Thursday, December 14, 2017

December: The Month of More, Part 1

Somehow December's thirty-one days have more of everything packed into them than any other month.  More fun get-togethers, more food, more meetings, more deadlines, hopefully more fun and not more stress. 

We made sauerkraut again this year.  Fifty pounds of clean, trimmed cabbage was shredded on our old three blade kraut cutter and blended with one pound of non-iodized white salt.  Andy just went by what his mother always did and it was nice to see that the recipe in the Ball Blue Book, (edition 32) agrees with us.  If you need a canning guide the newest edition is here. The heads were large and tight and six made an adequate amount although we could have squeaked in a seventh.  Given that cabbage was twenty-nine cents a pound at the farm stand, sauerkraut is one of the least expensive canned goods to make.

The heads were cut into wedges that would fit into the cutter box and the tedious task of running the box back and forth over the blades fell to Andy.  I suppose they make some kind of tool nowadays to hold the cabbage down but we're used to doing it by hand and just being careful when the cabbage is almost all cut through.

Salt is added and stirred into the chopped cabbage until all is mixed well in the crock.  This is an eight gallon crock and we could have gotten another cabbage in there but it's hard to tell at the beginning. 

The salt draws the juice from the cabbage and by the time you're done you can press your hand into the middle and liquid will well up around it.  Sauerkraut is just fermented cabbage and fermentation is an anaerobic process.  Air equals spoilage.  To minimize the loss we put a big dinner plate on top and weight it down with a bag filled with water.  This seals the edges nicely and holds all the cabbage down under the juice.  You can just see a little liquid squishing up around the bag.

We put a towel over the top and tied it tight with a string.  This keeps out both fruit flies and cats.  (Ha ha, just kidding...... sort of.)  And five weeks later we have sauerkraut!  We've already used a couple of quarts but this should last us most of the year.

Mackerel skies brought an end to the streak of warm sunny weather we had been enjoying and turned it more chilly and somber as befits December.

We were able to keep letting the rams out to pasture daily and the supply of apples, and thus apple parties, lasted until just a few days ago. 

Norris and his 'uncles' got their share.

The curls are showing up well across his back now, do the snow pellets that were falling.

The ewes are completely off pasture now and have to wait outside in the yard while we clean the mangers and set out fresh hay. 

Tahiti always looks so hopeful to me.  Some sheep just have an expression that's all theirs.

Andy has been putting firewood in the cellar and got into the big 'buzz pile' - firewood about as thick as your arm that needs to be made into shorter pieces on the buzz saw.  He found some interesting insects who had worked their way into the pile to escape the weather.

A butterfly!  I tried to look it up online but didn't get very far having only the underside of the wings to go on.  I didn't want to force him/her to flutter around since it was clearly trying to avoid the weather so I settled for relocating him to a big void in one of the apple trees and hoped for the best. 

There was also a cluster of three pretty moths and while they were also seeking shelter in the wood pile they were more active when exposed and I only got a picture of this one.  Couldn't ID him, either.

Wee Little Guy says,

"I'm just gonna put my feet up while you figure out da bugs.  Crazy lady."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mischief Managed

We managed to get one large job finished this week.  It took a few sessions but we finally got the ewe flock coated.  It's a big job that takes more time than you'd think it would.  We've gotten quite good at estimating which size coat will fit a ewe but when it's actually on them, before you lift hind legs to slip into the straps..... sometimes you see it's going to be too long or too short and you pull it off and reach for the next size.  Lots of bending over.  It's really nice to see them all jacketed and know their fleeces are safe from the dreaded VM.

They will pick up some chaff from the floor on the area we call "the butt poof" and some on the back of the neck.  Our feeders are really good but there's no way to protect that area other than put a show hood over their heads and that's unnecessarily extreme.  Only the locks on the back of their necks suffer some - what's under their throat is often clean and lovely.

Now that everyone is safe from contamination we started feeding out in the 'picnic area' again - that's the hay feeder Andy constructed in the old feed bunk.  Some of the young, athletic ewes jump up from the backside and eat out of the manger.

This eases any congestion in the barn proper and no one is crowded - unless they want to be.

Some of the geriatric girls and the rams are still without coats.  The ewes I had to order a few more of certain sizes for.  The rams are still enjoying going outside for a morning apple party followed by grazing so I don't want to coat them until they are solely "barned up" and on hay.

Another item ticked off the list is the Oxford rug punching kit I learned on when I went to the school earlier this month. I finished it and am think it's a decent first effort.

I'm pleased with how it came out. Despite how simple it looks the pattern teaches you borders, shapes, curves, filling in areas, the stitch gauge you should try to attain in various areas, how to make dots..... and how to stray off the instructions.  I didn't care for the navy and white marbled yarn they included for the sheep so I substituted some of my gray handspun which was languishing without purpose in a bin.  I also wasn't jazzed with the random squiggles all over the sheep so I reduced it to just a few along the back.  If anyone is inclined to try an Oxford kit you will get the foundation fabric with pattern drawn on (they have hundreds), yarn in very generous quantities, and a boxed punch tool with a stitch gauge and small (20+ pages) instruction book.  The bigger book on the left I purchased on Ebay and it's really super.  You can easily get by with the small pamphlet that comes with the punch needle but the bigger book is so pretty and full of pictures and information that you should get a copy if you can.

The next project that needs attention is a guild spin-and-knit along.  For this one, those members who want to participate brought in 4 ounces of ready to spin wool - roving or batts were OK as long as the fiber was clean and carded in some manner.  The fiber was sorted by the project organizers and put into piles and then randomly creatively reassembled into 4 ounce lots of mixed colors.  All included one neutral (mine's white) and the rest is colored.

Alrighty, then.  We are to spin yarn by combining these rovings in any way we choose and then knit something using That Nice Stitch.  Hmmm.  Put opposites against each other so they all pop?  Try to blend those in the same color family?  If my goal is to keep the colors unadulterated I should chain ply.... which I don't usually like the feel of.....but if I spin and ply the yarn back on itself I will totally randomize the colors which might not be too bad although I don't usually like striped yarns.  I do like all the colors.... by themselves.   This will take some thought.  The project is due in May so I can't dither too long.

Holly says,

"When the sun comes out in late November you should stop, drop and enjoy it.  You can think about stuff later."

What a smart dog!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


You know the elaborate patterns people make out of standing dominoes and then with one finger they push the first one and a whole cascade starts?  Welllll................. I took a little trip to the Oxford Rug Hooking School in Vermont.  Oh my.  I think I have a new addiction enthusiasm.

I've always liked the thought of using yarn in rug hooking but didn't know a 'real' way to go about it.  I have four - count 'em, FOUR - Rubbermaid 35-gallon totes full of handspun yarn I've accumulated over the years waiting for a purpose.  After last year's moth debacle (Don't worry.  This was in the house, not the wool shop, and says far more about my housekeeping habits than I should share.) I was more determined than ever to Use The Yarn.  While following some topics in a punch needle group I saw a reference to the Oxford Rug Punch, followed a link to a video and I was a goner.

Here was a different way to use yarn that wasn't knitting (I love knitting and kntters and knitted goods, I'm just too slow at it to be effective) and could be picked up and set down as time allowed.  I love weaving but I have to teach myself everything all over again every time I do it because, well, time.  This art looked much more promising!

I called and set up a time for an afternoon of lessons.  The folks there are super accommodating and we picked a date before the weather was going to get bad.  I made a hotel reservation as it was much too far to go both ways in a day, and yesterday I set off at O' Dark Thirty.

I can't say enough good things about the place and people.  The school is an entire house bought expressly for this purpose and turned into a gallery/studio/classroom/retreat/business area.  Everywhere you look are examples of punched rugs, patterns, supplies, antique tools of the trade, books...  it was amazing.

This was the classroom.  Bright, clean, cheerful, functional.

Another room for gatherings or to sit and peruse pattern books.

Full kitchen.

Fully stocked shop - kits, patterns, yarn, blank fabric.

And inspiration everywhere.  Big, complex rugs - about three feet by four feet.

This massive rug measures roughly five feet by seven feet and features tiny details and great realism.

Somewhat more simple but charming.

And there were lots of small projects, too - chair pads, mug rugs, trivets, small wall decorations, pillows and even punch rug purses.

And after a long day of driving and learning I stayed at the Middlebury Inn.  I got a nice rate on the room through Expedia and was very comfortable.  The Inn is massive and old and I wish I had had more energy to look around.  The room I had was a quirky shape but clean and cozy and with the biggest bed I've ever been in.  Seriously.  The picture doesn't do justice to its width.  You could put six people in this bed and nobody would have to shove over.

I'm so glad I went and soaked up both information and inspiration.  I've got tons of ideas in my head featuring Cotswold wool rug yarn.  The kit I started there to learn on is about half done and I hope to work on it some nights this week.  After that I'll dig in those big bins of yarn and decide what some of them want to be!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Last Call

The flock is on the last pasture rotation for the year.  The south pasture is the first one they go to in the spring and the last one they finish in the fall.  Other years, when we were breeding the majority of the flock, they would already be penned into groups and off pasture for the year.  Not breeding does extend the grazing season through mid November and now the signal to really end it will be the first day of shotgun deer season.  The days are getting shorter, leaves are mostly off the trees, starlings are travelling in a big flock and the weather is gray and wet.

The sheep queue up at the gate around evening chore time, ready to come in, find their spots and settle down for the night.

Both Stewart and then Daisy fixed me with a look - I think they were hoping for the cookie signal:  my hand going into my front pants' pocket.

The sheep don't mind the deteriorating conditions a bit and are eating as though they know some morning soon they won't be going out.

Over the weekend we had a long rain event and so they received a good rinsing which I was happy about.  We'll be putting their coats on fairly soon and I was hoping the barn grime would be shed in a rain before that happens.

I read a good axiom last week that rings true - "Well summered is half wintered."  One certainly doesn't want to rely on stored fat to get your stock through the winter but it does help going into harsh weather to have some extra upholstery working for you.

I think Snickers has the concept nailed down.  Lordy.

Knock wood, everyone looks pretty good with just a few old girls looking like candidates for the geriatric pen and special feed this year.


I like this ewe's Cotswold 'presence'.

The wind was blowing hard all day and the fleece on the Cotswold ewe in the foreground is long enough now to ruffle in the gale.

The rain really freshened up their locks.

Angelica says,

"Curls?  Meh.  I haz attitude!"

And a pretty, dark fleece.  Way to go!