Thursday, July 28, 2011


Not the music kind.........the blackberry kind.  We are struggling to keep up with the ripening berries (and beat the birds to harvesting them).  When I buy blackberry jam, I usually go for the seedless.  Those pesky seeds are something I can do without.  I've discovered that our thornless blackberry's seeds don't seem as aggravating somehow.  They are softer or there are fewer of them?  I don't know,  but I like my homemade jam better than Smuckers or even Bonne Maman.  Last week,  I made lots and lots of blackberry jam and tried out several different methods,  with varying degrees of success.  First, I tried freezer jam because it takes much less time and effort.  I followed the directions exactly and it never did "set up".  I ended up freezing it anyway,  thinking we would use it as an ice cream topping.  I had a small amount left over,  after filling the jars,  and I refrigerated it,  thinking we'd use it soon.  Then, I discovered that once it is chilled,  it actually does set up.  I later read that it is supposed to be "soft set".  Mine didn't even make it to that, but it still tastes good.  The next batch was made with a pouch of liquid Certo.  Once again,  following exact directions.........and,  it did not set.  I put all that back in the pot and cooked it a little longer than the package directions.  That did the trick.  The most successful batch resulted from using the boxes of powdered Sure-Jell.  I did cook it a little longer than the directions and it turned out perfect.  So, for my money, it's worth the effort to make a bigger mess and be sure of the results.

I think we have had one day of not quite so high temperatures and humidity and are now back to the miserable stage.  If this is the way summers are going to be from now on, I think I'm going to start looking for a farm in Maine!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shearing day - again

Yup,  it was one of the hottest days of summer so far, and what did we do here on the farm?  We sheared sheep.  ( And,  by the way,  around here that's what we like to call the "Royal We".  I didn't actually shear anything. )  The lambs were still wearing their baby fleeces and, in my experience,  they eat better and grow better if they get shorn while we are in the heat of summer.  Plus,  it cuts down on the likelihood their fleeces will have weak tips when shearing time comes around next spring.  I felt bad for the shearers and the lambs, but all I could do was pass out cold water and keep the big barn fans pointed in their direction.
( That's Birdie there on the right.  Think she'll ever grow into those ears ? )
The lambs sired by Henry have the most gorgeous fleeces.  Henry is a Cotswold-Wensleydale crossbred and he passed on the length and luster that are characteristic of those two breeds.   I'm so impressed with those fleeces that I'm planning on keeping many of Henry's daughters for replacement ewes.  I'm afraid Henry's breeding days are over.  It appears he has done permanent damage to one of his back legs and having two strong back legs is an absolute necessity for a flock ram.  I'm grateful that I got such wonderful offspring by him and now wish I had exposed more ewes to him last fall.

Getting those fleeces off gave me a good look at my lambs and there were some I was not happy with.  We've been having the same issue as most other sheep breeders lately.  This hot, humid weather is causing an unusually high parasite population,  which seems to have developed resistance to the de-wormers we use.  Two years ago,  we switched from Ivomec to Valbazen and now that no longer seems as effective.  There is apparently a new de-wormer being used in New Zealand,  but things move very slowly in the world of sheep medicines here in the states,  so we will be waiting a while for that.  Luckily,  our adult sheep aren't as susceptible to internal parasites.  It's only some of the lambs that seem to be suffering.   Next up in our arsenal is Levamisole,  which has become difficult to find because apparently drug dealers are using it to cut cocaine.  Turns out that when humans ingest it, it starts eating away flesh.  Lovely.   
On that note,  I'll leave you with some gratuitous pictures of the Bun.  She is allowed out to run around the studio two or three times a day now.  Still no "accidents".  She is using her litter box all the time.  ( I'm so proud )  Anyway,  sitting on the treadles of my loom is one of her favorite activities.  My loom is a Glimakra and the treadles hang from the lams,  so there is some movement when she's walking around on them,  which she apparently does for the thrill of it.  I guess she's more easily entertained than even I am.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fiber for dessert ?

Going through some old cookbooks this past weekend, looking for new ways to use zucchini,  I came across a recipe for a chocolate zucchini cake.  I was not sold on it ( sounded kinda weird ),  but thought, "What the heck.  It's not like I've got limited amounts of the stuff".   So, I tried it and, I have to say, it's good.  You'd never guess there are three cups of zucchini thrown into it,  mainly because there are also three cups of sugar ( ack ! )......but, whatever.  If you are having a zucchini festival at your house, this is a good way to sneak some vegetable fiber into dessert.  It's especially good with vanilla ice cream.  Just sayin'.

From John Hadamuscin's "Simple Pleasures" ( this is an oldie..... it came out in 1992 )

 3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups granulated sugar ( I used Sugar in the Raw - so, not quite so bad )
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini
Confectioners sugar, for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 10 inch tube or Bundt pan and dust lightly with cocoa.

2.  Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine oil and granulated sugar, then beat in eggs, one at a time.  Slowly beat dry mixture into wet mixture, until well blended.  Beat in vanilla and stir in zucchini.

3.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for approximately an one hour.

4.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove cake to a wire rack.  When completely cool, dust lightly with confectioners sugar.

5.  Cover and refrigerate.  Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

There you go........knock yourself out!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Near the finish line

I've made good progress on my Tour de Fleece efforts, in spite of taking my two rest days at the very beginning of the race.  I've managed to put in a little time at the mini-spinner every day since and have spun 2 lbs. 7 oz. of singles, which I'm in the process of plying.  The Hansen Mini-spinner has a huge bobbin, which I love.  Combine the size of the bobbin with the Woolly Winder and you can really pack some fiber on there.  The first plied bobbin was 314 yards of worsted weight and I have enough singles spun to have about 1000 yards of two-ply yarn.  I'm now thinking I might like a cardigan, rather than a vest, and I'll most likely spin another bobbin full.  So, it looks as though I'll make it across the finish line.  I'm not sure I deserve a medal this year, even though I met my goal.  It doesn't feel like I've been dedicated enough, especially when I see the efforts and discipline this spinner and this one are putting into the race.

I certainly haven't broken any records this year,  but the best thing about the Tour de Fleece is that it gives me permission to take time for spinning every day, which I don't often do.  I tend to tell myself I need to finish the laundry, the ironing, the mowing or whatever before I can take time to do something I love (which is lame, I know) .   I'm going to try to improve on that attitude......that's a goal I really need to reach.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lunch and a bun report

It's that time of year.......the zucchini avalanche has already started and the yellow squash is not far behind.  This morning on the way to the barn,  I cut through the garden and found 8 good sized squash that I swear were not there last night.  I love zucchini bread, but let's face it, if I bake enough zucchini bread to use up all the squash, I'll end up as big as the side of a barn.  So, as a proactive strike against that thought, this was my lunch today and it was so good, it will probably be lunch tomorrow and the day after.  ( I used the Alice Waters method: a little olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper and roasted it for about 40 minutes. )  At the moment, I'm feeling just a little proud of myself for resisting the urge to bake zucchini bread.  
 It's hot and very humid here.  The heat index was 109 yesterday.  I started filling the pool for the alpaca boys and they went right in before I could get more than a few inches of water in.  Kinda wish I had a bigger size just for me.
The bun is doing quite well.  She is still in the studio and I expect now that she will stay there for some time.  That was not my original intention, but it is mostly working out well to have her there because it's much, much cooler than in the barn and it gives me a chance to handle her and socialize with her often. I've hesitated to mention it, for fear I would jinx it,  but it's been more than 2 weeks now and she's been very consistent in using a litter box.  I noticed that she was urinating in just one corner of her cage, so the next trip to Tractor Supply, I bought a litter container made specifically for rabbit cages.  As soon as I put it in her cage,  she hopped right in and used it!  I'm so proud!  Not all the poop goes in there, but that is not such a big deal and hopefully she will get better with that.   I've been letting her out to run around freely for several periods each day and this morning I got a reminder of something I knew and had forgotten.  My new wireless printer is not working at the moment because Phoebe chewed on the cord.  Thankfully, she wasn't hurt.  Rabbits are notorious chewers.  Sometimes I get just a little tired of having lessons to learn  ( or re-learn ) all the time.
(Phoebe - resting after one of her sprints around the studio)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Down, up and they're off.....

Once in a while,  I look out in the field and see something like the scene above.  My first thought is, "Oh no, there's a ewe down.  Is she dead ?".   How, I ask you,  could this possibly be a comfortable napping position?  Wouldn't you have a permanent kink in your neck if you tried sleeping like this?  Usually I clap my hands or yell or watch for a twitching ear.  This time I walked right up to her  before Gabby roused herself.   Two seconds later............she's up and back to business as usual.

(that's my good girl, Olive, in the middle)

After a very, very slow start, my Tour de Fleece challenge has finally left the starting line.  I'm going to have to spend some quality time at my Hansen mini-spinner to catch up.  I probably should have skipped the competition this year, but it feels good to have an excuse a reason to spin during the day,  even though there are many other things I should be doing.  There is so much stuff going on around here right now,  I set a pretty wimpy goal for myself  ( to spin enough of my wool/alpaca roving to knit a vest or maybe a sweater---depending on how it goes ).  So, if I complete the spinning part, I'll start knitting.  That's presuming I can manage to pick out a pattern by then !  Never have I felt so unmotivated for a challenge,  but maybe once I get the first few hills behind me,  that will change.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Holiday ?

Someone told me that this past weekend was a holiday ! Huh?  We missed that bit of information here on the farm.  It was just work, work, work, pretty much daylight til dark.  And, who was the wise guy who wrote that song, "Summertime and the livin' is easy...."?  Our theme song around here runs more along the lines of, "I've been working on the railroad all the live-long day...".  Mike spent 20+ hours on the big tractor, mowing all the fields and I spent all of that time trying to find the actual perennials in the perennial beds and working in the vegetable garden.

( don't you just love the expression on the bunny's face?)

Grand-daughter, Mia, was here from Friday until Sunday,  so we did have semi-regular meals for a change.  Nothing like having a small child around to make you consider having dinner earlier than 10 pm!

And, least you think I have my vegetable garden under control (well, except for maybe the walkways. I'm working on it).......this is the other half.  In my defense, I've been begging Mike for at least 10 years to enclose the raised beds and this year,  we are finally making some progress.  We're half way done .  Nothing like having a wedding at the farm to get things done.  I highly recommend it.