a little left over for me to eat on a turkey reuben that night. Yummy! I hot water processed (with some reluctance because I know that the canning kills the beneficial bacteria) for 10 minutes. This sealed the jars and we left them out on the counter for a week to make sure the fermentation was, in fact, complete.

Sadly, we also discovered that the wooden "lid" had expanded so much that it cracked my two gallon crock! Damn! So, today I ordered a new one.

The cracked one will do well for one gallon batches of things like dill pickles or other ferments larger than a quart but smaller than a gallon.

We will skip using the wooden "lid".

Saturday, July 02, 2011

How not to spend other people's money...

I have dreams. I have not lost those yet. But I'm very frustrated at my lack of forward progress in securing the land I want where i want it. I may have to make some significant compromises or learn to be more flexible in my thinking, but for now, the farm project is on hold.

In the Spring, my dad told me he would loan me money against my inheritance to purchase land provided I paid interest to him on the money he would have been making from that money. Okay. I did the math and since he was giving me an excellent interest rate, I knew I could do this. Once my current house is paid off, I could then turn that mortgage money back to him to start paying off the principle.

As noted in the previous post, I THOUGHT I had found the property I wanted and we were looking at acquiring 16.92 acres with about 11 acres in open land. It had access to electricity with a minimal of distance from existing lines at the neighbors, so it would not take too much money to have the line extended by the electric company. Since there were houses nearby, I was sure we would also find water not out of reach by well. The wooded area was pretty, but consisted of primarily wooded ravines. Some areas were possible for camping and ritual and so I wasn't too worried about finding a good use for it.

BUT after a very, very long time waiting for the survey, we learned that it was, in fact, 28.9 acres and only 5 acres was open. The prime open area the Realtor showed me was not even owned by the lady who was selling! And the woman who owned that was not interested in selling! I have to wonder how much land woman #1 sold off that did not belong to her as it is her relatives currently living in one acre houses on woman #2s land! How freaky is that! But that is not my worry.

We opted not to bite on the 28+ acres of woodland.

So the Realtor showed me 18 acres that is actually pretty perfect in dimension and layout, but it's 3 miles away. It's also in a rather rotten neighborhood and I'm not convinced my animals would be safe there. He also showed me a dreadfully overgrown 10 acre parcel about 5 miles away, also not in the best area.

I was leaning hard toward the 18 acres and my brain was bumping along how to overcome obstructions like winter snow keeping us locked in at home and unable to care for the animals, neighbors who get drunk and think a sheep might make a good barbecue... those sorts of issues; when I learned that my dad was tired of waiting for me to spend his money and thinking that since the deal on the original piece had died, I was not looking anymore; spent the money on something else. Letting that much money sit in the bank doing nothing is not good business and I respect that. But I need to learn to communicate better with my financier.

I also asked my Realtor to talk to the owner of the land that is immediately adjacent to my dad's property. I told him very specifically not to mention my father's name or relation as this neighbor really, really HATES my dad and will not sell to him. Unfortunately, my Realtor let his father handle the call and he blew it. So that property, while never formally on the table, was just soundly removed to the closet. Perhaps when that owner dies I will get a shot with his son.

So, here I am, still without a place to put my cattle, milk cow and sheep. Thank goodness I did not agree to buy the pretty little Jersey heifer yet.

Mom told me I cannot put sheep in her front yard (she has three acres there), but maybe she would be willing to let me put a cow there soon? I doubt it.

I keep eying my front yard and thinking that I could put in a little run in shed for the cow and just feed hay year round... but, wow, what a lot of work that would be! I'm not there yet.

I think I just REALLY need to find a cow share!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Do I need guinea hens or a new hubby?

I'm kidding, but apparently the Fey do not care much for Ken.

We heard rumor that the survey folks had put in more flags, so Ken I went out last evening to see what had been done.

Not much.

But to make matters worse, it was very, very hot down in the bottom of the swale, my ground water spring appeared to be dried up and Ken found a giant nest of ticks!

We were picking ticks off of him all evening and he finally found one on his backside in the middle of the night. Poor guy.

But now he doesn't want to go back in the woods at all!


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fey Territory

I finally took the opportunity on Saturday, to go walk in the woods at the property I'm thinking about purchasing.

I need to go back and take some photos but I'm not sure a camera can really capture the essence of this place.

To get into this wood, you must first navigate through a short stretch of briars and begin the descent. The walk is relatively easy, but still steep. Each step is accompanied by the crunch of deep leaf litter underfoot. Your shoes disappear beneath the first layer and I felt as if I was walking on a mattress someone had laid on the floor. It was springy. You could feel the energy of millions of tiny things feasting on the deep layer of leaves creating leaf loam. Making top soil.

I walked past some old trash dumped down the hill by some harried farm wife (or her husband) from the past. Sticking up out of the leaves I saw an old broken crock, a few broken bottles, rusted buckets and I'm sure under this surface layer, there is more. Near the top of the hill, were two large metal rings which I recognized as feeding containers for pigs. I'm fairly certain that the farmers before me kept a hog or two in the woods there. It would have been an easy walk to this site from either of the older houses to toss both trash and scraps. I was walking through a pig pen and midden.

Proceeding further down into the bottom and following along the ridge that ran upward to my left (southern edge of the property), I followed the blue and orange plastic flags tied up by the survey team the day before. Sometimes the brush was thick at eye level, but if I bent down or squatted, and scanned, I could find the next flag 10 or 15 feet off in the distance. The property line appears to angle in a gentle curve down towards the south west. The flags were all perched in a precarious manner over the edge of a water drainage area, a dry creek that probably runs full when the rains are heavy.

When I finally reached the second to the last flag I noticed that just 10 feet beyond the line drawn by the flags was running water. It emerged from under the edge of the leaf litter and ran downward towards the larger river below. This is either ground water runoff or a spring.

When I reached the last flag, I turned and looked northward towards the area where the large open field is supposed to be. I did my best to walk due North, but having no compass with me at the time and having to go around large trees and thick stands of laurel and some trees that had fallen, I got a bit off track. The trek at this point was uphill again.

I made note that the trees, here, deep in the woods were a nice mix of oak, hickory and tulip poplar with some small maples. There were few pines. And these hardwood trees were large. Most were at least 18 inches in diameter. Many were far greater. They reached high and created a dense canopy overhead that let in little light so the undergrowth was relatively sparse with a few huckleberry bushes and ferns here and there in the low parts of the woods and dense hedges of laurel running along the central ridge line.

I was having difficulty making forward progress up the hill because the laurel with its gnarled twigs and tough springy branches would not allow me passage, so I cut across again toward the East and went down into the swale again. Here the walk was easier and I went up hill at a more leisurely angle.

I was once again looking around and admiring the pristine nature of this woodland when I heard a large animal come crashing, thumping down the hill from the East. It was a huge buck. He was horse sized. He still had his antlers and he stopped in the middle of the swale up the hill from me and standing broad side to me, but staring at me, gave out a grunt. It was sort of a grunt and snort actually. I felt strongly that I was about to be attacked. As I'm standing there in these isolated woods, alone without a cellphone or any way to protect myself or call for help, he grunted at me three times, then galloped to a brushy area at the top of the inner ridge I had just come down from. From there, behind the brush pile of downed tree limbs and tangle of mountain laurel, he grunted at me again. Then all grew quiet.

At that point, feeling the danger was past, I looked again at my surroundings. I was standing in the center of what was, no doubt, a perfect fairy ring of ferns. I was an intruder here. I think the buck had come to caution me about my intentions on this land.

As I continued to walk up the swale, again headed north, I came to a small bed of crushed grasses. I had come across the night spot of some deer. It seemed too small to be the nest of the buck who had confronted me.

And there was wildlife in those woods. Birds sang constantly from high up in the trees then would come down and toss about through the leaf litter. Turkey feathers were scattered haphazardly throughout the undergrowth. And there had to be a thousand squirrels. They ran in pairs and triplets up and down the trees and across the woodland floor. The tree trunks being too far apart from each other for the squirrels to make an easy jump of it from tree to tree. There were multiple burrows carved into the steep slopes on either side of the swale. Fox, perhaps? Or maybe ground hogs or some other burrowing animal. The burrows were large with opening under tree roots about 8 to 10 inches across.

I became disoriented more than once coming through the wood. In retrospect, I am sure the Fey contributed to the illusions of confusion and depth perception. I, at one point I thought I saw a row of pine trees at the top of the swale running away perpendicular to the woods to the east but the only row of pines on the property, line the driveway which runs parallel to the swale where I was walking. Fearing I was getting lost, I went back up to the long, narrow strip of flat land at the top, thinking I had to be near the end of it. I was very surprised to see I had only walked about half the length of this strip.

Thinking it might be easier to walk along the edge of the wheat field to reach the end of the woods, I again turned northward. The farmer had plowed and planted so close to the wood-line, however, unless I trampled through his crop, I would not be able to follow the wood line. So I went back into the woods, this time angling towards the north west. After a few minutes I came to the area where the Realtor had brought me in before. The overhead canopy was thinner here and most of the trees were tulip poplar and the undergrowth was denser with more briers and scruffy things. The downward angles here were harsher and seems, almost lumpy.

I imagine at one time in an effort to clear the field just to north, the farmer dumped debris at the top of the swale both preventing erosion of his farm field down the steeper slope and "lumping" up what would otherwise have been a smooth slope to the river.

You could camp here, if you cleared away some of the more unpleasant undergrowth like poison ivy and Virginia Snake Root vines, and it might allow for more of a breeze than the bottom which was surrounded on all sides by steep ridges, like an amphitheater. From this central point of the northern boundary of the wood, I walked west until I reached the corner of the field. Here I discovered the remains of what might have been an access road. It may have been a timber road or perhaps just marked the boundary of the property. But my path was again soon blocked on this ridge line with downed trees and the snarl of laurels.

It was hard to tell without the flags if the property line runs along the top of this ridge, angling out to the west, or if it cuts down through a second ravine or runs the length of the bottom of the ravine. I will have to wait for the survey to be completed to find out. If the property juts out along the ridge line, encompassing the second ravine, it would serve well as a pond should I ever find the funding and get the permitting to install a freshwater pond. If the second ridge is not included in the property line, the pond would have to be much smaller and got at the top of the first swale, with camping below it. Another option might be to approach the adjoining land owner and see if they would also like a freshwater pond which we could share.

This pond would be used for water for my animals (they would not be permitted to drink directly from the pond, but the water would be pumped out for them), stocked with freshwater fish for future fishing, and for emergency fire water for the neighborhood. This endeavor would require assistance from the Army Corp of Engineers and I would hope there would be grant money available to help install it.

But that is perhaps a dream.

In any case, my walk in the woods continued. I finally made my way back to the southwestern last flag by going down the second ravine and then up the backside of the central ridge from which I hoped the buck had fled. From that flag, I walked along back toward where I had left my car at the top. As I climbed the hill a yellow butterfly came and settled on my left shoulder leaving only as I broke out into the bright sunlight.

I was hot and sweating and itchy but very excited about what I had seen and experienced. I know now that it may not matter how many actual acres are in the property or in the woods. If it is smaller, I may be able to secure the land for less money. If more, I will get it for that which was offered and be delighted.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hey piggy piggy...

I broke the news tonight to Ken that I hope to farm, not just sheep and hay (he had sort of accepted that), but would like to add chickens and cattle and pigs to the mix. I have not mentioned a milk cow, but he's not stupid and I'm sure he has some idea where all of this is going.

I know my husband and so I broke this news to him while among friends who were most excited by the whole enterprise and believe somehow that they will all now have a free camp ground. I'm not sure this is possible as I'm not planning on installing a bathhouse with toilets and they will have to pay for port o potties and put up with cold water from a hose for washing. Not to mention that all the flat land is open field which will be occupied by animals or hay. The woodland is very sloped and will likely be best used for 1. a pond (stocked, of course) 2. heritage pigs 3. hunting.

When I mentioned the pigs my friends strongly encouraged me to think again about this as they immediately said that pigs smell, are dangerous and if they get loose are gone like the wind and are very destructive. So the pig idea will either be nixed or wait.

Fortunately, one of the friends was a farmer and was able to note that I could electrify the fence with either batteries or solar power (and he said these work very well) and I could get the water out the ground with a wind mill. No electricity needed! Yeah! I'll have to investigate further.

Ken, of course, said he was NOT going to the be one to take care of all these animals. But moments later admitted that the sheep really are not labor intensive and notes that they come right to him with the shake of a grain bucket.

I need to figure the finances on renting a tractor, hiring a tractor driver, or buying one and learning to do it myself. But I may be able to get away with borrowing one when I do need it (perhaps once a year) and bartering something for it's use. I also need to put together a fence team of strong people who can work well together with one expert who knows what he or she is doing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Losing my mind

I've talked to my parents (Dad specifically) and I think I've come up with a way to expand my sheep raising efforts. The primary thing keeping things small has been lack of land.

But I think I have found a pretty piece of property of about 16 and a half acres (more or less) with about 12 acres (we think) in open farm land. The price is a little high perhaps. But location, at this point, is everything. The place is across a field or around a corner from my parent's home.

Eventually, when they are either ready to move into a smaller, maintenance free place or (hopefully not soon) pass away, Ken and I will move into their place.

Most people would say the property on which I've put a bid is too cut up for any real use... but if the survey comes back the way I think it will, it might just be perfect for what I want to do simply because it's sort of cut up. The angles are a little weird as it follows some the lines of the landscape, but in the middle of the place are three houses that belong to other people. Most folks would find this detrimental. I'm looking at is protection for my sheep. These will be neighbors who are virtually on-site and if there are any troubles, they will be my eyes and ears.

There is a large area that can either become hayfield with the smaller odd bits becoming sheep pasture, or the small bits strung together can be hay fields with the large area enclosed as a whole then subdivided into small rotational pastures. I need to further assess all areas before I make a decision how it will be used.

There is also a large wooded area which will be available for hunting by friends (and maybe family), and maybe, just maybe an area in which to raise one or two hogs each year for family use.

Now, watch me dream like a crazy woman...

I can see sheep. This one is easy. Chickens... also pretty easy since we've done it before and with proper perimeter fencing might work better. The chickens can be for both meat and eggs. A hog or two in the woods. One or two steer pastured steer for meat. And eventually, a lovely milk cow living on the three acres of cleared land in what is now my parent's front yard (it is currently being farmed for grain/soybean/corn).

In the history of the county, this property has never been surveyed. It has been passed down through many, many generations; cut up between kids and cousins, re-assembled, cut up again, sold off in small bits and now, finally, this is (I think) the last piece of the tract in this area still owed by the original family. Because it has never been surveyed and I learned of it and put an offer on it before it was marketed, the real estate folks have had to hire a survey company to figure out what it's actual dimensions are.

The current owner has been paying taxes to the county for 16.92 acres. And they claim that all but 2 acres are in the open. But looking at satellite images, I'm thinking there is more like 5 acres in woodland. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the woodland is basically a large swale or series of swales leading down to the river. It's value as farmland is nil. It's value for hunting might be a little higher. If there are a decent number of oak trees in there, it might be good for firewood, hogs and growing mushrooms. (See I can be creative in my thinking). But I don't know what's in there yet as we are waiting on the survey people to put in the stakes so we can see it.

To raise animals I will need to install sturdy perimeter fencing around the areas designated for pastures. I will need to have electricity brought in. A well will have to be dug. The whole farmed area will have to be converted to hay or pasture from tilled farm. There is a small erosion problem in one section which appears to be addressed now by the current farmer letting it go back to scruffy trees. The neighboring land owner, however, has failed to address his erosion problem and that may impact on my land soon and will have to be addressed.

What is interesting is that the neighboring property is the property that is directly across the lane from my parent's house. Perhaps if I can get positive things going on this initial piece, and run the current farmer off by taking back this larger tract for my own use, the neighbor will consider selling or renting that piece to me for additional pasture, which could do nothing but help cut down on the erosion there.

But I'm really dreaming here.

At this point, I'm waiting on the survey... and feeling very grateful for parents who are allowing me to, essentially, take a loan against my inheritance before I'm too old to do anything with it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Real vs Altered

At some point in our agricultural history things became more mechanized. Farms when from smaller units serving local people (or people within a days walk or days horse/wagon/buggy ride) to units that serve thousands of people from all over the world. Food that would spoil in transit became a liability. In the newly industrialized world, science came to the rescue and discovered that with pasteurization, many foods (not just milk) could be preserved, transported and sit for months or years on a shelf somewhere before consumption. Pressure canning became the standard for preserving food, leaving dried foods and fermented foods in the dust.

Populations grew bigger and more and more people moved into the cities. Dairies, still needing to stay close to their customers because refrigerated transport of milk had not yet been perfected, moved their animals into smaller lots until finally, almost all dairy cows lived in dry lots and were fed whatever the farmer brought to them.

Now, some folks are beginning to realize there is something missing from the foods we eat and the beverages we drink - nutrition. We are MISSING vital symbiotic living organisms that help us digest our foods properly and we are losing our health as a result.

I recognize it sounds crazy in our scientific worldview, but I do believe raw milk is one of the keys to good health. BUT, it must be healthy milk to begin with coming from healthy cows who eat grass -- not soy, not corn and not some other conglomeration of foodstuffs with vitamins thrown in.

The argument against pasteurization makes sense only if the animals are allowed to eat from healthy fields and other efforts to keep the milk clean and cold are adhered to. Milk from dry lot cows should be pasteurized. Milk from field fed cows does not.

Give me pastured cows and you won't have to pasteurize for me (and you can skip the homogenization step in either case).