Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spinning Wool (a very helpful instruction))

Miss Natty Bumppo

 After I got my sheep, I wanted to learn how to spin wool. So I just went ahead and bought the spinning wheel, the kind that you see the most in cartoons, old postcards, and in the back of covered wagons; an Ashford single treadle, which I bought for about $250 on eBay.
Wool goes through a lengthy process before it even sets in your hands ready to spin. A sheep, hopefully has a name like Fluffy, is given a good diet, fresh air and has a cover from the elements to produce good wool. Then once a year, Fluffy is sheared (only traumatic for a few minutes) the fleece is then gently washed a few times. The fleece is dried and combed and carded into roving. Roving is the fleece connected into a long manageable piece of fluffy stuff. So this long piece of wool has many sections gently put together, and your job is to take those sections and spin it into a single twisted line of yarn.
A good example of homespun 2 ply yarn.
You are only fooling yourself if you want to 'self teach' yourself how to spin wool. Observing others spinning magic yarn from fleece is also a mistake; those little biddies make it look so darn easy. I tried for about 3 weeks on my own and after blaming the spinning wheel, I got my husband to problem solve my wheel.  He went through the manual, until he looked at me cross eyed, and said, "I think you need some lessons!" After throwing myself on the bed and crying real tears, I decided to ask a professional how to show me the spinning secrets. One of the first ways you can master spinning is with the use of the ancient 'drop spindle' you can get the knack of drafting and spinning first using this technique.
I will quickly give you the mission...but have already told you how difficult this can be without someone right there to guild you.  
WARNING Don't do this without a box of tissues and a drill Sargent for your therapist.

These are things you can do while you wait for that epiphany.
1. Practice putting your wheel into action without any wool. Get some rhythm.
2. Understand your spinning wheel, because it certainly has a function; it is a wool twisting machine that YOU regulate and have complete control.
3. Go Slow.
4. To thread your bobbin use real wool yarn. I make a double loop to secure the yarn so it won't spin on the bobbin.
Loop and pull yarn through and do this one more time-tighten.
 5. Pull a 1' section of wool from your roving, now take a section and divide that off from the main piece about 1 inch.
6. Pull the yarn from the bobbin through the hole that is facing you. At this time adjust your tension. To do this, start the wheel spinning with your foot while holding the yarn, if it pulls it right out of your hands it is too tight...loosen your strings on the bobbin, and the main wheel. Try again. If it turns with a gentle pull you are set.
7. Attach your roving to the yarn, and start your wheel, until it is attached. Keep spinning a few times.
8. Keep a pinch where you don't want it to spin, and with your other hand, a thumb and fore finger hold, where you draw out your wool. The thought behind this *PINCH (with one hand) and *PULL (on the other hand) and the result is a *TWIST and of course this is going to want to feed onto the bobbin all at the same time.
9. Keep your sessions for about 10 minutes each and go back when your mind has seemed to put it together.
10. This is fun, and it is a skill. Once you have accomplish this, you can amaze you friends and family.
PINCH-have a pinch in the fibers that is hard enough not to twist the fibers but light enough to feed. 
PULL-Drafting is pulling the fibers so they release and then tangle into a ...
TWIST-Adjusted tension and speed of the wheel causes the fibers to twist. Once you have accomplished several nice skeins of yarns you can then be creative with spinning.

I spun this for a special project-to make a basket.
Going to demonstrations is fun.

And I have a good DVD and book to recommend.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chickens (enough to get you started)

I have had chickens most of my life. My laying hens live to be about 7 years old...and since they punched a clock for years, they deserve a retirement. So they die of old age. Amazingly enough, they lay eggs for quite a while.
Hens The best laying hens are cross breed hens. If you Google 'sex link chicks' you might get yourself in trouble on the internet, but these are the chickens you want for non-stop eggs rolling your way. I had red cross links and they were the best chickens-the eggs were so big I had to tie the extra large egg box with string to keep them from opening. I now have Black Star chickens; another cross breed, and they are no less disappointing. I got these chickens because their eggs are smaller and will fit in a extra large egg carton without the string. They are very friendly and can be like pets. 
For just your family, three chickens might be enough, but if you want to sell eggs, start out with 12 that's a dozen eggs a day. You can always get more.
Roosters I usually have a rooster until he dies of some valiant brave act...such as fighting off a dog, or raccoon. Roosters do a good job of putting their lives on the line. They do protect the hens. I had ordered a straight run of chickens, and got 12 roosters. I kept the rooster that still had all his feathers, (the one no one wanted to peck back) and sold the rest to someone who wanted fresh chicken. His name was Mr. T The biggest baddest rooster; unfortunately, he fought off a stray dog and lost, but he saved the hens, all of them. 
You don't need a rooster to have a harem of laying fact it is better for the hens to live like nuns. Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. One nice thing about having a rooster, is to hear him salute to the sunrise. He will also crow at the full moon, or upon an early morning arrival from the headlights from your car.
A Silver Spangled Hamburg Rooster

Care Chickens can live anywhere, but they do need a coop; a roosting place out of the weather and beyond the reach of predators. And as far as the great outdoors, they like to have a place they can scratch for bugs-like your flower gardens-he,he. Free range chickens are happy. Happy chickens are laying chickens. 
There is nothing better than gathering eggs in a clean coop. If you have had chickens for a while you can comprehend a happy noise or a complaint.
I use wood shavings for a nice bedding 2 inches deep on the floor of my coop, and I make sure that I clean out the coop every month. Chicken manure is great compost, but it is hot, you might want to keep a pile for a couple of years before applying to a garden. 
As far as their nests, straw is best in laying boxes. A laying box can be anything resembling a crate, at least 20" X 20" Many people have been creative about nesting boxes; toilets, bed pans, even the kitchen sink. 
Secure crates 3 to 4' high on the wall, and if it can be in a private spot the better. Chickens like to roost so make wooden poles crossing in an area that is not over food or water. The size of your coop goes by footage...2 square foot per chicken.
Food  I buy egg producer pellets and a chicken scratch at my grain mill-which is cracked corn, millet, oats and some mash (?) On occasion I will buy a large bag of day old bread at the bakery outlet store. It is also important to have grit-always have calcium granite pellets just for chickens in a separate bowl right near their food dish. And of course clean water all the time. 
If your chickens free range, they will eat bugs, grubs, greens and whatever their hearts desires, again make sure they have access to water. During the depression, my grandfather supplemented his chickens with road kill-I wouldn't do that, but times were tough back then, and yes, chickens are meat eaters.
There are so many chicken breeds that I will leave that up to you....This is a hatchery that I have dealt with many times with a lot of luck, and they will further help you on your way.
One of my favorite documentaries about chickens is the PBS DVD "The Natural History of the Chicken" This movie will have you laughing and crying, It is a gem. 
Good luck at raising chickens it is rewarding.
You can have chickens in the city, but check you local ordinances first..

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spring Fever

The signs of spring are on the branches of the Lilac bush; little buds patiently waiting. The horse is too warm with his winter coat, lays down and rolls in the crusty snow, then gets up kicking with a burst of energy. The chickens are laying eggs, and acting broody. The ducks are running over to the still frozen pond and flapping their wings; playing and mating with unyielding vigor..
As for myself, my memory as a teenager, that first spring day was subject to some mischief! If it was on a weekday, my brother and I would throw our lunch bags into the woods, and skip school. At the time we lived in the suburbs of Maryland; and we were hitch hiking distance to malls, museums, and the very hot spot-Great Falls Gorge.
With our thumbs out beyond the median, we got picked up by one of those striped down muscle cars; someone with the same idea of stretching the limits of exhilaration. The car and our hearts, revving engines , squealing wheels, and fishtailing down the road. Little by little, we would zig zag our way to where-ever.
Like in the movie Pinocchio, on this particular day, we ended up at Great Falls Gorge. All the other donkeys were climbing rocks, walking the trails, and seeing the beautiful falls. It was rushing water, life, freedom and the pursuit of sunburning. And by the way, you cannot get a sunburn of that magnitude while sitting in Algebra class; not unless you got the wrong answer in front of the class.
When our time of lustrous intention was over, we scrambled home about the same time as the school bus was dropping off those dull, boring, studious, kids, that did everything right in life-the ones who are now doctors and lawyers. They marveled at our red exterior and said, "Man, are you guys in trouble!" laughing as they went dutifully home. My brother and I did get caught and were grounded for a week, but oh, it was worth every minute, because the next day it would be cold again with freezing rain.
Disclaimer-Hitch hiking-I would never, never, recommend doing this unless you want to take life into your own hands. However, in the 70's a lot of us free spirits relied on this mode of transportation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Garden Savvy-Raised Beds

Regardless of what mother nature is handing me today, I went ahead and ordered corner brackets to build 3 more raised beds. Last year was the first time I tried raised bed gardening and now expanding the franchise, because I love it!.
These movable brackets attach to Hemlock boards. My beds are 4' wide and 8' long and are workable at every side. Weeding is a breeze, and mulching and watering is conservative at best. It only takes about 20 minutes to assemble the frame, but a lifetime to fill with dirt-he,he. 
Filling your beds is challenging. If you have a tractor with a bucket and have access to old compost or dirt, man are you lucky. If you don't have a tractor with a bucket, it takes longer to fill with bags of soil. It is like sandbagging along the Mississippi only the other way around. Be prepared to dole out some cash if you plan on buying dirt. You will be surprised how much yardage of dirt you need to fill these beds.  
Another method is to get the kids to do it with a plastic shovel.
No really, get someone with a tractor and bucket to help fill your raised bed. Or buy a dump truck load of good top soil. Soil is the foundation to every garden, and vegetables require specific nutrients. It might be a good idea to be as basic as you can from the start, make a soil test, and add later.
After building the raised bed, the fun begins. It is so easy to hoe, weed, water, fertilize, and watch your plants grow. Haven't done a study on this yet, but noticed a reduction with bugs. And I did stick a small wire looped fence around the inside of the bed to keep the rabbits and chickens out; I could take it out and replace it easily.
If you plan on having more than one raised bed, build them one at a time, and space them about 3-4' apart so that you can get the lawn mower in between the beds, or if you are industrious, place patio blocks or heavy mulch to cut the weeds down. You can make this into a garden paradise. So now is the time to assemble that Adirondack chair.
If you want to make a green house out of your raised bed it is so easy- Drill holes at a slant to fit 3/4 inch PVC pipes to cross over like a chuck wagon, and then put heavy duty plastic over to cover and hold with 2x4s nailed on the front and back. Leave room to be able to get in and out. This works out great to harden off your seedlings, and be right there to transplant...just remove the plastic when ready for summer.
Good luck.
The book that inspired me, and I still use as a reference is  "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. The other raised bed Bible is "The Victory Garden" It is a large book full of great ideas for container gardening.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bag Balm not just for Cows

I don't need to list all the battles we have with Old man winter, just how we can win arguments.Winter is tough on our skin; inside the house our exposed skin is dried to a potato chip and outside we are flash frozen. I would leave frost bite to the professionals in case you over do it. But for those of us that work hard without folly, there is a cure for those painful sore spots, and cracks from winter stressed hands, lips and toes....Bag Balm.
Bag Balm was invented by J L. Norris, a genius that hasn't received the Nobel Peace prize for his invention to udder relief. 
Bag Balm is found in farm stores, but also sold in the drug stores. It is in the famous green can with a red clovers. The packaging is a welcome site; a reminder of spring, Vermont pastures, and something clean and nice. Just rub or pile it on your sore spots and in about a day or two you should get relief. I might add that nothing else will act on the pain and cure as well as Bag Balm!
Admiral Byrd brought Bag Balm for his cows on his frosty North Pole expedition in 1937 (would make a great Super Bowl ad by today's standards) as well as treating his cows, he found that by rubbing those tits with Bag Balm he cured those rough dry hands.

Last year my ewe, Sumo, had delivered three lambs, innocently they were sucking and tugging on her tender skin, and wrecking her udders. Those poor udders took a beating.  I had to separate her from the lambs. Babbette, my other Ewe, who had  harden off a bit and could handle four lambs, was happy as heck to have her own flock.
Anyway, Sumo had Bag Balm massages for a week, and while I was treating her, we bonded. That week-she ran over to me and positioned herself to be treated and lavished in that attention; she loves me. Once she recovered, and reunited with her babies, it was such a blessing. Bag Balm save her life.
There are millions of testimonials about Bag Balm, much better than mine. So, jot over to the store and get some Bag Balm-it will save your life too!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Amish

As brave and bold as our ancestors leaving a country behind, the Amish have been moving into the Central New York region from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana for the past 50 years. They have embarked independently to start a new life, most times leaving family and community in their homeland; some have trades, some do not, but most share the same knowledge to be self sustaining.
As for most English, the closest we get to the Amish is passing them on the road, often gazing, sometimes cursing that they are moving too slow, but unbeknown to us, they are moving just as fast only in different ways. For one thing the Amish work very hard; for every one footstep that an English makes, they out pace us by 10. They don't need a workout gym to stay in shape.
Amish have farms with animals and care for them in practical, time tested ways. Most utilize their farms into a business, but not necessarily so. Those that have farms as businesses, struggle to make ends meet just like everyone else. Most think that since they don't have big equipment to buy, and low overhead that they have some sort of advantage; on the contrary, it takes more time and physical effort to make up for the convenience.
They have dreams and aspirations just like us. Dreams become reality, little by little, when it is backed up by taking a "safe" risk. Whatever endeavor, they seem to have real money before they go forward, and very few borrow money from the bank.
They are very inventive about their businesses; Produce Auctions, Bash and Dent stores (selling outdated or dented groceries) Bread and Pie Stands, Midwifery, Butcher Shops, Cabinet Making, Dry Good Stores, Green Houses, Quilt making, and selling cheese and milk.
Those that have businesses sometimes rely on English by driving them with a car or truck, I say, "Save a horse drive an Amish." he,he. 
What I mostly like about the Amish, is that they have a great sense of comradeship. If someone in their community is going through a rough time; lost and grieving over baby, or  parent, or experience tragedy, even taking care of a newborn, they make sure that they have someone there to help. Someone from the community volunteers to stay or visits until they get back their normalcy. They support and care for each other kindheartedly. Everyone is a family.
You will never hear an Amish preach about religion, not a word. It has many English puzzled and confused; the reason is that they live by example. English seem to think the louder we profess, and cover ourselves with jewelry and ornaments, the more likely we deserve Heaven. Regardless in how we practice our faith, we know that "living it" and not talking about it makes it right. I have great respect for their faith.
Lastly, I must add that they love to tell stories and joke around. Happiness is very important to a good life. As humans, it is the common denominator for all of us to laugh and joke. Life has its struggles, but laughter makes it so much sweeter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February New Born Lamb

Two years ago my friend called and asked if I would take a new born lamb that the mother rejected. I was lost for words, and she seemed to fill the gap with a voice of desperation. In a weak moment, I told her I would.
10 minutes later, she brought the spindly pile of fluff wrapped in a blanket, along with enough milk replacement for a week. She told me, "He's a baby, and he will need a bottle feeding every 4 hours."  Suddenly, the particulars of responsibility felt like a 1,000 pound bolder on my chest, and I was jolted into reality of what I just got myself into.  She also warned, "If he gets scours give me a call as that can get serious."  I took the lamb in my arms, and promised that I would take good care of him, and off she went.
Without haste, I put a crate in the breezeway, laid fresh straw inside, dragged the heater out and placed blankets on the top of the crate so he could be as warm as possible. I made him his first outfit by cutting an old sweater arm off and cut two holes for his front legs to go through. By this time, he was blatting loudly and demanding my full attention-he's hungry! I raced to the kitchen and mixed his milk in a Diet Mountain Dew bottle attached with nipple (Pepsi ought to look into that idea) and ran back to feed him. He didn't take the bottle right away, and I panicked; I had that feeling of inadequacy, partly due to the fact that I'm not a sheep.  So I kept on trying, and finally he started sucking on the bottle; it was at that moment that he looked at me, an epiphany "You're my mother!"
From that time on, he knew what buttons to push, I am not kidding; that little lamb had me dazed and delirious for about a month, almost got me institutionalized.
My husband kept saying  "He's going in the freezer!" "What!", I said, "You pass him every day, how can you even think that?" I was so angry at him- how could he be so cruel, how could he think that cute little lamb as dinner? "I don't eat my young" I protested!
Mulling over parenthood, and after I cooled off, I got thinking, and figured I would let him babysit one day. Sure enough, when I came home he was calling him "My boy" and he even gave him a name "Caesar" because by this time it was the Ides of March, but this Caesar made it through parliament.
 And this is my big pa-lunker lamb now. This is the chair we spent many a March day laying in the sun together, LOL, he thinks he can still do that.