Friday, September 19, 2014

Keep In Step

Shepherd to a growing flock of sheep and an extremely energetic border collie puppy, mother to a homeschooled 17 year old in pursuit of college life and two college daughters waiting for a letter from home, wife to a busy engineer, farmer to an old historic homestead with rambling house, unkempt gardens, and old barn, innkeeper to a small bed and breakfast inviting families and couples to enjoy rural living, and manager of a home-based business with one employee, juggling marketing book keeping, social networking, and budgeting.
That's me, with more jobs than any one person can keep up with. 

So it is not surprising that I took 10 days off from posting to our farm facebook page and an entire month off from posting to our farm journal. It is no wonder that I am chronically late when it comes to mailing birthday gifts, and paying bills. It is no wonder that my kitchen has a tub with about 50 pounds of tomatoes in it waiting to be turned into sauce for the winter. It is no wonder that my laundry basket over flows, and clutter mounts. 

The fullness of life surrounds me. I feel its pulse beating and I can not escape it. I try to count each beat as a blessing. I just ask that you have patience with me. I promise that I really do think of you though your letters, notes, and calls do not arrive on time, I really will have dinner on the table, I really will find the surface of the dining room table, and the potatoes will get dug and the weeds won't close in around us. And when you see me behind my knitting needles or with hand-dyed yarn and silk in my hands, I am not being neglectful of all that needs to be done....I am replenishing my soul so I can keep in step.

Friday, August 22, 2014

From One Farmer/Artist to Another

Eco-print From Orange Cosmos & Onion Skins
From one fiber artist/farmer to another, as promised, I will share my steps to eco-printing below, so you can use your brief creative time with little trial and error.

1. Pre-mordant the fabric. Some people do not pre-mordant, but the natural dyer in me said, "pre-mordant". I first washed the silks well, rinsed them, and put them in a mordant bath with alum and cream of tartar. I use 10% of the weight of the silk for alum and  5% for the cream of tartar. Bring the pot to a low simmer and then turn off the heat. Leave the silks in the pot to cool.

Lay Plant Material on Silk
2. Collect leaves and flowers for printing. I have found that fallen leaves produce the most saturated colors. Wet your pre-mordanted silk and lay it out on a table. Arrange the plant material on top of the silk.

3. Now you will need a "resist" of some sort to cover the silk. I use a piece of 2ml plastic, but you could use a piece of white cotton fabric. The resist keeps the color more concentrated in one place rather than bleeding through several layers. When I am only printing with onion skins, I do not use a resist as I want the color to soak through all the layers of fabric.

Rolled and Bound
4. Next, I  roll the silk and resist onto a wooden dowel rod as tightly as I can and bind it with a long piece of string.

Charred Silk from a Dry Pot

5. I use my canner to steam the roll, putting a couple of inches of water in the bottom of the pot and laying the roll on top of the rack in the bottom of the pot. You do not want the roll to lay in the water but above the water. I let it steam for at least an hour with the lid on the pot. Be careful not to let the water evaporate, I learned that one the hard way.

6. Now you must wait. Resist opening that roll for as long as possible. The longest I have gone has been 2 days, but the longer you wait, the better. Once unrolled, let it air dry. Then heat set the print with an iron. After a couple of weeks, you can gently wash your silk. I did discover that if you wash the silk before you heat set it, some of the dye bleeds into other areas of the scarf. I actually liked the effect.

Most likely there are hundreds of ways to do eco-printing. This is one way, that one shepherd/artist has discovered to capture autumn colors on silk.

Unrolling the Silk From the Dowel Rod

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Enticed and Inspired...Eco Printing

Autumn Eco-Printed Scarf
It never ceases to amaze me of the many ways to capture and savor the beauty around us. This summer,  I discovered eco-printing. I know I am a bit behind the times, as most fiber artists I know have been doing eco-printing for years. Someone once told me that you can not be a farmer and an artist at the same time. I did not believe her, but now I see truth to what she said. I have wanted to try eco-printing for several summers now, but have never found the time to do it. I even passed up an opportunity to take a two day eco-printing workshop this past April so that I could stay home on "barn duty". We had lambs due the very weekend of the workshop and my priority lies with the sheep during lambing season. Summer months pass too quickly with B&B guests to tend to, endless garden work, and just life in general.

Fall Leaves and Onion Skins on Silk
My daughter, Anna, encouraged me to dive into experimenting with eco-printing before she headed back to college. We ordered a box of silk scarves, shawls, and camisoles and began collecting plant material each time we took the puppy for a walk. I have done enough natural dyeing to have a general sense of what I needed to do. We quickly encountered, however, a steep learning curve and the need for trial and error. I have kept up with a couple artist's blogs who write about their printing. I learned that they do not tell all of their secrets, but rather just give you enough information to entice you. At first, I found this frustrating as with each attempt, we had to make adjustments based on our previous results. Now, I see the value in finding your way so to speak on your own. It forces you to experiment and become even more creative.

Ideally, I would have taken small pieces of silk fabric and done trial samples, carefully recording my process and results. Unfortunately, a farmer does not have time for that. I do not have 8 hours a day to play in my studio, but must catch an hour here or there. We also realized that the same plant can give you entirely different results depending upon when it is collected. So even if I had made sample pieces, I could not have necessarily replicated them by the time I was able to get back to my studio.

I will share my secrets and discoveries in another blog post. So for now, you can just be inspired and enticed by my results.

Onion Skins and Brazil Wood

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Morning Walk

Ram Lamb Lays Chewing His Cud
Kai Plays By the Lambs

The air, still and crisp, hints at the coming fall months of warm days and cool nights. With heavy dew covering the plants, steam rises from the warmth of the morning sun. The sheep lay quiet chewing their cud watching my movements as I come to the barn to let the chickens out for the day. They do not stir when the puppy plays by their fence line.

Sunflowers Peek Around the Greenhouse Door

I walk into the far end of the greenhouse and make my way to the front, examining the tomatoes and picking the ripe ones from the vine. The purple pole beans across the isle sag under the weight of the beans. As I come to the front door of the greenhouse, I am greeted by a sunflower plant, bending and twisting to enter in. Perhaps the flowers do not like the cool nights and come in search of the warmth of the hoop house.

I walk past the orange and yellow cosmos in full bloom and resist the temptation to pick a handful to begin a dye pot right away. On the other side of the cosmos, the blueberry bushes stand full of ripe berries.

As I walk, I make mental note of the things I must do today:        

Orange Cosmos
1. can tomatoes                        
2. pick and freeze beans
3. dye yarn
4. pick and freeze blueberries
5. take in all these blessings and record them one by one in my journal

Ripe Tomatoes on the Vine

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Living the Good Life

A Visitor Checks Out the Pigs

Our pigs attract a lot of attention from visitors to the farm. There is just something fascinating about these little animals.

Here are ten intriguing facts about pigs:
Our Dominant Pig!

  1. Despite what you may think, pigs are clean animals. When given enough space, they prefer to choose one spot in their fencing to use as their "bathroom", keeping their eating and sleeping areas clean.
  2. Pigs share the same diseases and illnesses with humans. For this reason, we do not feed our pigs table scraps. If you feed pigs food from your plate, you must boil it for 30 minutes in order to kill any bacteria that may be present. Our pigs enjoy garden scraps, over grown cucumbers and squash, lettuce that has begun to bolt, and over ripe tomatoes. In the fall, they get apples from the wild apple trees that line the field.
  3. Pigs love to play! Someone once told me that pigs are like dogs, they are eternal optimists and love to play and interact with one another and people. Our pigs often play games of chase with one another and enjoy tramping through the woods and bushes of their enclosed area. A couple of years ago, our pig pen ran alongside of the road. A neighbor said that every time she jogged up the road, the pigs would jog with her along the full length of their fenced area.
  4. Pigs are very social animals. They sleep snuggled next to each other regardless of their age. 
     Making New Pasture
  5. Pigs establish a pecking order within their herd. This hierarchy becomes evident at feeding times when the dominant pig will push away everyone else from their eating area. This pig usually grows out larger than their mates. 
  6. Pigs love a good back scratch.
  7. Pigs have a wonderful sense of smell, using their large round noses to root in the dirt.
  8. Pigs properly manage ecosystems. On our farm, we have used the pigs to help reclaim overgrown pasture. Acting as mini bulldozers, the pigs use the rubbery cartilage in their noses to dig up and turn over rocks, stumps, saplings, and massive amounts of dirt. This allows regrowth of healthy pasture grasses. This year, we placed the pigs in an area where the forest has been slowly creeping into the open field. As the pigs uproot an area, we extend their fencing to give them more area to recapture. At the end of the season, we will pick out the rocks and stumps they have overturned and replant with mixed grass seed.
  9. Pigs do not sweat, rather, they cool themselves by wallowing in cool dirt or mud. Our pigs dig depressions in the cool of the underbrush. Here they, roll and lay in the heat of the day. On rainy days, their hollows fill with water and mud, much to their enjoyment.
    Enjoying the Cool Dirt.
  10. Pigs are intelligent animals. We have easily trained our pigs to electric fencing. A single electric wire hold our pigs within their area. With some disciplined training, the pigs learn to not challenge the fence line.

Our pasture raised pigs live a good life on our farm, with plenty of room to roam and root around. Our B&B guests appreciate them for their entertainment and bacon, our sheep appreciate them for the new pastures they create, and we appreciate them for the biodiversity and sustainability they bring to our farm.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A Vermont Farmstay Experience

Tossing hay from the wagon
Every now and then, we rent our Farmhouse Suite to a family that makes their way into our hearts. This summer, we have been blessed to host several of those families who have come for a Vermont farmstay experience. They come to us from large urban areas with a desire to make a connection with the land, the farmers, and the work of their hands.

This family came with eager hearts to learn and to experience rural farm life.

Picking wild raspberries.

Enjoying Moses
In seven days time they helped stack hay in the barn, enjoyed a local sheep dog trial, walked on the trails in the woods, picked wild raspberries with us, learned how to use a gas grill, gazed at the stars, gathered eggs, toured local farms and small villages, and fell in love with our puppy and barn kitties.

Here is what they wrote in our guest book before leaving:

"Dear Kim, Chuck, and Anna,
Resting after putting up the hay.
     We leave the farm today with so many indelible memories-egg collecting, wild raspberry picking, communing with the sheep, gazing at the Milky Way and a shooting star in the night sky, watching the sheep dog trials and for Elena-playing with Kai, Aaron, and Moses. This week has been everything we wished for and more-peaceful, restorative, and offering us a genuine glimpse at the rhythms, challenges and rewards of life on a small family farm. Thank you!"
D. M.

Showing off their berries.

Hauling hay

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Awakening Herding Instincts

Strafford, Vermont
The handler and his border collie stand in the field, waiting for their turn to run the course. Chairs and spectators line the dirt road that runs along the field. Border collies sleep under chairs or in the cool shade of a tree waiting their turn. At one end of the field, a border collie and its owner stand side by side. Without an audible sound to the crowd, the handler sends his border collie to find and gather the sheep high on a hill lined with maple trees. Did he murmur a command or was it the motion of his hand that signaled his dog to take off in pursuit of the small flock of sheep? The judges start their stop watches, and so begins this dog's run at the sheep trials.

Steve and his dog wait their turn to run the course.

The Sheep Dog Trials at Steve Wetmore's farm in Strafford, Vermont has become one of my favorite summer events. It is magical watching the way that the handler and dog work as one. Though most dog trials are held in an open field, on Steve's farm, the dogs must run up a steep hill to the edge of the woods to gather the sheep and run them through the course. With a whistle or gentle command from the handler, the border collie gathers the sheep and runs them through a course that leads the flock down the hill, across a stream, through a series of gates and to a gathering pen. Judges evaluate each team for workmanship, skill, and speed. Each dog has its own style of working the sheep. Through the course of the day, the spectators learn how distinctly different each dog works the sheep, and that each trainer has their unique way of communicating with their dog.

Handler watches...
...while his border collie gathers the sheep.
Kai watches attentively.

This year we took Kai, our young border collie along to watch from the stone wall. Kai will not be ready to train with sheep for many months, but now is the time to arouse his herding instincts which border collies are known for. He watched with much interest as the dogs rounded the sheep up and brought them close. Every time a handler blew their whistle, Kai's ears perked up and he turned to look at me as if looking to me for direction. All of these behaviors show his keen interest in sheep awakening.

The next sheep dog trial in VT will be at the Quechee Scottish Festival & Celtic Fair in late August.