Saturday, March 26, 2011

Second String

This is our son Max. A college student at Millersville. Musician. Historian. Farmer. He even wove this scarf for his girlie.

The elder Farmer and I are the second string gardeners whilst Max is at school. He created a calendar marked with the dates of when all of the various garden varieties must be planted. We get our instructions on a weekly basis. This week, it was cucumbers, eggplant and beets. After consulting with Max, we decided to hold off on the beets for another week due to threat of continued cold weather. My aging body was grateful for this decision.
We did however start onions (that was a decision by his younger brother and I while grocery shopping and seeing a basket of red onion sets). We've never grown onions before, and after some consultation on the internet it seems that onions from sets don't hold up that well over time. So these (if they actually grow) will be consumed or dehydrated. Ended up getting one row and a few extras, marked with part of a plastic milk jug and a Sharpie.
Then the eggplants and slicing cucumbers went into the little coldframe made with salvaged windows, wood, and lined with silver insulation. It is surrounded by straw bales sealed in contractor's garbage bags for added warmth. I was pleasantly surprised how warm it was in there. Hopefully these will grow too.

Okay, we hedged our bet a little. Here are the pickling cucumbers in the house under the grow light. That's the celery next to it. I discovered that celery takes 5 months to grow. It's kind of spindly and needs to be transplanted to the next size pot. I dunno. This is an experiment.

In other news, work on the chicken house continues. It will be under roof by tomorrow.

And some things grow without our help at all. Here are some lettuce shoots reappearing from last year's seeds. Awesome. We found that growing lettuce on the deck in pots is the way to go. You can use up one pot while the next one is growing. Works much better than mass plantings in the bigger garden.

And fortunately daffodils don't need any help at all.

The lavender survived the winter. We're really liking lavender. It needs little care other than minimal pruning and harvesting, looks nice and does well in our nasty clay soil.

And never letting us down...chives given to us by our fellow alpaca farmer friend, Jodi Dominick of Sunrose Alpacas. Ever faithful chives.

The "second string gardeners" await our next instructions. Enough for one day...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Strap Yourself In - It's Gonna be a Long Ride

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, but I still feel the need to catch up here, as this is the story of our crazy world... The celery is coming along. And the Chicken Tractor is getting closer to completion. This mobile chicken house will be home to our birds when they are old enough to live outside the brooder. We have some brown egg layers and blue egg layers coming May 7.

The freezer got cleaned out and reloaded with a half of a steer from the farmer down the road.

You get a lot of ground beef when you get a half steer...

Took three of the girls to the Virginia Classic Alpaca Show in Lexington, Virginia.

The white one on the left took Grand Champion, for which we are excited, humbled and grateful. In addition to the pretty purple ribbon, she was "in the money" again this year...and that helps buy feed.

Took a trip to Gurdy Run Fiber Mill above Harrisburg to drop off a load of fiber for further processing.

They had a cute bottle lamb...
Beautiful Gypsy Cobb horses...

Good friends came along with their fiber and let me take blurry photos of them...
Other friends hid behind their latest knitting project...
And they had big machines to process our clip.
But taking much of our time recently has been the hand processing of fiber here. It is not always economically feasible to have everything processed at the mill. Some things a mill does better; and some things like blending colors or other fibers in small quantities are better done here.
We left off last month with the skirting, washing and drying that took place in the dining room. I've heard that some people actually eat meals in their dining room. Once the fleece is dry it is ready to be picked. This medieval torture device is a picker. It opens up the locks of fiber and gets it ready to be carded. It has hundreds of razor sharp spikes on the top and bottom. Dangerous. Ask me how I know.
Here the fiber has been fed into the picker and the pendulum swings back and forth, grabbing fiber from one end and flinging it out of the other into an awaiting cardboard box...
Then I measure two ounces of fiber on my scale because that's all the picker will take at one time and make an attractive roving or batt. One time, I put four ounces in and the batt looked like Cousin It from the Adams Family.
This is an electric carder. This expensive piece of equipment is owned by three farms who have sworn to keep it clean and operating. It is the Sisterhood of the Traveling Carder. Sure, you can use hand carders, but it would take forever.
Fiber is fed into one end of the carder and it is pulled through and onto the large drum. Thousands of little teeth grab the fiber and pull it into the same direction. This way all of the fiber is aligned so it is easy to spin.

Periodically, you run this burnishing tool (also full of sharp teeth) across the top of the large drum to improve the quality of the batt and pack it down a little.

Once all of your fiber has been fed into the carder it is time to pull your batt or, in this case, roving. You use this pick to bring up a section of the batt.
Then you pull it through this little plastic thing called a diz.

And there you have it. Roving. Keep doing this until all of the batt is off the drum

Finished product. Two ounces of 100% Alpaca Roving. (Shameless plug...Available now at my Etsy store...
Here is alpaca blended with hand dyed Blue Face Leicester sheep (an ounce of each).

And here is some in green (also made some in yellow and rose).

So there ya have it. The month in review. Shearing, more shows, and babies coming soon.