Sunday Homestead Update

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers from the US.  I hope you all had a nice day with your loved ones.  We had a wonderful day with great food and great fellowship.  We follow Thanksgiving day with a tradition we call “Holiday Fun Weekend” where we decorate for Christmas, make Christmas candies, play games, watch movies, start our advent celebration, and just have a laid-back fun time together as a family.  We decided not to put up the tree quite yet this year, and since Advent doesn’t start until next weekend we held off on most of the Christmas decorating.  But we did put up a few things.  And we made some yummy candies and enjoyed games and time together.

It was our first time trying maple sugar candy.  We didn’t have any molds to pour into, so we poured into cupcake liners and then broke it into chunks.  Not as pretty, but still delicious!

We also made our traditional Old Fashioned Christmas Candy, and some eggnog fudge.

Raspberry Flavored Old-Fashioned hard candy

Root Beer Flavored Old-Fahsioned Hard Candy

Eggnog Fudge

Garden

The last of the tomatoes have ripened and been canned this week.  Last year my longest keeping variety lasted until Christmas, but this year they didn’t keep quite as long.  I have been saving seeds from my Long Keeper variety for a few years now – saving from the ones that lasted the longest each year.  But it is clear that they cross pollinated last year, because they are supposed to be a red tomato, and as you can see, they are not.

That might have added to why they didn’t keep as long.  So I need to see if I still have seeds from two years ago, before they crossed, and I can start again with those.  Or I could keep going with this variety – the color is pretty cool with the yellow and blush stripes – but I think I really want to keep going with more pure strain that keeps longer.  I am saving seeds from these anyway, but I am going to mark them as a cross-breed.

Knitting

I am chugging along on my cardigan.  Almost done with the body, then on to the neck and front band, and then the sleeves.  I am really happy with it thus far, and I know it will look much better when it is blocked.  Can’t wait to finish it!

Chickens

Mrs. Arabel and her 4 chicks are doing well.  We finally got some pictures of them.  Two are looking to end up white and one brown and one buff.  They are oh-so-cute.

I know this is a terrible picture because it is through the wire, however, the chicks are so cute when they poke their heads out from under their mom and they never do it when the door is open so the only way to see it is through the wire.  Can you find all three?

Sheep

Well, the sheep breeding adventure is definitely turning out to be an interesting learning experience.  As I discussed in this previous post, this is our first year using our own ram for breeding, and our ram is just on the edge of being old enough to breed, so we didn’t really know how it would go.

We have been keeping a close eye on the barnyard and the sheep for five weeks now since we put the ram in with the ewes.  The first 12 days or so were very uneventful.  Then we saw that Agnes was in standing heat.  Fergus was trying to breed her, but we didn’t see anything we considered successful breeding.  I noted it on the calendar and marked the date she should come back into heat if she wasn’t pregnant.  Then we went a couple of weeks with nothing happening at all.  Then we saw Toffee in standing heat and saw him again attempting, but it didn’t look successful.  We marked it down and marked when her next heat should be.  Meanwhile, the last mature ewe, Fiona, at no point showed any signs of heat, despite the fact that we had put the ram in with her for over 4 weeks and a ewe’s heat cycle is approximately 17 days.  The two younger ewes shouldn’t be mature enough to breed yet, but we did see him attempting to breed Daffodil, though she wouldn’t stand for him, so I guess we just don’t know.

Last weekend we arrived at what should have been Agnes’ second heat cycle, but she never went back into heat.  That was surprising.  So it seems that the only thing we can guess from that is that she did get pregnant, even though it didn’t seem like it was successful.  We will continue to watch Toffee to see if she comes back into heat or not, she is due to come back in the 3rd.  And we are continuing to try to figure out why Fiona hasn’t shown any signs of heat at all.

Hopefully all of them are getting pregnant.  Time will tell.  We will preg test them all in the next couple of months.

Homesteading is a constant learning process and a constant adventure.  🙂

Sunday Homestead Update

We have been oh-so-sick this week.  Croup, strep, and pneumonia.  Very.  Sick.  But thankfully everyone is improving and the terrible part is over.  By next SHU we should be recovered and doing much better.

Knitting

Mr. Smiles couldn’t sleep in any position except on our chests in the recliner for 4 days, so Mtn Man and I took turns overnight and Sunshine and Young Man also pitched in a few times during the day.  But for the most part he was in my arms or asleep on my chest all day for four days.  Thankfully, I was able to do some knitting when he was asleep, because I was getting very antsy and bored.

Dog Yarn?

We had an interesting “first” in the mill this week.  We made our first dog hair yarn.  The hair came from a standard poodle, and was mixed 50% with wool from a Lincoln Longwool sheep.  It turned out really cool.

The dog hair definitely needed plenty of support from the Longwool, but it is indeed possible to make dog hair into yarn.  It turned out pretty and is quite soft – softer than I expected.

Snow

We got a good 15-inch dump of snow this week.  It is safe to say fall weather is gone and winter weather has arrived here in the Rockies.  Last year was a very long, mild fall, this year it was short and colder.

We still really need to get the firewood chopped and stacked for the winter, but illness put that off for now.

Chickens

Mrs. Arabel successfully hatched out 4 chicks.  That is a pretty low percentage, considering she started with 10, but that sometimes happens with hatching, especially at high altitude.  And the cold weather could have something to do with it as well.

But I am happy about the four.  We don’t usually hatch in the fall, and with winter cold arriving early I think it will be good for her to only have four because it will be easier for her to successfully keep them all warm even as they grow.

Sewing

I have started working on the Winter/Christmas cloth placemat and napkin set.  Once I finish them I will have all four seasonal sets done!

While I have been working on those, Little Miss and Sunshine have taken it upon themselves to make matching trivet pads with the scraps from all the seasonal sets we have made.  When I cut the placemats’ corners off, we end up with a lot of little triangle scraps from the two different placemat fabrics for each season.

We felt like it would be wasteful to just throw those out, so the girls are piecing them together (there are a million different ways to arrange 36 triangles), adding a couple of layers of batting, using the larger scraps of fabric for the back, and making these cool trivet pads that will coordinate with each of my placemat/napkin sets.

Here is a peek at the Autumn/Thanksgiving set, which we are currently using.  These are the pads they made:

Which go with these placemats and napkins.  Left is Autumn, and right is Thanksgiving:

Once I finish the Winter/Christmas set, I will do a post that shows all four different sets, and the trivet pads that go with them.  If you are interested in finding out how we make these, you can click here for the post that shows how.

Sunday Homestead Update

Time for another update on the happenings around the homestead.

Chickens

Mrs. Arabel is happily setting on her eggs.  She still has one more week until hatch day.  Of the ten eggs under her 9 were fertile, and 2 died early in the process.  So she now has 7 live eggs under her.  Alice and her 5 chicks are doing great in the lower coop.  It is pretty fun to have chicks at this odd time of year.  We have never had chicks in the fall before.

The aggressive rooster is actually doing better lately.  We are hopeful that the aggression was just an overreaction to being the new head roo and that now that he has settled into his position a bit it wont return.  We found that squaring our shoulders to him and stomping our muck boots when he started challenging us causes him to back down.  Although we still haven’t let the kids in with him yet.

More Beautiful Yarn

I just had to share with you some of the beautiful yarn coming out of the mill this last week!  I wish the computer had a feature where you could reach through a feel the squishy softness of this yarn.

The first batch is a merino wool/silk blend.  It is the softest yarn I have ever felt.  Silky smooth, soft and squishy.

The next batch is CVM wool.  Obviously not as silky and soft as the silk blend, but soft in its own way and also squishy.  Plus, I absolutely love the color and luster, though the picture doesn’t do it justice.

Knitting

I am making some more Fish Lips Kiss Heel socks using the cardboard foot cut-outs.  I am experimenting with different toe increases and overall enjoying the method.

I have also made a lot of progress on my Let Go cardigan with my Sandstorm yarn that Mtn Man made me for our anniversary.  I am really excited about this cardigan – I love the cables.

I really need to get sewing on the Christmas/Winter placemat and napkin sets I am making, but it seems lately all I want to do is knit.  🙂

Sheep

Sheep breeding season has officially begun at Willow Creek Farm.  We had said November 1st, but decided to just do the moving around of pens this weekend.  So Fergus is in with the ewes and we are hopeful that we will have a successful breeding season despite his young age.

Fall Projects

We are continuing to try to get all our fall projects done before winter hits.  We had more snow this week already, and cold temps, but we have been able to continue to get stuff done.

The chicken coop got a good cleaning and re-bedding.  It is always nice to have a freshly cleaned coop.  We also did some stall cleaning along with the shuffling of the sheep into different pens for breeding.

Wildlife

The wildlife are very actively through our property each day this time of year.  We are regularly seeing deer, elk, and the flock of turkeys.  We also see coyotes and bears occasionally.  And rarely, a bobcat.  It is such a blessing to be able to live in these beautiful mountains surrounded by all this wildlife.

Have a great week!

Sunday Homestead Update

Another beautiful week on the farm!

Sorry for the picture quality this week – something about the sun while we were working on outdoor projects made for some pretty badly lit photos.

Fall Projects

We have plenty of fall projects to get done before winter and we tackled some of them this weekend.  First we dealt with some small odds and ends that seem to always be building up on a homestead…fix this little thing or that little thing.

Then, since we are borrowing a tractor right now, we wanted to get around to finishing the big onion/garlic patch project by getting all the compost moved over into the patch.  The dirt and compost we put in there last year after building the new retaining wall had settled quite a bit.  In some places it was over a foot too shallow.

As often happens, this was one big project that actually morphed into three big projects as we went.

As we were getting started we realized that to get the tractor into the barnyard we would have to figure out a way to get around the shed.  It is hard to see in the pics, but there is quite an incline next to the shed, it drops about 2-3 feet over 5 feet, and we didn’t want the tractor to roll.

So to make a safe place for the tractor to drive we needed to build a little road with a little retaining wall (extra project #1).  So we needed dirt.

Living on a mountainside there are always ditches that need to be dug to try to keep the water flowing down the hill and away from roads and buildings.  So in order to get some dirt, we decided to dig a ditch (extra project #2) that needed digging to stop the water from the driveway from creating a big alluvium in our field.  So we dug the ditch.

And we used the dirt removed from the ditch to build the little road to safely get the tractor around the shed.

So that we could finally get back to the original project of moving the compost from the barnyard to the onion/garlic patch.  🙂

One scoop out of the pile, and into the patch…only about 20 more to go!

We were SO grateful for the tractor.  This job would have been a beast without it.  While the compost pile and onion patch are only about 50 yards from each other, because of fences, steps, rocky hillside, gates, and buildings, the path we have to take to go from the barnyard to the onion patch is probably about 175 yards including quite a steep uphill portion.  I can’t even imagine doing it with just wheelbarrows.

We got the entire pile moved into the onion patch, which felt great.  We still need to smooth it out and dig the holes for the apple trees going in next spring (while we still have the tractor to dig them with).  And some of the extra compost we have in there will need to be bucketed over into the veggie garden boxes.

There is still plenty to get done, and hopefully we will accomplish more in the coming weekends!

Chickens

Alice and her 5 chicks moved into the lower coop this week.  They love it!  The chicks are handling the ramp just fine, it just took a little coaxing from Alice and a little practice and now they are pros.  It is much nicer for them to live in this coop as opposed to the grow pen in the barn because it has an outdoor section and an indoor section so they can get plenty of fresh air and sunshine.  Plus, it is fun for us because it is just out the back door, so we get to see them a lot more….and no one can look at a mama hen with her chicks and not smile.  🙂

Knitting

I have been sick this week, which means a lot of knitting was accomplished while I tried to rest and recuperate.

I finished the Fish Lips Kiss Heel Socks and I wrote about them here.

I also finished this adorable little Christmas sweater for Mr. Smiles.  The pattern is Snow is Falling Junior by Melissa Kemmerer.  I purposefully moved the snowflakes up higher in the pattern so they would show better when the baby is sitting.  He can’t walk yet, and I didn’t want the pretty snowflakes lost in the rumples of the sweater at his waist while sitting.  So I moved them up.

Remember this hooded scarf I was making and then tore out…?

Well that is the yarn I used on the baby’s sweater.  It is yarn made in our mill, from our livestock (50% angora from our bunny Oliver, and 50% CVM from our ewe, Violet).  We lovingly call it “Violiver.”  It is super soft and very warm, AND…this little sweater is now officially the first project I have finished that is made from fiber from our farm AND was processed in our mill.  I have previously made items from our fiber, but it was hand-processed.  So this little sweater is a bit of a milestone for us, and very special.  I am sure Mr. Smiles will look oh-so-cute in it.

Squash

We cooked up the last of the squash from the pumpkin patch and froze it for delicious breads, cookies, and pies this winter.  We really like the Red Kuri squash.  The pulp and seeds are easy to get out and the ratio of good flesh to pulp is very good, with far more “meat.”  And the flavor is like a mixture of a pumpkin and a butternut squash.  The Golden Nugget squash grew good as well, but the ratio of flesh was not even close to as good, and the pulp and seeds were hard to get out.

 

 

Operation Christmas Child

We are packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child again this year with our church.

This will be the second year the kids are making these bandanna backpacks.

And they are also sewing facecloths into little cases to hold the hygiene items we are putting in (soap, toothbrushes, combs, etc).

It is kind of hard to see, but the cases have three pockets inside of them.

“Old Man of the Farm”

I will leave you with a picture of Jerry, our barn cat.

Since our LGD, Tundra, died in July, Jerry is now the “Old Man of the Farm.”  Meaning that he is the oldest of the farm animals, at almost 11-years-old.  He and Tundra were actually best friends and grew up together.  At times we wondered if Jerry thought he was a dog, and if Tundra thought he was a cat.  During the long cold nights of winter the two of them would snuggle up in the hay to sleep cuddled together.  It was so cute.  I am not sure who Jerry will be cuddling with this winter.  Maybe the other barn cats.  I am guessing Anya, the new LGD puppy, is too rambunctious for him.

“Fish Lips Kiss Heel” Knitting Pattern Review

Well that title is a mouthful!

I am an avid sock knitter.  Ever since I learned to knit socks I have constantly had a pair on the needles.  No matter what other knitting I am doing – there is always a pair of socks.  What is interesting is that while I have made myself a few pairs, I don’t really like the feel of hand-knit socks.  Thankfully, Young Man absolutely loves hand-knit socks and will happily take as many pairs as I can possibly make him.  So most of my sock knitting goes to him.  But I also make them for the other kids, Mtn Man, and occasionally others.

Over the years I have learned to make socks all different ways – on DPNs, on 2 circulars, on 1 circular with magic loop, one-at-a-time, two-at-a-time, cuff-down, toe-up….and many different types of toes and heels and leg patterns.  I like trying new ways and so I was intrigued when I saw the “Fish Lips Kiss Heel” pattern, by Sox Therapist, on another blog.  I like trying new heels and this one was said to be very quick and easy and fit very well.  So I went to check it out.  What I found was that it wasn’t just a new heel pattern, it also included a method for getting just the right fit without needing numbers, math, nor the foot there trying on the sock constantly.  Great!  Sounds like something I definitely want to try!

The method has you make a cardboard cut-out of the person’s foot, and you mark it in certain ways to know when to start the heel and toe, as well as how the sock should be fitting the cut-out at different places so that it will fit the foot right.  So all you have to do is stick the cardboard cut-out inside the sock you are making to know if you have the fit right, and when to make the heel and toe.

I got my cardboard cut-out made and gathered my supplies.  The method doesn’t help you know how many to cast on for what size and gauge or anything, it just helps you determine fit and heel placement.  So I decided to go toe-up, 2-at-a-time, on one circular needle.  I figured out that with the gauge I had and the size I was making I would normally increase to end up with 48 stitches around.  But with the FLKH method, you just increase until you get to the designated toe increase line.

One problem I had right away was that this particular persons foot has a very steep toe increase.  So I couldn’t really tell how it was going until I got fully to the ball of the foot.  I increased to the line, but when I got to the ball of the foot and put the cardboard in, it was much bigger around than it was supposed to be according to the method.  Hmmmm.

So I tore it back to the increases, had it land at 44 stitches around (which was before the toe increase line) and knit back up to the ball of the foot.  Again, it was too big.  This had me wondering, but I really wanted to fully give this method a try, so I decided that to really try it out I needed to do it just like she said, even if it seemed to be going against what was successful for me in the past.  And I decided that the way she said it should fit around the cardboard was more important that the toe increase line she said to do because there are so many different toe increase methods.  So I tore it back to the increases again, landed it at 40 stitches around, which was a full inch closer to the toe than the toe increase line, and again knit to the ball of the foot.  When I slid the cardboard in it fit like she said it should, so I continued on.

The foot went on without incident, and then I came to the heel.  Time to try out a new heel – which is what started this all in the first place.

Every time I try a new heel it takes a bit to figure it out and get going, but even with the learning curve I was surprised at how quickly the first heel went.  It felt like it was over in no time.  Then on the second heel (I knit socks two-at-a-time), I was able to whip through it even faster, and only had to look at the pattern once to remind myself what to do next.  That is surprising because usually with heel patterns I have to refer back to the pattern over and over again.  This one was super-simple to remember, and could be used with any number of stitches without any major math.  As long as you can divide by 3, or have a calculator that can, you are good to go.

The heels look quite a bit “pointy-er” than what I am used to.  So as I finished them up I was starting to feel skeptical again about the new method.  But as I said above, if I am really going to give it a try, I really need to give it a full try and keep going.  So I continued to work my way up the leg.

Finally, they were done and it was time for the moment of truth.  I gave them to Young Man and had him try them on.

I must say that the sigh of comfort and contentment he made when he pulled them on said it all.  But, for purposes of experimenting with a new method, I asked him to discuss the fit as compared to previous socks I have made him.  He is used to this, because he is usually my guinea pig when it comes to trying new sock heels and such since he loves hand-knit socks so much.

He said the length was “perfect,” and the fit around his foot was more snug than previous socks and that he liked that snug-ness A LOT better than the looser socks I had made previously.  He felt like the heel was good and fit well too.  He loved them and proceeded to wear them happily the rest of the day.

So, this method definitely worked for his foot.  The one problem was the the way that I increased the toe did not match up with her markings for the toe.  But following the rest of her plan I was able to make it work how she said.  And looking at his very steep toe angle, I am going to experiment with different ways to increase (if toe-up) or decrease (if cuff down) the toes of his socks to help them fit that angle better for him.

I was extremely happy with the simplicity of the heel and the speed at which I was able to accomplish the heel.  And I like the method of using the cardboard cut-out for figuring out the right fit.  I will definitely continue using this method and heel.  I am looking forward to trying it out on all my kids’ and husband’s socks now and seeing how it works for each different foot.  I give this sock fitting method, and heel pattern a thumbs up!