Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just In Time

The importance of timing has been on my mind lately. The perfect timing needed for planting, for harvest, for application, for life. I am often reminded (and often need reminding!) that God’s timing is always perfect.

Some examples set before me in daily ways recently? Well, the hay crop I wrote about for one. I had seven bales of hay left in the barn when the new crop was ready to be brought in! Just in time, I said to myself.

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An example of fortunate timing has been the tomato harvest...

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Just as I opened the last jar of tomato soup put up in 2005, the first really ripe tomatoes of 2006 had begun to appear at Farmers Market, and will be put up in a new batch for the next season. Just in time, I said to myself.

Some times (most times, truthfully) we feel that God's time is not our time. The Bible tells us this is so. Bad things, delays, closed doors...all seem like poor timing to us. But it also tells us that His time is perfect. When we can't understand the timing, it is our job to trust. Trust Him, wait on Him, listen for His direction. And it comes....

Well, I promised some knitting and fiber content for this post, didn’t I? So here it is...

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I have been on a kick of spinning 3-ply yarns lately. This came upon me even before the recent issue of Spin-Off magazine talked about plying. For some reason, in my brain, I was trying to make a 3-ply yarn more complicated than it needed to be. I’m not talking about Navajo-plying...I wanted to spin 3 bobbins full of singles, then ply them together into one strand of yarn. I wanted some stronger, smoother sock yarns....I wanted to use up some odd amounts of fiber stash I had around. And so, armed with input and encouragement from some fibery knowledgeable friends, I began with the Beach (in the photo above), fiber from friend Eve (you may be able to see the subtle bits of dyed silk that give depth to this blend...soooo nice!)

My second attempt involved more color. Do you remember the Blue Jay roving I was spinning on the electric spinner back in July (see archives)? A blend of fibers, but as a 2-ply it was just a little drab. Enter a third ply, this one of black Corriedale/Llama/Alpaca and I got this lovely yarn:

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In real life it is not as barberpole-ish as it looks here. I like it but not sure what project it will become.

There is a third entry in the 3-ply category that is also very pleasing and will make an appearance here in a day or two. I am just finishing up the second half of the fiber, then need to ply and skein it and then will post pictures. By spinning three bobbins full of very fine threads, I am able to produce a nice sock weight 3-ply yarn that is soft and smooth to my fingers. I have just cast on with the Beach fiber for a pair of socks, to see how it knits up and how my feet feel about this yarn before I commit myself to spinning more in the same way. I also want to test the durability of the yarn when knit into socks. I hope it lives up to my expectations.

Knitting these days? Well, as you know my Summer Sock Party '06 sock was sent and Juju has received it - Hurray!!! Check our her blog to see an update - best of all it arrived right about the time of a major birthday ;) I am knitting display pairs of socks for an upcoming sock class I am teaching. One pair is great with the chosen yarn, the second I have torn out twice...a familiar pattern that I am comfortable with but the color yarn is not working out. I can't wait to get a few of these sock projects off the needles and start on the Jaywalker sock in the Opal yarn from my Sock Party gifter. I also need to cast on another pair of socks from wool stash for CIC.

My Elegantly Simple Triangular Shawl has been sitting at my side, waiting for me to decide whether she will grow up to be a real shawl or be content as a shoulder scarf. I love the pattern, I love the yarn, I love the color play, I have loved praying for a precious friend (Dale - who is doing so good, Praise God!) while knitting...but I am still not convinced I love this yarn, on these needles, in this pattern - you know, the combination. Its bugging me and so I am trying to ignore my commitement to the thing. Do I continue through the few remaining balls of this one of a kind yarn to complete the shawl, only to find I dislike it even after blocking? Do I stop at the end of this repeat, block it and find out I love it and hate myself for not plodding ahead (and by the way, that would leave me with two balls of the yarn and not enough yardage to make anything else with...) My inclination is to forge ahead and complete the shawl. If nothing else I love the color of the yarn, and the way it feels, even if it does not do justice to the lovely pattern. will just have to stay tuned to see what fickle Cary decides (grin)

My other big change in knitting gears has been on a project for my daughter, who is pregnant with her second baby. I signed on for, and have been knitting on, the lovely Mystery Stole 2 project. My excitement was that each week we get a new clue, and I thought it would be fun to knit this secret project, waiting expectantly for the stole to grow and develop just like my grandbaby. I would present it to my daughter for her birthday in November (baby is due in December) She would wrap herself in the lovely creation, knit with love by me from beautiful wool spun from her own ewe, Violet.

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Above, Violet. Below, Violet's fleece and yarn

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The pattern Melanie created was perfect, as daughter does NOT like lacey, holey, full-of-yarn-over garments and this stole has lots of solid areas. However, as I knit and as I watched others knit on and even finish their project, I started to get a naggly feeling that this actually wasn't what I wanted for Nakia and the baby. It is a stole, not a shawl...not very wide and very long. I wanted something warm and enveloping, like a big easy hug. So...

Off the needles the Mystery Stole 2 in Violet's yarn came and I was on the search for something different....(isn't it fun to pull out all the pattern books, knitting magazines and search online patterns when you have a project in mind?) And I found it!!! It was right under my nose, a simple garment I had overlooked lots of times but now jumped off the page. I can't tell you which one it is, or show you a picture of the shawl in progress in case dear child should look here at my blog (it is going to be a surprise remember). But I will say that it is a classic pattern from Best of Knitters Shawls and Scarves. I am so happy with the choice that I can hardly put it down (and it is a lot of stitches, so it takes a few minutes to get through a row) It just feels right.

Well, that is the majority of knitting and spinning news here at the farm. As the cooler air stirs the night and the colors begin to show a bit on the trees and in the fields, a longing for more projects form in my brain. But for now I am content to work on completing some of those already in the works and simply dreaming of those to come...

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Above, the HGA Convergence Special Edition hand dyed yarn from friend Margaret at Heritage Yarns and the River Shawl pattern from Fibertrends. Don't you think this will be fun to knit?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

At The End Of The Day....

(These two posts were written a few days apart, at the end of July/first part of August. I am just now getting a little break between straw and hay making, to where I have time to publish them. I caution you that there are some long and rambling thoughts shared here, in case you decide to escape right now - grin. If you decide to forge ahead, I would love for you to email me personally with comments, or include them at the end of the post. I hope that if nothing else, you might think about and put a face to the people in our country who continue on day to day, farming and feeding and caring. I hope that the photos included in this post, all from our farm or my parents farm, will help you visualize the people behind the scenes. I hope that you might be moved to phone or write a congressman, senator or other local official in support of small farms - maybe visit the NoNais website and take a stand. I hope that you will consider always shopping locally, especially during Farm Market season or even do something like walk through the animal barns during your local 4-H fair...another long standing tradition that is in danger of being wiped out by urban sprawl)

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(Image of part of our farm fields)

It has been interesting to me (and I really enjoy) reading about modern day men and women (interestingly enough, it is mostly women!) who have longing and desire to leave the corporate or professional city life to live off the land. First generation farmers, if you will. Many of them did not have parents that farmed, though they may have had grandparents or more often aunts and uncles who did and they have strong, fond memories of times spent on the farm visiting in summer or holidays. They seem to have a strong, unexplainable and undeniable need to put down roots in some soil, raise a garden or crop and tend to animals. They write about this passionately and eloquently, usually after they have made the move but sometimes when they are still working towards it. Some of them have a large lot in the country, some have an acre or two, some actually have acreage. They are devoted and they are dedicated, eager and willing to learn farm life and farm ways, maybe changing them some to suit their own needs, but are respectful in those changes.

Some of my favorites? Susan at Farm Girl Fare; Apifera Farm; Old Shawl Farm - love the name! - and my hurricane surving friend Deborah and her family, as they work towards producing their own healthy food and lifestyle on their small plot of earth. I enjoy watching the journey of these internet co-workers and friends. Another wonderful site dedicated to small farms, with lots of links is I Heart Farms (be sure to check it out!)

They are NOT the flitty city dwellers who move to our farm neighborhoods with their dogs and cats that run loose and chase my sheep or pee in my flower bed; their whiney and demanding children who’s temper tantrums can be heard across the pasture or their teenagers with the loud music, sport vehicles, snowmobiles and fast cars that race up and down the road and through the hayfields and woodlot - endangering neighbors and animals alike (both physically and mentally!) These are not people who’s desire to escape town life for country living forgot to take into account that farm animals bring with them a certain odor and that farmers get up at the crack of dawn with tractors to go to the field....oh no, that wasn’t part of THEIR dream and they like to complain about it and generally make life miserable for MY dream ;/ And I am not talking about the ones who haven’t had enough sense to raise a poodle, yet suddenly become experts in livestock and livestock care and are certain that no one should ever, ever take the life of a poor animal and put it on their plate, God forbid!

No, I am talking about those around this country and even the world who are respectful of people and place, and making their own way as part of it. Of making a difference. I often hear farmers of my generation and older complain about these “wanna-be” farmers and it makes me mad. If we look back in our own family histories, those of us who consider ourselves traditional farm families, we don’t have to look very far to find an ancestor who decided to leave a settled, plotted life in the family business or away from everything they knew because they had a desire to work the land, to raise their own family somewhere new, to stake their claim. In a way, that is what these modern day, first generation farmers are in my mind, and we owe them a huge thank you and an offer to lend a helping hand in any way we can. They may very well be the salvation of the family farm, because they have not become complacent and accepting, as many of us have, about the way government and corporations and even those uninformed new neighbors from town are slowly but methodically doing away with our opportunity to do what we do to provide food for our own table as well as theirs.

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(The Round House, a former grainery, is a unique and special part of our farms history)

I am a Christian woman who believes that according to God’s Holy word I am to seek to live my life quietly and peacefully (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Most days I do that, without voicing the opinions rumbling around inside my head. Today is not one of those quiet days, and I wanted to share some of these thoughts that are bubbling around inside me. I hope you don’t mind.

I love farming. I love belonging to a farm family (the photo below is of my parents farm and flock of sheep, taken quite a few years ago). I wish everyone were able to share in it or at least understand a little part of it. I wish everyone could understand that this is not a job we can just walk away from - send out our resume and move up in the company. It is a job that is part of our living and breathing and dying. And I wish everyone could be just a little more thankful and a little more aware of what it takes to be a farmer, in this day and age more than any other)

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I am struck in recent days by the distance that continues to grow between food and the family plate. I am overwhelmed, some days, by the work it requires to just keep going on the farm, especially as I get older. I am discouraged and disheartened by the rules and regulations thought up for us by people who are even more far removed by the land and the work goes into maintaining it. My plan for future days is to change, somewhat, the direction of this blog. As much as I enjoy reading about first generation farmers, I find little on line about the daily work of long time farmers. I would like for this blog to touch on some of that life, some of those people, at least from the perspective of one. I hope you will continue to visit me while I do...

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(Making hay in the blistering summer heat. Food for the winter)

Now for some rest at The End Of The Day then on to Some Pasture Management and When It Gets Hot (and I promise my next post will have some neutral spinning/knitting content)....

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Monday, August 21, 2006

When It Gets Hot.....

All over the media and on the internet, in special news reports, emails and at blog spots and websites, people are talking about the heat wave of 2006. I have avoided discussing the heat, trying my best not to think about it more than I have to (is that even possible?) but a recent thread by knitters and spinners and stories on my local news about jobs that require people to work even in extreme heat, got me to thinking.

Thinking about another area of public life where the farmers and stockmen of our country are overlooked....what do farmers and stockmen do when the temperatures soar above human tolerance? When the longed for cool night breezes fail to appear? When the temperatures before daybreak are already in the 80’s and close to 100 by noontime? When those normally cooling and refreshing summer rains come in the middle of the day and are quickly followed by the steam bath combination of high heat and high humidity? Do we retire to the air conditioned house? Do we pack up the kids and escape to the public pool or beach and splash about playfully? Do we go to library or the mall or a restaurant to relax and cool off without having to wash the dishes after we eat?


We work. And we work harder if we are guardians of livestock who need extra attention and close care when those temperatures hit the high mark (especially if they are wearing wool coats!)

Summer high temperatures just happen to coincide with combining wheat and baling straw:

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(There are TWO wagons full of straw waiting to be stacked in the barn. The temperature? 90 plus, with a heat index of 101)

In our part of the country, it is also time to begin making the second cutting of hay. Do we have the luxury of taking a day off and staying indoors when the feed and bedding our animals need to survive the cold winter months lay in the fields waiting? No. The window of opportunity for a farmer to produce any crop is a very narrow one. And you do the job when the time comes.

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(Above - hay stacked in the barn)

So what DO we do? Well, for the animals we try to keep them comfortable. At Serenity Farms we don’t go to extreme measures - we are operating a farm, not a pet hotel. But we do our best to make sure the animals have access to shade and always to clean, fresh, cool water.

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This means making trips to the barns OFTEN to scrub out buckets and tanks and to refill them. Make a check of the flock or herd to see if anyone is showing any extra sign of stress (Notice in the photo above that the horses have their ears forward, heads up and their eyes are bright, even though their nostrils flare from the heat. Signs of stress would be head down, ears drooping to the side, dull eyes, listlessness) We keep the barn and pens as clean as possible to help reduce the insect population. And what does this mean? It means picking up your pitch fork and shovel and hauling manure. (You can read my earlier post about manure handling on the farm) If you think being a postal worker walking a route in 105 degree temperatures is no fun - try working inside a solidly built barn with minimal airflow and shoveling manure and urine soaked bedding, hoisting a heavy wheel barrow full of the prime stuff and walking it outside to a larger pile of potential fertilizer! (with all due respect to the postal worker, of course!)

We try not to house the animals indoors for much of this time, but in some cases it is the coolest place and a place where they can escape the sun if they don’t have shade trees in their pasture. In my case, my ewe pasture has very little shade especially during the heat of the day. But they do have access to the basement of the old barn where it is cooler and dark on those hot summer days. They make a bee-line for the corner and press themselves against the cool stone walls. In my secondary pasture, the loafing shed has a cement floor and is open sided so that the air circulates through....when there is any air moving!

So maybe the next time we are subjected to this kind of suffocating heat, when you have the chance to sip a frosty milk shake (dairy farmer) or scramble an egg (poultry producer) for breakfast or grill a great all beef burger on the patio (beef producer for the burger; crop grower to provide wheat for flour for the hamburger bun; vegetable grower who supplies the tomato, lettuce and onion to top that burger) or escape to do a little knitting (shepherd) - you will think about the farm family who is working to care for the animals and bring you the product that makes your life a little more enjoyable!

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(What looks like a mountain of straw, waiting to be unloaded in extreme heat)

Well, unless you are eating imported beef; produce originating from Brazil or Chile; wool grown in the Andes or eggs produced by the factory farms owned and operated by major world that case you might think about the farm family you are helping to put out of business. But that is an opinion best saved for another post....

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(That little boy on the wagon working so hard is at least the SIXTH generation of my family to three year old grandson. This is how the little ones start - with the job of carrying little grain buckets to the lambs or sweeping off the wagons when the straw or hay is unloaded. His mama did it, too, and I hope that life circumstances will allow that there will be others after him, from our family and others, should the Good Lord decide to tarry)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Summer Socks from Stariel

Its here! My Summer Sock Party '06 goodies arrived from my swap partner right before I left for much fun is this????

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Stariel made me this sock. The pattern is Jaywalker - one I have read about and planned to try, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. Now I have the perfect opportunity! Knit in a lovely blue-turquoise-white Opal sock yarn and can you believe that I must have been the only sock knitter on the face of the planet who as not used Opal? Now I can! She also sent a really cute (and useful) tape measure; adorable note paper and (not pictured) the sweetest little soap with a fish embedded that grandson Mason just LOVES as well as a little tin of Boston Baked Beans.

Stariel had no way of knowing what memories those little candies would stir in me. As a kid, a big treat for this rural dwelling farm girl with four siblings, was to get to go to the movie theater in town. It had red velvet seats, a red velvet curtain, a stage, a balcony, plush carpet, a black marble drinking fountain AND a candy counter. I loved the candy coated peanuts you could get there with your popcorn, Boston Baked Beans. Now, I haven't had them in years but this sweet gift brought many good thoughts as well as a yummy treat!

I will cast on and knit the second sock as soon as I finish the Toe Up sock I am working on for an upcoming class.

My sock recipient just returned to Maine from an extended visit to Texas (does that give away who it is LOL!) and so her sock and party supplies are on their way to her. I hope she will enjoy my gift as much as I am enjoying mine.

Thank you, Stariel, for being a fun and generous swapper! And thank you to Tonia for creating this fun Sock Party...I am looking forward to the fall version ;)

UPDATE: I had already posted when I realized I had said nothing about the perfect fit of the sock! You would never guess that I had not knit this sock for myself, the fit is so good ;) So here is another picture, a "self-portrait" of the sock on my foot...taken at a funny angle because I was looking down at it - grin.

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Pasture Walks and Manure Management

(Written in the first week of August)

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Today part of my chores included walking the pastures...checking for fences that may need repair, digging up thistles and burdock before they get a chance to take hold and spread, and looking for dangers that may be hidden that cause trouble for the livestock. This is an important part of farm management and it is not really right to call it a chore, for I do enjoy it.

Sheep are excellent foragers (see the photo at the beginning of this post? That is not my lawn but one of the sheep pastures!) Horses are not so good. Compare the picture below of the horses walking through knee deep forage that they haven't touched in their pasture to the smooth, even grazing of the sheep (above)

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Ideally, the sheep would rotate through the pastures behind our horses, but our fence system is not set up that way - maybe one day. So for now, they are in different parts of the farm. The horses leave huge areas of uneaten plant stuff and that means spending time and gas money running the tractor and brush hog to clip those pastures. Were we able to run the sheep behind them, they would clean this up, serving two purposes. Fatten up the sheep and clean up the pastures (making money and saving money, all at the same time! Are you beginning to see the good sense that good farming practices make?)

I am fortunate to have four pasture lots to rotate my sheep through, and three main pastures for the horses. This helps keeps the sheep lots clean and growing and reduces the parasite load (worms) that occur when livestock is allowed to over graze. I have also been fortunate to have my dad build the pasture fences for me. Fence building is a lost skill and knowledge for the most part, but my dad and brothers know it. Dad is teaching Alex the skill. A good fence, well built, can last the lifetime of a farmer.

We fight Canadian thistle in our pastures and hay fields. It starts mostly along fence rows where I suppose the birds perch and leave behind seeds of the weed. In the spring, when the plant is tender and green, the sheep keep it under is their favorite part of the pasture smorgasbord! But towards the middle of July, the thistle plant must start to toughen up because they stop eating even the smallest sprout and it will get away from us and reseed if we are not diligent. I don’t use chemical sprays to control this weed - I mow it down before it sets seed. The giant Bull Thistle, too, is not sprayed but is dug by hand while it is small, to prevent spreading.

Photo below - preventing the spread of Bull Thistle (see the dead thistle?)

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Now this photo (below) is what happens when the diligent farmer (me) misses a thistle sprout in the fence row and it gets out of hand (that thisle is nearly six foot tall!):

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Other weeds need to be watched for. I was reminded of the importance of these pasture walks when I discovered a fairly large patch of uneaten forage in the middle of the ewes main lot. I thought it odd that they had obviously not touched this area, and I was relieved when I discovered that what they hadn’t been eating was deadly Nightshade growing in this area!

Nightshade is toxic to sheep and it grows on our ground, though not rampantly. I usually manage to stay ahead of it. Now here it was in an area it had not been seen before, dozens of little healthy plants sprouted. How did the sheep know not to eat it? They will eat it, I know they will. Maybe because we have had plenty of rains this year and the rest of their pasture remains lush...they just didn’t touch it. For whatever reason, I was glad they hadn’t gotten into it and that I was able to fence them out of this pasture while I get control of the dangerous weed. You can do a Google search for photos and information about Nightshade and other toxic plants.

Another part of pasture management is keeping overgrown vegetation mowed or clipped, as I mentioned before. This helps keep it fresh and weeds from going to seed. Below you see the newest pasture for the ewes. This had been horse pasture and was badly overgrown. After Dad and Alex finished the fencing, Bill clipped the overgrown stuff and the brood ewes were moved to their new summer grazing.

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Healthy pasture, and plenty of it, is a good thing! Below you will see I have just opened a gate allowing the girls into a fresh pasture. They barely get into it before they begin their grazing!

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Manure management is another part of farming with livestock. Though some folks don't like to think about this by-product of any farm animal (manure), it is a fact of life. We are a small family farm, using traditional methods to care for our land and that includes handling manure in one of two ways. The first is to spread it back on the hay and crop ground as fertilizer. The second is to compost it into lovely stuff to feed my sad, sandy soil! Sheep manure is excellent fertilizer, being higher in nitrogen, phosphorus and potash than either horse or cow manure. It contains many of the valuable elements taken from the soil by the plants eaten by sheep.

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The giant five foot high manure pile in the picture above will break down to half its size and be welcome supplement to my gardens. By the way, the manure/compost pile is NOT as close to the sheep pastures as it appears in this photo.

And finally, what makes me REALLY happy???

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A clean barn, freshly bedded...a welcome haven for sheep and shepherd alike! I love this picture of the old basement of the barn - the sheep pen. In winter the sheep snuggle here for warmth and in summer they lay against the cool stones. It is bright and dry, something else that is important for healthy animals.