Sunday, February 28, 2010

Careful what you wish for

(How many times have I heard THAT before??)

We'd been having a pretty snow-light winter. Cold, windy, but pretty dry. So, we were kind of excited when the weatherperson predicted snow. (You know where this is going already, don't you?)

We got 18 inches of super-wet, heavy snow.
(No, that is not winter sculpture. It was our secure chicken yard.)

(That's a magnolia that used to be much more lofty and vertical and I could walk beneath it...)

Trees began snapping from the weight of the snow around 8:00 a.m., and we couldn't get to them fast enough - apple trees, magnolia, fruit bushes, hydrangea, quince and on and on...

Four hours of clearing and cleaning till we salvaged what we could...

Perfect day to stay inside and knit - (I was too tired!)

And then 8 more inches the next inch today...

Enough already!!

I am SOOOOO ready for Spring.

One start...

and one finish...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trying to set an example...

Shame on me if I pester the girls about laying and don't keep busy I have to post about my efforts...

It's the Pretty Thing cowl by the Yarn Harlot. It's actually the second one I made; the first was for my sister for Christmas, and I was so enamored with the easy lace knit and the yarn itself - I had to make a second.
But truthfully, it goes beyond love of yarn and knitting. It goes to frugality and thrift. Because the story of the yarn goes like this: I bought it back when money was MUCH easier. (Like when I had a paying job...) It is Mongolian cashmere, and I had never paid that much for so little yarn before in my life. When I went to cast on, I discovered that "something" had happened to the yarn causing multiple breaks throughout the whole skein. In some past life of mine, I might have thrown up my hands, boo-hooed a little, and tossed the yarn in the trash. Not in THIS life...
I gingerly wound the ball and kept every little piece. As I knit, I patiently tied end to end as I came upon the multiple pieces and kept working. (Talk about having a lot of ends to weave in!) When I finished the gift, there was no way I could simply toss the remainder in my stash had to be used. Just as we try to use every little scrap around here that might have any use beyond its first assignment...
So, I knit a second one for me. (Really, no selfishness here - Christmas is over and nobody on my list has a birthday for of course I was the logical recipient...denial is such a lovely river...)
And do you know, there's still yarn left over!
And it's going into a special stash bin - because I'm using every last inch of that stuff if it's the last thing I do!

Next project...

P.S. The girls have squeezed out three eggs. I am still giving them stern looks as I pass by...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Memo

To: The Chickens
From: The management
Re: Production & expenses
Date: 2/14/10

We realize that in these difficult times, it may be challenging for you to put forth an egg on your usual summer schedule. In fact, to demonstrate our commitment to an improved workplace, we have reduced the quota to a reasonable 4 or 5 eggs total per day. You have so far been able to meet this production quota throughout the winter days, despite lack of adequate daylight hours. For reasons unexplained, your current production has dropped to an unacceptable 0 eggs per day. According to farm legend, "Even a dead chicken lays an egg in February".

As you know, expenses have not dropped accordingly. Eggs are a direct offset for the costs of feed, housing, and care. Not that we don't love you in your own right, mind, but momma wants some scrambled eggs.
The Brown Leghorn got the memo. She is hard at work.

The Barred Plymouth Rock got the memo. She is also hard at work.

What the Bantam rooster thinks he is doing? We have no idea. But we appreciate the show of support.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


The Internet was innocent enough at the beginning. Extensive, informative and a pretty good resource. Through it, I found seed sources, equipment, tips and like-minded folk to launch me on my farm adventure. Wildly entertaining, a daily surprise, and more enjoyable than I thought possible. (Kind of like raising chickens.) Then it got sticky...

There was the blog. Amazing fun, fantastic friends, and connections I never dreamed of with fellow shepherds and farmers all over the country, uh, actually the world. As we delved further into our farm efforts, the blog sometimes became difficult to manage, but we did our best. (Kind of like raising sheep.)

Next, there was the web page for the side business. Then, a site called Ravelry popped up to bring together fiber nuts, knitters, and crocheters. And I had(?) to become a part of that. Besides hours of fibertastic fun, it was "good" for the business I was told. So, we even got a forum group over there to grow the business and exchange with fellow fiberholics about the richness and diversity of our passion. Different tastes and colors, all beautiful, all desirable. (Kind of like growing vegetables.)

And then there was Twitter, and Facebook, and it got more complicated. Platforms to tell the world was I was doing now, what I liked and disliked, find friends from ages ago, and a little bit of how it is to struggle to be an organic farmer in the United States. Postings, tweets, walls, and updates now coming at me from all directions. Difficult to stay one step ahead, never knowing about the next contact or what to do. A roller coaster ride ... (Kind of like raising goats.)

I love connecting with people over the things we share...and meeting new ideas, old traditions, common threads, and fresh perspectives. My only question: Am I the spider or the fly?

Monday, February 08, 2010

NOFA served with catch up

(Even things of somewhat "current events" come late these days...)

The weekend of January 22-24, the Northeast Organic Farmers Assoc. held it's winter conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was an overall excellent conference - lots of interesting speakers, good displays and vendors, and of course it's always nice to hang out with farmers...

I was able to attend with a New Farmer Scholarship (Thanks, NOFA!) and tried to diversify my participation to fit the myriad of things that go on around here.

On Friday, I attended a workshop on growing cut flowers. (Madison has ideas about growing gladiolas and perhaps zinnias this year) I was hoping to at least get some good sources for glad bulbs - but wasn't able to find that out. Anyone got some good sources for healthy, inexpensive bulbs so she can try her hands at it? Interestingly, the speaker did use pigs in her land rotation, and I was pleased to hear that. I am gaining new appreciation for the little porkers after our experience this past Fall...not many notes or "take aways" from that lecture besides the idea of adding Cosmos as another good Market flower (beyond Zinnias and Sunflowers) and reminding me of Dainthus (Sweet William). In the past, we've grown this for decoration (and the smarmy reference to my DH) but it also makes a good cut flower, although you won't get blooms till year 2...

I did cut out of that class early, and scooted into one on organic beekeeping. The speaker, Russ Condrad, was great. You couldn't help but learn something as you listened, even if it was about the life of the bee (rather than care tips) and it got me all excited to see our hive wake up this Spring. I purchased his book , and it's a very good read.
I was really encouraged to hear so many ideas and tips for organic beekeeping, since we are an organic operation. I understand that man has taken the honeybee to its current spot on the brink of collapse and sometimes it is negligence not to apply supportive measures even if they are chemical, but I want to be doing everything I can in a natural way before that...

I cruised the vendor /shopping area and picked up a few seed samples, reading materials, and my prize purchase was my new hand tool, by Holdredge Enterprises, the Hummingbird. Can't wait to be able to get out in the dirt and play...

Saturday morning I first attended a workshop on growing sunflowers for oil and fuel. Even though the speaker, Samuel Yoder, was addressing an audience way beyond my scope of mechanization and understanding, he was such an energetic speaker and so knowledgeable that I couldn't help but learn something. I feel much more knowledgeable about the soil preparation for our flowers, and am excited to try field peas in several areas of our farm as a short-term fertilizer...

The next workshop was by Michael Phillips. His workshop was entitled Home Orchard basics. (He also has a good book - just more than I can digest this year with everything else we are trying to pull together)

Again, a very good speaker and had way too much material for such a short workshop, but he focused on soil biology and that was a good infusion of information for me. We have a dozen or so apple trees on our property still producing, but struggling with less-than-optimum growing conditions. I learned a lot about what I can do to support them, as well as tips for our new stock coming in the Spring. The hardest part about attending all these great workshops was wanting to run right home and get going...and forgetting about the fact that it's January and 4 degrees outside...(sigh)

Saturday afternoon was spent learning how to sharpen hand tools (Mama wants a sharpening stone and some new bastard files now...) and ended the day learning about shared-use kitchens.
Sunday morning brought an additional surprise (beyond the excellent workshop on organic blueberries!) - a friend from high school and college plunked her butt down right next to us...(it wasn't till after the lecture that I caught up with her) - what an excellent way to end the conference by re-connecting with someone I have not seen in 25 years - and to find out she is only a few miles up the road. Add to that the fact that she raises alpacas...and, aahhh...fiber bliss. Can't wait to go up for shearing in a few weeks....

The conference was really excellent - and I am brimming with ideas for the if Spring would only get here!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

So there's this project...

Project. That's how you refer to a breed that's in development. It's not a "real" breed yet, but you're working on it. Like these Mille Fleur Cochins:
This beauty was from Nancy's site (don't go here unless you are prepared to be smitten...) and I hope she doesn't mind too terribly if I borrow this pic to show you what I'm working on...

It was she, in fact, that got me going on this. (Little does she know!) She discovered the beautiful little breed, started posting pictures on her sheep blog, and the rest was history. But here's the hitch - everyone on our farm has to make money or they can't stay. That pretty much rules out bantam chickens, as their eggs are not in demand for sale. We only have one set of bantams on the farm - they are Madison's pets and they won Best in Show at the local fair a few years back. They pay for themselves in chicks, as we hatch and raise a dozen or so of them each year to sell to the local poultry enthusiasts who want show quality Buff Brahma bantams.

So, that being said, I knew if I wanted those amazing chickens at our place, I would have to find some standard Mille Fleur Cochins. Not as easy as it it developed like so many other projects around here - "I'll make it myself!" (She announces with naive confidence...)

You soon learn that there is no documented, direct path to get such a chicken. Many start with a Mottled Cochin roo over Buff, Red, or Columbian Cochin pullets. While these may all be recognized variants in Bantam Cochins, they are not recognized in Standard Cochins. Finding a standard Mottled Cochin roo meant $75 and over 6 hours in the car...not in the budget! Ordering the chicks to start our project meant waiting till Spring, raising them over the summer, and possibly getting some breeding in before short Fall days shut them down...not in my ability to be that patient!

So we started the process with what we had on hand - (Barred Rock over a Red Cochin)
Meet Step #1:
A pretty, little chick hatched just before Christmas with nice, fluffy Cochin-type fuzz, the striping which usually promises future color, and light feathering on the feet.

Here she (I'm guessing) is at around 6 weeks:
Pretty good Cochin body shape, mottling on feathers around head, neck, and wing. I expect the next generation will only enhance the chevrons and coloring. And we'll see how she changes as she ages.

Best part? - She can be bred in 10 weeks and we can be hatching 2nd generation project chicks around the same time we are raising the new foundation flock for Fall breeding. OK, second best part? - no cash investment so far, and I get a little more instant gratification. Third best part? - fun genetics lessons for the DD...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

FO spotted...

Yippee!!! an actual, real, live, honest-to-goodness finished object! One down, seventy million (or so) to go.

This is the famous Farm Sweater. I got a hold of neck-down, raglan-sleeve, all-in-one piece (mostly) sweater directions and was so excited I had to do it. (Note: I started this months ago. Excitement is apparently a fleeting and fickle thing.) Used yarn I had bought long ago when employed and relatively stupid about yarn, so it was screaming to be used in something.
I came up with this one round, stripey idea to ease the blending...
And used the easiest cabling ever to make it look pretty. Viola!

I updated the knitting widget below, posted on Ravelry, and am moving on! Next?